My definition of a perfect bowl of macaroni and cheese consists of corkscrew-shaped pasta, a sharp cheese sauce (perhaps with some combination of Swiss, cheddar, and Gruyere), a touch of nutmeg and black pepper, and a buttery topping of crispy breadcrumbs. Preferably, I would eat it as is, but I'm not above adding pulled pork or lobster meat either.
There are so many things to love about macaroni and cheese, but one of the biggest perks is that it's completely customizable. You can swap out the pasta shape (say medium sized shells instead of elbow macaroni), change around the cheeses, or add more heat if you're feeling spicy in the form of diced jalapeños, cracked black pepper, or dry mustard.
As a rule of thumb, mac and cheese can be made partially in advance, which will save time if you're trying to make a batch for a weeknight dinner. "The sauce can be made and cooled to use at a later time. We recommend using your cheese sauce within a week. The sauce on its own won't freeze well, but mixing the sauce with pasta and then freezing will help to preserve the sauce for longer," says Clare Malfitano, head chef at Murray's Cheese Bar.
When it's time to reheat, Malfitano has some tips for ensuring that the mac and cheese doesn't dry out. "Add a little additional cheese, mornay sauce, and cream or milk. Then reheat either in the oven or on the stove, depending on how long you can wait," says Malfitano
Ahead, find out cheesiest, creamiest, all-around classic macaroni and cheese recipes.
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Our best mac and cheese recipes
1. Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese
Leave it to the queen of all things cooking (and gardening, crafting, and decorating) to serve up a recipe for a perfect bowl of homemade mac and cheese. Martha's trick is using two different kinds of cheese — sharp white cheddar and Gruyere — both in the bechamel sauce and mixed with breadcrumbs for a crunchy topping.
2. Creamiest Baked Mac and Cheese
There's a few ways to make this better-than-average baked mac and cheese recipe. The first is undercooking the pasta so it's slightly more al dente; once you add the hot, creamy cheese sauce, the pasta will absorb the heat and continue to cook. Second is using way more cheese sauce than you think you need in order to prevent the cooked macaroni from drying out. And third, a combination of oven baking and broiling will result in a bubbling hot pasta dish with a crispy, crunchy topping.
3. Stovetop Mac and Cheese with Garlic Powder and White Pepper
Food Editor Emma Laperruque promises a recipe for macaroni and cheese that is just as easy as the boxed version with way better flavor.
4. Melissa Clark's Stovetop Mac and Cheese
If you prefer a bowl of mac and cheese that forgoes a broiled breadcrumb topping, this ooey-gooey recipe is the one for you.
5. Baking Sheet Macaroni and Cheese
On the other hand, if your favorite part of eating homemade macaroni and cheese is getting to eat all of the crunchy, crispy bits on top, this "why-didn't-I-think-of-that" recipe from Food52 founder Amanda Hesser means a thin layer of cheesy noodles, all of which get super crispy when baked on a sheet tray.
6. Greens Mac 'n' Cheese from Jamie Oliver
Wondering how to get your little ones (or maybe little ones at heart) to eat their greens? Stir roasted leeks, broccolini, baby spinach, and fresh thyme into the cheese sauce for this test kitchen-approved mac and cheese recipe.
One of the best uses for this multi-cooker is mac and cheese. "It comes together in about 20 minutes, is cheesy-as-heck, and best of all, won't take up any valuable oven space," writes recipe developer Ella Quittner.
8. My Favorite Vegan Mac and Cheese
To make the cheesiest cheese sauce that's totally vegan, combine soaked raw cashews, cannellini beans, lemon juice, paprika, turmeric, miso, nutritional yeast, and cayenne pepper in a food processor and blend until it's super duper smooth.
9. Tikka Masala Macaroni and Cheese from Preeti Mistry
Inspired by the flavors of chicken tikka masala and the creaminess of butter chicken, this warming, tomatoey mac and cheese is something I want a giant bowl of on the coldest day of the year.
10. 3-Ingredient Macaroni and Cheese
Not all mac and cheese needs to be made with a bechamel sauce. For this recipe, all it takes is starchy pasta water, a little bit of melted butter, and a meltable, lovable cheese.
11. Truffled Macaroni and Cheese
Swiss Raclette cheese and good truffle oil introduce strong, luxurious flavors in this fancy macaroni and cheese.
12. Sheet-Pan Mac and Cheese with Pumpkin and Brown Butter
"There's nothing cozier — or easier to pull off — than sheet-pan mac and cheese. It's perfectly creamy and crunchy, lacking in any superfluous bits. And when pumpkin and brown butter join the party, well, it's unstoppable," writes former Food52 staffer Ella Quittner.
13. Fall Mac and Cheese with Butternut Squash and Bacon
When there's an abundance of seasonal produce filling the shelves at the grocery store or farmers' markets, you might feel guilty for craving something as simple and timeless as mac and cheese. This recipe offers the best of both worlds, allowing you to itakie advantage of fall's finest butternut squash.
Build up the savory, satisfying flavor of umami in this mac and cheese by using just ¼ cup of white miso paste.
15. President Reagan's Favorite Macaroni and Cheese
Politics aside, Reagan might be onto something with this macaroni and cheese recipe. It only uses three cups grated cheddar cheese (versus what some might consider a more interesting trio of gouda, Gruyere, or something really funky like gorgonzola).