This quick mac and cheese recipe is the definition of kid-friendly, gooey goodness. Made in 30 minutes, you’ll wonder why you ever depended on boxed varieties.
Homemade mac and cheese doesn’t have to turn your kitchen into a science experiment. In fact, the most technical part of the recipe is making the cheese sauce, which with a little technique, comes together perfectly and silky smooth.
Whipping Up this Quick Mac and Cheese
Preparing this classic stovetop mac and cheese only requires 6 wholesome ingredients (unless you opt for adding some optional parmesan for nuttiness).
- Prepare the Pasta: First, boil the pasta in a large pot of water according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta and set it aside.
- Make the Roux: Next, melt the butter in a deep pan. Add in the all-purpose flour and whisk it constantly until it starts to smell nutty and bubble.
- Make the Cheese Sauce: Slowly, whisk the milk into the pan with the flour mixture and let the sauce cook for 5 minutes until it thickens in texture. Whisk in the dijon mustard (you can use mustard powder in a pinch) and stir in the cheese until the sauce is smooth and creamy.
- Add in the Pasta: Finally, stir the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce. Enjoy right away!
What’s the point of a roux? If you’ve made mac and cheese before, you’ve likely come across the word “roux”. It’s just a fancy term for combining fat (in this case, butter) with flour to thicken sauces.
3 Handy Tips for the Best Mac and Cheese
A couple of handy tips will help you get the creamiest mac and cheese on planet earth.
- Keep the sauce over medium low heat. To prevent the cheese sauce from burning, keep the heat over medium-low. Flour and milk tend to be pretty sensitive to heat, so proceed with caution!
- Cook the raw taste out of the flour. The flour will work wonders to thicken your cheese sauce, but you’ll want to make sure to cook the raw flavor out of it before adding the milk. You’ll know that it’s ready when it starts to bubble a bit and smell nutty.
- Shred the cheese off the block. If you can, opt for shredding your cheese straight from the block. Why? Block cheese retains more moisture and flavor intensity that pre-shredded varieties.
Tasty Add-Ins & Variations
Make this mac and cheese your very own by adding in your favorite ingredients.
- Bacon Mac and Cheese: Whip up some air fryer bacon or baked bacon and slice it into tiny pieces and top your macaroni, or make this smoky bacon mac & cheese.
- Ham Mac and Cheese: Slice up your favorite deli ham and stir it into the finished mac and cheese.
- Veggie Mac and Cheese: For a pop of color and a sneaky serving of veggies, stir in some steamed broccoli or peas.
- Spicy Mac and Cheese: Add in a tablespoon of hot sauce to the cheese sauce or a sautéed jalapeno for a nice kick of heat.
- Baked Tomato Mac & Cheese: Love tomatoes? Pour the cooked mac and cheese into a baking dish and top with slices of heirloom tomato and a hefty sprinkle of Italian-style breadcrumbs. Bake covered with foil for 15 minutes in the oven and back for 10 more minutes uncovered.
Ideas for Serving
This mac and cheese can be served as a side dish to your favorite protein. A couple of kid-friendly classics include homemade air fryer chicken nuggets or BBQ ribs. If you are cooking for adults, opt for cast iron ribeye steaks or air fryer chicken thighs.
Storing & Reheating Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese is a killer option for meal prep and reheats wonderfully. Find all the tips you need for storing and reheating here.
- Storing: To keep the mac and cheese on hand for up to 5 days, store it in an airtight container in the fridge. This will keep the noodles and cheese from drying out.
- Reheating: To reheat the mac and cheese, pop it in the microwave for a couple of minutes or reheat it in a medium saucepan with a little butter over medium heat.
What cheeses go well together for mac and cheese?
We like sharp cheddar cheese, but you can use any shredded cheese that melts well. Monterey jack, colby, gouda, white cheddar, and fontina work great. You can also add a touch of goat cheese or brie for a more unique flavor.
Is mac and cheese better with milk or water?
Mac and cheese is hands-down better with milk than water. Milk yields that wonderful creaminess and gives the flour another fat to bind to besides butter.
Can you use heavy cream instead of milk in mac and cheese?
Heavy cream is a great substitute for milk in mac and cheese if you want an ultra-creamy and decadent sauce. For best results, use equal parts.
How do you make mac and cheese creamy again?
If your leftover mac and cheese has gotten a bit dry, add in a couple of tablespoons of milk or heavy cream to thin the sauce out again. Season it to taste with a little salt to compensate for the added liquids.
What kind of noodles should you use for mac and cheese?
There’s no wrong noodle to use for mac and cheese. That said, small, shaped pastas tend to work best because they “hold” onto the sauce better than spaghetti or fettuccine noodles. A couple of great options include penne, elbow macaroni, rigatoni, and shells.
Other Creamy Pasta Recipes
- Creamy Orzo Bacon Pasta Recipe – Simple bacon and cream summer pasta
- Chicken Mushroom Fettuccine Alfredo – Chicken and mushrooms in cream sauce
- Creamy One-Pot Pasta – Sausage and cream sauce pasta
- The Best Alfredo Pasta Recipe – Creamy alfredo pasta recipe
- Boil the pasta according to the package instructions.
- Melt the butter in a deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add in the flour, whisking it constantly until it starts to bubble lightly and smell a bit nutty (about 2-3 minutes).
- Slowly whisk in the milk and let the mixture cook for about 5 minutes until the texture turns custard-like. Whisk in the dijon mustard.
- Stir in the cheese until it's all dissolved and creamy.
- Add in the cooked macaroni and stir until well-combined. Dig in and enjoy!