How to Make the Perfect Mac and Cheese
Simply put, cheese is the answer to all when it comes to mac and cheese, says Werlin, and almost any cheese works — it just depends on how you use it.
"A creamy cheese like Brie becomes pure seduction when it's part of a mac and cheese, and a hard cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano won't melt, but its cheesy crunch on top of a mac and cheese is legendary," she says. "A fresh goat cheese is not only creamy, but it also serves as the tangy yin to the casserole's rich yang. And basically anything you would put in a grilled cheese sandwich or use in fondue is an excellent candidate. The important thing is that if it's a firm cheese, you must take the time to grate it. Slices of cheese just won't do. You'll more likely end up with cheese clumps instead of a smooth sauce."
Sauce-and-Meatballs Mac and Cheese with Burrata
"My friends Linda and Kelly Hayes are big meatball fans. (Well, let’s face it: They’re equal-opportunity foodies.) They’re also great cooks. One time I was enjoying yet another delicious meal at their house, and Linda suggested I do a riff on spaghetti and meatballs for this book. What a great idea, I thought. This dish is unquestionably hearty, and yes, it takes a bit longer than some other recipes in this book, but I promise you, the results are totally worth it..."
— Laura Werlin
Credit: Maren Caruso
Lobster Mac and Cheese
What could be more decadent than lobster in good old mac and cheese? Grana Padano and two different types of Cheddar already make this a mac and cheese to die for, but the addition of lobster just puts it over the top.
Credit: Michael Jordan's, The Steak House
Small Is Good
Just as mac and cheese is versatile, so is the type of pasta you can use for it. Werlin recommends not getting caught up in all of the shapes and sizes, though. "Just because there are so many choices doesn't mean they're all good for mac and cheese," she says. "Quite the opposite. Large-size pasta is almost always a poor choice… because the focus becomes the pasta, not the cheese or the other ingredients that may be in the sauce," she says.
Credit: Zedcor Wholly Owned
Spicy 'Home Fries' Mac and Cheese
"To me, the ultimate diner breakfast isn’t the eggs you find there, but instead it’s the potatoes, especially when they’re in the form of home fries. In this mac and cheese, those home-fried potatoes get their just due by acting as the crowning glory on the creamy, cheesy pasta underneath..."
— Laura Werlin
Credit: Maren Caruso
Carroty Mac and Cheese
Melissa Clark created this recipe for her daughter, Dahlia, because it was kid-friendly and comforting, but she also sneaks in some carrots so that she gets her vegetables, too. We can't get over the perfectly crunchy crust.
Credit: Andrew Scrivani
Salt the Water, Not the Pasta
It should be said to anyone making any kind of pasta, but salting the water once it boils is just as important when making mac and cheese, too, says Werlin.
Bobby Flay's Macaroni and Cheese Carbonara
We're suckers for anything from Bobby Flay, but this riff on the classic Italian dish is one of our favorites.
Credit: Ben Fink
Jalapeño Bacon Mac and Cheese
For those of you who are constantly looking to spruce up your mac and cheese, this recipe calls for two no-fail ingredients: jalapeño and bacon. That’s not only our favorite part, though, because we’re pretty sure this is the first version we’ve seen with Boursin cheese.
Credit: Courtesy Electus/HUNGRY
Stir It Up
Patience is everything, warns Werlin.
"It's easy to be impatient with mac and cheese. Who doesn't want that cheesy goodness right now? But as with all good things, it's about patience. In mac and cheese terms, this means getting the sauce to the right consistency before going on to the next step. That right consistency is pretty much like cake batter. You want it thick but pourable, which you achieve by stirring over a relatively low heat and waiting. It will tell you when it's ready, even if that moment comes well after you are," she says.
Zesty Kale 2 Ways Fontina Mac and Cheese
"Kale seems to have become the vegetable of the moment, which is good news for kale lovers like me. In this mac and cheese, the hearty vegetable appears two ways: mixed into the casserole and also as a crispy topping. Because of this, it almost seems like it’s two different vegetables, which makes this not only delicious but also fun to eat..."
— Laura Werlin
Credit: Maren Caruso
Chorizo Mac and Cheese
"Macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. This recipe combines a rich cheese sauce, packed with sharp cheddar and Manchego cheeses, with crisp and spicy slices of chorizo sausage..."
— Molly Aronica, Special Contributor
Credit: Molly Aronica
The Secret to Smoothness
If you want that velvety, luscious sauce that you crave for with your mac and cheese, then don’t overcook it, and pay attention to the sauce. "I've found [that] the best-tasting combination is milk and cream; not all milk and not all cream, and the main things is that you don't need equal parts butter and flour for the [roux], you can use half the amount of flour as butter," says Werlin.
And just as she mentioned that almost any cheese works as long as you know how to use it, it’s important to remember the unlikely cheeses when creating your sauce, as well. For a creamy, oozy sauce, use a creamy, oozy cheese like fontina or goat cheese.
