This old-fashioned macaroni and cheese is, hands down, the easiest and best way to make this timeless American classic.
It’s cheesy, quick, and downright delicious.
You can always count on me for recipes that require minimal effort but yield high rewards. And this dish is no exception.
Of course, there are so many mac and cheese recipes out there, and I’ve covered plenty!
So what makes this one so special?
Well, it comes together in a snap and needs just half a dozen ingredients. Better still, there’s no neon-orange “cheese” powder!
Instead, you’ll add real cheese for the best flavor and texture.
This old-fashioned macaroni and cheese is a no fuss, no muss recipe that’s ideal for busy weeknights. Plus, it’s kid-approved!
Old-Fashioned Mac and Cheese
It doesn’t get simpler than macaroni pasta coated with a thick cheesy sauce.
It also doesn’t get any better than a big bowl of warm, cheesy pasta, amirite?
There’s no question that mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. It’s easy to make, affordable, and most importantly, incredibly delish.
And this recipe is proof that you don’t need to overcomplicate things to make them great.
All you need are a handful of pantry staples – and some decent cheese, of course!
Like I said, this recipe is super simple. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Elbow Macaroni – this is macaroni and cheese, after all! But feel free to use any pasta you prefer.
- Cheese – any melty cheese works, but for classic mac and cheese, use cheddar. And be sure to grate it yourself!
- Milk – the liquid ingredient that serves as the base of the sauce. Go for full fat for maximum flavor!
- Butter – for added richness.
- Eggs – they thicken the sauce and add richness, as well.
- Salt and Pepper – to taste.
How to Make Old-Fashioned Mac and Cheese
1. Cook the pasta.
I like to cook elbow macaroni for only 4-5 minutes because it will continue to cook in the oven.
If you cook the pasta until it’s ready to eat, it will likely turn mushy in the oven.
2. Grease the dish.
This part is important! The pasta will stick to the bottom of the dish if you don’t.
3. Combine the cooked macaroni, butter, cheese, salt, and pepper.
Add the ingredients directly to the dish for easy clean-up – just be sure you have a tall-sided dish, so nothing spills out.
4. Whisk together the milk and eggs.
This mixture serves as the base of the sauce. When baked along with grated cheese, they turn into a thick and creamy mixture, kind of like savory custard.
Pour the mixture over the macaroni.
5. Bake the dish.
It will need around 40 to 50 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. Add more cheese!
This step is optional, but I like to add extra cheese and broil the dish for about 3-5 minutes.
7. Serve and enjoy!
Let the dish sit for a few minutes before serving.
The Best Cheese for Mac and Cheese
When choosing the perfect cheese for mac and cheese, there’s really only one consideration: that it should melt well.
So, the first thing you need to remember is that pre-shredded cheese does not melt well.
It has a coating that keeps it from clumping together. But, unfortunately, it also keeps it from turning gooey.
With that in mind, you’ll want to get a block of cheese and shred it yourself.
But what kind of cheese is best?
If you don’t want to overthink things, just go for cheddar.
Whether it’s mild, medium, sharp, white, Vermont, or New York-style, you can’t go wrong with cheddar.
It’s salty, tasty, and melts beautifully – it truly is a no-brainer.
But just in case you’re looking to experiment, here are some other cheese I personally like to use for mac and cheese.
And remember, you can stick to just one kind or use a combination.
- Mozzarella – Perfect if you like your pasta extra gooey and stretchy. It’s mild in flavor, though, so I suggest you pair it with another cheese that has a bold taste.
- Blue Cheese – You either love it, or you hate it. I used to hate it, but now I can’t get enough! If you like bold and piquant flavors, you’ll love blue cheese in mac and cheese.
- Keep in mind that blue cheese is very pungent, so you’ll want to use it sparingly. This would work really well mixed with mild mozzarella.
- Gruyere – This is my absolute top choice. Gruyere has such a wonderful flavor, and it melts like a dream.
- Smoked Gouda – It’s the best candidate if you like to add a smoky flavor to your mac and cheese.
Tips for the Best Mac and Cheese
As with any easy recipe, there are some things you can do to help make it foolproof.
So, for the best ever old-fashioned macaroni and cheese, check out these tips:
- Whatever cheese you use, grate it yourself. For most recipes, using pre-shredded cheese is fine, but mac and cheese is where I draw the line.
- As mentioned, pre-shredded cheese is coated with an anti-caking agent, cellulose, that keeps the cheese from melting at its best. So, while grating requires a bit more effort, it does make for a far superior dish.
- Undercook the pasta. For this recipe, I like to cook elbow macaroni for just 4-5 minutes because it’ll continue to cook in the oven. This way, the pasta will be perfectly al dente.
- If you overcook the pasta accidentally, coat it with butter before baking. This’ll stop it from cooking further.
- For extra cheesy mac and cheese, sprinkle the dish with more grated cheese. Towards the last few minutes of baking, crank up the heat to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 2-3 minutes. The cheese will still be melty inside, but it will turn the top into a crispy outer crust.
- Keep leftovers in an airtight container or cover the dish with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Cooking mac and cheese isn’t an exact science which means you can easily alter the ingredients to fit your preference.
Luckily, options for toppings and mixings are limitless! Here’s a few of my faves:
- Ham, Bacon, Shredded Chicken – It’s hard to resist a meaty mac and cheese! If you’re vegetarian, mushrooms make a great alternative.
- Other Pasta Shells – rigatoni, fusilli, ziti, penne, bowtie – pick your favorite shape. I personally go for short and cylindrical pasta so that the sauce can easily stick to the surface and get inside the shells.
- Crushed Ritz or Panko Breadcrumbs – sprinkle them on top for a crunchy crust. You can also try other crunchy toppings such as French onions and croutons.
- Sriracha, Jalapeños, Red Chili Flakes – something spicy for a kick.
- Stovetop Mac and Cheese: combine all the ingredients in a pot and stir until the cheese melts.
More Macaroni and Cheese Recipes You’ll Love
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