Southern Baked Mac and Cheese is a ridiculously creamy, cheesy, soulful baked mac and cheese brimming with great Southern flavors. Creole seasoning and melty cheese will satisfy the most intense craving. And you’ll never, ever want to break open a box again!
I was not a fan of mac and cheese back in the day. But I’ve come to love that cheesy, creamy American comfort food, thanks to my son, who seriously would live on mac and cheese every single day of his life. But of course, I’ve got to say no to breaking open that box from time to time.
“Wait, what? You said a box?” Yes, he is a huge fan of boxed mac and cheese! He’d gladly turn down good homemade food for a plateful of his all-time fave boxed mac and cheese. You can imagine my delight when I tricked him into eating REAL HOMEMADE mac and cheese. Ahhh, it was a sweet victory!
The Southern Recipe
Southern Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe
OK, I know opening a box of mac and cheese is a whole lot easier than grating cheese and making the sauce and macaroni. But nothing compares to homemade, even if the package includes a can of creamy cheese sauce. Besides, the cheesy bechamel sauce is over-the-top with half-and-half and evaporated milk for extra creaminess.
And another secret ingredient? My fave Creole seasoning kicks the flavor up and off the chart! Nothing compares to this recipe, with a smooth, silky sauce permeating every inch of macaroni. You’ll fall head over heels for the brimming Southern flavors this baked mac and cheese offers. You’ll need a bigger spoon, for sure!
- Flour is an essential thickener to the sauce. When you make the roux, cook it until it doesn’t have that raw flour taste. You can use your favorite all-purpose gluten-free mix if you prefer.
- Dairy – Evaporated milk and half-and-half make a more decadent, creamier sauce without spending all that time simmering it to make it thick enough. I also have a cheap shortcut to making your own evaporated milk. And, yes, you can use half cream and half whole milk if you don’t have half-and-half.
- Seasonings – Onion and garlic powder give flavor without adding extra moisture, Creole seasoning improves the spiciness, and cayenne pepper adds the right touch of heat that is so addictive.
- Cheese – Mozzarella, sharp cheddar, and jack cheese are my faves for this recipe. Although, Gouda, Provolone, and parmesan are fantastic additions. Once I made it with Manchego, kashkaval, and pecorino Romano for someone who couldn’t have cows’ milk but could from sheep or goats. It was surprisingly delicious.
- Macaroni is the base for us to eat all the awesome cheese. While elbow macaroni is the traditional choice, you can use rotini, corkscrew, or penne pasta. Gluten-free pasta will also work as long as you don’t overcook it. Lightly steamed cauliflower will work for a keto-friendly version.
How to Make Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
- Macaroni – Cook the macaroni according to the package instructions.
- The Roux – Add butter to the skillet. As soon as the butter melts, whisk in flour. Continue whisking until flour is thoroughly mixed with butter. Then cook for about a minute to get rid of the flour taste. (Photo 1)
- The Sauce – While stirring, slowly add evaporated milk, a little at a time, followed by the half-and-half. You don’t want the mixture forming lumps. Simmer for 3-5 minutes until it thickens slightly. (Photos 2-4)
- Season – Add onion and garlic powder, Creole seasoning, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a simmer and let it simmer gently for about 2 minutes. Stir in the grated cheeses (reserving some as a topping later), and continue stirring until everything melts into creamy goodness—season with salt and pepper to taste. (Photos 5-6)
- Assemble – Add the pasta to the pot of cheese sauce, and stir to incorporate evenly. Then transfer the pasta mixture into a cast-iron skillet or a lightly greased 2-quart baking dish. Then top with remaining cheese.
- Bake it for 20 minutes in a preheated 375F°/190℃ oven. (Photos 7-8)
- Meaty Goodness – Turn this luxury into a one-pot meal by adding bacon, ham, or pulled pork. Then sneak in some steamed veggies and call it good.
- Gluten-Free – There are many gluten-free options, so use your favorite macaroni and replace the roux with your go-to gluten-free thickener. You could go all the way keto-friendly with low-carb flour and cauliflower bits instead of the macaroni.
Tips and Tricks
- The macaroni will continue to cook after you’ve put it in the oven, so making sure it’s al dente (or slightly undercooked) will keep it from getting mushy.
- Another tip for the macaroni is tossing it with a bit of butter or olive oil and letting it cool before mixing it with the cheese sauce to keep it from swelling.
- Room-temperature milk and cream will thicken faster, but no sweat if you forget to remove them from the fridge first. It will just take a minute or two longer to thicken.
Pro Tip: Pre-shredded bagged cheese has additives that make it drier than freshly grated cheese. Nor does it melt as well, so it’s better to break out the grater on this one.
This is a great make-ahead dish if you do it right. Pasta tends to absorb moisture, so add an extra splash of milk to the sauce when you assemble the ingredients. Refrigerate and bake it the next day, or freeze it for up to four months. Thaw frozen mac and cheese overnight and bake it for about 30 minutes.
Serving and Storage Instructions
Hot out of the oven (wait long enough not to burn your tongue😉) is the best way to enjoy Southern mac and cheese.
