Homemade Mac and Cheese

$4.19 recipe / $1.05 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.28 from 68 votes
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If there’s one recipe that all cooks need to have under their belt, it’s a classic homemade mac and cheese recipe. Like, nothing fancy or unique, just straight-up creamy, comforting, cheesy goodness! So that’s what I have for you today. This classic stovetop macaroni and cheese recipe is made with a simple but creamy roux-based cheese sauce that will satisfy all of your cheesy pasta cravings. It’s amazingly delicious on its own, but we also have a list of fun add-ins and other ways you can customize your mac and cheese and make it your own.

Overhead view of a bowl of mac and cheese with a fork

How to Make Mac and Cheese Extra Creamy

For this extra cheesy homemade mac and cheese, I used slightly more roux and added about 30% more cheese than I generally do to my simple stovetop mac and cheese recipes. The thicker sauce and extra cheese made this mac and cheese so lusciously creamy and cheesy that I couldn’t stop sneaking forkfuls between photographs. AND the best part is that it even stays smooth and creamy when reheated in the microwave. Mac and cheese heaven! 🙌

Ingredients for Mac and Cheese

Here’s what you’ll need to make this super creamy and cheesy homemade mac and cheese recipe:

  • Macaroni: Of course! But you can actually use any pasta shape you like or have on hand and it will still be an amazing vehicle for this cheesy sauce.
  • Butter & Flour: Butter and flour make a “roux” which thickens the sauce and helps the cheese melt into the sauce smoothly. Without a roux, the water in the milk will repel the fat in the cheese and you’ll get a lumpy sauce.
  • Cheddar Cheese: I used sharp cheddar because it gives the most flavor punch, but you can use a medium or mild, if you prefer. Always buy the cheese in block form and shred it yourself for the smoothest sauce. Pre-shredded cheese is coated in starch and doesn’t always melt properly.
  • Seasoning: Because we want the flavor of the cheese to be the star of the show, the sauce is seasoned simply with a little onion powder, hot sauce, and salt. That’s it! But we have plenty ideas for more flavor add-ins below.

What is a Roux?

This classic stovetop mac and cheese recipe starts with a roux, which is a cooked mixture of flour and fat (in this case, butter). The roux thickens the sauce and helps the cheese melt smoothly into the sauce instead of clumping up as it melts. While there are ways to make a cheese sauce without a roux, taking this extra step definitely creates the creamiest, dreamiest cheese sauce for your mac and cheese.

What Kind of Cheese is Best for Mac and Cheese?

Cheddar is probably the most popular cheese for macaroni and cheese and sharp cheddar provides the most pronounced flavor. But if you want to experiment outside of the confines of cheddar, there are a ton of other cheeses that are great in macaroni and cheese! You can use one or a combination of cheeses to make your mac and cheese your own.

Here are some other cheeses that work great with macaroni and cheese:

  • Parmesan
  • Gruyere
  • Smoked Gouda
  • Parmesan
  • Chevre
  • Cream Cheese
  • Brie
  • Monterey jack or pepper jack

Tips for Homemade Mac and Cheese

To get the smoothest, creamiest cheese sauce for your mac and cheese, follow these tips:

  • Do not use pre-shredded cheese, which is coated in starch and doesn’t melt smoothly.
  • Use whole milk for the richest mac and cheese.
  • Make sure the milk has come to a simmer and fully thickened before beginning to add the cheese. If the starches in the roux have not plumped and thickened the sauce yet, the cheese will not melt in smoothly.
  • Do not let the cheese sauce boil. Overheating the cheese sauce can cause it to separate and become grainy, so after the milk has thickened, turn off the heat before adding the cheese.
Side view of mac and cheese in a pot

What Else Can I Add to Mac and Cheese?

Here’s where mac and cheese can get really fun. In addition to changing the cheeses, you can switch up the herbs and spices, add in some veggies, or your favorite protein to make your own homemade mac and cheese creation. Here are some other fun ingredients to add to your mac and cheese:

  • Proteins: Cooked chicken, Bacon, Sausage, Tuna, Ham
  • Vegetables: Broccoli, Spinach, Peas, Pickled jalapeños, Rotel
  • Sauces & Condiments: Kimchi, Pesto, Sriracha, Salsa, Buffalo sauce

More Mac and Cheese Recipes

Overhead view of homemade mac and cheese in the pot
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Homemade Mac and Cheese

4.28 from 68 votes
This incredibly creamy and cheesy homemade mac and cheese is great on its own or as a jumping off point for your own creation.
side view of macaroni and cheese in a bowl with a fork
Servings 4 about 1.25 cups each
Prep 5 minutes
Cook 20 minutes
Total 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. macaroni ($0.67)
  • 3 Tbsp butter ($0.30)
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour ($0.03)
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder ($0.05)
  • 2 cups whole milk ($0.84)
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce* ($0.02)
  • 1/2 tsp salt ($0.03)
  • 8 oz. block sharp cheddar, shredded ($2.25)

Instructions 

  • Cook the macaroni according to the package directions (boil for 7-8 minutes, or until tender). Drain the macaroni in a colander.
  • Place the butter, flour, and onion powder in a medium pot. Whisk and heat over medium until the butter is melted and the mixture begins to bubble. Once bubbling, continue to whisk and cook for one minute.
  • After cooking the butter and flour roux, whisk in the milk. Continue to cook and whisk over medium heat until the milk begins to gently simmer, at which point it will thicken to the consistency of heavy cream or gravy.
  • Turn the burner off. Season the white sauce with the salt and hot sauce.
  • Begin to add the shredded cheddar, one handful at a time, whisking it in until completely melted before adding more. Continue until all of the cheese has been melted into the sauce. If the sauce becomes too cold to melt the cheese, place it back over low heat only briefly to continue melting the cheese. Overheating the sauce can cause it to break and become grainy.
  • Add the cooked and drained pasta to the pot with the cheese sauce and stir to combine. Serve the mac and cheese hot and enjoy!

