5 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Mac & Cheese

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

If there was ever a food so comforting it could reach out and give you a warm hug, it’s homemade macaroni and cheese. A bowl full of carbs enveloped in rich, ultra creamy, melted cheese — in my book, it’s the ultimate comfort food. And as for making it? It’s easier than you think.

Before you start grating the cheese (because, yes, you should always grate your own), be sure to avoid these common mac and cheese mistakes.

1. Not using enough cheese.

The heart and soul of this dish lies in the name. There’s a time and place to go light on the cheese, but this is certainly not that time. Don’t hold back. This dish is all about melted cheesy goodness!

Follow this tip: More cheese, please! The pasta should be completely coated and swimming in a sea of creamy cheese sauce.

2. Using the wrong kind of pasta.

Picking a pasta for mac and cheese is not something to be hasty about. This is a crucial part of the dish. You want a pasta that helps you maximize cheese consumption with every bite. The pasta should catch and hold the cheese. Stay away from long, thin pasta like spaghetti and linguine, and shapes that are super tiny.

Follow this tip: Select a pasta with plenty of surface area and nooks and crannies to capture as much of that blissful cheese sauce as possible. I especially love shells, campanelle, and the ever-classic elbow macaroni.

3. Overcooking the pasta.

No one likes overcooked pasta. Ever. Cooking the pasta is just the first phase of the process. Whether you’re making stovetop or baked mac and cheese, remember that the pasta gets cooked a second time. Cook it perfectly on the first round, and you’re guaranteed to end up with soft, soggy pasta after phase two.

Follow this tip: Normally we recommend cooking pasta until it’s al dente. But for mac and cheese, you actually want to cook it for a couple minutes less, until just before reaching al dente. The pasta should still be slightly firm with some bite. Don’t worry — it will soften up during the second part of cooking.

4. Using too much liquid in the sauce.

Mac and cheese is more than just those two key ingredients. While you need to add a liquid, keep in mind the goal is a rich and creamy cheese sauce, not soup.

Follow this tip: Add liquids a little bit at a time. It’s a lot easier to add more liquid as you need it than it is to reverse adding too much.

5. Not using a blend of cheeses.

Using the right kind of cheese, or better yet, the right cheese blend is key. It’s important to keep in mind that some varieties melt better than others, while some offer more flavor. So keep your mix balanced with cheeses that are mellow but melt well, and acheeses that have a rich taste. It’s also best to steer clear of pre-shredded cheese.

Follow this tip: The cheese is the main attraction in this dish, so go with good-quality kinds. And better yet, use a blend of cheeses! I love using a combination of cheeses that melt really well, like fontina, Gouda, Gruyere, and Monterey Jack, along with cheese that has a distinct and vivid taste, like sharp white cheddar, Parmesan, or even Roquefort.

What are your best tips for making mac and cheese?