Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Jump to Recipe

Baked macaroni and cheese with crunchy panko bread crumbs on top. A childhood favorite noodle dish that kids will love but elevated enough that adults will devour. There will be no leftovers!

Homemade macaroni and cheese with crunchy panko bread crumbs baked on top

Baked macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. This simple recipe uses a traditional roux base to help thicken the sauce. A combination of melty cheeses and milk helps to nail just the right creamy texture to coat those noodles. You’re going to love the crunchy panko bread crumbs on top!

My love for mac and cheese began like most American kids born in the ’80s, with the classic blue box of Kraft mac n’ cheese that contained two essential ingredients: elbow noodles and a packet of cheese powder that never completely dissolved. This was probably my first exposure to food science, and I didn’t even know it! This recipe uses wholesome ingredients to maximize flavor without the preservatives.

A silver spoon stirring a large pot of macaroni and cheese with elbow pasta noodles

Keys to Success

  • Add a Roux: To achieve a creamy sauce texture add starch to the cheese as it melts to prevent clumping. A roux-based sauce uses flour and butter as a base with milk, then allowing the starches to swell and thicken, essentially creating a béchamel sauce.
  • Choosing the Cheese: I use sharp aged Cheddar cheese and Monterey Jack cheese for the sauce. Add equal ratios of each cheese. The aged cheddar provides a subtle flavor while the Monetary Jack creates a super creamy consistency because it’s a higher moisture level.
  • Pasta: Using shorter kinds of pasta such as elbow, rotini, or cavatappi are perfect for thicker cheese sauces because they hold its shape. They also catch the sauce inside the noodle for more flavor.

A whisk mixing cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese together in a béchamel sauce

If you like stronger more pungent flavors, you can add in some aged Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Swiss or Gouda in combination with the Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese. I noticed that the Monterey Jack cheese gives a Velveeta-like texture that I was looking for, compared to the other times when I just used all cheddar cheese.

One typical mac n’ cheese pitfall is that the cheese may become gritty and clumpy once added to the cream sauce. The proteins in the cheese must break down with heat before they can flow. As the proteins regroup, you may get a gritty texture from and a pool of oil that separates. It may be more noticeable for higher-fat cheeses and make for an unattractive broken sauce.

A skillet of baked macaroni and cheese with panko crust on top

I read a tip from Cooks Illustrated to add some starch to those cheeses that don’t naturally melt well. Also using a more high moisture cheese like mozzarella or Monterey Jack helps to balance the more aged and harder cheeses to reduce any grittiness.

To take this baked macaroni and cheese recipe to the next level, I’ve added a little crunchy topping. Sprinkling some panko bread crumbs and broiling the entire casserole in the oven until golden brown makes for a hot and bubbly dish. It will be hard to resist not taking a huge spoonful and eating some mac and cheese directly from the skillet!

If you’ve got children or kids that are hard to cook for, they will love this homemade version of their favorite food!

A spoon holding up a macaroni and cheese with crunchy bread crumbs mixed within.

More Pasta recipes

How do you prevent your cheese sauce from getting clumpy?

Have you ever made mac n’ cheese from scratch and the sauce gets a little clumpy and gritty? Not so yummy. The solution, add some starch! In this recipe, I use flour as the starch component. I start with a roux (butter and flour) cooked briefly, then add the milk to help thicken and disperse the starch into the base. When the cheese is added and begins to melt, the starch granules in the flour release elongated threads of amylose (a soluble polysaccharide in starch), which wraps around the casein proteins in the cheese and prevents fat from releasing and proteins from forming back together into broken clumps.

Pin this recipe to save for later

Pin This

Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Bread Crumb Topping

Homemade macaroni and cheese with crunchy panko bread crumbs baked on top. A childhood favorite that kids will love but elevated enough that adults will devour.
Pin Print Review
4.14 from 84 votes
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Total Time55 mins
Servings 8 servings
Course Side
Cuisine American

Ingredients

  • 1 pound macaroni, elbow shaped
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • teaspoon cayenne pepper, (optional)
  • teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 5 cups milk
  • 8 ounces monterey jack cheese, shredded
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • ½ cup panko bread crumbs, or regular bread crumbs

Instructions 

  • Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large pot.
  • Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, often stirring, until tender (just past al dente) and drain pasta.
  • Melt 5 tablespoons butter in large pot over medium-high heat.
  • Add flour, 1 teaspoon salt, cayenne (if using) and nutmeg.
  • Cook, constantly whisking, until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1-2 minutes.
  • Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, occasionally whisking until thickened, about 7 minutes.
  • Take the pot off the heat, slowly whisk in cheeses until completely melted.
  • Add pasta to sauce and cook over medium-low heat, constantly stirring, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.
  • Transfer to a broiler-safe baking dish or skillet and sprinkle with panko bread crumbs.
  • Broil in the oven until topping is golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Keep a close eye to not burn it.
  • Allow casserole to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe Video

Want to save this recipe?

