With its rich cheese sauce and crunchy crumb topping, this has to be the best baked mac and cheese recipe out there. Serve it as a comforting weeknight dinner or a holiday side dish.
Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe photo by Taste of Home

If you ask me, to be truly great, a macaroni and cheese recipe has to take me back to childhood. My mom made hers the old-fashioned way with a homemade cheese sauce. She usually prepared it on the stovetop for family meals, but served an oven-baked version on holidays. It was an easy casserole to prep in advance, and the buttery bread crumb topping added a crunchy texture that gave the dish a special finish.

This homemade baked mac and cheese recipe transports me to those holiday meals. The sauce stars here. It makes the whole dish creamy and rich, letting it bake to bubbly perfection in the oven—without drying out. The recipe is almost as easy to make as boxed mac and cheese, so if you’re not crunched for time, go this route.

How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese

Baked Mac And Cheese TMB Studio

We make this easy baked macaroni and cheese recipe in three simple steps.

  • Cook the pasta: It’s best to cook the macaroni to al dente (or just under). It will continue to cook in the oven, so you don’t want to overcook it. No one wants to eat mushy noodles!
  • Make the homemade cheese sauce: If you’re new to cheese sauce, this is a great opportunity to learn how to make the basic white sauce known as a bechamel. It’s a simple combination of butter, flour and milk. Then, you add the cheese to make it rich and creamy. You’ll get a smoother texture and more pronounced flavor if you use freshly grated cheese, so skip the pre-shredded packages, which can contain additives to keep the cheese from clumping.
  • Bake it all together: Combine the macaroni with the cheese sauce, and add a buttery bread crumb topping. Pop it in a 350°F oven, and get ready to experience the best baked mac and cheese you’ve ever had.

How long do you bake mac and cheese?

We bake mac and cheese for 30 to 35 minutes in a 350° oven. That’s enough time for the casserole to get warm and bubbly, but not so much time that the sauce will lose its creamy consistency. You don’t have to cover baked mac and cheese, either. Covering the casserole dish prevents the top from browning, which means the bread crumbs won’t crisp up.

Baked Mac and Cheese Ingredients

  • Elbow macaroni: This classic macaroni and cheese shape has ridges that let the sauce cling. That means they’ll deliver cheesy goodness with every bite. Check out our Test Kitchen’s favorite macaroni brands.
  • Butter and flour: These ingredients come together to form a roux, a combination of fat and flour that’s used to thicken sauce.
  • Milk: We use 2% milk for our cheese sauce. You can swap in whole milk or half-and-half cream to make the sauce even more decadent.
  • Sharp cheddar cheese: If we had a secret ingredient in this recipe, it would be sharp cheddar cheese. It ages longer than regular cheddar, which gives it a bolder flavor. It adds complexity to humble down-home favorites like this oven-baked mac and cheese.
  • Bread crumbs: Dry bread crumbs pair up with butter to make a decadent topping. If desired, you can add herbs and spices to make seasoned bread crumbs.


Step 1: Cook the macaroni

Preheat the oven to 350°. Cook the macaroni according to package directions for al dente. Drain, and set aside.

Editor’s Tip: Rinsing cooked pasta might keep the noodles from sticking together, but it also removes the starches that help the sauce stick to the noodles. If needed, you can prevent clumping by tossing the drained macaroni with melted butter or olive oil.

Step 2: Make the roux

saute onion for Baked Mac And Cheese TMB Studio

In a Dutch oven, heat 1/3 cup of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, and saute until tender. Stir in the flour, ground mustard, salt and pepper until blended.

Step 3: Add the milk

adding milk in Dutch oven TMB Studio

Gradually stir in the milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir until the milk is thickened.

Step 4: Add the cheese and macaroni

Adding macaroni in dutch oven for Baked Mac and cheese recipeTMB Studio

Add the cheese, and stir until melted. Stir in cooked macaroni. Transfer the mixture to a greased 13×9-inch baking dish.

Step 5: Top the casserole with buttery bread crumbs

spreading bread crumbs on Baked Mac And CheeseTMB Studio

Place the bread crumbs in a small bowl. In a microwave, melt the remaining butter. Pour the butter over the bread crumbs, and toss to coat. Sprinkle the bread crumb topping over the casserole.

