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This Oven-Baked Mac and Cheese is incredibly delicious, and because it’s made dump-and-bake style, it’s also super easy, making it perfect for the new cook and the experienced chef all at once!
MAC AND CHEESE! That’s it. Mac and cheese. That’s all you need to hear, right?! I mean, I was sold on this dish immediately after reading the title. It’s easy, it’s CHEESY, it’s oven-baked mac and cheese!
This real deal mac and cheese is spectacular enough for your holiday spread but easy enough to throw together any time that you’re feeling like you need to nosh on some true comfort food. Bottom line, it’s the perfect side dish for any and all occasions, the whole family will love it, and it takes minimal active kitchen time! Are you in? I’m in!
What makes this the best mac and cheese?
I’m a sucker for mac and cheese, but let’s be honest, sometimes you take a bite of mac and cheese and it just does not hit the spot. The cheese is “eh,” the creamy, gooey texture is lacking, and it’s chock full of mysterious ingredients that are likely to cause a stomachache in an hour or two. THIS mac and cheese, though, is the total opposite of all of that: it’s super easy (really, anyone can do it!) thanks to our fail-proof dump-and-bake method, requires minimal ingredients (all of which you can pronounce!), and it is ultra-cheesy and creamy (like good mac and cheese should be!).
Baked Mac and Cheese Ingredients
This easy mac and cheese calls for just a few simple, everyday ingredients! Here’s what you’ll need to add to your next grocery list:
- Elbow Pasta – to start, you’ll need 12 ounces of dried elbow macaroni. We use (and love) THIS gluten-free option, but know that regular macaroni will totally work too!
- Milk – you’ll also need 3 cups of milk – we used regular, whole cow’s milk, but feel free to use plain, unsweetened almond milk if you’d prefer.
- Salt + Pepper + Garlic Powder – to season, we’ll use 1 teaspoon of salt and a ¼ teaspoon of black pepper.
- Butter – in order to really take the creamy, richness of this dish over the edge, you’ll also need 4 tablespoons of butter.
- Heavy Cream + Cream Cheese – 1/2 cup heavy cream and 4 ounces of cream cheese help make this mac and cheese super creamy.
- Shredded Cheese – what is macaroni and cheese without cheese?! It’s not mac and cheese, that’s for sure! You’ll need 3 cups of shredded cheese here! We used half sharp cheddar for flavor and half gouda for creaminess!
- Breadcrumbs – to add a little bit of texture and pizazz to our mac and cheese, we’ll need a ½ cup of breadcrumbs to sprinkle overtop! Feel free to use gluten-free or regular breadcrumbs here.
How to Make the Easiest Mac and Cheese
This is the absolute easiest mac and cheese that you will ever make, and it yields the tastiest and most decadent mac and cheese that you will ever eat! Here’s how you’ll throw this one together:
- Preheat the Oven – preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Combine the Pasta, Milk, and Salt – add the pasta, milk, and salt to a 3-quart baking dish and stir to combine.
- Add Some of the Butter – slice two tablespoons of butter and place over top of the macaroni + milk mixture.
- Cover and Bake – cover the dish with a fitted lid or aluminum foil as tightly as possible (this is important…the tighter the better!), then bake for 30 minutes.
- Combine the Butter, Breadcrumbs, and seasonings – while the macaroni bakes, combine the other 2 tablespoons of butter (this time melted), ½ cup of breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon dried parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder.
- Stir in the Cheese – after 30 minutes, remove the macaroni from the oven and take off the lid or foil covering. Stir in the cream cheese, heavy cream, two cups of shredded cheese and the black pepper.
- Top + Bake – sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese over top of the macaroni and cheese, followed by the breadcrumbs, then return to the oven and bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes, until the breadcrumbs and cheese are browned on top.
- Serve + Enjoy!
What’s the best type of cheese to use for mac and cheese?
