Tested and updated October 2022
The trick with the best mac and cheese is to achieve that Zen-like balance of melted cheese and soft noodle goodness. Then to bring it on home, there’s gotta be a nice little crunch, brought on by a subtle dusting of breadcrumbs. It’s tricky at first, and it might take a few stabs before you get it right, but once you do, you’ll never go back to the box (unless you’re in a hurry). Oh yeah, if you really want this dish to rock, head over to our how-to make bechamel sauce primer or try mixing it up with our Ultimate Mac’n’Cheese Idea Generator.
Other mac and cheese recipes call for heavy cream, a wide variety of cheeses, add-on ingredients from caramelized onions to Buffalo chicken. Those can be great and fun to make too, if you have more time. But this Best Mac and Cheese recipe is perfect because it strips the dish down to its main parts: noodles, cheese, breadcrumbs and creaminess from the bechamel sauce. You can add more cheese to make it cheesier, you can double it and feed a family of four or more for a week, you can pair it with salad for a fairly easy and satisfying weeknight meal.
Most importantly, you can have a bowl of comforting, satisfying mac and cheese with fairly minimal effort. And sometimes, that’s all you need.
- 1 pound macaroni
- 1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, half melted
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups milk, warmed
- 6 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
- 3 ounces Gruyere, shredded
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add a hefty pinch of salt, then add the pasta. Cook according to package instructions until al dente.
- Drain the pasta, return to the pot, and add 1 tablespoon butter. Toss to coat and set aside.
- Add the melted butter to the bread crumbs. Combine with a fork, encouraging clumps to form. Set aside.
- Combine the cheddar and gruyere cheeses in a bowl. Set aside.
- In a heavy bottomed 2-quart saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine, cooking for 3 to 5 minutes, until blond and bubbling. Stir constantly, and do not let brown.
- Add a little of the warm milk and whisk to combine. The mixture will look like scrambled eggs. Slowly add the remaining milk in a steady stream, stirring with a whisk to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Remove the bechamel from the heat. Add the salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Fold in 6 ounces of the cheese mixture. Add to the pasta and fold to combine.
- Pour into a 9-by-13-inch glass casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining 3 ounces of cheese over top evenly. Finish off by spreading the breadcrumbs on top, creating an even coating.
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly and the bread crumbs have turned golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes and serve.