Create an account easily save your favorite content, so you never forget a recipe again.

Register now

Nutrition Facts
Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Bread Crumb Topping
Amount Per Serving
Calories 428 Calories from Fat 234
% Daily Value*
Fat 26g40%
Saturated Fat 16g80%
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 3g
Cholesterol 69mg23%
Sodium 569mg24%
Potassium 99mg3%
Carbohydrates 28g9%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 1g1%
Protein 19g38%
Vitamin A 1100IU22%
Calcium 700mg70%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Tried this recipe?

Tag @jessica_gavin on Instagram. I'd love to see how it turns out!

Tag @jessica_gavin

Filed under:

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

Jessica's Secrets: Cooking Made Easy!
Get my essential cooking techniques that I learned in culinary school.
Jessica Gavin standing in the kitchen

You May Also Like

Reader Interactions

62 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. nancy says

    Jessica….this was absolutely amazing!!! Over the years, I have tried and failed to make macaroni and cheese but each attempt was awful. I resorted to my favorite deli or the frozen food section of my local market to satisfy my children’s cravings. This recipe is easy and the results are restaurant-quality. My children think I CAN cook! Thank you.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      You made my day Nancy! I love hearing that you finally had success with a homemade macaroni and cheese recipe. YES, you CAN cook! You are a rockstar 🙂

  2. Eleanor Lunetta says

    Dear Jessica, Your recipe for baked macaroni doesn’t say anything about puttingit in the oven to bake. I did just now so I hope it comes out all right. Eleanor

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Eleanor- Thank you for your feedback! I see how it can be confusing, however, step 11 says to broil for 3-5 minutes, which is the baking step. But you could also bake at 475 degrees until the breadcrumb topping is browned. Let me know what you did and how it came out 🙂

  3. Dryden Barnes says

    I want to make 1/2 of the recipe..will it be the same..where can I find it? I love good food but not that much.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Dryden- Yes, you can easily reduce the recipe in half by scrolling down to the recipe and in the “servings” box, type in 4. That will give you a have recipe quantity for each ingredient.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi There! Make sure to use high moisture cheese so that the cheese does not become grainy and stays creamy, which is why cheddar and monterey jack were selected. What kind of cheese are you thinking?

  4. Cheri Hoyt says

    I tried changing the serving size like was suggested in a previous comment, but I couldn’t do it. I would like to make this for 150 people. Sometimes when I alter the measurements I have way too much.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Cheri- Wow, that is ALOT of macaroni and cheese! How do you plan on cooking so much? This recipe makes a large batch, so I would imagine you will have to cook multiple batches. Is this being served as an entree or just a side dish? If just a side dish that I think you can stretch the servings to 12-14 people per recipe.

  5. Susan Assaly says

    Amazing & easy ready for pot-luck at church tomorrow! I mixed panko & shreaded cheese for the topping oven @ 475 for 9 minutes!!

        • Jessica Gavin says

          Hi Keisha- The milk will definitely create the creamy consistency. Are you okay with using cashew, oat, rice, soy or almond milk? I would recommend unsweetened cashew, oat or almond milk as a substitute.

  6. Rachel says

    I’ve made this before and it was the bomb… I shared it with foreign friends who never understood the American hype around mac & cheese, they loved it! Now I have a bunch of milk that’s about to expire in a couple days and I know what I’m making for dinner -drool emoji-

  7. Georgina says

    Hi Jessica – this looks amazing, any idea how to “sneak” vegetables into this dish? That way it’s a one-pot-wonder “plus” 🙂
    Could I maybe add grated carrots, baby-marrow, fresh chopped spinach after step 8 will this work?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Georgina! I think those are great ideas 🙂 Yes, after step 8 would be a good time. Make sure to grate the carrot or marrow so it cooks quickly. You can also saute it separately first to soften or steam them it in the microwave, pour off any excess moisture and then add it to the macaroni and cheese so that it is pre-cooked before adding. You don’t have to pre-cook the spinach. Let me know how it goes! I also have a butternut squash macaroni and cheese if you want to try something with more veggies.

  8. Leonor says

    Hi Jessica! I’m so excited to try out this recipe. If i wanted to incorporate bacon into this recipe what would you recommend ??

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Leonor- I love bacon! I would saute a few pieces until crispy, chop it up, then stir it into the macaroni and cheese at the very end before adding the topping. Or you can sprinkle the bacon on top right before serving.