When it comes to homemade macaroni and cheese, we recommend using two types of cheese if you can – one for creaminess and one for flavor. We used gouda for creaminess and sharp cheddar for flavor in this recipe, but feel free to use a different kind of cheese if you wish. Any combination of cheeses listed below will work beautifully:
- ANY Cheddar Cheese (mild, white, sharp, etc.)
- Monterey Jack
Tips for Creamy Mac and Cheese
While we feel like we cracked the code on creamy oven-baked mac and cheese, there are definitely a few tips that will ensure that your finished product is as creamy as ours was!
- Use Freshly Shredded Cheese – we are all about convenience over here, and typically, we are game for buying a bag of pre-shredded cheese, but when it comes to homemade mac and cheese, buying a block and shredding it yourself is the way to go. Pre shredded cheese contains anti-caking agents, making it less creamy and rich than the freshly shredded stuff.
- Add More Whole Milk – if your mac and cheese isn’t as creamy as you’d like, feel free to add another splash of milk! Also, whole milk makes for a much creamier mac and cheese than skim or 2% milk, so when it comes to mac and cheese, we say that splurging on the good stuff is totally worth it!
- Don’t Skip the Cream Cheese – the cream cheese in this recipe is essential for making a super creamy sauce!
Just for You
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Mac and Cheese Frequently Asked Questions
Absolutely! If you prefer your baked macaroni and cheese sans breadcrumbs, feel free to leave them off, and enjoy a bowl of cheesy goodness after it’s baked for 30 minutes and the cheese is stirred in.
It can! This mac and cheese recipe freezes really well, actually. When it comes to freezing, you can go one of two routes: freeze the whole dish together (this is great if you know that it’ll all get eaten relatively quickly after it’s thawed and reheated), or portion the macaroni and cheese into individual containers and freeze it that way (this is great if you know that you (or your family) will only eat a small amount of thawed and reheated mac and cheese at a time). To reheat, simply transfer your mac and cheese into an oven-safe dish and pop it into a 350°F oven for 30-45 minutes, until warmed through, or give it a quick zap in the microwave.
Definitely. We do think that the breadcrumb topping is best served right out of the oven, though, so if you’re planning on making this dish ahead of time, hold off on combining the breadcrumbs + butter, topping the mac and cheese, and giving it the final 15-minute uncovered bake (to get the breadcrumbs browned and crispy) until you’re ready to serve it.
While this classic mac and cheese is my absolute favorite, this side dish can totally be jazzed up and even turned into more of a complete meal all on its own! Here are a few variations worth trying:
- Add a Protein – when you stir the cheese into your macaroni, feel free to stir in some cooked chicken, lobster, cooked and crumbled ground beef, or even sliced fully cooked sausage to transform this side dish into a decadent main dish.
- Add Green Onions + Bacon – for a loaded take on macaroni and cheese, top the dish with cooked and crumbled bacon and sliced green onions just before serving.
- Add Spinach – for a little extra green in your meal, stir in 9 ounces of frozen spinach (defrosted and squeezed of excess water) at the same time that you stir in the shredded cheese.
We hope you enjoy this uber comforting, easy baked mac and cheese!
- 12 ounces dried elbow pasta
- 3 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 tablespoons butter divided
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 ounces cream cheese cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 3 cups shredded cheese divided
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- Preheat the oven to 400 F.
- Add the pasta, milk, and salt to a 9×13 inch, or other 3-quart baking dish, and stir to combine. Then, slice two tablespoons of butter and place over top of the macaroni.
- Cover the dish with a fitted lid or aluminum foil as tightly as possible, then bake for 30 minutes.
- While the macaroni bakes, combine 2 tablespoons of melted butter with the breadcrumbs, parsley, and garlic powder.
- After 30 minutes, remove the macaroni from the oven and very carefully take off the foil. Stir in the pepper, heavy cream, and cream cheese until it is fully melted, then stir in two cups of shredded cheese.
- Sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese over top of the macaroni, followed by the breadcrumbs, then return to the oven and bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes, until the breadcrumbs and cheese are browned on top.