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Mac and Cheese

5 stars based on 22 votes

Mac n cheese 6b

Believe me, when there are impatient and hungry children to feed, I reach right for the blue box in the pantry — it’s easy and I certainly never get any complaints. But every once in a while, I crave Mac and Cheese and, frankly, the boxed stuff simply won’t do. I want real Mac and Cheese – the kind that takes center stage at the dinner table and throws all dietary caution to the wind. And no one does it like Ina Garten. This recipe is modestly adapted from her Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook. I’ve omitted her sliced tomatoes (elegant as they are, my kids would have no part of them) and cut her recipe in half. The quantity is perfect for my family – two big eaters and two little ones – but if you have older children or a bigger family, you can easily double the recipe.

Mac n' Cheese

Servings: 3-4 as a main course, 6 as a side dish


  • Kosher salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces) macaroni, cavatappi or penne
  • 2-1/2 cups milk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 6 ounces Gruyere, grated (about 2 cups)
  • 4 ounces extra sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup fresh white bread crumbs (from 2-3 slices, crusts removed, torn into 1/4-inch pieces)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Drizzle a bit of oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, or just slightly underdone. Rinse with cold water and drain well.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat, but don't boil it. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a medium (2-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a few minutes more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, ½ tablespoon kosher salt, pepper (¼ tsp), and nutmeg (¼ tsp). Add the cooked pasta and stir well. Pour into a 2-quart baking dish.
  4. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter, combine with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle evenly over pasta and cheese sauce. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the pasta is browned on the top.
  5. Note: To reheat leftovers, cover with aluminum foil and warm in a 300°F oven. Do not microwave.

Reviews & Comments

  • 5 stars

    Even my fussy eaters loved it!

    - Susan Micflikier on September 13, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jenn, Love so many of your recipes.
    Just tried the mac and cheese. It was excellent. Just wondering if you could recommend another cheese instead if Gruyere. Thanks, Nicole from Canada

    - Nicole on September 1, 2017 Reply
    • Nicole, so glad you’re enjoying the recipes! If you’d prefer a different cheese, you could use Swiss, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Cheddar.

      - Jenn on September 1, 2017 Reply
  • Is there any other cheese that can be used instead of the gruyere? It’s a tad bit expensive for a small slice everywhere I look.

    - Gloria on August 28, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Gloria, you could use grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Swiss or Cheddar. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on August 28, 2017 Reply
  • 4 stars

    Hi Jenn,
    I love your site, I have been working my way through many different recipes and am pleased with the results! This mac and cheese tasted a little bland to me, but I think I didn’t have the ideal gruyere and extra sharp cheddar. Do you have particular brands you recommend?

    - Alexis Kenney on July 6, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Alexis, I’m sorry you found this to be a bit bland! I don’t have any particular brands of cheese that I’d recommend, but I’d definitely go with something that’s good quality. (Also, rather than the cheese, it could’ve been that this just needed a bit more salt.)

      - Jenn on July 7, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    For the bread crumbs, should they be toasted first? I’ve never used bread crumbs that were toasted (even when baking in the oven).


    - Katy on May 29, 2017 Reply
    • No Katy, they don’t need to be toasted first. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on May 29, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Outstanding recipe! I used medium shell pasta and followed every thing else exactly as written! Best Mac n Cheese I’ve ever made!

    - PAM on April 27, 2017 Reply
  • 4 stars

    I tried and it is VERY creamy. My kids like it less so (I actually make them Cooking Light’s version which they love). That being said, for them it made a perfect side. I’d also adjust a tad less for the sauce if you don’t like to super saucy. It worked for me because the kids dipped their haricot verts into it.

    - Betsy D. on March 16, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Hi Jenn!

    I made this twice and my family loves it. Just wondering what your thoughts on adding a little cream cheese to this dish?

    - Lily Zaccaro on February 4, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Lily, Glad your family likes it! I’ve never tried adding cream cheese to this, so I can’t say for sure, but I think you could get away with adding a little; maybe 1/4 cup at the most. I’d love to hear how it turns out this way!

      - Jenn on February 5, 2017 Reply
  • Should this be like soup when I pour it into the baking dish? It looks like I should have another 8 ounces of pasta!

    - Jenn on January 9, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Jenn, hmmm, this should be saucy but not soupy- are you sure you measured everything correctly?

      - Jenn on January 11, 2017 Reply
      • Yes I checked and rechecked. Oh well—it came out good and reheated well too! Thanks for another great recipe!

        - Jenn on January 11, 2017 Reply
        • Glad to hear it turned out well– all’s well that ends well :)!

          - Jenn on January 11, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made this for Thanksgiving this year and everyone at the table loved it (toddler and 1st grader through grandparents)! I used cavatappi pasta. I made the dish the day before Thanksgiving and just put it in the oven to heat it up before the meal. I actually think it tasted better the day after!

    - Leslie on December 2, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Incredible! I made it for my friends and they would not stop complimenting it. I did not add the bread topping (personal preference) and it goes great with broccoli.

