Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese (Contest-Winning!) - The Chunky Chef (2024)

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By: The Chunky Chefpublished: 09/30/2019

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This baked mac and cheese is a family favorite recipe, loved by both children and adults.It uses a combination of cheeses, layered in the dish as well as melted into a rich and creamy cheese sauce, for the ultimate in cheesy deliciousness! Perfect for a comforting dinner or as a holiday side dish!

Looking for other comfort food dishes? Check out my Homemade Sloppy Joes, Creamy Broccoli Cheddar Soup, Crockpot Meatloaf, and Homestyle No-Boil Mashed Potatoes!

Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese (Contest-Winning!) - The Chunky Chef (1)


Baked mac and cheese. It’s nearly the universal comfort food, and there are SO many variations! In fact, I almost didn’t post this recipe, as there are SOOOO many mac and cheese recipes available, and most people already have their favorite way of making it.

Of course, there’s no “right” way or “wrong” way, so I’m here sharing the way I like to make my mac and cheese (the way my family loves it too).

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If you’ve never made homemade mac and cheese before, it can seem a bit daunting. But don’t worry, we’ll break it down and take it step by step!

  • Boil the pasta, drain.
  • Make the cheese sauce by combining a fat (butter), and starch (flour), then whisking in the milk products.
  • Cook the sauce until it’s nice and thick.
  • Add in shredded cheeses, stir well.
  • Combine cheese sauce with cooked pasta.
  • Transfer half of the mac and cheese to a baking dish, sprinkle with more shredded cheese.
  • Top with the rest of the mac and cheese, top with more shredded cheese.
  • Bake and prepare to thoroughly enjoy!

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  • Boiling the pasta – cook the pasta less than you normally would. I like to boil my elbow pasta for between 4 and 5 minutes. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven, and you don’t want it to get mushy.
  • Use room temp liquids – if you can… cold liquids generally take longer to thicken than warmer ones. I usually set my milk and half and half out while the water for the pasta is coming up to a boil.
  • The cheeses – use your favorites! Our personal favorites are the cheddar and gruyere used in this recipe, but you can be very creative with the cheese selection here. Mozzarella, gouda, smoked gouda, swiss, monterey jack, colby jack, colby. There are plenty of reader comments down below the recipe that talk about the cheeses they used!
  • Shred your own – I know it’s a pain, and it’s SO tempting to use the pre-shredded cheese in the bags. But those bags of cheese contain a starchy substance that keeps the cheese from clumping… which also prohibits it from melting as well as it should.

Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese (Contest-Winning!) - The Chunky Chef (4)


  • Bacon – if you love bacon, feel free to add some crispy, crumbled bacon to the topping, or even inside the mac and cheese as well!
  • Stovetop – if you’d prefer not to bake this mac and cheese, you don’t have to! Make sure you boil your pasta until al dente (check the packaging for correct times), and you’ll only need about 3 – 3 1/2 cups of cheese total. No need to layer the pasta and cheese, just add all the cheese to the sauce, then combine with the pasta.
  • Different Toppings – I’m a huge fan of the cheese layer on top, since it gets nice and crispy, but we also love tossing 1 cup of panko with 2 Tbsp of melted butter and using that as a topping. 1 cup of crushed Ritz crackers with 2 Tbsp of butter work amazingly well too!
  • Different Baking Times – the recipe calls for a lower baking temperature and time, but most of the time I find myself adjusting that based on my family’s tastes. I like to bake this mac and cheese at 350 F degrees for 30 minutes, then broil for 2-3 minutes to get that glorious cheesy “crust”.


  • Make as directed (but do not bake), transfer to baking dish and cool completely. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate 1-2 days ahead.
  • Before baking, let dish sit on counter for 30 minutes.
  • Bake at recipe temperature for 25-35 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

As a caveat, this recipe, as with most mac and cheese recipes, loses some of it’s creaminess when made ahead. This dish has been tested when made right away, which yields the best results.

I would increase the amount of sauce slightly if you need to make this recipe ahead of time.

