Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

This baked macaroni and cheese recipe combines delicious sharp cheddar and cream cheese for a flavorful and creamy cheese sauce. Before serving, top with breadcrumbs and bake. Breadcrumbs add a wonderfully crisp texture on top of the soft cheesy pasta.

baked macaroni and cheese in a cast iron skillet with a wood spoon

And for this month’s savory recipe: easy baked macaroni and cheese! Or should I really call it shells & cheese?

Dinner ruts. You know what I’m talking about. Tired and hungry, when clock hits 6pm, you end up making the same chicken dish you’ve made 396 times before. Your usual dinner rotation is safe because the family loves it, but it’s also losing its appeal. Getting out of the rut feels like climbing a mountain because you’re busy, lacking inspiration, and/or you don’t have the right ingredients to try something new. I know it because I’m there with you.

baked macaroni and cheese on a plate with a fork

So here’s what I’m doing this year and feel free to borrow it. My goal is to make a new-to-us dinner recipe each week. That’s not a huge commitment because it’s only 1 night a week, but the slight variation makes our “regulars” taste a little less mundane. The latest and greatest in my kitchen? This straight-up comfort food in a skillet. It’s nothing crazy or unique, but it’s not something I usually make either. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had homemade macaroni and cheese, which is the reason I chose it.

Let me show you how to make this easy baked macaroni and cheese. And I promise, it easy!

buttered noodles in a glass bowl with a wood spoon

How to Make Baked Mac & Cheese in 4 Steps

  1. Make the noodles. You can use any shape you’d like; I went for shells because how irresistible are shells & cheese? My second pick would be elbow macaroni. Add a little butter so the noodles don’t stick.
  2. Make the sauce. Let’s get to those step pictures in a second.
  3. Combine the buttered noodles and sauce.
  4. Bake.

2 images of shredded cheese on a cutting board and pouring shredded cheese into sauce mixture on the stove

2 images of cheese sauce in a skillet on the stove and mixing cheese sauce and noodles in a glass bowl with a wood spoon

Mac and Cheese Sauce

Prepare the sauce in the same skillet in which you’ll bake the mac & cheese. You’ll start by making a béchamel sauce. Don’t get nervous, it’s just how you begin the cheese sauce. Melt down some butter, add flour and milk, then stir in cheddar cheese, salt, and spices. And a dash of hot sauce for kick. Let it all simmer and melt for a few minutes. Soon you’ll have the creamiest, most flavorful cheese sauce.

What Cheese is Best for Baked Macaroni and Cheese?

For the best results, I recommend an extra sharp cheddar. You can use mostly cheddar plus another cheese for more flavor. And for optimal flavor, shred the cheese yourself. Don’t buy the pre-shredded cheddar. The pre-shredded bagged cheese typically has stabilizers and a drier texture. You want it off the block!

Here are the spices: garlic powder, smoked paprika, and mustard powder. I highly recommend the mustard powder for a sharp kick and added depth of flavor. Same reason I rave about it in this ham & cheese strata!

My secret ingredient though? I add 2 ounces of cream cheese when it’s time to mix the noodles + sauce together. This just adds another level of creamy + dreamy + indulgent + rich.

noodles and cheese sauce in a glass bowl

2 images of breadcrumb topping in a glass bowl and breadcrumb topping on macaroni and cheese before baking

Why Bake Macaroni and Cheese?

Doesn’t that just add another step? Yes, it does. But baking macaroni and cheese adds texture! Cheesy creamy underneath a crunchy, toasty, crisp topping. The topping is simply Panko breadcrumbs mixed with some melted butter. I used pre-seasoned Panko for extra flavor. If you use regular breakcrumbs or Panko, add some flavor with parmesan and garlic powder.

overhead image of baked macaroni and cheese in a cast iron skillet

Looking for an epic creamy mac and cheese variation? Try my company-worthy macaroni and cheese recipe. I add bacon, sautéed spinach, and white cheddar!

More Dinner Recipes:

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baked macaroni and cheese in a cast iron skillet with a wood spoon

Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: serves 8
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American


This baked macaroni and cheese recipe combines delicious sharp cheddar and cream cheese for a flavorful and creamy cheese sauce. Before serving, top with breadcrumbs and bake. Breadcrumbs add a wonderfully crisp texture on top of the soft cheesy pasta.


