Ooey, gooey, and smothered in cheese—that's the way macaroni is truly meant to be enjoyed. When it comes to comfort food, sometimes the old fashioned way is the best way.
Making the original, real deal mac and cheese doesn't have to be difficult or time-consuming. It might take a little more time than the boxed stuff, but the payoff is totally worth it.
Follow our recipe below to whisk up a quick cheese sauce, pasta, and then bake it all in one dish to get that crispy, browned top with a creamy center.
Cast Iron Mac and Cheese: A Mouth-Watering Classic
- 1 ½ cups dry elbow macaroni
- 2 cups milk, 2% or 3.25%
- 2 cups of the cheese of your choice, shredded
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. Move a rack to the middle of the oven.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and add a sprinkle of salt.
- Cook your pasta according to instructions, until it is al dente (still a little firm). While your pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet.
- Add the flour to the skillet and stir over medium heat for 1-2 min until the mixture is lightly browned.
- Add the milk and whisk to remove any lumps from the mixture. Add the salt and pepper.
- Switch to stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook over medium-high heat until the sauce thickens and starts to bubble. This will take about 6 min.
- Stir in the cheese and whisk until smooth and fully melted. Turn off the heat.
- When the pasta is almost done but still firm, drain it and add to the sauce in the skillet.
- Stir the pasta into the sauce and bake in a greased cast iron skillet for 20-25 min until the top is bubbly and browned. You can also skip the baking step if you want it super creamy and put it under the broiler instead to brown the top.
- Serve and enjoy! You can store leftovers in the fridge for up to 4 days
Why use a cast iron skillet?
We highly suggest making this macaroni and cheese in a cast iron skillet. These skillets make it easy to transfer from stovetop to the oven, so they're great for making the bechamel and cheese sauce, adding in the macaroni, and then baking directly in the dish.
Cast iron skillets have an even temperature distribution, which yields great results when you're looking to get that crispy outside and gooey center. You can also use your skillet on the grill for a barbecue or campfire mac and cheese to add more flavor with the smoke.
What kind of cheese is best for a delicious mac n cheese?
The trick to making delicious pan-fried mac and cheese is first in using fresh, good quality, and flavorful ingredients.
The most important decision is which cheese to use, as the cheese will make a massive impact on the flavor and texture of your dish. Because our recipe uses a bechamel sauce roux (butter, milk, flour) as a base, the cheese melts more evenly. This means you can use cheeses that don't melt as easily and still get great results!
Sharp cheddar is the classic cheese used in most mac and cheese recipes. You will want to avoid most mild-flavored cheese as they tend to get lost in the dish and the results can be bland.
Here are the best cheeses to use in your mac and cheese:
- Sharp cheddar
- White cheddar
- Smoked gouda
- Blue cheese/gorgonzola
- Chevre/goat cheese
Combining cheeses is a great way to add even more depth to the flavor. If you want to use a very strong cheese like smoked gouda or blue cheese, it is a good idea to mix with a less strong cheese, like a mild cheddar or mozzarella so that the flavors don't become too powerful for the dish.
Try mixing three different cheeses together with different fat content, moisture content, and texture.
How do I dress up a classic skillet macaroni and cheese?
Once you've mastered the classic mac and cheese, it's really fun to play around with different flavor add-ins to the dish. Here are some of our favorites:
- Add 1 cup of salsa, or fresh diced tomatoes, green onions, and chilies for a Mexican twist.
- Cook up 4 strips of bacon, chop them up and throw them in. Add a little maple syrup to the bacon while it cooks to make candied bacon — the sweet and salty mixture is delicious!
- Add in some cooked lobster for a rich, buttery addition.
- Add sundried tomatoes, goat cheese, and chopped fresh parsley.
- Top any variation with breadcrumbs for an added crunch.
What is the best way to cook the pasta?
Make sure to follow the instructions on the box. Remove pasta from the heat al dente so that the baking process doesn't turn it to mush. Don't forget as well to put salt in the water to season the pasta, and add a little oil to keep them from sticking.
Cast iron mac and cheese takeaways
Whether you are going the classic route or choose to dress up your mac and cheese with one of our suggestions, this recipe is sure to make using a skillet your perfered way to cook up this comfort food!
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