This simple 5 ingredient macaroni and cheese recipe is the base of all great cheesiness. Eat it straight from the pot or bake it in the oven for an easy baked mac and cheese. Either way, it's delicious!
I love mac and cheese; I mean, who doesn't? It's a comfort dish that gets thousands of searches per month as people seek out the perfect recipe.
I love this one best, though! It's just creamy and smooth enough to taste great while not making a pile of cheesy soup on my plate (I'm not a fan of my food touching).
You can even turn the leftovers (assuming there are any) into some tasty Mac and Cheese Quesadillas the next day!
Why This Recipe Works
- It takes less than 30 minutes. With this fast and simple creamy stovetop mac and cheese recipe, you can have a tasty dish in no time.
- It's ready for anything! Serve it as a main dish or a side dish, and enjoy this quick and easy comfort dish for any occasion!
- Perfect consistency. It's filled with great cheesiness, it's an easy recipe, and it's not too wet or too dry. In my opinion, these things are what make it perfect!
Flour- You will need all purpose flour to work as the binder for the sauce. This is what thickens it up and holds it together. See helpful notes below if you plan to bake this macaroni dish.
Butter- You'll need to use butter (although margarine works too) to start the homemade roux sauce. You can use salted or unsalted butter, depending on what you have on hand.
Shredded Cheese- I like to use sharp cheddar cheese, but any good melting cheese works perfectly here!
Milk- To make the sauce smooth and creamy, use a fattier milk. Unsweetened almond milk, evaporated milk, or even soy milk may be used in a pinch, but it just doesn't feel the same.
Cooked Noodles- Traditionally, macaroni is made with elbow noodle pasta, but you can feel free to use any shaped pasta that you may have on hand. Penne, rotini, shells, etc.
For the exact amounts needed, please see the recipe card below.
🍽 Equipment Needed
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Check out how to make creamy mac and cheese with these simple step-by-step instructions:
Boil noodles according to package directions.
Drain into a colander and set aside.
While the noodles are cooking, melt your butter over medium heat in a medium-sized pot.
Add in the flour and whisk until combined. It will create a few flour lumps. This is okay.
Slowly add in the milk and whisk together until smooth.
Keep whisking until the mixture thickens (about 2-3 minutes).
Add in the cheese.
Continue whisking until it's well-mixed and smooth.
Pour the cheese sauce over the noodles.
Stir to combine.
Scoop and serve.
🍴 Recipe Tips
How to bake macaroni and cheese in the oven
These cheesy noodles taste great baked or from the stovetop. If you plan on baking it, use half of the requested flour because the noodle starches will help the sauce thicken. If you serve it from the stovetop, it's perfect as-is.
Place the cheesy noodles in a baking dish and then top with additional cheese (optional). Bake in the oven at 350F degrees for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
This mac and cheese recipe is very basic and plain because it's a great BASE recipe to build up from. Perfect for first time cooks or those wanting to add their own flavor spin to things.
Adding salt and pepper is a personal preference, and these noodles should be seasoned to taste.
Sometimes I like to add a few dashes of cayenne pepper to the cheese sauce. Not enough to make them spicy, but just enough to add in a little color and help bring the flavors of everything out that much more (like an enhancer).
You can add in or change up the flavors however you wish. For a quick reference of ideas, feel free to add in some:
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Cayenne powder
- Black pepper
- Smoked paprika
- Ground mustard
🧀What cheeses to use
I personally love medium or sharp cheddar cheese in my mac and cheese recipes. They give that strong flavor and color that I like to look for. That said, you can use any cheese you prefer (or a mixture of cheeses).
Colby jack, mozzarella, and other shreddable cheese work great depending on the flavor and color you're looking for.
Add in up to another cup of cheese for a richer taste if that's what you'd like. You can even combine different cheeses into the sauce. I often use 8 ounces of cheddar cheese in the sauce and then add in random bits of unused cheese from the week prior.
Meaning I could have 8 ounces of cheddar, a few slices of deli cheese, a chunk of mozzarella, or a handful of shredded parmesan in my sauce. This is one of my favorite ways to use up random cheeses!