    - Benjamin E Deonovic on December 1, 2016 Reply
  • how large is the container that this goes in? ie how big is the baking dish supposed to be?

    - seema on October 2, 2016 Reply
    • This should be baked in a 2-quart baking dish. Enjoy!

      - Jenn on October 2, 2016 Reply
  • Can this be made ahead of time?

    - Sue on July 25, 2016 Reply
    • Sure Sue, Feel free to make it ahead. If you’re baking it right before serving, add breadcrumbs just before putting it in the oven.

      - Jenn on July 26, 2016 Reply
      • Hi!

        How long in advance can I assemble this before adding the breadcrumbs and putting it in the oven?


        - Lily on December 30, 2016 Reply
        • Hi Lily, I’d say it’s fine to prep it up to two days ahead of time.

          - Jenn on December 31, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Yes, someone that really knows how to cook proper mac n’ cheese. I appreciate your take as I also do the rue method, but have only used sharp cheddar. This may seem a bit odd, but I like to add garlic and some Texas Pete sauce and it turns into a yummy different take…

    - Alex D. on July 8, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Follow up,
    It cooked up nicely! My husband loved! So I guess I did this correctly. Another five stars! Thank you, Susie

    - Susie on April 12, 2016 Reply
  • I must have done something wrong because when I poured it into the dish it was very liquidity.. I must have not have had hot enough milk when I poured it into the melted butter and flour mixture?.. I stirred for 10 minutes and it never got thick…im baking it now.. Ha hopefully we can still eat it. I love your recipes! Susie

    - Susie on April 12, 2016 Reply
  • I have a question. . . If I wanted to make this for a dinner with french people 🙂 How could I dress up the flavor? I think the recipe is awesome the way it is. . . Just wanted to add an awe factor.



    - Sara MacMillan on April 5, 2016 Reply
    • Hi Sara, Not sure you need to any additional ingredients to the dish, but you could serve it with this traditional French Carrot Salad on the side.

      - Jenn on April 5, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Finally! After so many years trying to find a good mac and cheese recipe. . . yours is delicious and not as messy if even messy.

    Everyone loved it. I added peas for my girls . . . and used penne as you suggested, so yummy.

    I am making it again for a playdate! Yeah! So happy.

    A big hug from a huge fan.


    - Sara MacMillan on April 5, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Oh, my. A six-star recipe. I followed this recipe exactly and in return received a combination of flavors that were beyond delightful.

    For the next make I am going to add lobster — I believe it will make this a perfect over-the-top tailgate recipe. Thanks, Jenn!

    - Mike S. on January 19, 2016 Reply
  • I was wondering about the bread crumbs…can I use grated? If not, do I need to only use white bread? Thank you.

    - Joann on December 4, 2015 Reply
    • Sure Joann, you could use grated bread crumbs if you prefer and it really can be any type of bread. Enjoy!

      - Jenn on December 5, 2015 Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    Do you have the measurements in metric? =x

    - G on December 1, 2015 Reply
    • Hi, I’ve started to have metric conversions for recipes on the site, but just haven’t updated that one yet. I will update that it within the next few days. Thanks!

      - Jenn on December 1, 2015 Reply
      • The Mac and Cheese recipe now has metric conversions. (Look for the metric/cup measure toggle slightly above the ingredients in the recipe.)

        - Jenn on December 1, 2015 Reply
        • 5 stars

          Thanks Jenn! 😀

          - G on December 2, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Another winner! Quick question — what changes would you suggest if I wanted to add broccoli? Would I add chopped broccoli when I add the cooked pasta? Are there any pitfalls that I should be aware of if adding a vegetable?

    - Amy G. on November 28, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made this tonight and it was a big hit! Be careful when doubling the recipe…..I screwed up some things but it came out GREAT! Thanks, Jenn, for another wonderful recipe.

    - ccwallace on October 18, 2015 Reply
  • 4 stars

    Adults loved it, kids not so much.

    - Julie on October 8, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Unlike many people, mac ‘n cheese was not a staple in our family when I was growing up. Therefore, I cannot recite my mom’s “from scratch” recipe from memory and, quite frankly, thought of mac ‘n cheese as an emergency meal that was made from a boxed mix when it was necessary to get food on the table quickly and there wasn’t time to prepare a real meal. This recipe changed my ideas about mac ‘n cheese. I first made it to appease the appetite of our 6 year old granddaughter and another picky eater in our family. It not only satisfied this need, but it also received rave reviews from the carnivores who enjoyed it as a side dish. I will make this again and again – if you make it you will only resort to a boxed mix in an extreme emergency. Enjoy!

    - Mary Kirk on September 1, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Best mac n cheese I have ever made!!!! This one IS a family favorite and will make many times over. Very easy and flavorful and WAY better than the store bought junk!

    - Irene on August 27, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This is a great recipe. I made it exactly as written. Everyone loved it. Great for leftovers. Truly. This will be in my go-to rotation from now on.

