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Creamy White Cheddar Baked Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

This baked macaroni and cheese casserole is easy homemade macaroni and cheese at its best! Gooey and cheesy with a layer of crushed potato chips on top for texture…

macaroni and cheese casserole with crushed potato chips topping

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Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

Thursday nights are unofficially date night around here. My husband and I head out to one of our local faves, where 99.9% of the time he orders the chicken wings and a big hot pretzel, while I enjoy my go-to brisket taco with a side of piping hot baked macaroni and cheese. And of course, we wash it all down with a couple of craft brews…

Predictable? Yes, but I still look forward to it every week! It’s the perfect time to chat about all of the things we don’t have time for during our busy weeks: the kids, his work, projects I’m working on, things that need done around the house, etc. Often I’ll touch on ideas for new recipes, and he always has great insights and feedback.

So when he commented that he couldn’t believe I’ve never shared my favorite macaroni and cheese casserole recipe (you know, given how much I obviously ADORE mac and cheese), you’d better believe I sat up and took notice! This easy baked macaroni and cheese recipe is long overdue, folks. Better late than never, right?!

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easy baked baked macaroni and cheese casserole with crushed potato chips topping

Making A White Sauce For Baked Macaroni and Cheese

You know, for years I was intimidated by homemade macaroni and cheese. It was really the whole white sauce thing (aka béchamel sauce). Which is totally silly, because it’s simply a sauce made with butter, flour, and milk.

But I was under the (false) impression that making a perfect white sauce is crazy difficult. I mean, it does take some focus to turn out a good béchamel sauce, but the secret to it could not be easier…

Don’t. Stop. Stirring! That’s it — just keep stirring from the moment you mix the flour into the butter, and continue stirring as you slowly add the warm milk to the butter/flour mixture. And then stir some more while the sauce is thickening. Stir, stir, stir until you have a thick and silky white sauce, and you’ll be rewarded with a tasty and creamy macaroni and cheese every time.

how to make baked macaroni and cheese with homemade white sauce and elbow macaroni

How To Make Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Once you have the white sauce down, it’s all smooth sailing. Now is when you can get a little creative with your cheese, spices, and toppings. I like just a bit of heat in my mac and cheese, so in goes some cayenne pepper. And also some onion powder — I can always tell when a restaurant leaves out the onion powder. It just seems a little blah… So you can skip the cayenne pepper, if that’s not your thing, but please, don’t leave out the onion powder!

As for cheese, I loovvveeee a good sharp white cheddar. You can use a milder cheddar, but whichever you decide to go with, buy it by the block. Bagged cheeses have ingredients added to prevent the shreds from sticking together, which is a good thing for sprinkling but not so much for melting. They will cause your cheese sauce to be grainy instead of silky smooth and creamy. So buy a block of good cheddar and shred it yourself.

spicy crushed potato chip topping for macaroni and cheese casserole

Crushed Potato Chip Topping for Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

So you can totally top this macaroni and cheese casserole recipe with a traditional breadcrumb mixture. It’s a classic that never gets old — but my favorite casseroles growing up all featured crushed potato chips. The kid in me won out today, so I decided to go that route.

But I didn’t use just ANY potato chips… Have you ever tried the Kettle Cooked Nashville Hot Chicken potato chips from Kroger? Oh my gosh, they are just SO good (and such a bargain)! Their sweet heat is the perfect complement to the cheddar cheese in this gooey and cheesy baked macaroni and cheese recipe.

how to make macaroni and cheese with crushed potato chip topping

Call me weird, but sometimes I just like to browse the aisles at Kroger because they always seem to have the BEST private label finds — one of them being these Hot Chicken potato chips. I literally have to hide them from my kids, because they all go nuts for them, too. And hello, just once I’d like to find a little more than crumbs, you know?

They’re part of what Kroger is calling their Treasure EmporiYum, a collection of delicious and unique products that are exclusive to the Kroger Family of Stores, including craft snacks, small batch sauces, oils & olives, and more.

I also snagged a few bottles of their Private Selection craft sodas to wash down our macaroni and cheese casserole, and I could not be more impressed. Bourbon Barrel cola? Yes, please! The Blackberry Jam cream soda is totally amazing, and I can’t wait to try the Peach and Black Pepper soda.

Be sure to check out these Treasure EmporiYum coupons and savings before shopping. I used a 10% off craft sodas digital coupon, which made them just $0.90 each, and also a $0.25 off kettle chips digital coupon, which made them $1.25 per bag!

easy macaroni and cheese baked in individual cast iron ramekins

Tips for Easy Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

I’ve already touched on some of my best tips for how to make macaroni and cheese, like consistent stirring and shredding your own cheese. But here are a few more that will take your macaroni and cheese casserole from just good to wow-worthy:

1| Use mise en place. Not familiar with this concept? Loosely translated from French, it means “everything in its place.” So basically you want to have all of your ingredients completely prepped before starting, as in measured, shredded, and ready to go. Make sure your oven is preheated, because things progress quickly once the elbow macaroni is done boiling.

2| Salt the pasta water well. Pasta is not very flavorful on its own, which is why the instructions always call for boiling in salted water. It will absorb the salt it needs, while the rest remains in the water. Also, undercook the pasta slightly, because it will continue to cook as it bakes in the oven.