Step 6: Bake the mac and cheese

Bake, uncovered, until heated through, 30 to 35 minutes.

Baked Mac And Cheese Ft24 25257 St 0206 10TMB Studio

Recipe Variations

  • Make it cheesier: Top the casserole with extra shredded cheese to make this one of the cheesiest recipes ever.
  • Experiment with pasta shapes: Try another pasta shape like orecchiette, farfalle (bowtie) or spiral-shaped cavatappi.
  • Use another crispy topping: Skip the bread crumbs and swap in panko, crushed cornflakes, pork rinds, potato chips or Ritz crackers.
  • Include mix-ins: Make it more filling with hearty proteins like bacon, shredded chicken or smoked sausage. Or fold in cooked spinach, zucchini, broccoli or peas for added nutrition.

Can you make baked mac and cheese ahead of time?

You can assemble the mac and cheese ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake. Stir together the cheese sauce and cooked macaroni as directed. Do not add the bread crumb topping. Transfer the pasta mixture to a storage bowl. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

When you’re ready to bake, remove the bowl from the refrigerator. The pasta will absorb liquid as it sits, so stir in a little milk as needed to restore the creamy consistency. Transfer the pasta mixture to a baking dish, and let it warm on the counter while the oven preheats. Then, add the buttered bread crumbs and bake as directed.

How to Store Baked Mac and Cheese

Store leftover mac and cheese in an airtight container. The leftovers are good in the refrigerator for up to four days. The best way to reheat pasta like mac and cheese is in a 350° oven. Add a splash of milk to return the macaroni and cheese to its original creaminess.

How to Freeze Baked Mac and Cheese

You can freeze macaroni and cheese for up to three months. Transfer the leftovers to a freezer-safe container, portioning them into individual servings if desired (hello, work lunches!). To use, partially thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before baking, and adjust the consistency with a little splash of milk. Reheat as directed.

Baked Mac and Cheese Tips

How do you keep oven-baked mac and cheese creamy?

No one wants dried-out mac and cheese, so use high-quality ingredients to ensure your oven-baked casserole stays creamy. It starts with using a cheese grater to grate your own cheese. Packaged cheese is convenient, but pre-shredded cheese can contain additives that make the sauce gritty or grainy.

It’s also important to use 2% milk (or dairy with a higher fat content). Low-fat and skim milk don’t contain enough fat to make a luscious cheese sauce.

Finally, bake the mac and cheese until it’s brown and bubbly. Overbaking can cause the moisture to evaporate, drying out the pasta and the sauce.

What is the best cheese for baked macaroni and cheese?

Cheddar is the classic choice for homemade mac and cheese recipes, but it’s not the only option. Try a blend of your favorite cheeses, like Gruyere, Gouda, Brie, Monterey Jack, Colby jack, Havarti or Muenster. If you’re looking for a mac and cheese made with Velveeta, check out our skillet mac and cheese recipe.

Watch how to Make Baked Mac and Cheese

Baked Mac and Cheese

Even people who have had their own homemade baked macaroni and cheese recipe for years ask for mine when they taste this crumb-topped version. For the best baked mac and cheese, use extra-sharp cheddar cheese for more flavor. —Shelby Thompson, Dover, Delaware
Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time

Prep: 15 min. Bake: 30 min.


8 servings


  • 1 package (16 ounces) uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup butter, divided
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 4-1/2 cups 2% milk
  • 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup dry bread crumbs


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Cook macaroni according to package directions for al dente; drain.
  2. In a Dutch oven, heat 1/3 cup butter over medium heat; saute onion until tender. Stir in flour and seasonings until blended; gradually stir in milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook and stir until thickened. Stir in cheese until melted. Stir in macaroni. Transfer to a greased 13x9-in. baking dish.
  3. In a microwave, melt remaining butter; toss with bread crumbs. Sprinkle over casserole. Bake, uncovered, until heated through, 30-35 minutes.

Nutrition Facts

1 cup: 688 calories, 37g fat (21g saturated fat), 103mg cholesterol, 839mg sodium, 63g carbohydrate (10g sugars, 3g fiber), 27g protein.