    - Pam on August 11, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Absolutely delicious! This recipe was incredibly easy to put together and the results are a bit beyond belief. The hardest part of the process was waiting for it to bake; I was so ready to just dive right into it and sweated out minute after minute until it came out golden brown and near restaurant quality. This is officially going in my short list of fave recipes.

    - Neal on July 15, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Love this recipe!!! Perfect mac n cheese no matter what cheese you use. Thank you!

    - Irene on December 15, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Great mac& cheese ! Iam new to your site
    And looking forward to try other great recipes. Thank you for sharing! !

    - Catherine on July 21, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I didn’t have nutmeg on hand when I made this recipe but thought the dish was delicious without it.

    - Alicia on July 19, 2014 Reply
  • What would be the issue with using salted butter instead of unsalted? Thanks!

    - Sylina on November 30, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Sylina, Just allows you to control the salt level.

      - Jenn on November 30, 2013 Reply
  • My go-to mac ‘n cheese recipe! I cut corners a little and sometimes use already grated cheese, and panko for the bread crumbs and it comes out just fine.

    - Ponyo on November 7, 2013 Reply
  • Excellent! I loved the penne in it! I even used low fat milk & cheese in it & it was great! I also omitted the bread crumbs & just topped with a little cheese. Another keeper!

    - Esther on November 5, 2013 Reply
  • This is a great recipe! I skipped the fancy cheese and just used cheddar and it was still divine. I found that this was enough sauce for almost an entire box (16 ounces) of pasta. I will definitely be making this again and again in the upcoming colder months.

    - Natalie on October 22, 2013 Reply
  • This is great. I like to sprinkle some paprika in it to add a little new flavor. Love this!

    - Amanda S. on March 11, 2013 Reply
  • Made thia last night for guests as a side dish to the beef brisket – it was a huge hit! Creamy and rich, but not too heavy (and gave me an excuse to finally buy a grater). Thanks for another winner. 🙂

    - Cynthia on December 23, 2012 Reply
  • If I double the recipe, do I also double the cooking time?

    - Erin on November 13, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Erin, It will take longer to cook but not double…just check it every five minutes or so after the recommended cooking time.

      - Jenn on November 14, 2012 Reply
  • Comfort food doesn’t get better than this! Kids love it!

    - Mandy Burkhart on October 2, 2012 Reply
  • Makes yummy mac and cheese. I mix up the cheeses based on what’s in the fridge.

    - Sri on June 26, 2012 Reply
  • Hi Jen, I am planning on making this as a side dish with for some company. Do you know if I can make most of the recipe ahead of time (morning) and leave it in the fridge, and then add breadcrumbs and bake at the last minute?

    - Rachel Bridgeman on June 23, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Rachel! Should be fine to make most of the recipe ahead, then add breadcrumbs and bake at last minute. 🙂

      - Jenn on June 24, 2012 Reply
  • I like the combination of cheeses.

    - Amy Flick on May 21, 2012 Reply
  • Never made it from scratch, but this might make me start trying!

    - Adrienne on May 16, 2012 Reply
  • Adore Mac & Cheese and Ina Garten!

    - Rebecca on March 6, 2012 Reply
  • Mac and cheese is the best when the sauce is made from a roux. I started doing this last year and haven’t looked back since. Adding a little bit of dijon mustard to the sauce gives it a nice kick too!

    - Michele Mathis Lavell on March 1, 2012 Reply
  • The BEST mac & cheese…..always a comfort food….this one is gourmet comfort!!!! Yummy, yummy, yummy!!!!

    - debbie on March 1, 2012 Reply
  • This was REALLY good, but I did feel like this needed a bit more seasoning. We added more black pepper and a dash of red pepper flakes at serving. Loved the consistency and base flavors. Might try mixing up the cheese blend next time. Keep the great recipes coming! I’m trying out your pancakes tomorrow morning. yum!

    - Uncorked2 on October 23, 2010 Reply
  • soo good. reheating leftovers tonight with some barbeque. josh gets sooo excited when he hears I am trying one of your recipes – so cute!

    - Tammy McIntyre Goddard on November 15, 2009 Reply
  • A definite keeper! There’s a restaurant here in LA that makes a wonderful mac & cheese w/ truffles on occasion. Amazing.

    - ilona saari on November 5, 2009 Reply
  • your blog is absolutely fantastic! i’ve made this recipe, the pumpkin bread and the supernatural brownies (it’s officially now my go-to brownie recipe). just wanted to say that you are doing a fantastic job! the blog is beautiful and your photos are gorgeous and incredibly helpful. i can’t wait to try more of your recipes.

    - kat on October 24, 2009 Reply
  • Brandy – You can use olive oil in the pasta water but definitely still use unsalted butter for the cheese sauce. Enjoy!

    - Jenn on October 15, 2009 Reply
  • could the vegetable oil be substituted with olive oil?

    - Brandy on October 15, 2009 Reply

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