Easiest ever baked macaroni and cheese – this is a go-to recipe of many of my readers and it will become the same for your family!

Baked macaroni and cheese in white baking dish.
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No, really.

This is the easiest ever macaroni and cheese! And so delicious!

About this easy baked macaroni and cheese:

This baked macaroni and cheese is made like Grandma used to make it, the old fashioned, baked in a casserole dish style. If you’re looking for a creamy, non-baked recipe, you’ll probably love this copycat Panera mac and cheese or Instant Pot macaroni and cheese

I just love this baked macaroni and cheese, though. It’s a little bit chewier, with lots of great cheddar cheese flavor, and I especially love the way the top crisps up in the oven.

Plus it’s so easy! You just boil pasta, mix with grated cheese, a couple tablespoons of flour, and seasonings, put it in a casserole dish, and pour the milk over it. That’s it! No messing with white sauces or tricky steps. No getting four pots and pans dirty!

You can prep this macaroni and cheese ahead of time and keep it in the fridge overnight. It’s ready to bake when you want it!

Baked mac and cheese is a total crowd pleaser. This is a great recipe for busy weeknight meals but also for entertaining. Perfect for potlucks!

Enjoy one of our family’s favorite meals! I grew up eating this macaroni and cheese and it was always a special day when my mom prepared it. Now I love serving it to my family and I especially love how easy it is to prepare. I’m sure you will too!

Macaroni and cheese in casserole dish.

What you need to make baked mac and cheese

Really simple ingredients in this one, and lots of room to adapt the recipe to make it your own. For this macaroni and cheese recipe, you’ll need:

  • Elbow Macaroni – other shapes will work, as will whole wheat pasta. We haven’t tested this with a grain-free pasta, but it would probably work. Of course, the texture would be slightly different.
  • 1 pound of shredded cheese – we like extra sharp cheddar, but you can use many types of cheese. We always recommend shredding your own cheese fo the best texture (plus it’s cheaper), but pre-grated will work in a pinch.
  • Flour – this helps the mac and cheese thicken up. 
  • Ground mustard – this is totally optional but it adds depth to the flavor. You can also use dijon mustard if you don’t have ground mustard.
  • Milk – whole, 2%, skim…they’ll all work
  • Butter – helps you get that golden brown top on the macaroni and cheese! 
  • Salt and Pepper – always! You won’t need a lot of salt since cheese is salty.

How to make the best baked macaroni and cheese

This recipe is the best because it’s SO easy to make. No fussing with making a roux or a cheese sauce. 

Here are the simple steps:

  1. Preheat oven and spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray (or rub with butter) for easy clean up. 
  2. Cook pasta as directed on the package for al dente texture (don’t forget to salt your water!).
  3. While the macaroni cooks, combine most of the cheese with the flour, ground mustard, and pepper. 
  4. When the pasta is cooked and drained, mix it with the cheese mixture. 
  5. Place in greased pan, and pour milk over macaroni. Top with remaining cheese and dot with butter. Cover with foil.
  6. Bake for 45 minutes, taking foil off after 30 minutes if desired for a crisper top. 
  7. Most milk should be soaked up by the time it is done cooking, but we find it best to let this sit for about 10 minutes before serving. 
Overhead view of casserole dish full of macaroni and cheese.

FAQs

What kind of cheese is best for macaroni and cheese?

For this recipe, sharp cheddar is best (I use extra sharp) – it provides this macaroni and cheese with the maximum amount of flavor.

Can you make this macaroni and cheese with pre-grated cheese or do you have to grate your own?

Grate your own cheese for best results. Pre-grated cheese contains additives to prevent clumping in the bag but that also means the cheese shreds don’t melt as well. However, if all you have is pre-grated cheese, don’t worry, your mac and cheese will still be tasty.

Can I put breadcrumbs on top of this baked mac and cheese?

Breadcrumbs on the top would be good if that’s how you like mac & cheese!

Should I cover mac & cheese with foil when baking?

I like my top extra crispy. If you do not, I’d recommend covering with foil for at least the first 30 minutes, or up until the entire time.

Can baked macaroni and cheese be made ahead?

This can be prepped in full a day ahead (aside from baking) and baked prior to serving. If you have leftover mac and cheese, heat it in the microwave at medium heat. Watch out, it heats up quickly!

Can I use whole wheat pasta in this mac and cheese?

Whole wheat pasta is awesome in this, and is the way I usually make it.

Plated macaroni and cheese.
Recipe

Easiest Ever Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

4.42 from 649 votes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 45 minutes
Total: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Easiest ever baked macaroni and cheese – this is a go-to recipe of many of my readers and it will become the same for your family!
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Ingredients 

  • 1 package (16 oz) elbow macaroni
  • 1 pound (16 oz) sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 2 cups low-fat milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray or grease a casserole dish or a 9×13 pan.
  • Cook macaroni as directed on the package in salted water until tender, drain.
  • While macaroni is cooking, combine 2 and 1/2 cups of cheese with flour, salt, pepper, and ground mustard.
  • In a large bowl, combine cheese and flour mixture with hot macaroni and stir to combine. Pour into the greased pan. Pour milk over macaroni. Top with remaining cheese. Dot with butter. Cover with aluminum foil.
  • Bake for 45 minutes (taking the foil off after 30 minutes if desired) or until firm and golden brown. You want to make sure there isn’t a lot of runny milk in it still, poke a knife in the middle if necessary. Some will soak in as it cools but it should be mostly absorbed.
  • (Optional) Let sit for 10 minutes before serving to further firm up.

