Tips for Making the Best Mac and Cheese

August 3, 2022

Just because the holidays are over doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to eat a delicious meal. And yes, before you ask – we consider mac and cheese to be a meal (just don’t tell your kids).

Mac and cheese is one of those foods that no matter your age, you still have a great appreciation for. One might say that with age comes a greater appreciation of this delicacy. You likely started your foray into mac and cheese with a box of the classic Kraft stuff, and that’s a great place to start. However, as you age and as your palate expands, you start to learn that there are more kinds of cheese out there aside from Velveeta and whatever the “cheese” packet is in your box of Kraft mac and cheese. And you learn that some of those cheeses can make your mouth happier than you ever imagined.

Are you drooling yet? Because we certainly are.

If you’re looking to make some mac and cheese that may change your life (we mean this, so don’t take it lightly), then read on for our top tips on how to do so. And in case you were wondering, no, this life-changing mac and cheese doesn’t come out of a box, and yes, it does require quite a bit of your time, effort, and love to bring to life.

How to Make the Ultimate Mac and Cheese

Whether you make this ahead of time for your upcoming camping trip or decide to have a cozy night in where you do nothing but stuff your face with mac and cheese on the couch, these tips will give you the taste your body wants and needs.

Let’s start with the heart and soul of mac and cheese – the sauce.

Preparation of bechamel sauce in a pan and ingredients on the table.

The Sauce

Mess up the sauce of your mac and cheese and you’ve messed up the entire meal. It’s important that you put the care and effort into the base of this recipe.

Some people start with a bechamel, which is a thick white sauce that gets its thickness from the roux of butter and flour used to make it. And of course, milk is added in to create the bechamel. Some people liken it to alfredo sauce, but alfredo sauce uses heavy cream and is cooked a bit differently.

If you’d rather go the route that’s more similar to an alfredo sauce base, then you’ll need butter, heavy cream, and corn starch to get your base going.

Though there’s no wrong way to do it (it really comes down to personal preference), we suggest going the bechamel route to really get that creamy base moving, so then you can move onto the best part: the cheese.

Some tips for making the bechamel:

  • Whatever you do, do not burn the flour or butter. You can avoid this by cooking over low heat and having patience.
  • Keep whisking, even if your hands get tired. This is especially key towards the beginning so that you get all the lumps out and keep the sauce smooth.

Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese on a Cutting Board

The Cheese

Everyone has their favorite kinds of cheese and you probably want to use your favorite kind of cheese to make your mac and cheese. However, before you head to the store and buy pounds of it, you want to make sure that the cheese you use melts well and is packed full of flavor.

In short, something like mild cheddar isn’t going to cut it – it won’t add much flavor to your sauce and you’ll end up eating mac and bechamel.

Here are the best kinds of cheeses to use in your mac and cheese:

  • Sharp cheddar. This has a low melting point and a flavor that is widely known and loved. In addition to that, the flavor is strong.
  • Gouda melts like a dream and adds a bit of elegance to your mac and cheese.
  • Not as popular as some of the others on this list, gruyere cheese has salt that tastes oh-so-good with the rest of the ingredients in your mac and cheese.
  • This cheese adds a level of smoothness to your mac and cheese that no other cheese can. Make sure to take off the rind before using this in your meal.
  • This is a classic cheese that tastes good on pretty much anything you cook, but especially mac and cheese.

Whatever you do, do not get pre-grated cheese. Though this type of cheese will make your life easier, it will not make your mac and cheese good. That’s because this type of cheese is packed with preservatives so that it doesn’t stick together in the packaging. And those preservatives make the cheese hard to melt, and won’t provide you with the smooth and creamy sauce, but rather a lumpy one.

Variety of types and shapes of Italian pasta in glass jars on marble background.

The Pasta

One thing that Kraft really did get right is the shape of the pasta they use for their mac and cheese. Sadly no, not all pasta shapes are created equally. But they each do have their place in the culinary world. Something like spaghetti pasta is best left to, well, spaghetti and not mac and cheese.

Why are elbow noodles the best for mac and cheese? That’s because this type of noodle is thick. That helps to keep the pasta strong so that the dish doesn’t get too mushy.

If you aren’t a fan of elbow noodles, you can opt for something different that still has that thickness. Here are some elbow noodle alternatives that are great for mac and cheese:

  • Shells
  • Rigatoni
  • Penne

Next comes the actual cooking of the pasta. You want to cook it according to the instructions on its own, then rinse it off with cool water so that it doesn’t continue to cook.

Then, you mix the cheese sauce in with it and cook it again so that the two can bind together and create that thick, cheesy goodness that you’re about to devour.

Homemade White Macaroni and Cheese in a Bowl

The Recipe

Feel ready to try your hand at making this masterpiece?

Here is our favorite mac and cheese recipe.

Creamiest Mac and Cheese Recipe

Adapted from Neighbor Food Blog

Serves 5

What you need:

  • 8-12 ounces (2-3 cups) sturdy macaroni noodles

For the bechamel sauce:

  • ⅓ cup unsalted butter
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ¾ cup half and half
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground mustard powder
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups packed sharp aged cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup freshly shredded Gruyere cheese
  • ½ cup freshly shredded Pecorino Romano cheese
  • ½ cup freshly shredded Gouda cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

What to do:

  1. Cook the macaroni noodles in a large pot of salted water according to package directions, draining them a minute before the “al dente” cooking time
  2. Heat the milk and half and half in the microwave or on the stovetop until very hot, but not boiling
  3. In a heavy-bottomed saucepot, melt the butter over medium heat
  4. Whisk in the flour and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture turns a light brown color, about 3-4 minutes
  5. Reduce the heat to low
  6. Slowly start pouring in the milk and half and half, whisking constantly. The mixture will look very thick at first and will thin out as you whisk in the remainder of the milk.
  7. Increase the heat back to medium and cook the mixture, whisking continuously, another 3-5 minutes or until thickened. The sauce should coat the back of the spoon. If you put a little bit on a spoon and run your finger through it, the line from your finger should remain.
  8. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the salt, garlic powder, ground mustard, and cayenne (if desired)
  9. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  10. Add the cheeses, stirring to melt. If you’re unable to melt in all the cheese, add a bit more milk, 1 Tablespoon at a time until the cheese is melted completely
  11. Stir the sauce into the pasta, reserving some cooked pasta
  12. If the mac and cheese seems too saucy, add the remaining pasta. Otherwise, serve immediately!

Get your belly ready, set aside some time, and get to the store so you can create what may be the best food you’ve ever made (and possibly will ever make). Goodbye Kraft mac and cheese, hello gourmet macaroni and cheese that you can enjoy for a nice night at home and also as a way to elevate your camping experience.

Leslie K Hughes

Leslie is a freelance travel and health/wellness writer who gets butterflies from telling stories and sharing information with readers across the globe. Her voice comes from a place filled with passion and dreams.

With over 10 years of experience in crafting words and years of embarking on travels that have taken this Montana girl to some incredible places, Leslie loves the adventures of both body and mind her writing takes her on.

To see what Leslie’s up to in the writing and design world, visit her website here.

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