How to Make the Best Macaroni and Cheese | Easy Mac + Cheese Bar Ideas

Image of a white bowl full of macaroni and cheese with a brown banner that reads how to make insanely good macaroni and cheese. Plus mac and cheese bar ideas.

How to make homemade macaroni and cheese that family and friends won’t be able to resist—plus, tips on how to make the best mac and cheese bar for your next gathering or party.

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Here is how to make macaroni and cheese that will leave your friends and family hungry for more.

Macaroni and cheese is a dish that is loved by adults and children alike, making it the perfect dish to make for dinner parties, potlucks, and other occasions. If you want to quickly become the favorite guest at a party, then show up with a great macaroni and cheese.

You’ll be glad to know that this classic comfort food recipe is easy to make from scratch, and it’s also easy to set up a macaroni and cheese bar that will make you a dinner time hero.

It’s totally easy to make macaroni and cheese that is gourmet-tasting enough for a dinner party, or casual enough for a weeknight dinner or potluck with family and friends.

To make macaroni and cheese that is perfect for adults, start with a slightly more complex, creamy cheese sauce and add great toppings, like buttery toasted bread crumbs or crispy, crumbled bacon.

Try easily melted, sophisticated cheeses, like Gruyère or Emmenthal, to add rich, creamy flavor to the sauce.

Always include at least one type of cheese that melts well.

Start with a good sharp cheddar cheese. One of our favorite types of cheese to use for making macaroni and cheese is sharp white cheddar cheese.

If possible, grate your own cheese for best results, since pre-shredded cheeses are often coated with substances that make it harder for the shreds to melt.

Gruyère adds a mild, nutty flavor to macaroni and cheese. Emmenthal cheese is similar to Gruyère cheese, but it has a milder flavor and it is also a good cheese to use for making macaroni and cheese.

Other melting cheeses that can be used for making macaroni and cheese include fontina, gouda, havarti, and Parmesan cheeses. Monterey Jack can be a good cheese to use if you want to make a slightly spicy, Tex Mex-inspired mac and cheese.

You could also mix lightly steamed vegetables—such as sliced broccoli, carrots, peas, spinach, or sweet peppers, into the casserole.

How to Make the Best Macaroni and Cheese Bar

Serves about 8 to 10

Set out a selection of toppings and other ingredients that guests can mix into bowls of macaroni of cheese as they wish. Fill serving bowls with a few toppings and place them near the macaroni and cheese to serve.

Here are some tips to help you make a mac and cheese bar that people will love.

  • Make macaroni and cheese.
  • Make sure you have enough toppings.
  • Have plenty to go around.

It’s really that simple. Also, if you’ll have a guest who can’t eat cheese, but you want to make sure they are included in the party, ask them about serving a non-dairy, vegan macaroni and cheese entree. There are some good frozen varieties available in many grocery stores now.

Set up a table, and cover it with a tablecloth or table runner, if desired. Place your dish of macaroni and cheese at one end, and then arrange bowls of toppings near the macaroni and cheese.

Use a sign to let people know what types of toppings are available.

Don’t forget to set out plenty of bowls and forks for eating, and large spoons and tongs for serving.

Macaroni and Cheese Bar Toppings Ideas

Although the list of toppings and mix-ins seems endless, it’s generally best to choose a few toppings that you know will be a hit with the crowd that you are feeding. (For example: crumbled bacon, steamed broccoli, shredded cheese, toasted bread crumbs, and pico de gallo are popular with our crew.)

This keeps you from having to prepare too many ingredients at once. In fact, you could put most of your energy into making the best mac and cheese, and buy your toppings already made or in an easy to prepare format. For example:

  • Bacon Pieces—buy a large package of real cooked bacon crumbles from the grocery store
  • Broccoli—buy a package or two of steam-in-bag frozen broccoli florets to microwave and serve
  • Crunchy Toppings—Buy a few bags of salad toppers, like crispy peppers, French fried onions, or crispy jalapeños to add to your mac and cheese bar. Buy a few bags of each topping to make sure you have enough.
  • Cheese—A bag of shredded sharp cheddar cheese makes a great topping for a macaroni and cheese bar. You could also add a carton of grated Parmesan cheese or crumbled blue cheese.

So what are some of the best macaroni and cheese toppings, and things to put in mac and cheese? Here are some tasty ideas.

Meat + Proteins

Cooked meat, poultry, or vegetable proteins are great for adding to macaroni and cheese.