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Any leftovers need to be refrigerated and covered tightly. Mac and cheese can be stored this way for 3-4 days.

To reheat, stir in a little bit of milk or cream and microwave partially covered with plastic wrap. Stir often as it reheats.


  • Box Grater– remember, the best mac starts with freshly shredded cheese!

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Post has been updated in September 2019 with new photos and additional information.

Did you make this? Be sure to leave a review below and tag me @the_chunky_chef on Facebook and Instagram!

Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese (Contest-Winning!) - The Chunky Chef (7)

Creamy Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese

4.86 from 3000 votes

Author: The Chunky Chef

Prep Time: 20 minutes minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes minutes

Calories: 665

This baked mac and cheese is a family favorite recipe, loved by children and adults.


  • 1 lb. dried elbow pasta
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 1/2 cups half and half
  • 4 cups shredded medium cheddar cheese divided (measured after shredding)
  • 2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese divided (measured after shredding)
  • 1/2 Tbsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika smoked paprika is our favorite!


  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and grease a 3 qt baking dish (9x13"). Set aside.

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When boiling, add dried pasta and cook 1 minute less than the package directs for al dente. Drain and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil to keep from sticking.

  • While water is coming up to a boil, shred cheeses and toss together to mix, then divide into three piles. Approximately 3 cups for the sauce, 1 1/2 cups for the inner layer, and 1 1/2 cups for the topping.

  • Melt butter in a large saucepan over MED heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk to combine. Mixture will look like very wet sand. Cook for approximately 1 minute, whisking often. Slowly pour in about 2 cups or so of the half and half, while whisking constantly, until smooth. Slowly pour in the remaining half and half and the whole milk, while whisking constantly, until combined and smooth.

  • Continue to heat over MED heat, whisking very often, until thickened to a very thick consistency. It should almost be the consistency of a semi thinned out condensed soup.

  • Remove from the heat and stir in spices and 1 1/2 cups of the cheeses, stirring to melt and combine. Stir in another 1 1/2 cups of cheese, and stir until completely melted and smooth.

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine drained pasta with cheese sauce, stirring to combine fully. Pour half of the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top with 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheeses, then top that with the remaining pasta mixture.

  • Sprinkle the top with the last 1 1/2 cups of cheese and bake for 15 minutes, until cheesy is bubbly and lightly golden brown.

Want to save this recipe for later? Click the heart in the bottom right corner to save to your own recipe box!

Chef Tips

  1. Please feel free to add additional seasonings per your tastes, this is a base recipe that you can change up to make your own. Garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, smoked paprika, and hot sauce are some favorites of ours to add.
  2. To get the 4 cups of cheddar, use a 16 oz block of cheddar and shred.
  3. To get the 2 cups of gruyere, use as close to an 8 oz block of gruyere as you can (different brands have different sized blocks), and shred.

Mac and Cheese can be made ahead:

  • Make as directed (but do not bake), transfer to baking dish and cool completely. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate 1-2 days ahead.
  • Before baking, let dish sit on counter for 30 minutes.
  • Bake at recipe temperature for 25-35 minutes, until hot and bubbly.


Replace cheese amounts with the following:

  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup Colby cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup Muenster cheese, shredded
  • 1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded


  • Prepare recipe as directed but bake at 350 or 375 F degrees for 20-30 minutes. Broil at the end of baking for approximately 2-5 minutes, until golden brown and crunchy.


Nutrition Disclaimer

The Chunky Chef is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.

Did You Make This?Tag @the_chunky_chef on Instagram and hashtag it #thechunkychef so I can see what you made!

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Hey there! I'm Amanda. Wife, mother, photography nerd, and bacon lover! I believe that delicious meals should be easy to make. Now that you’re here, stay a bit, browse a few recipes, and let’s get cookin’!

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  1. Edna P says

    My husband sais it was the best macaroni and cheese he has ever had! It us the first baked macaroni and cheese I have ever liked. It was awesome! My 99 y.o. mother-in-law also said it was absolutely delicious!! This recipe is definitely keeper!


