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…
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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?!
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
PRO TIP: Speed up the cook time on the macaroni exponentially by cooking it in your Instant Pot. This pasta in Instant Pot method really works!
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.
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!
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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.