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Notes

*This amount of hot sauce does not make the macaroni and cheese spicy. It just  brightens the flavor a bit. You can also accomplish this with Dijon mustard (same amount).

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 610kcalCarbohydrates: 53gProtein: 26gFat: 32gSodium: 787mgFiber: 2g
Read our full nutrition disclaimer here.
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side view of macaroni and cheese in a bowl with a fork

How to Make Homemade Mac and Cheese

Shredded cheddar in a bowl

Start by shredding an 8oz. block of sharp cheddar. It’s very important to shred the cheese yourself instead of using pre-shredded cheese. For more information on that, see the section above the recipe titled “Avoid Pre-Shredded Cheese.”

boiled macaroni held above the pot with a pasta spoon

Next, boil 8oz. of macaroni according to the box directions (boil for 7-8 minutes, or just until tender). Drain the macaroni in a colander. (This is the Barilla elbow macaroni, which has a slightly unconventional elbow shape and texture.)

Butter flour and onion powder in the pot

You can start the cheese sauce either while the macaroni is boiling, or wait until it’s draining and just make it in the same pot to save on dishes. Add 3 Tbsp butter, 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour, and ½ tsp onion powder to the pot.

Roux being whisked in the pot

Place the pot over medium heat and allow the butter to melt. Whisk the butter, flour, and onion powder together as the mixture begins to get bubbly and frothy. Cook and whisk for about one minute after it becomes bubbly.

Milk being poured into the pot

Whisk 2 cups of milk into the butter and flour roux. Continue whisking as the milk begins to heat (keep the pot over medium heat).

Thickened white sauce on the back of a spoon

Allow the milk to come up to a gentle simmer, at which point it will thicken to the consistency of heavy cream or gravy. Turn the burner off at this point.

salt and hot sauce added to the white sauce

Season the sauce with ½ tsp salt and ½ tsp hot sauce, or the seasonings of your choice (other great options are dry mustard, pepper, smoked paprika, pesto, etc.).

shredded cheddar added to the pot

Begin adding 8oz. shredded cheddar to the pot, one handful at a time, whisking until it is completely melted before adding more. If the sauce cools down too much to continue melting the cheese, you can put it over low heat briefly, but avoid allowing the sauce to simmer again. Overheating cheese sauces will cause them to break and become grainy and oily.

Finished cheese sauce dripping off the whisk

When all of the cheese is melted into the sauce, the cheese sauce is complete. You can give it a taste at this point and adjust the seasonings if you’d like. Remember, you want the sauce to be seasoned well because the flavor intensity will be diluted a bit once the macaroni is added.

Cooked macaroni being stirred into the cheese sauce

Add the cooked and drained macaroni back to the pot and stir to combine with the cheese sauce.

Finished mac and cheese in the pot

And that’s it! Your homemade mac and cheese is done. Don’t tell me you don’t want to dive right into that pot of mac and cheese and swim around a bit. 😂

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  1. I made this recipe with protein pasta for my meal prep and it’s incredible! It reheats beautifully. Not grainy AT ALL if you are a real A student and follow the recipe:)

  2. Great basic mac n cheese recipe! I took a lot of license with it, and it still came out delicious! I subbed corn starch for flour, mustard powder for hot sauce, and pre-shredded Mexican cheese for a block of cheddar. I also sprinkled some black pepper onto my bowl. Yummy!

  3. Don’t think 2 cups of milk is called for. Maybe 1/2 or 1 cup but not 2. not with only 8 Oz of Mac.

  4. It was April 12th and I was in fcs. We got to make our own food and we decided to make Mac and Cheese. We used this recipe and did everything perfectly. We didn’t make a single error. But while finishing the the Mac and Cheese we saw that the texture was very odd. It grainy and didn’t taste right. We even had out engineering teacher try the Mac and Cheese. He said “The taste is good but the texture it though me off. I would give it a 3/10”. 3 of 10 is NOT good enough. I want perfection and want a 10/10. This meal was graded and now I have an F because of this recipe. I don’t recommend this at all, unless you want to get an F. Please don’t make unless you want horrible Mac and cheese and a waste of time and money making the Mac and Cheese. This was so horrible and was a waste of food.

      1. Actually John. I am a very good chief and I didn’t make a single error. I am a straight A student and I never make any mistakes. This was the recipes fault not mine.

  5. This is the best Mac and cheese I’ve ever had! It is so smooth, creamy, and delicious! The onion powder gives it an amazing flavor!

  6. Absolutely KILLER! An immediate all-time favorite! The only edits I made were to dice the carrots like others suggested so that they cooked/softened more quickly, did a little extra garlic, and added a little cayenne. Absolutely phenomenal!!