  • 1 pound (450g) dry elbow pasta (or pasta shells!)
  • 6 Tablespoons (86g) unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 Tablespoons (24g) all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups (720ml) whole milk*
  • 3 and 1/2 cups (14 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese*
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: salt, ground mustard, smoked paprika, and garlic powder
  • dash of hot sauce (optional)
  • 2 ounces (55g) brick-style cream cheese
  • 1 cup (90g) Panko breadcrumbs*
  • optional for serving: finely chopped fresh parsley


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C).
  2. In a large pot of boiling water, add a pinch of salt and the pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente, about 1-2 minutes less than the package cook time. Drain the cooked pasta, pour into a large bowl and stir in 2 Tablespoons of butter. Set pasta aside.
  3. In a large saucepan or 12-inch oven-safe skillet, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour to form a thick paste. Cook and whisk the paste for 1 minute, then slowly whisk in the milk. Once all of the milk is added, continue to whisk. Bring to a simmer. Once simmering, whisk in the cheese until smooth. Whisk in the salt, ground mustard, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and hot sauce (if using). Cook for 2-3 minutes until thickened.
  4. Pour the sauce over the buttered pasta. Add the cream cheese and stir everything together until the pasta is completely coated and cream cheese is melted. Scoop pasta back into skillet or a greased 9×13 inch pan.
  5. Melt the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter and mix with the Panko. Sprinkle over pasta.
  6. Bake pasta for 30 minutes or until it is lightly browned on top and the sides are bubbling. I suggest covering the pasta halfway through bake time to prevent the top from burning.
  7. All to sit for 5 minutes before serving with a little fresh parsley. Careful, it’s hot!


  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: To make ahead of time, simply prepare the dish through step 5. Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days before continuing with step 6. You can also freeze the macaroni and cheese after step 5 for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then continue with step 6. Add about 5 minutes to bake time. You can also freeze the fully baked macaroni and cheese for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bake at 400°F (204°C) for 40 minutes.
  2. Milk: Whole milk is strongly recommended for richest tasting sauce. If needed, you can use a lower fat or nondairy milk. Keep in mind that the sauce won’t be as rich.
  3. Cheese: For best flavor, I recommend a sharp cheddar and to buy a block or two and grate yourself. It’s freshest that way. The pre-shredded bagged cheese typically has stabilizers and a drier texture. You can also use a mix of cheddar and other favorite cheese such as Gruyere, fontina, or gouda.
  4. Breadcrumbs: I used seasoned Panko, which you can find in the breadcrumb aisle at the store. You can use plain. If you use plain, feel free to add a little dried parsley, grated parmesan cheese, and some garlic powder. This is just for extra yummy flavor.
  5. Adapted from Alton Brown.

Keywords: macaroni and cheese


  1. Hi Sally. I made your Mac-n-Cheese for Thanksgiving dinner and it was a big hit with the kiddos. I think it tastes even better the next day! Thanks for a Kid-Winning Recipe!! This will surely be going on the table for Christmas dinner! Thanks again!

  2. Kathleen Nelson says:

    Thank you so much for this awesome recipe! It was super easy to whip up and tasted really good! It also was super easy to follow.
    ~Kathleen Nelson

  3. Hey there Sally! I absolutely loved your recipe. It was just heavenly and family just loves this. All the thanks and praise goes to you. Your deteiled step by step instructions and the pictures helped too. Again thank you Very Much.

  4. Syuhada ahmad says:

    Hi Sally

    can i substitute the ground mustard with normal mustard or anything else?

    1. The ground mustard adds a sharp kick and added depth of flavor but if you don’t have any you can leave it out. If you would like to try using a prepared mustard, Dijon is a better choice than yellow mustard as the flavor is closer.

  5. I really love this recipe!!

  6. Earl C Williams says:

    Wow, made this yesterday and it is so very good. I have to admit when it came out of the oven in a 12″iron skillet, it looked enormous. I told my wife to invite ten cowboys to dinner because we had plenty.
    It didnt take long to make a serious dent in the Mac and Cheese as we both had monstrous helpings. The flavors were great. Cant recommend this dish enough.

  7. Very good for my fist time making homemade Mac and cheese for a 7 year old that is a conissueuer! It was ma little grainy, any tips? I shredded my own sharp cheddar and gruyere.

  8. it was really good ! i used mozzarella and cheddar.

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