The 5 Most Important Things for Amazing Mac and Cheese

updated May 1, 2019
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Of all the comfort foods that exist in this world, it’s hard to beat macaroni and cheese. What’s not to love about noodles bathed in a rich, creamy, cheese sauce? And yet gummy versions or dry, chalky versions are out there, and I firmly believe life is too short to endure them. There are a handful of secrets to avoid these travesties, leaving you to enjoy all the decadent goodness you so desire. Here are five things to always remember when you make mac and cheese.

1. Choose the right pasta.

Building the ultimate formula for macaroni and cheese starts in the pasta aisle at the grocery store. The variety of shapes are daunting, but choose wisely and you’ll end up with a superior dinner. Look for for pasta with lots of nooks and crannies to capture as much of that creamy cheese sauce as possible. Elbow macaroni is a classic pick for good reason, but my favorite is cavatappi, followed by pipette and medium shells.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

2. Boil that pasta in milk.

Almost every recipe for mac and cheese calls for the standard practice of boiling the pasta in water, but you should go rogue and boil it in milk. Not only is it less wasteful, as you’ll then use that milk to make the cheese sauce, but the pasta will also release some of its starch into the milk as it cooks, giving it more body and richness. That will translate to an even smoother, creamier cheese sauce.

3. Remember the rule of two (cheeses).

Always shoot for two types of cheeses: one sharp and one creamy. One will lend flavor while the other will lend luscious mouthfeel, which results in a winning combination. It’s best to make them both crowd-pleasers, as well, especially if you’re serving kids. Cheddar and Gruyère are my go-to picks, but any mix of a sharp cheese like Parmesan, Pecorino, and aged Asiago, with a creamy cheese like Gouda, Monterey Jack, and Fontina, will do.

4. Grate your own cheese.

Picking up a bag or two of the pre-shredded stuff is a tempting convenience, but I urge you to buy a block and pull out your box grater. The bags usually contain stabilizers and anti-caking agents, which not only lessen the flavor of the cheese, but give it a dry texture that can inhibit it melting properly into a creamy sauce.

5. Reach for mustard powder.

Make mustard powder your secret ingredient and I have a feeling everyone will be begging for your mac and cheese recipe. Just a pinch or two added to the cheese sauce lends the most gentle, mustardy heat that actually helps bring out the flavor of the cheese.

What are some of the things you do to make amazing macaroni and cheese?