Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Basic Baked Macaroni and Cheese With Variations

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 35 mins
Total: 45 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Yield: 1 (1 1/2-quart) casserole
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
457 Calories
33g Fat
20g Carbs
20g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 457
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 33g 42%
Saturated Fat 19g 94%
Cholesterol 94mg 31%
Sodium 627mg 27%
Total Carbohydrate 20g 7%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 20g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 529mg 41%
Iron 1mg 6%
Potassium 118mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Every cook needs a foundational macaroni and cheese recipe, and this one won't disappoint. The cheese sauce is made with milk and half-and-half, giving the dish rich flavor and texture. This recipe calls for sprinkling additional cheese over the top before it's baked, which adds to the cheesy goodness. It's ready in just over 30 minutes and can quickly become a go-to mac and cheese recipe.

As quintessential comfort food, there are many things you can do to switch up this basic mac and cheese and turn it into a complete meal or decadent side dish. For instance, you can add breadcrumbs for a crunchy topping, mix in bacon, ham, or cooked ground beef or pork. For special occasions, you can also transform it into a delicious lobster mac and cheese.

"A quick dish, this recipe makes fantastic mac and cheese. The homemade cheese sauce is easy to make and outshines any boxed mac. While it’s delicious as is, the casserole is a great foundation for random ingredient additions so you can customize it to your family’s taste or what you have on hand." —Colleen Graham

Baked Macaroni and Cheese - Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

  • 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) elbow macaroni

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup whole milk

  • 1 cup half-and-half

  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

  • 2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Basic Baked Macaroni and Cheese With Variations ingredients

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Fill a pasta pot with cold water and set on a burner over medium-high heat. Butter a 1 1/2-quart or 8 x 8-inch square baking dish.

    baking dish

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  3. When the pasta water comes to a boil, salt the water, stir and taste. It should taste like the sea. Under-salted? Add more. Over-salted? Pour out some water and add fresh water until you get the right balance.

    Pour pasta into boiling salted water gradually while stirring the water. When the water returns to a boil, begin the cooking time as directed by the packaging for al dente doneness; drain the pasta and reserve the pot.

    pasta in a colander

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  4. Meanwhile, just before adding the pasta to the water, start the cheese sauce: Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat and wait until the bubbles subside. Whisk in flour, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbly. Continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

    butter and flour in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  5. Gradually add the milk and then the half-and-half. Continue cooking for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble, whisking constantly.

    milk, flour and butter in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  6. Remove from the heat and add paprika, black pepper, and 2 cups of the cheese; stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.

    cheese sauce in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  7. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings, adding salt, as needed.

    seasoned cheese sauce in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  8. Add cooked pasta back into its pot and immediately add the sauce to it. Stir to combine and transfer to the prepared casserole dish.

    macaroni and cheese in a baking dish

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  9. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Cut the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter into small pieces and dot the pieces over the casserole.

    cheese on top of the macaroni and cheese in a baking dish

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  10. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. For a more crispy top, set oven to broil and watch for desired doneness. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

    Basic Baked Macaroni and Cheese With Variations in a baking dish

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Glass Bakeware Warning

Do not use glass bakeware when broiling or when a recipe calls to add liquid to a hot pan, as glass may explode. Even if it states oven-safe or heat resistant, tempered glass products can, and do, break occasionally.


Cooking is all about timing. For this mac and cheese recipe, you want to make sure the pasta and the sauce come together when both are hot. This means dropping the pasta in the boiling water only when you know it will come out as soon as the sauce is complete.

Recipe Variations

  • Add a breadcrumb topping: Omit the extra 1/2 cup of cheese in this recipe and toss one cup of fine soft breadcrumbs with two tablespoons of melted butter. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the casserole before it goes into the oven.
  • To make a mac-n-cheese with bacon, stir about 1/4 cup of diced cooked bacon into the sauce along with the cheese and macaroni.
  • For a main dish option, add about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cooked diced ham to the macaroni and cheese mixture. Or brown about 1/2 pound of ground beef or pork sausage along with 1/2 cup of chopped onion. Drain thoroughly and add to the sauce. 
  • For some Tex-Mex color and flavor, add about 1/4 cup of sliced ripe olives, a small can of chopped mild green chile peppers, and 1/2 cup of diced red bell pepper. Use part or all pepper jack cheese in place of the cheddar. Make it a little spicier with some finely chopped jalapeno pepper.
  • For a simple change of texture and appearance, replace the elbow macaroni with mini penne or small or medium shell pasta.

How to Store and Freeze

  • Leftover mac and cheese can be refrigerated in a sealed container for two to three days, though it will be a little drier. Reheat it gently in the oven (about 10 to 15 minutes at 350 F); let the dish come to room temperature before placing it in a hot oven and cover the dish to retain some moisture. Smaller portions can also be microwaved until warm; check it regularly and stir if needed.
  • Mac and cheese also freezes well. Put any leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe container and freeze for up to three months.

Should You Cover Mac and Cheese When Baking?

It's not necessary to cover mac and cheese while baking it in the oven. Keeping the dish uncovered produces a crustier top that differentiates the baked dish from stovetop mac and cheese recipes that simply stir together cheese sauce with pasta. This extra crunchiness gives it more of a casserole taste.