You can store the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for two or three days. Add a dash of milk when you’re ready to reheat.
I don’t put eggs in my recipe, but others do, so it’s a personal choice. However, my Trinidad Macaroni Pie has an egg if you want to try that recipe.😍
Sharp cheddar, mozzarella, and jack cheese are my top faves. But pepper jack, smoked cheddar, Gouda, Fontina, and Gruyere are incredible additions too. Mix and match for an exotic mac and cheese.
Is this a trick question? I love spicy! Creole seasonings are a given in this recipe, but you can add chopped jalapenos, bacon bits, chopped shrimp, diced veggies, and even a can of Ro*Tel tomatoes and green chilies.
What to Serve With Southern Baked Macaroni and Cheese
More Incredible Southern Recipes to Try
- Ground Beef Casserole
- Chili Mac and Cheese
- Southern Potato Salad
- Homemade Butter Biscuits
- Southern Corn Pudding
Amazing Southern mac and cheese with creamy, cheesy goodness is the ideal comfort food. Would you like more soul food recipes? Follow me on Facebook to stay up to date.❤️
“I’ve been trying to perfect Mac n cheese for years. In my family/culture, mac n cheese at dinners is everything and if you screw it up, people won’t stop talking about how horrible it was. This recipe changed the game, raised my chef status, and now everyone wants to eat the mac n cheese I’m bringing!! Thanks for this recipe!! You’re making magic in your kitchen and ours!” – Aisha
Watch How to Make It
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This blog post was originally published in September 2018 and has been updated with additional tips, new photos, and a video.
Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
- 8 ounce uncooked macaroni
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- 1 cup half and half (or ½ cup cream and ½ cup milk)
- ½ -1 tablespoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- ½ -1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ cup mozzarella cheese, grated
- ½ cup
sharp cheddar cheese ,grated
- ½ cup jack cheese (any jack cheese you prefer)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Cook macaroni according to the package directions. Drain.
- Add butter to skillet, as soon as butter melts whisk in flour. Continue whisking until flour is fully mixed with butter. Then cook for about a minute to get rid of the flour taste.
- Slowly add the evaporated milk a little at a time, followed by the half and half; you do not want the mixture to form any lumps. Simmer for about 3-5 minutes until the mixture thickens slightly.
- Add seasonings, onion and garlic powder, Creole seasoning, and cayenne pepper.
- Bring to a simmer and let it simmer gently for about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the cheeses (reserve some as toppings later), and continue stirring until everything’s melted, evenly combined, and smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Then add the cooked pasta to the pot, and stir to incorporate evenly.
- Transfer the pasta mixture to a pan or a lightly greased 2-quart baking dish; top with the remaining cheese.
- Bake at 375F°/190℃ for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
Tips & Notes:
- Place a small skillet on medium heat with 2 tablespoons butter, then toss in 1 teaspoon minced garlic, stir for about 30 seconds and throw in bread crumbs. Saute for about 3-4 minutes or until fragrant. Lightly season with salt and pepper, if desired. Then top the mac and cheese with the bread crumbs and bake.
- In a medium bowl, beat the egg then add about ½ cup of the sauce to the egg, return the egg mixture to the sauce, stirring to blend well. Proceed with the cheese and the proceeding steps.
- Don’t use pre-shredded bagged cheese as it is drier. You have to get blocks of it and shred it yourself.
- Sharp cheddar cheese, mozzarella, and jack cheese are my top faves. Or you can also use pepper jack cheese, gouda, fontina, and Gruyere.
- More mozzarella cheese can be added for it gives it a nice gooey pull in every bite.
- Do not cook cheese sauce too long.
- You can also throw in special ingredients such as garlic herbs, dried mustard, crispy fried onion strings, and so on.
- For extra flavor, add chicken breast pieces, spinach, and red bell peppers.
- In case you want to cut down on the calories, use low-fat milk instead of evaporated milk and cut back on half of the cheese.
- It’s best to warm milk. Cold liquid interrupts the cooking process. Heated milk also has a richer flavor than cold milk.
- To avoid lumps, try adding the milk about 2-3 tablespoons at a time. Whisk until it’s incorporated before adding more. Once the can of evaporated milk is all mixed in, add in all the half and half at once.
- Mac and Cheese can be made ahead up to the point of baking, then bake about 30-40 minutes before serving, so it’s hot and fresh. It can as well be made right in the morning and baked just before dinner time.
- It can also be made ahead up to the point of baking and then frozen. It freezes better if you don’t bake it first.
- Reheat in the microwave if there are any leftovers then spray the top with oil or butter for moisture.
- You don’t cover baked mac and cheese with foil as it would steam the inside and prevent it from achieving that slightly crusty golden bubbly top.
- If making for bigger groups of people, you can double or triple the recipe.
- In the absence of cast iron, Mac and Cheese can be baked in almost any oven-safe casserole dish.
- Please keep in mind that nutritional information is a rough estimate and can vary greatly based on the products used.