  • Bacon, cooked until crisp and then crumbled
  • Ground beef, cooked and crumbled
  • Grilled chicken, shredded or diced
  • Roasted chicken, shredded or diced
  • Rotisserie chicken, shredded or diced
  • Pepperoni, sliced — mini pepperoni slices are great, if you can find them
  • Pulled pork or chicken
  • Sausages (sliced), fried or grilled

Veggies — Cooked

Cook vegetables until tender to taste before adding them to the macaroni and cheese bar.

  • Broccoli, cut into small pieces and steamed
  • Carrots, diced and cooked or steamed until tender
  • Cauliflower, cut into small pieces and steamed
  • Mushrooms, sliced and sautéed
  • Peas, steamed
  • Sweet peppers, sliced and steamed

Veggies + Herbs — Fresh

Wash fresh herbs and vegetables well prior to preparing them to add to your macaroni and cheese bar.

  • Chives, minced
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Green onions, minced
  • Tomatoes, cored and diced

Cheese + Other Toppings

Purchase about 1 to 2 ounces of each type of cheese per person, especially if the crowd that you are feeding loves to eat cheese.

  • Blue cheese, crumbled
  • Cheddar, sharp, shredded
  • Parmesan, grated
  • Sour cream

Bread + Crispy Toppings

  • Bread crumbs, toasted and buttered
  • Crispy jalapeños
  • Crispy red peppers
  • French fried onions
  • Tortilla strips

Sauces + Condiments

Add a few sauces to the mix, for flavor.

  • Blue cheese dressing
  • Guacamole
  • Hot sauce
  • Jalapeño peppers, a jar of sliced jalapeño peppers is perfect for adding a spicy kick to a mac and cheese bar
  • Pico de gallo
  • Ranch dressing
  • Salsa
  • Sriracha
  • Truffle oil
  • Salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Smoked paprika

How to Make Macaroni and Cheese

Here is a recipe for a delicious macaroni and cheese that is perfect for weeknight dinner or a macaroni and cheese bar.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease the insides of a 3-quart baking dish.

Prepare pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

Heat butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted.

Add flour to the pan, and stir to blend with the butter and oil until a smooth sauce forms. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, stirring continuously, until the mixture is golden brown.

Add ground mustard, white pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper to the saucepan. Stir to combine with the flour and butter mixture.

Add warm milk and evaporated milk to the saucepan. Whisk until the sauce starts to thicken. Add cheese, and stir until the cheese is melted.

Pour cheese sauce over the cooked pasta. Stir until the cheese sauce and pasta are well mixed. Pour the macaroni and cheese into the greased baking dish.

Add 2 Tbsp of olive oil to breadcrumbs, and stir until the breadcrumbs are well coated. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese over the macaroni and cheese.

Bake the macaroni and cheese for 25 minutes or until the casserole is bubbly.

Favorite Macaroni and Cheese

Here is a recipe for a delicious macaroni and cheese that is perfect for weeknight dinner or a mac and cheese bar.
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 8 people
Author Sweet Bacon & Pecans

Ingredients

For the macaroni and cheese:

  • 1 16 oz. box elbow macaroni pasta, medium shell pasta, or cavatappi pasta
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 6 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp ground mustard
  • ¼ tsp ground white pepper
  • tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 ½ cups warm milk
  • 1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated Gruyère cheese
  • For the topping:

For the topping:

  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease the insides of a 3-quart baking dish.
  • Prepare pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.
  • Heat butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted.
  • Add flour to the pan, and stir to blend with the butter and oil until a smooth sauce forms. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, stirring continuously, until the mixture is golden brown.
  • Add ground mustard, white pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper to the saucepan. Stir to combine with the flour and butter mixture.
  • Add warm milk and evaporated milk to the saucepan. Whisk until the sauce starts to thicken. Add cheese, and stir until the cheese is melted.
  • Pour cheese sauce over the cooked pasta. Stir until the cheese sauce and pasta are well mixed. Pour the macaroni and cheese into the greased baking dish.
  • Add 2 Tbsp of olive oil to breadcrumbs, and stir until the breadcrumbs are well coated. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese over the macaroni and cheese.
  • Bake the macaroni and cheese for 25 minutes or until the casserole is bubbly.

This post was all about how to make the best macaroni and cheese.

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Credits
  • Featured title photo by Tina Witherspoon / Unsplash
  • Photos and images are for illustration purposes only.

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