Notes

  • Whole wheat elbow macaroni can be substituted.
  • Use sharp or extra-sharp cheddar for best results.
  • If desired, add 3 tablespoons minced onion.

Video

Nutrition

Calories: 220kcal, Carbohydrates: 34g, Protein: 10g, Fat: 6g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 16mg, Sodium: 173mg, Fiber: 5g, Sugar: 4g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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4.42 from 649 votes (609 ratings without comment)

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353 Comments

  1. Ashley T says:

    5 stars
    Loved making this with my 10 year old son! It’s is so easy and really delicious. Ingredients were easy to gather. The kids are picky and found this to be a hit in my house. Leftovers heat up well too. We’ve made it multiple times. Thank you!

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      So glad you like it! Thanks for leaving a review!

  2. Jacklyn says:

    5 stars
    This turned out to be the best Mac and cheese I have ever tasted and I can’t believe how stupid easy it was to make!

    I have tried SO MANY Mac and cheese recipes before this one and they all turned out grainy and awful. I was REALLY skeptical about this one because it just seemed too easy–it’s basically a dump dinner. I skipped the bowl and just dumped everything in my casserole dish and barely even mixed it. I didn’t even shred my cheese, I just cut it and dumped it in too. I did add the optional minced onion and I am SO glad I did (I LOVE onion, but it would have still been amazing without it).

    I’ve already sent this recipe to a friend and saved it for myself!

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      This means so much to me! I’m glad you like it! I make this one so often, it’s just SO easy and turns out great every time.

  3. Leah says:

    5 stars
    I have made this numerous times and everyone loves it! Such an easy recipe and delicious. Thank you!

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      I’m so glad you like it! Thank you for taking the time to leave a review!

      1. Melissa says:

        Hi Rachel,
        How about whole milk? Also, salted or unsalted butter? Thank you!

        1. Rachel Gurk says:

          Those substitutions would all be fine! This is an extremely forgiving recipe. :)

  4. DonnaMarie says:

    I would like to make this on Christmas Eve for Christmas Day dinner (I don’t want to be in the kitchen all day on Christmas). How can this be done?

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      You can make it ahead of time, just don’t bake it. Bake it the day of, you may need to add a few minutes to the cooking time.

      1. DonnaMarie says:

        Thank you! Happy Holidays!

        1. Rachel Gurk says:

          You’re so welcome!

          1. Carol Brady says:

            How long can I keep in fridge after prepping, before I bake it ? Covered or uncovered ?

          2. Rachel Gurk says:

            Covered – I’d bake within 24 hours. The noodles will start to soak up some of the milk, so it might be slightly different but should be fine. You could also add the milk immediately before baking.

  5. Barbara says:

    Is the salt listed in the ingredients only for the pasta water? That is the only time salt is mentioned in the instructions.

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      Sorry about that! That’s to stir in when you add the pepper – I’ll update the recipe accordingly. Thanks for letting me know!

      1. Stephanie says:

        When are you supposed to add in the salt and pepper? Was not really clear. And if you want to add breadcrumbs on top, you just sprinkle it as is or you have to make some type of mixture?

        1. Rachel Gurk says:

          See step 3 for the salt and pepper (you mix it with the cheese). Just sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the top!

  6. Robert Frank Hall says:

    5 stars
    I made this tonight on Nov 28 2023. Omg Omg It was sooo easy but I added my own flair. I did not have flour. ( Don’t ask why my folks used it alll…..) I used corn starch. I added a spice blend I had on had and top it with parm reggiano and it was soooooo good. Thank for the awesome recipe. i also used what ever was left of cheese in my fridge and I only made half the recipe. I will make this again. I also was craving panera bread mac and cheese but I broke. soooo this one my stomach over lol.

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      So glad you liked it! Thank you for leaving a review, I really appreciate it!

  7. Heather says:

    Hi! How is this best to reheat? Making today for Thanksgiving but will need to be reheated later. Thanks!

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      In the oven at 350 degrees F for 20-30 minutes.

  8. Betty Lunssford says:

    Can you use velvets in place of low fat mill?

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      No, I wouldn’t recommend velveeta cheese (assuming that’s what you’re referring to?) in place of the milk.

  9. Ella says:

    I need to double the recipe will that affect my cooking time or should I do it in two separate pans?

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      It will likely affect your cook time. I’d recommend two pans!

  10. Taylor says:

    Getting ready to make this! Is the ground mustard powder or the thicker one??

    Thanks!!

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      It’s the ground mustard but you could use regular mustard (Dijon) if that’s all you have! Hope you love it!

    2. Katie says:

      I want to make this a day ahead of time. So would I do everything except put my cheese on top? And then the next day add my cheese on top and bake as normal?

      1. Rachel Gurk says:

        That will work! It won’t hurt it to put the cheese on right away, either.

        1. Kristen says:

          5 stars
          Love this recipe and make it a lot! I want to make it on a Thursday ahead of time but bake it Saturday night. How far ahead of time can it be made? Would I add all of the ingredients still if preparing ahead of time?

          1. Rachel Gurk says:

            Yes, you can still add all the ingredients. I wouldn’t make it more than one day in advance, though.