Southern Mac and Cheese Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep: 20 min. Bake: 25 min.
Southern mac and cheese is an uncomplicated comfort food favorite that uses affordable ingredients for a super rich dish.

Updated: Jun. 24, 2024

Southern mac and cheese is a creamy, cheesy classic recipe. You can make it as a simple side dish, double the recipe for a crowd or serve it as a budget-friendly dinner with veggies. Other classic southern comfort foods and fresh side salad recipes are some of our favorite pairings.

You’ll want to use a good unsalted butter and quality cheddar cheese for this recipe. You can always add more salt to taste, but salted butter might be overkill in a simple dish like this. As for the cheese, opt for a block you can grate yourself. Freshly grated cheese melts more smoothly. Conversely, pre-grated cheese often uses stabilizers to prevent clumping.

What is southern macaroni and cheese?

This mac and cheese recipe is a rich, creamy southern side dish that combines perfectly cooked elbow macaroni with a blend of sharp cheddar and creamy cheese sauce. The secret to its indulgent flavor lies in the use of a roux and whole milk, ensuring a luscious, melt-in-your-mouth experience.

Southern Macaroni and Cheese Ingredients

  • Elbow macaroni: This recipe uses classic elbow macaroni, which is the perfect shape to hold the creamy cheese sauce. You can also use other types of pasta, such as cavatappi, shells or rotini for a fun twist and varied texture.
  • Roux: Butter and flour form the roux, a base of cooked fat and flour used to thicken milk into a creamy cheese sauce. For a gluten-free option, use almond flour or cornstarch.
  • Seasonings: Salt and pepper add a light layer of flavor to the cheese sauce.
  • Whole milk: Milk helps prevent the sauce from becoming too thick or dry. Opt for whole milk, heavy cream or evaporated milk for a more indulgent cheese sauce.
  • Shredded Cheddar cheese: If you really want a strong cheese flavor, splurge on a high-quality aged sharp cheddar. For the best texture, grate your cheese fresh from a block.

Directions

Step 1: Cook the pasta

Cook the macaroni to al dente according to package directions.

Step 2: Make the cheese sauce

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour, salt and pepper; stir until smooth. Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for two minutes or until the sauce has thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese until melted.

Step 3: Combine

Drain the macaroni. Add it to the cheese mixture, and toss to coat.

Editor’s Tip: For a baked southern macaroni and cheese, preheat your oven to 350°F and bake the dish uncovered for about 25 to 30 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly.

Recipe Variations

  • Change up the cheese: Combine sharp cheddar, Gruyere, and Parmigiano Reggiano or Parmesan for a rich and complex flavor profile. The Gruyere adds a nutty sweetness, while the Parmesan offers a sharp, salty finish.
  • Add some spice: Add diced jalapenos, a pinch of cayenne pepper or a few dashes of hot sauce to the cheese mixture for a spicy kick. Top with crushed red pepper flakes for extra heat.
  • Mix in veggies: Add roasted vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or bell peppers to the dish. This adds nutrition and a variety of textures to the final recipe.
  • Make it vegan: Create a creamy sauce using cashews, nutritional yeast and plant-based milk. Here’s our vegan mac and cheese recipe for inspo.

How to Store Southern Macaroni and Cheese

Store southern macaroni and cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will keep for three to four days.

Can you freeze southern mac and cheese?

Yes, you can freeze southern macaroni and cheese, either baked or unbaked, depending on your preference. Store the whole pan in an airtight freezer-safe container or in freezer storage bags in individual portions.

If freezing a baked dish, allow it to cool completely before wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap and aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn. For unbaked mac and cheese, assemble the dish and wrap it similarly before freezing. Both baked and unbaked versions can be stored in the freezer for two to three months.

How do you reheat southern mac and cheese?

For refrigerated leftovers, transfer the desired portion to a microwave-safe dish, add a splash of milk or cream to restore creaminess, cover loosely and microwave on medium power for one to two minutes. Stir halfway through.

Alternatively, you can reheat it in the oven by preheating it to 350°, placing the mac and cheese in an oven-safe dish, adding a splash of milk or cream, covering it with foil and baking for 15 to 20 minutes.

For frozen mac and cheese, it’s best to thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. Once thawed, follow the same microwave or oven instructions as listed above. If reheating directly from frozen, place it in an oven-safe dish, cover with foil and bake at 350° for 45 to 60 minutes until heated through. Cover it with foil if the top browns too quickly.

Southern Mac and Cheese Recipe Tips

How do you keep southern mac and cheese creamy?

To keep mac and cheese creamy, cook the pasta just until al dente to prevent it from becoming mushy. Also, adding a small amount of cream cheese or Velveeta can help stabilize the sauce and keep it smooth.

How do you prevent grainy southern mac and cheese?

To prevent grainy mac and cheese, make sure you melt the cheese after the pot is removed from the heat. Mixing in the cheese while the pot is over a heated burner can cause the proteins to coagulate.

What can you serve with southern mac and cheese?

For a classic southern feast, serve it alongside your favorite soul food recipes like fried chicken, barbecue ribs or pulled pork. For a lighter option, pair it with grilled or baked chicken. Vegetables like collard greens, green beans or roasted Brussels sprouts provide a fresh contrast to the creamy mac and cheese. A crisp coleslaw or a tangy cucumber salad can add a refreshing bite. Buttery cornbread or biscuits make excellent sides to round out the meal.

Southern Mac and Cheese

Prep Time 20 min
Cook Time 25 min
Yield 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 package (16 ounces) elbow macaroni
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons prepared mustard
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 8 ounces Velveeta, melted
  • 2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese, divided
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided

Directions

  1. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, butter, mustard, seasoned salt and pepper until combined. Stir in the Velveeta and 1-1/2 cups each pf mild and sharp cheddar cheeses.
  3. Drain macaroni; stir into cheese mixture. Pour into a greased 3-qt. baking dish. Top with remaining cheeses. Bake, uncovered, until cheese is melted and edges are bubbly, 25-30 minutes.

Nutrition Facts

1-1/2 cups: 830 calories, 45g fat (30g saturated fat), 213mg cholesterol, 1368mg sodium, 67g carbohydrate (11g sugars, 3g fiber), 39g protein.

No down-home meal is complete without southern mac and cheese. Three types of cheese and a squirt of mustard make this comforting dish sing! —Katie Sloan, Charlotte, North Carolina
Recipe Creator