This easy baked macaroni and cheese combines cheese, butter, and a creamy bechamel sauce all baked together in one delicious side dish!
Macaroni and cheese is one of those dishes that can be enjoyed for pretty much every occasion, during all times of the year, and by everyone. Kind of like Instant Pot fettuccine Alfredo.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, summer picnic, you name the theme and baked mac and cheese is a good fit. Plus, it’s just amazing for dinner or when you’re craving something cheesy.
This recipe is super easy to make – you just combine a few ingredients, add it to a pan, and bake with lots of yummy cheese on top. Kids will love it. Adults will love it.
Why you’ll love this Recipe
- Simple comfort food – is there anything that comes to mind that is more comfort food than macaroni and cheese? This baked version is a simple version of the classic comfort food everyone loves.
- Inexpensive – this baked mac and cheese is great to make for a crowd because the ingredients are inexpensive, it’s filling, and it goes a long way!
- Perfect to make ahead – make this the night before then bake or reheat right before serving! It’s the perfect way to save time the day of an event or meal!
- Macaroni – you could also make this recipe with something like small shells, but I don’t recommend using pasta larger than that.
- Cheese – as long as you keep the same amount, you can use any cheese that melts well. I just personally like the shredded cheddar cheese to keep it as kid-friendly as possible.
- Butter – I always recommend using salted butter that’s high-quality but for this recipe it’s really okay if you use any type of butter.
- Milk – I recommend using whole milk to keep this as creamy as possible. If you don’t have milk and have heavy cream on hand, that works as a substitution as well.
How to make Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Okay so this recipe really just takes a few steps – cooking your macaroni, making your cream sauce and baking. I mean it is baked macaroni and cheese after all!
1 – Cook your macaroni
Unlike with this baked ziti, the first thing you want to do is cook your macaroni just like the package says. It’ll likely take somewhere around 10-15 minutes.
While the macaroni is cooking, you can work on the butter cream sauce.
2 – Make Your Sauce
The best part of this recipe is the butter cream sauce that you put on top of the macaroni while it bakes. This combined with the cheese makes for the most creamy and delicious dish.
To make the sauce, melt four tablespoons of butter in a large pan over medium heat. Watch it closely and move onto the next step as soon as it’s mostly melted – you don’t want it to brown.
Once the butter is heated, reduce the heat to low and add your flour, 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper.
Use a whisk and stir constantly until the mixture is bubbly, about a minute.
Keeping the pot over medium heat, slowly add the milk and bring to a boil, whisking the mixture constantly until it thickens. This typically takes anywhere from 3-5 minutes, just watch it closely and stir constantly.
Once milk has thickened, add in two cups of the shredded cheddar cheese and whisk until the cheese has melted into the mixture completely.
Taste the salt and add more salt if you think it needs it.
Once the bechamel sauce is done, add the cooked macaroni into the sauce and toss it to combine. You can either do this in the pot the sauce cooked in if it’s large enough or do it in a separate bowl.
3 – Bake
Before you bake, you’re going to create your layered mac and cheese. It’s kind of like a lasagna but macaroni and cheese instead.
Place half the coated macaroni (about 1 1/2 cups) on the bottom of a squash baking dish. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of garlic salt.
Top with another 1 1/2 cups of the shredded cheese.
Repeat the layers again – the other half of the macaroni noodles and the final 1 1/2 cups of the shredded cheddar cheese.
Add the cubed butter on top of the cheese and cover with foil. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes then remove the foil and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the top is beginning to turn golden brown.
Bake for 30 minutes covered then remove foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
Serve warm with your favorite main dish, as a side to a holiday feast, or just as a stand alone dinner on its own (like these coconut chicken tenders)! It’d be really good paired with these roasted root vegetables or some honey roasted carrots!
Double the recipe by simply doubling the ingredients and baking it in a 9×13 casserole dish instead. This is a great meal for a crowd, a party, or a holiday feast!
Stir the bechamel sauce constantly while you’re cooking it. You don’t want any part of it to burn or brown or it’ll change the flavor of the sauce.
Cook the macaroni to al dente since they’ll get cooked a bit more in the oven and you don’t want them to end up totally mushy.
Up the salt in the recipe by 1/2 tsp if you like your macaroni and cheese a bit salty. We like to salt to taste since my husband and I have different salt preferences – if you like a bit more salty, go for 1 1/4 tsp salt instead.
This baked mac and cheese has to be baked or the cheese won’t melt and the bechamel sauce won’t combine into the cheese properly. There are plenty of other regular mac and cheese recipes out there, but this one needs to be baked.
Macaroni typically takes somewhere between 7-10 minutes depending on what kind you’re using, if it’s organic, etc. Follow the directions on whatever package you’re using to cook the pasta to al dente.
Mac and cheese traditionally uses cheddar cheese but you can really use anything that melts well – white cheddar, gruyere, mozzarella, fontina, provolone are just a few others.
You can definitely make this ahead of time and just reheat when you’re ready to serve. Keep it in a covered container in the fridge then heat back up in the oven when you’re ready to serve.
This also freezes extremely well, as do most baked pasta dishes. Freeze it in a freezer safe, airtight container. When you’re ready to eat, thaw it in the fridge overnight then reheat in the oven.
More Easy Pasta Recipes
- Ground turkey pasta
- Spinach and artichoke pasta
- Pasta with a Garlic Butter Sauce
- Homemade egg noodles
- Sweet spaghetti sauce
Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- ½ lb uncooked macaroni noodles about 3 cups cooked
- 4 TBS butter 1 TBS cut into small cubes
- 4 TBS flour
- ¾ tsp salt divided
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 2 cups milk
- 5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- ½ tsp garlic salt
- Cook macaroni according to package directions.1/2 lb uncooked macaroni noodles
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- While macaroni cooks, melt four tablespoons butter in a large pan over medium heat.4 TBS butter
- Reduce heat to low and add the flour, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper to pan. Constantly whisk the mixture for one minute.4 TBS flour, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper
- Increase the heat to medium heat then add milk slowly and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Whisk constantly until the milk thickens, 3-5 minutes.2 cups milk
- Once milk has thickened, add in two cups of cheddar cheese and whisk until the cheese has melted. Taste the sauce and add more salt if needed.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Toss cooked macaroni with the bechamel sauce.
- Place half the coated macaroni (about 1 1/2 cups) on the bottom of a square 9×9 baking dish. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt. Top with 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese.3/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp garlic salt, 5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Add the other half of the macaroni on top then the final 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese and sprinkle with the final 1/4 teaspoon of garlic salt.
- Add cubed butter on top of the cheese layer and cover with foil.4 TBS butter
- Bake for 20 minutes covered with foil. Remove foil and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until top is beginning to brown.
- Serve warm