  2. Helfa says

    Love it


  3. Chuck says

    I’m trying this for a contest Sunday. I hope it will win. I’m adding a bit more cheese and some hot ground peppers. I’ve won soup and chilli 2 years in a row, and don’t bring anyone with me. It’s peoples choice to vote.


  4. Sherrie says

    This was the best I will be making this over and over again!! You are my favorite chef! I always go straight to your recipes! Your the best


  5. Andrea says

    This has also become our favorite Mac and cheese and is my go-to whenever there is a pile of teens at our house. Girls want me to bring it for softball game (between double header). Is there a good way to keep it warm? Not sure I can transfer to a crock pot? Maybe a roaster? Doesn’t need to be kept for extended period of time, but maybe an hour or 2?


    • The Chunky Chef says

      So happy to hear how much you love this recipe! I haven’t tested this, so it’s just an educated guess… but you could try a roaster, or use a sterno warming dish.


  6. Victoria Cowen says

    Best Mac and cheese I’ve had


  7. Diane says

    Always the best mac & cheese. I use cheddar, montery jack and gouda. The only one my hubs loves. Your recipes are the best.


  8. Susan J Gdovin says

    My son stated it was the best Mac and cheese he’s ever eaten. Thanks


  9. Frank says

    Easy and great tasting. The family loved it.


  10. Heidi says

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! This was the BEST Mac&Cheese I have ever made. I used cheddar and Parmesan cheese. I needed a make ahead recipe and I did exactly what u recommend. It was


  11. Nikki says

    Really good. First time making homemade mac n cheese (off of here anyway). Followed recipe exactly. Everyone loved it. Just wish it didn’t take so many bowls lol. Husband asked when I was making again. I told him only if he was helping, because it was a bit of a chore…but OH SO WORTH IT!!


  12. Nancy says

    Dry and very fattening. Not making again.


    • The Chunky Chef says

      In what world is mac and cheese supposed to be healthy? Obviously it’s a comfort food, not something to eat all the time. I’m surprised yours turned out dry, as I’ve never had that happen, and neither have the MANY readers who’ve given it a try… happy to troubleshoot via email if you’d like. Best of luck to you.


      • Kim says

        Maybe “dry” wasn’t the correct term, but I’ve made this exactly as recipe calls and thought it wasn’t as creamy as I like. The second time I made it, I used only 1 tablespoon of flour and it was perfect. This is my go-to recipe with my adjustments. Thanks for posting!


    • Jemma says

      User error. You messed up somewhere, Nancy. This recipe is so creamy!


  13. Cassi says

    I have used this recipe for years, and I am asked to make this for every cookout and potluck I go to. I even made 10 lbs of it for my pig-pickin-themed reception for my wedding. Everyone loves it!! As one who has a mac and cheese connoisseur at home, who turns her nose up at baked mac and cheese, she gets a bowl of noodles mixed with sauce and loves it! I have not tried the 5 cheese blend version yet, but it’s next on my list! Thank you for sharing with the world!!


    • Andrea says

      Hi Cassi, can you tell me how you keep it warm for cookouts and potlucks? Thanks!


  14. Barb says

    This is one of the best Mac n cheese recipes I’ve come across! I followed the recipe just as given. Next time I make it, will try different cheeses, as Gruyrere is rather pricey. Give it a try!


  15. Amy says

    Yum! I learned about this recipe from my DIL in January. We all love it and I’ve made it many times with both macaroni noodles and spaghetti squash. I make the recipe the same and I use about 1/3 of the sauce for “noodles” from one spaghetti squash and the rest for the 1 lb pasta. I put the spaghetti squash in an 8×8 and the macaroni noodles in a 9×13. I divide the specified amount of shredded cheese between the two, about the same ratio as the sauce. These are just guesses but there is plenty of sauce and cheese to go around to make both dishes tasty with the same recipe. Thanks for sharing the recipe!


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Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese (Contest-Winning!) - The Chunky Chef (2024)


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