(Make-Ahead) Macaroni and Cheese

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A creamy mac and cheese that is full of flavor! Make ahead for lunch, dinner or as a side dish.

Make Ahead Macaroni and Cheese by Kristine's Kitchen

When it comes to macaroni and cheese, I prefer a simple, classic version. My whole wheat macaroni and cheese is still one of my favorites because of its simplicity and ease of preparation. Now that I own an Instant Pot, I make this easy Instant Pot mac and cheese all the time.

When I have crowd coming this make-ahead mac and cheese is perfect for a party or potluck!

How to Make Cheese Sauce for Macaroni and Cheese

The cheese sauce is the most important part of a mac and cheese recipe. The cheese sauce should homemade, creamy and full of flavor. To make the cheese sauce for this recipe, you will use colby jack and extra-sharp cheddar. The colby jack melts perfectly, making the sauce extra smooth and creamy. The sharp cheddar gives the sauce a fuller flavor. Next, butter, garlic, dry mustard, and cayenne add a kick of flavor to the cheesy sauce. Everyone will love the flavor of this mac ‘n cheese.

Assembling the Mac and Cheese for Baking

First, place the partially cooked pasta into your baking dish. The pasta is only partially cooked before assembling the mac and cheese so that it finishes cooking in the oven, absorbing some of the cheesy sauce as it bakes.

Evenly pour the cheese sauce over the pasta, stir to combine. Sprinkle the crumb topping on last and bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

For a crispier top, broil when finished for 1-3 minutes. Watch your macaroni carefully or it will burn under the broiler. Be sure to use a broiler-safe dish.

I’ve made this and baked it right away, and I’ve also made it a day ahead and baked it right before serving.  It turns out great both ways.  Since you can refrigerate this mac and cheese for up to 2 days before baking, it’s the perfect recipe to make ahead for busy weeknights or entertaining.

Make Ahead Macaroni and Cheese by Kristine's Kitchen


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5 from 1 vote

(Make-Ahead) Macaroni and Cheese

A creamy mac and cheese that's full of flavor. Make ahead for lunch, dinner or as a side dish.
Course 30 Minute Dinner, Lunch, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword homemade mac and cheese, mac and cheese, mac n cheese recipe, macaroni and cheese
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time50 mins
Servings 6 servings
Calories 552kcal


For the Bread Crumb Topping:

  • 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons butter melted
  • Salt and pepper

For the Pasta:

  • 10 ounces dry pasta
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium garlic clove minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/8 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 3/4 cups low-fat milk
  • 1/2 pound 8 ounces colby jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
  • 4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar shredded (about 1 cup)
  • Salt and pepper


  • To make the bread crumb topping, stir together panko, butter, and salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. When boiling, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta and set aside.
  • To make the cheese sauce, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter in a Dutch oven or other large pot set over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, stir in the garlic, mustard, and cayenne, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth and milk. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly, and cook until large bubbles form on the surface and the sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cheeses until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Stir the drained pasta into the cheese sauce until well combined. Pour into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with crumb topping.
  • Bake, uncovered, until the sauce is bubbling and the crumbs are crisp, 20-25 minutes. (If the crumbs are browning too much, cover with foil.)

To store and serve later:

  • Wrap the dish tightly with foil, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. To serve, bake, covered, in a 400 degree oven until the filling is hot throughout, about 40-45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to cook until the crumbs are crisp, 15-20 minutes.


Source: Adapted from Cook's Illustrated The Best Make-Ahead Recipe.


Serving: 1/6 recipe | Calories: 552kcal | Carbohydrates: 49g | Protein: 24g | Fat: 29g | Saturated Fat: 18g | Cholesterol: 82mg | Sodium: 636mg | Potassium: 290mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1075IU | Vitamin C: 0.2mg | Calcium: 507mg | Iron: 1.6mg
Nutrition information is an estimate.
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