World's Best Mac and Cheese
It doesn't get much better than Macaroni and Cheese featuring Seattle and New York's Beecher's Handmade Cheese. As owner and inventor of the recipe Kurt Dammeier says, "The proportion of pasta to cheese sauce is crucial to the success of the dish. It will look like a lot of sauce for the pasta, but some of the liquid will be absorbed."
Credit: Maryse Chevriere
The Ultimate Mac and Cheese
"I call this the ultimate because of the sauce — it's perfectly smooth and creamy, just the way I like it. If you prefer a less smooth cheese or a different flavor profile, feel free to substitute your favorite cheeses in. Just remember what Laura Werlin says when it comes to cheese: an infinite number of cheeses can go into your mac and cheese, but what matters is the results you're looking for. Choose the cheeses that will give you those results..."
— Anne Dolce, Cook Editor
Macaroni and Cheese with a Crusty Crunch
The base of the sauce in this version isn't cream, but a puree of cooked onions and garlic. It gives the dish lots of flavor with not so much as a gram of fat. The very hot oven makes the breadcrumbs on top get nice and crunchy. It's the combination of crisp and gooey textures that makes this a winning dish.
Get the Recipe: Macaroni and Cheese with a Crusty Crunch
Carrot Macaroni and Cheese
The silky carrot puree mixed with the cheddar here is a terrific source of vitamin A and helps reduce the amount of fat in the recipe.
Get the Recipe: Carrot Macaroni and Cheese
Macaroni and Many Cheeses
This adaptation works beautifully with any semihard cheese but is particularly good with an international blend of French Mimolette, aged Dutch Gouda and American Vella dry Jack. A fine layer of Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano forms a crisp topping.
Get the Recipe: Macaroni and Many Cheeses
Rodriguez Mac and Cheese
Make this tasty dish with Danish butter, Velveeta cheese and grated Reggiano parmesan cheese.
Get the Recipe: Rodriguez Mac and Cheese
Three-Cheese Mac and Cheese
Three different types of cheese, plus sour cream and egg yolks, make this recipe from chef Ben Vaughn of Restaurant Grace in Memphis especially rich.
Get the Recipe: Three-Cheese Mac and Cheese
No-Bake Macaroni & Cheese
Not only is this ultra-creamy version of mac-and-cheese nearly as fast as the boxed variety, but your family will be able to pronounce every ingredient. If they aren't broccoli fans, substitute a frozen vegetable of your choice.
Get the Recipe: No-Bake Macaroni & Cheese
Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
The best thing about this yummy dish is that it comes together so fast. There’s only one trick: be sure to add the cheese to the sauce at the last minute and then immediately remove the pan from the heat. If you continue to cook the sauce after adding the cheese, the fats will separate from the proteins and the cheese will become gritty.
Get the Recipe: Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
Tuna & Tomato Mac & Cheese
Tuna mac & cheese takes a trip to the Southwest with spicy tomato and festive blue tortilla chips on top. Canned tomatoes with green chiles and ancho chile powder add a peppery kick, but if you like, you can keep it mellow by using a 14-ounce can of drained petite diced tomatoes and mild chili powder.
Get the Recipe: Tuna & Tomato Mac & Cheese
Updated Mac & Cheese
Our mac-and-cheese makeover wins raves of approval, having all the comfort and great taste of its predecessors with a substantially more healthful profile. It uses whole-wheat pasta and includes a colorful layer of spinach. It's also a winner for make-ahead convenience.
Get the Recipe: Updated Mac & Cheese
Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
The mac & cheese has a pumpkiny twist!
Get the Recipe: Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
There's something about mac and cheese that makes it hard not to love. For one, it's comforting, a quality most Americans love in their meals. A mac and cheese's velvety, smooth sauce always has the ability to soothe anyone's soul. It's also easy — it may take one or two pots to put together, but the concept is straightforward and it makes it a cinch to feed a crowd.
The best part about mac and cheese, though, is that it's versatile. Whether you're feeding a hungry group of meat eaters or vegetarians, or serving it as a main or a side dish, there's a way to make it so that everyone at the table will be licking their lips.
Because it's such a crowd-pleaser, it's important to know how to make it right, and to learn this we turned to cheese expert Laura Werlin, author of Mac & Cheese, Please!, for some advice on how to create the perfect mac and cheese. No matter what kind you're making or how you'll be serving it, Werlin has a few simple tips to keep in mind to make sure the process is as smooth as that cheese sauce.
Werlin not only imparts some of her wisdom for perfecting mac and cheese, but she also shares some delicious and innovative recipes. Can't get enough breakfast for dinner? Her spicy "home fries" mac and cheese is a surefire way to serve it; and for those of you with Italian-roots, you'll love her meatballs mac and cheese made with mouthwatering burrata cheese. Along with Werlin's out-of-the-box creations, we also have the Ultimately Perfect Mac and Cheese, along with some other exciting creations to share, so no matter what mac and cheese you'll be charming your guests with, it'll be done perfectly.
Mac and cheese is a beloved favorite for many! To find out how to make some of the best recipes, check out our slideshow above!