🥗 Side Dishes
This recipe tastes incredible as a main dish on its own (especially if you sprinkle little bacon bits on top or mix diced ham into the noodles!
⏲️Make Ahead Instructions
If you plan on making it in advance (like a few hours or a day in advance of dinner), you'll want to keep it covered in the fridge until you're ready to heat and eat. In this case, I'd keep it in a covered baking dish and heat it in the oven because it's super simple to do.
Also, make sure to reduce the flour in the sauce by half (so only use 2 tablespoons) and cook the pasta until al dente, so it doesn't become too soft before serving.
Mac and cheese can be left well covered or in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 or 5 days in the fridge. You can reheat it a single serving at a time on a plate in the microwave for about 1-2 minutes.
This is a great dish to make and freeze for future meals! Simply make it as directed and then place it in a freezer friendly baking dish, covered in the freezer, until you're ready to eat.
You can bake it from frozen or let it thaw in the fridge overnight or on the counter for a few hours before baking.
Oh, that's a tough question! Making mac and cheese with whatever noodles you have on hand can always be a winner with the kids. Even crazy rainbow rotini noodles can be seen as fun and exciting (although I'm not a fan of the color combination). Use whatever is on sale or that you have on hand and you can't go wrong.
Yes, you can! I often find myself using rice noodles when my sister comes over for dinner and I swap out the flour for gluten free flour instead of all-purpose. This would make the dish gluten free (and celiac friendly).
No, you shouldn't need to cover your macaroni when baking it. You want the top to become a nice golden brown color. If you notice the top is getting too dark for your liking, you can gently lay a piece of foil over the top to prevent further browning.
Some More Great Pasta Recipes to Try!
- Cheddar Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad
- Easy Cheeseburger Macaroni Skillet
- Creamy Roasted Garlic and Tomato Pasta
- Mac and Cheese Tuna Casserole
- Pepperoni Pizza Pasta Bake
- Cream Cheese Bacon Pasta Bake
5 Ingredient Mac and Cheese
- 8 ounces Cheddar Cheese (2 cups) ($1.99)
- 16 oz Boxed noodles ($1.00)
- 2 cup Milk ($0.38)
- ¼ cup Flour ($0.02)
- 2 Tablespoons Butter ($0.18)
- Make the noodles according to the package directions, drain and then set aside.
- While the noodles are cooking, begin making your cheese sauce. In a small sauce pot, melt your butter over medium heat.
- Add in the flour and then whisk to combine. It will create a few flour lumps, but this is okay.
- Slowly add in the milk and whisk to combine. Whisk until the flour has dissovled and the mixture is smooth and thickened. (About 2-3 minutes)
- Add in the shredded cheese and continue to whisk until melted and thick.
- Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked noodles and stir to combine. Scoop and serve.
For baked mac and cheese
- Place the cheesy noodles in a baking dish and then top with additional cheese(optional). Bake in the oven at 350F degrees for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- These cheesy noodles taste great from the pot but can be placed into a greased baking dish and topped with additional cheese before being baked until warmed through. If you plan on baking this pasta, only use half of the requested flour.
- Additional spices are always nice. What this recipe is, is a nice base to build up off of. I often like to add in salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and a dash of cayenne pepper and paprika for color.
- You can use any cheese desired. I love medium and sharp cheddar cheese, but you can use Colby jack, mozzarella, or a mix of different shredded cheeses.
- Gluten free. You can make this recipe gluten free by using gluten free flour and gluten free noodles.
Make Ahead Instructions
- Prepare the macaroni as directed and keep it covered in the fridge in a baking dish. Bake in the oven until warmed through when you are ready to serve. About 30 minutes at 350 degrees F.
- Leftovers can last up to 5 days in an airtight container in the fridge.
- You can freeze this recipe in a well covered disposable baking pan for up to 3 months. You can bake from frozen, adding additional baking time, or you can thaw on the counter for a few hours before baking as directed.