Best Mac & Cheese Casserole
Bubbly, Crispy, Delicious
Macaroni and cheese casserole is one of those comfort foods that ranks high on the list as one of the all-time favorite foods in many peoples' books. There's just something about the taste of the homemade variety that has people longing for this dish, over the standard store-bought kind, and has them making it again and again. Store-bought has its place and is good in a pinch when you are strapped for time, but if you want to sink your teeth into something that is wholesome and satisfying, there's just nothing that compares to a pan of macaroni and cheese made from home.
And no wonder. One can make a rich and creamy white sauce, adjust the seasonings so this casserole has tons of flavor, pile on the cheese, and top it all with breadcrumbs so it has a delightful crunch. And by the time it emerges from the oven, it's golden, bubbling, crispy, and pretty much to die for.
This recipe doesn't cut corners and it's strongly recommended that you make the white sauce and add the breadcrumbs. There's a reason for each ingredient and it's well-worth adding these to get the best results. And no worries, this still isn't a difficult dish to make.
If you like hearty recipes, a pan of homemade macaroni and cheese is hard to beat. And plan to make lots because you'll definitely want more than one serving.
Mac and Cheese Casserole Ingredients
- 1 pkg. (8 ounces) elbow macaroni
- 1 small onion chopped fine
- 2-4 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp. flour
- 1/2-1 tsp. dry mustard (depending on preference)
- 1 tsp. salt
- onion powder
- seasoned salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1-2 cups milk
- 1 pkg. cheddar cheese, grated
- 2 pimientos, diced (optional)
- 1/2- 1 cup cup breadcrumbs
- 3 tomatoes, sliced into wedges (optional)
If you don't have pimentos or tomatoes on hand, no worries, I don't make this recipe with these two ingredients and it's still every bit as good.
A White Sauce Makes for a Better Casserole Giving a Nice, Velvety Sauce Around the PastaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Bring on the White Sauce
Noodles are so much nicer enveloped in a creamy sauce.
Making Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
Step 1: Grease a large casserole dish. Make sure you grease the sides as well as the bottom.
Step 2: Cook macaroni until just cooked. (Do not fully cook because it will continue cooking and expanding in the oven.)
Step 3: Saute onion in butter. Remove and set aside. Make a white sauce (roux) by whisking in 2-3 tablespoons flour, a pinch of dry mustard, salt, pepper, seasonings, and Worcestershire sauce. Whisk in 1-2 cups of milk and simmer until mixture thickens. Add onions to thickened mixture.
Step 4: Layer macaroni, white sauce, grated cheese and breadcrumbs in your casserole dish. If necessary, make two layers. Top with grated cheddar cheese and breadcrumbs.
Step 5: Bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes until mixture is bubbly and crispy around the edges. If desired, turn on broil and watch closely until top is bubbling and crispy.
Step 6: Remove mac and cheese from oven and let sit 5 minutes.
A Word About When to Add Cheese
- Some cooks like to put all their grated cheese into their white sauce.
- Others cooks like to make a cheese sauce and also layer grated cheese in their casserole.
- In this recipe, I stick to the white sauce, but layer my grated cheese throughout.
Much has to do with preference and it can be neat to try the three different methods to see which version you like best. You can easily do this with the recipe on this page.
A few minutes before removing casserole from oven, turn on broil. Watch closely so that top doesn't burn. This will add crispiness to your casserole.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese - A Slice of Heaven
Mac & Cheese Time-Saving Tips
- Grate and freeze your cheese ahead of time so that when you go to make mac and cheese this is already done.Grease casserole dish for easy clean-up later. Grease along top edge to prevent cheese sticking.
- Run a knife around edge of casserole dish as soon as you remove it from oven. This prevents cheese sticking to sides of dish.
- Cut your mac and cheese into squares before cheese hardens. This makes for easier removal for servings.
- Use a lidded casserole dish so that your casserole stays warm if you'll be serving this to a crowd. A lid also keeps casserole from drying out when storing in fridge.
Ham Adds a Smoky Flavor
If you have left over ham, chop it and add it to macaroni and cheese for a great-tasting casserole to feed a hungry crowd. In the picture below, I added chopped ham into left-over mac and cheese, then topped it with more cheese before warming it in the oven for a second serving. It was every bit as good with a second reheating and the ham imparted a smoky flavor.
Why a Large Enamel Pan?
I like using a large enamel pan for my mac and cheese as pictured in this article.
These pans take a beating and they keep everything warm for a long time.
They are deep which is great if you are making a big batch of macaroni and cheese.
A dish with a lid is preferable to an open-faced casserole pan.
At times, I make my mac and cheese ahead and freeze it right in the pan, covering it with a large plastic freezer bag.
If you've never made homemade mac and cheese, the videos below will give you a good overview of the process.
Crispy Macaroni and Cheese
Those Delicious Extras
Some cooks like to "fancy up" their homemade mac and cheese. Once you have the basic recipe down, it is easy to add in extras.
Mac and Cheese Variations
chopped green peppers
chopped garlic sausage
chopped spicy sausage
Peppers Go Well With Cheese and Can be Used to Add Color and Bump Up Nutrition
Fussy Eaters and Adding Nutrition
Most kids love macaroni and cheese but as a parent, you may wish to sneak in some extra nutrition. How to do so?
- Use organic all grain or whole wheat macaroni
- Grind up sunflower seeds and add them to the breadcrumbs
- Grind up almonds and add them to the breadcrumbs
- Add lots of green peppers
- Add grated zucchini
- Add finely-chopped spinach
- Add chopped tomatoes
Worried that your noodles will become too big and mushy?
What to Do With Left-Over Macaroni and Cheese
If you've made a large pan of macaroni and cheese and now aren't sure what to do with the left-overs, rest assured that you can reheat them. If you are worried that the noodles may expand or become mushy from a second or third reheating, there are a couple of ways around this:
- For additional heatings, uncover your dish and reheat in oven. This helps to dry things out and keeps the top of the casserole crispy.
- Another trick is to use a large oiled cookie sheet and after breaking up your ingredients, place them in a thin layer and reheat in oven. This also serves to dry the macaroni and helps combat it swelling and becoming overly mushy.
- Another delicious alternative is to break up and fry your mac and cheese on top of the stove. Because it tastes so delicious, most people don't bat an eye if the noodles overcook, but frying in a bit of oil helps them to keep their shape.
Freezing & Reheating Tip
If you have to freeze your left-overs, when you go to reheat them, use the second method above.
Smooth Macaroni and Cheese
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© 2008 Athlyn Green
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