Comfort food does not get better than this.
Comfort food doesn’t get much better than this easy, creamy homemade stovetop mac and cheese recipe. Baked mac and cheese is fantastic as well (especially when topped with buttered breadcrumbs), but this stovetop mac and cheese comes together in about 20 minutes from start to finish, and makes an indulgent, classic side dish.
There is more than one way to make a great macaroni and cheese, starting with the white sauce. Most recipes use either evaporated milk or an easy white sauce. This recipe uses a white sauce as a base, before melting into it a goodly amount of American and sharp cheddar cheeses.
Elements of a Great Mac and Cheese (and Bad)
Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to encounter bad mac and cheese knows what macaroni and cheese should not be:
- Flaccid and mushy from overcooked pasta
Bad macaroni and cheese usually results from some combination of choosing cheeses that easily separate, overcooking the pasta, or cooking the macaroni and cheese at too high of a temperature.
But well-made mac and cheese tastes creamy, rich, and highly cheesy, with pasta that is just on the soft side of al dente. This recipe hits all of these targets. In the recipe notes below, you’ll learn how.
Recipe Notes: Creamy Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- Pay close attention to the pasta, and cook it only until a minute under al dente. Overcooked pasta = bad.
- Choose the right pasta shape. Best choices include elbow macaroni (of course) and medium shells. Less common, but still widely-available, shapes like radiatore and riccioli also make an excellent mac and cheese. The key is to choose a small pasta with good crannies.
- Add the milk to the roux in small additions at first, stirring each time. This allows the sauce to be creamy smooth. Adding all the milk at once will cause clumps.
- Multiple cheeses. A combination of cheeses adds a little more dimension to the flavor. I like a combination of creamy American cheese and extra-sharp cheddar, but feel free to substitute jack cheese or Gruyère for the cheddar.
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Creamy Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- 12 ounces small pasta, such as elbow macaroni or shells
- 8 ounces American cheese, sliced
- 4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, diced
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups milk
- Kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste
- Cook the pasta in well-salted boiling water until one minute shy of al dente. Drain.
- While the water boils and the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a medium sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add the flour and whisk until golden brown, about one minute. Add the milk in several additions, whisking smooth each time. TIP: At first, the milk will form a thick paste with the flour and butter. As you whisk in more milk, it will smooth out into a sauce.
- Bring the milk to a boil, whisking. Remove from heat.
- Slowly stir in the cheese, several slices or pieces at a time. If the milk begins to get too cool to melt the cheese, put the pot over low heat.
- Add the pasta and stir over low heat until well incorporated and creamy. Taste for seasoning. Serve immediately.