3| Taste as you go. Really, this is essential for any dish. In the case of a baked macaroni and cheese, taste the cheese sauce before you add the pasta. It’s easy to add a little more salt or pepper or a dash more of cayenne pepper at this point. Once it’s baked, not so much…

4| Don’t over bake it. Over baked macaroni and cheese is mushy and blah. Baked it until it’s starting to brown around the edges and is bubbling in the center. Want to speed the baking time up? Simply use a larger, shallower dish.

easy macaroni and cheese recipe baked in individual cast iron ramekins

This macaroni and cheese casserole recipe is pure comfort food at its very best. Whether you make a meal out of it or serve it as an appetizer or side dish, it’s sure to get rave reviews!

PIN IT NOW! CLICK HERE TO ADD THIS MACARONI AND CHEESE CASSEROLE RECIPE TO YOUR INSTANT POT RECIPES BOARD ON PINTEREST!

macaroni and cheese casserole recipe with crushed potato chips topping

Creamy White Cheddar Baked Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

This baked macaroni and cheese casserole is easy homemade macaroni and cheese at its best! Gooey & cheesy with crushed potato chips on top for texture...

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x13" ceramic baking dish or a large ceramic oval baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter, and set aside.
  2. Stir the elbow macaroni into a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook to al dente, about 5 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Immediately drain in a colander and rinse under cold water. Then set aside.
  3. Warm the milk in microwave on high for 20 seconds, or pour it into a saucepan and warm over medium-low heat to just below simmer.
  4. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. I reuse the Dutch oven that I cook the macaroni in for this step. Reduce the heat to low, and whisk in the flour for 2 minutes, being careful not to let it brown.
  5. Continue whisking, and add the warmed milk in small amounts, taking care to whisk until smooth after each addition. Continue stirring the white sauce until it thickens and comes to a simmer, about 5 minutes.
  6. Remove the white sauce from heat and whisk in the salt, onion powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper to taste, and half of the shredded cheese. Taste the sauce at this point, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Then stir in the drained macaroni.
  7. Spread a third of the macaroni mixture over the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle a third of the remaining shredded cheese over the top. Spoon another third of the pasta on top, and layer with another third of the cheese. Finish with the remaining pasta mixture, and then top with the remaining shredded cheese. Sprinkle crushed Kettle Cooked Nashville Hot Chicken potato chips over the top.
  8. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges and bubbling throughout. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Notes

Macaroni and Cheese Minis

For individual macaroni and cheese casserole servings simply follow the same instructions for laying the pasta and cheese in buttered ramekins. Place the prepared ramekins on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before servings.

Bread Crumb Topping for Macaroni and Cheese

If you prefer a traditional bread crumb topping on your macaroni and cheese casserole, stir together 3 tablespoons of melted butter and 1 cup of dry bread crumbs. Toss this mixture with the remaining cheese that is to be used on the top layer, and scatter evenly over the top of the casserole.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 servings Serving Size: 1 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 504Total Fat: 30.3gSaturated Fat: 17.9gCholesterol: 88.6mgSodium: 749.7mgCarbohydrates: 36.7gFiber: 1.6gSugar: 5.5gProtein: 22.1g

How much did you LOVE this recipe?

Please leave a comment below or share a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #unsophisticook!

More yummy & easy casserole recipes to try:

  • This easy tuna casserole with egg noodles was always one of my mom’s go-to recipes when I was growing up… And I can totally see why. Tuna noodle casserole is quick to prep, tasty, and versatile!
  • Give this yummy taco tater tot casserole a try for your next Taco Tuesday! Taco-spiced saucy ground beef, black beans, and corn, topped off with crispy tater tots and cheese makes for an easy family-favorite dinner.
  • This custardy cream corn casserole recipe is SO good you’ll want to scrape the dish clean to get every last bit of caramelized goodness… My favorite of all the corn casserole recipes I’ve tried, just like my grandma made it!
  • This easy green bean casserole recipe is my family’s version of the classic recipe and uses only 3 ingredients, including canned green beans… Because who needs another complicated side dish recipe? NOT this mama!
  • This easy cheesy meatball casserole recipe boasts just 5 ingredients, yet is still packed with flavor… Serve it as is, over pasta, or on sandwich rolls for a versatile weeknight dinner!
  • This divine ooey-gooey broccoli rice cheese and chicken casserole recipe comes together with just 6 simple ingredients, all of which you likely already have in your pantry and freezer! It’s sure to become an easy weeknight meal staple.

craft sodas served with easy homemade macaroni and cheese

The Treasure EmporiYum is a trove of unique finds to tantalize taste buds! These carefully curated collection of delicious discoveries are exclusive to the Kroger Family of Stores. You can find these items specially marketed in select store locations.

I’d love to see how your macaroni and cheese casserole turns out… Tag me @Unsophisticook on Instagram or use the hashtag #Unsophisticook so I can check it out. Enjoy!

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Rachael Yerkes

Tuesday 1st of January 2019

This is the perfect comfort food for all these cold nights!

Courtney O'Dell

Monday 31st of December 2018

This dish is unbelievably delicious!

Taylor W.

Monday 31st of December 2018

What a great idea! Love the added crunch!

Becky Hardin

Monday 31st of December 2018

Macaroni and Cheese is one of my all time faves!!! This mac n cheese could be my new fave for sure!

Saima

Monday 31st of December 2018

I really love your tips about using onion powder and sharp cheddar cheese. And the chips on top are such a great substitute for the standard breadcrumbs. I do add cayenne but still wondered why my mac and cheese tasted so meh. I think I know now! Will be trying out your version soon. Thanks for posting this recipe!