  9. Lilly says

    Hi! I want to make this for a friend to heat and eat later. It will be refrigerated over night beforehand. Should I broil it myself? And what instructions should I give her for heating it in the oven (I.e. temp, time, etc.)? Thank you!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Lily- I would wait to add the bread topping. I would have her reheat the macaroni and cheese at 400F, covered with foil, until hot and warmed through. I would heat for 20 minutes, stir, cover and continue to heat until nice and hot. Then follow the topping broiling instructions. You could also toast the breadcrumbs in a pan, allow it to cool and then put it in an airtight container for her to just sprinkle on top right before serving.

  10. Benjamin Garcia says

    I’m making this for a Thanksgiving potluck. I’m making it for up to 16 people. How much should I increase all of the ingredients

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Benjamin- I would double the recipe, however, a single batch is pretty large. You may have to make two separate batches unless you have a really large pot. I would transfer it to a large aluminum pan for serving.

  11. Carol says

    Hi, Jessica,
    Wanted to let you know that over the years, failed & successful attempts at making Mac & Cheese. I did finally come to the same recipe as yours. The only thing I do differently is to add 1 T of flour to each of the cheeses, then combine the cheeses, toss together, then add to sauce. I give this step credit for never having oily or broken sauce ever again… would appreciate your input regarding the value of this step. Thanks

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Carol- Great question! I could see how the tossing some flour with the cheese can help reduce the chances of a greasy, broken cheese sauce. When the cheese melts, the starches in the flour wrap around the proteins in the cheese to prevent them from forming back together and creating broken clumps, while also preventing the fat from releasing into the pasta.

  12. Anna says

    When and how could I add bacon and green onion, if I was to add cheese to the top when baking with the bread crumbs what kind of cheese would you put as a topper? Thanks

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I would stir in cooked chopped bacon and green onions when you’re incorporating the cheese into the sauce. I like monterey jack, cheddar or parmesan.

    • Greg says

      I used your recipe for a mac and chesse cookoff for my culinary class but added crabmeat and used crabboil ..it came out good but i had to much crabboil used a teaspoon, i learned tho to use powder crabboil instead of the liq .. (the powders eazier to sprinkle in to mix). Didnt win but every1 liked the dish

  13. Victoria says

    Reheating instructions? I’m bringing my two pans to work potlucks this week and want to make sure they’re yummy for everyone.

    Thanks!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Victoria- I would wait to add the breadcrumb topping. Toast it until golden, and then sprinkle on top before serving. Are you reheating the macaroni and cheese in the oven or microwave at work?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Michelle- I just might be as crispy because the panko are like flakes, but it will give a nice texture contrast on top 🙂 Just watch for the browning of the breadcrumbs, being careful it doesn’t burn.

  14. abby shevlin says

    jessica, are you kidding me?

    this is the absolute best bread crump mac n cheese recipe ive ever tasted.

    you are my savior

  15. Michelle Zani says

    I have always wanted to make homemade Mac & Cheese. I searched through all kinds of recipes and came across yours. It looked delicious and easy to make. It was just that! It was so good. I added a little bit of butter and garlic powder to the panko crumbs to give it just a pop of flavor. Everyone loved it. Thank you for sharing your recipe. I will be making it again.

  16. Pete S says

    I’m really glad I found your website! We’re having a meal Wednesday at church and it’s going to be different varieties of mac & cheese. I found a cheese with morel mushrooms and leeks, but I don’t know what kind of cheese it is. It’s white. I’m guessing it’s a higher moisture cheese? Any guesses? And I’m thinking of adding so meat, maybe on the side – small meatballs? I have ground lamb, pork sausage, and beef in my freezer. Any suggestions? Thanks for your great work!

  17. Kenzi says

    AHHH I literally just finished making this and it tastes amazing!! I’m gonna definitely post this recipe on Facebook and share with loved ones! Thank you!

  18. Christine says

    Thanks for this easy, yummy Mac and cheese recipe! I ended up using ziti since I couldn’t find any elbow macaroni in the brand I like (DeCecco or Barilla)…is there a pasta that you prefer to use as a substitution for macaroni?

  19. Priscilla says

    I can’t wait to try this recipe out this weekend. At what temperature should I broil the dish at? Your recipe doesn’t say….

  20. joanne p giard says

    I am making mac and cheese in my slow cooker to deliver to people here living alone. Can I use the same recipe for the topping after I have cooked it? Thanks for your help.

  21. Julia Levy says

    I absolutely LOVED this Mac n cheese. I would 100% recommend this recipe to my girlfriends and it brightened the gloomy quarantine day for my 6 kids and I!

Leave A Reply

Recipe Rating