Our Southern Baked Mac and Cheese recipe is extra creamy, rich and extra flavorful! It makes a wonderful comforting dinner all on it's own or a tasty side dish.
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Nothing compares to a creamy cheesy homemade mac and cheese , and this baked macaroni and cheese is knock-your-socks-off flavorful. Our southern baked mac and cheese is made with a blend of evaporated milk and whole milk, plus 2 cheeses and a paprika seasoned roux that makes it extra creamy and tasty. You can add optional seasonings like hot sauce, Creole seasoning and mustard or crispy bacon or diced vegetables to put it over the top.
This meal is simple to prepare. Mix classic elbow macaroni with the milks and lots of cheese (topping with extra, of course!), then pop into the oven until the top is golden brown and crispy for a delicious dinner for the family. It takes about 1 hour from start to finish. You can also make it on the stovetop with this recipe here.
Baked mac and cheese also makes a great traditional side dish for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It's one of our absolute favorite dinners, along with this quick and easy buttered spaghetti and pizza tater tot casserole!
What Makes This A "Southern" Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe?
The preparation method and extra creamy texture of the cheese sauce are what makes this recipe a southern baked macaroni and cheese. Macaroni pasta is baked in a rich and creamy cheese sauce that's made with whole milk and evaporated milk and has been seasoned, then baked until it develops a golden brown crust on top. To make it extra flavorful or to suit your preferences, you can add seasonings such as Creole, garlic powder, mustard, hot sauce, and other such flavoring options.
- Pasta: elbow macaroni is traditionally used to make mac and cheese, but any short pasta can be substituted, such as bow ties, ditalini, etc.
- Roux: a roux is what gives the cheese sauce it's thickness and is made with flour and melted butter.
- Evaporated milk: we love using evaporated milk in our cheese sauces because it enhances the creaminess and richness of the sauce.
- Whole milk: you can substitute with 1% or 2% milk but the less fat the milk contains, the less creamy the cheese sauce will turn out.
- Cheese: our favorite part! We use a blend of extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese and white cheddar cheese. You can also use monterey jack and colby jack cheese if you'd like.
- Seasonings: we season our mac and cheese with paprika and salt.
1. Cook the pasta: Boil the pasta according to package instructions until al dente. It will continue cooking in the oven, so you don't want it to be too soft.
2. Make the roux: In a large mixing bowl, melt the butter. Add flour to create a roux, stirring constantly for a few minutes until it thickens into a paste. Alternatively, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-heat, whisking in the flour to form a thick paste.
3. Assemble the casserole: Gradually whisk the milk into the roux to form a smooth sauce. Stir in the paprika and salt. Generously butter or oil a 9x13 casserole dish. Add the cooked pasta to the dish. Pour the milk/roux over the pasta. Stir in 3 cups of shredded cheese. Mix well with a wooden spoon to evenly combine all ingredients. Top with the remaining 1 cup of cheese.
4. Bake: Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit in a preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the inside is hot and bubbly.
5. Serve: Allow the baked mac and cheese to cool slightly before serving. It's a classic side dish or can be a standalone comfort food for dinner.
Tips from the Chef
- Use freshly shredded cheese for the best melt and texture. Bags of pre-shredded cheese contain a coating that prevents it from sticking, but also doesn't allow it to melt as smoothly as freshly shredded blocks of cheese.
- For an extra crunchy top, sprinkle with breadcrumbs or panko.
- The macaroni will continue to cook when it's in the oven baking so make sure it’s al dente or slightly undercooked so it doesn't become mushy.
Make Ahead Instructions
It's simple to prepare mac and cheese ahead of time, especially on busy day or for holiday meals. To make ahead, completely assemble the meal as the instructions indicate. Then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. When ready to cook, follow the instructions for temperature and timing as usual.
- Add meat or protein: cooked crispy bacon, ham, sausage, pork roll, ground beef or turkey, rotisserie chicken, lobster, or crab can really enhance the flavor of a traditional mac and cheese dinner.
- Add vegetables: chopped broccoli, cauliflower carrots, peas, spinach and green beans are great additions to make your mac and cheese a little more hearty and healthy. Plus it's an easy way to sneak in some veggies to those little picky eaters! We love this hidden vegetable cauliflower mac and cheese too.
Store leftovers in the fridge in a covered container for up to one week or in freezer safe storage containers for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge before reheating.
I personally love using New York or Wisconsin extra sharp cheddar cheese, both yellow and white. Monterey Jack and Colby Jack are also great too, as is Pepper Jack if you want a slight spice to your mac and cheese.
To spice up this already incredible mac and cheese recipe, feel free to add a bit of hot sauce, mustard, Creole seasoning, cayenne pepper or other such spices.
Yes, you can definitely put eggs in mac and cheese, especially if you want to achieve a richer and more custard-like texture. Eggs can add creaminess and help bind the ingredients together too. To this recipe, you can mix in 1 or 2 eggs during assembly.
What To Serve With Baked Mac and Cheese
As a side dish, mac and cheese is great served with:
Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
- 16 oz elbow macaroni
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoon flour
- 12 oz evaporated milk
- 8 oz whole milk
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese, freshly shredded
- 2 cups white cheddar cheese, freshly shredded
- Boil the pasta according to package instructions until al dente. It will continue cooking in the oven, so you don't want it to be too soft. While the pasta cooks preheat the oven to 400℉.
- In a large mixing bowl, melt the butter. Add flour to create a roux, stirring constantly for a few minutes until it thickens into a paste. Alternatively, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-heat, whisking in the flour to form a thick paste.
- Gradually whisk the milk into the roux to form a smooth sauce. Stir in the paprika and salt. Generously butter or oil a 9x13 casserole dish. Add the cooked pasta to the dish. Pour the milk/roux over the pasta. Stir in 3 cups of shredded cheese. Mix well with a wooden spoon to evenly combine all ingredients. Top with the remaining 1 cup of cheese.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the inside is hot and bubbly.
- Allow to cool slightly before serving as a comforting dinner or side dish.