Macaroni and Cheese

15 Ultra-Creamy Macaroni & Cheese Recipes

Satisfy your childhood dreams.

November 17, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland

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.


Our Best Mac & Cheese Recipes

1. Martha Stewart's Macaroni & 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 & 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 & Cheese With Garlic Powder & 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 & 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.

7. Instant Pot Mac & Cheese

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 & 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 & 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 & Cheese With Pumpkin & 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 & Cheese With Butternut Squash & 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.

14. Miso Mac and Cheese

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).

What is your favorite way to make mac and cheese? Let us know in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • W J Freeman
    W J Freeman
  • Misha
    Misha
  • HalfPint
    HalfPint
Staff Writer, Food & SEO

3 Comments

W J. November 21, 2021
We don't eat a lot of mac 'n cheese at home. But I frequently take Jennifer Blondek's (Chicopee, MA) Potluck Mac and Cheese recipe on Taste of Home in the slow cooker to family gatherings, reunions, and other potluck meetings. I seldom bring much leftover home.

I am usually requested to bring this dish as it has proven to be quite popular. I will be taking a pot of it to our family Thanksgiving this year as I have done for the past six or seven years.

The recipe is simple and quick to get started in the cooker. Mise en place. Get all the ingredients out and start a pot of water boiling for the macaroni. I usually use elbows, but shells or other types work just as well.

TOTAL TIME: Prep: 25 min. Cook: 2 hours

Ingredients:
3 cups uncooked elbow macaroni 250 g (I use 454 g, a whole 1 lb box usually)
1 package (16 ounces) process cheese (Velveeta), cubed 420 grams
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend 150 grams
2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese 250 grams
1-3/4 cups whole milk 410 g
1 can (12 ounces) 364 grams evaporated milk
3 large eggs, lightly beaten 149 g
3/4 cup butter, melted 160 g (optional, I usually leave this out as it is already calorie dense, but it undoubtedly more unctuous with the added butter.)

Directions
1. Cook macaroni according to package directions for al dente; drain. Transfer to a greased 5-qt. slow cooker. Stir in remaining ingredients.
2. Cook, covered, on low until a thermometer reads at least 160°, 2 to 2-1/2 hours, stirring once. Yield: 16 servings (3/4 cup each).

Note: I have added ingredient weights to the recipe. When I make this, while the noodles are cooking. I usually use a whole one lb box (454 g) of uncooked mac instead of the 250g called for in the recipe and maybe add a bit of extra cheese as well.

I put the slow cooker vessel on my 10 kilogram OXO scale and just add all the other ingredients to it directly, taring the balance between additions. I start with the raw eggs which I just beat in the crock pot instead of a separate vessel, then add the milks and finally the cheeses, cutting the Velveeta into the pot as I go. This is simple quick and there is very little to wash up afterwards except the fork used to beat the eggs, the knife used to cut the Velveeta and a spoon used to stir everything together. My prep time is more like 18 minutes total, which includes cooking the macaroni, draining it, and adding it to the crock pot cooker already in progress. Then I walk away for about an hour or so before coming back and giving everything a good stir.

When serving, make sure to keep the cover on as much as possible and the slow cooker on "warm" only or the mixture can dry out during service and more so after. It can be partially restored with a bit of milk.

There is a tendency for the bottom corners to brown excessively in some cookers. There are those who will deliberately dig this out as a treat, however.

Though the original recipe calls for Mexican cheese blend, you can use whatever cheeses you have on hand. You can also add a bit of nutmeg if you like.
 
Misha November 21, 2021
Patti LaBelle’s recipe using whole-wheat elbow macaroni and no Velveeta.
 
HalfPint November 19, 2021
My favorite is smitten kitchen's stovetop Mac and Cheese. I've made it so much that I now measure with my heart ;o)