Best Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

Best Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

Nothing says the holidays like a hot and bubbly pan of mac and cheese. This recipe has fun pasta shells and a seasoned creamy cheese sauce that makes it the best-baked mac and cheese recipe!

Our family holiday dinners always include mac and cheese. Growing up, mac and cheese was a non-negotiable, it didn’t feel like the holidays without it.

My plate usually looked the same: my grandfather’s famous dressing, baked mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, and homemade cranberry sauce. Other sides came and went but these four things always remained constant. They are oh so delicious and made for the perfect holiday dinner. 

While mac and cheese is one of the best holiday sides, it is a great dinner option for any day of the week! Whenever I want to be extra fancy with my dinners during the week I make this recipe. 

I love to have it with black bean burgers, roasted chicken and broccoli, or roasted brussels sprouts with mushrooms.

How to Make the Best Mac and Cheese

In my opinion, the best homemade mac and cheese recipe includes three things: lots of shredded cheddar cheese, American cheese, and ground black pepper.

Mac and cheese

Shredded cheddar cheese

Lots of shredded cheddar cheese is one of the best parts of this cheesy delight.

My sister recently bought a grater/ slicer attachment for our Kitchen Aid mixer to make homemade potato chips. It has also changed our cheese shredding game. It makes shredding cheese so much easier and faster. We can shred a 2lb block of cheese in no time, and store it in a large gallon-sized bag in the refrigerator for easy use. 

Best homemade mac and cheese

American cheese

One of the primary things I want to share on this blog is how you can make delicious food from scratch using organic and whole ingredients. However….this ingredient is the exception.

I always use American cheese for mac and cheese. There’s just no substitute that does it justice. I love it and will always use it!

I usually get the name-brand non-organic American cheese, but there are organic versions as well, it’s just a little bit more expensive for fewer slices. 

Freshly ground black pepper

Ground black pepper really makes this easy cheese sauce really delicious. If you have a pepper grinder, even better! There’s nothing like the taste of freshly ground black pepper in homemade mac and cheese!

Fun pasta shapes

There are so many fun pasta shapes available in stores. You can use penne, elbows, shells, fusilli, and more! The one thing I noticed is that, depending on the size of the pasta, you can have more or less pasta to cheese ratio. 

My shells were large, so I used 3 – 4 cups of dry pasta shells. But if you are using regular elbows use 2 cups!

Southern baked mac and cheese

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Tools You May Need For This Recipe:

Cheese grater, great if you have a Kitchen Aid Mixer

Pepper grinder

9 x 13 Baking dish

easy mac and cheese recipe

What is your favorite holiday side dish?

I hope you try this recipe out soon! If you do- leave me a comment, a star rating, or tag me on Instagram (@themidwestkitchenblog) so I can see your meals! Thank you for reading! Enjoy!

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Creamy mac and cheese

Best Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe


  • 3 cups large pasta shells, or 2 cups elbows
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 16 slices American cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon ground paprika
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided



  1. Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. 
  2. In a medium-sized pot, bring water to boil for the pasta shells. Cook the pasta until it is almost done, but still a little hard. Drain the pasta. Put it in a large bowl, then drizzle it with a little bit of ghee or vegetable oil. Set it aside. 
  3. In the same pot, melt the butter. Then add in the milk, heat it until the milk and butter are pretty much mixed together, about 2 – 3 minutes.
  4. Mix in the American cheese, stir and cook until it is completely melted. Next, add in the spices – cayenne pepper, ground black pepper, ground paprika, and salt. Mix everything together, then add 4 cups of shredded cheddar cheese into the cheese sauce. Mix and cook until all the cheddar cheese is completely melted.
  5. Next, add the cooked pasta shells to the cheese sauce, stir to combine. Pour the mac and cheese into a 9 x 13 baking dish. Cover the top with the remaining 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese. 
  6. Bake for 25 – 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Serve with baked or roasted chicken or beef with veggies, or with your favorite holiday dinner! Enjoy!



Mac and cheese lasts for several days in the refrigerator and several weeks in the freezer.

Keywords: baked mac and cheese, mac and cheese, holidays, side dish

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