This easy baked mac and cheese is made in a cast-iron skillet and does not require making a bechamel sauce! This homemade Southern baked macaroni and cheese recipe can be whipped up in no time and will surely be a crowd-pleaser!
About the recipe
Happy first week of summer everyone! We have *officially* entered into the season of cookouts, pool parties, bonfires, and barbecues. Whoop!
And speaking of barbecues, I have to say that the men in my family are becoming quite the crew of pitmasters! It all started with my dad, who has loved smoking meats ever since I can remember.
While the guys in our group seem to dominate the smoked meat realm (which I am totally fine with), I felt it was time for me to come up with some tried-and-true barbecue-worthy sides. Preferably sides that can also be smoked.
Enter an easy baked mac n' cheese that you cook in a cast-iron skillet. This makes it perfect for the smoker, but also easy to bake in the oven for all of us indoor folks.
This mac and cheese is awesome because it doesn't require slaving over a hot stovetop to make a bechamel. Nope! We are getting the creaminess from a simple blender mixture of evaporated milk, eggs, and spices. You can assemble this ahead of time, then bake when ready.
This recipe is not as creamy as stovetop noodles with sauce, but it's also not as casserole-like as most recipes for baked mac and cheese. It's a nice balance of both worlds!
- Dried pasta shells
- Evaporated milk
- A blend of cheeses - sharp cheddar, Pepper Jack, and mozzarella are my favorite combination
- Seasonings: salt, pepper, smoked paprika, ground mustard, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce
You're going to LOVE how easy it is to make mac and cheese from scratch with my simple technique that doesn't require making a cream sauce with flour on the stovetop. Let me show you:
Step 1: Cook your noodles - you want them to have some toothiness/texture - in other words, be "al dente" - so aim for the lower end of the recommended cooking time on the box and taste as the noodles cook. The noodles will continue to be cooked in the final dish, so avoid overcooking them in the boiling water step!
Step 2: Grate your cheese - your mac and cheese will have a meltier, creamier texture if you buy blocks of cheese and shred it yourself vs. buying pre-shredded cheese. This is an easy task to do while your noodles boil, and is even faster when you use the grating attachment on a food processor.
Step 3: Blend your milk mixture - instead of making a bechamel on the stovetop, we mix evaporated milk with eggs and spices in a blender.
Step 4: Layer the noodles and cheese - start by adding a layer of cooked noodles to a buttered cast iron skillet. Add some cheese, then repeat, ending with cheese on top.
Step 5: Pour the milk mixture on top - the blender mixture gets poured evenly over the layers of cheese and noodles before baking.
Step 6: Bake or smoke to creamy, cheesy perfection - there are instructions for baking in an oven or in a smoker in the recipe below. The choice is up to you!
Below are some of my best tips for making this Easy Baked Mac and Cheese, as well as some answers to commonly asked questions!
What cheese makes the best mac and cheese?
The best cheeses for making macaroni and cheese are ones that have excellent melting properties. Cheddar, gruyere, mozzarella, and Pepper or Monterrey Jack are all great options. As long as you have one of these making up the majority of the cheese, you can add some drier options like Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, or Manchego for extra flavor.
Also, avoid using pre-shredded cheese for making mac and cheese, as the anti-caking agents on the shreds prevent it from melting nicely. Shredding your own cheese will result in the creamiest mac and cheese!
What can I add to mac and cheese for flavor?
It's really easy to add flavor to mac and cheese with meat mix-ins liked diced chicken, pulled pork, or bacon. You can add roasted veggies like Brussels sprouts or butternut squash, sautéed greens like kale and spinach, or add a mix of finely-chopped bacon and Panko breadcrumbs for a crispy flavorful topping.
Do I have to bake my mac and cheese?
While stovetop mac and cheese does not have to be baked, this skillet mac and cheese absolutely must be baked, as it contains raw egg and is assembled before the cheese is melted.
Can I freeze macaroni and cheese?
Because mac and cheese is so heavy in dairy, it does not freeze well. The texture will not be smooth and creamy if you try to freeze it, and the noodles will likely end up mushy.
Storing and reheating macaroni and cheese:
While the texture of this mac and cheese is best on the day it's made, you can refrigerate this skillet mac and cheese in an airtight container and enjoy for up to 3 days. Reheat it gently in a covered dish in the microwave for about 2 ½ minutes at 70% power for a single serving.
If you're wondering what's good with baked mac and cheese, I've got several tasty options to serve on the side. This recipe makes a delicious accompaniment to "cookout" food, like hamburgers, hot dogs, brisket, pulled pork, grilled chicken, or kabobs! Serve it with any of the options below:
- Mini Meatloaves
- Simply Perfect Roast Chicken
- Peach BBQ Chicken Kabobs
- The BEST Homemade Hamburgers
- Mushroom Swiss Smash Burgers
Are you ready to try this Easy Baked Mac and Cheese? I’m so excited for you to try this recipe. Once you get the chance to make it, please let me know how it turns out for you!
Leave a comment and rate the recipe below. This will help me with the creation of future recipes!
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Easy Baked Mac and Cheese
- 8 ounces dried shell pasta
- 2 tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes, plus more for the dish
- 4 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded
- 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 4 ounces part-skim mozzarella, shredded
- 2 large eggs
- 1 can (12 ounces) whole evaporated milk
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon dry mustard powder
- 2 teaspoons hot sauce (such as Louisiana)
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- Preheat the oven to 375℉. Butter the inside of a 10’’ cast iron skillet. Set aside.
- Cook noodles according to the package instructions until just under al dente (use the lower end of the cooking time). Drain, then transfer to a bowl. Toss with cubes of butter until butter is melted.
- While the noodles are cooking, grate the cheeses with a box grater or the grating attachment disk of a food processor.
- In a blender, combine the eggs, milk, paprika, salt, pepper, mustard powder, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Set aside.
- Layer cooked noodles with a blend of cheese (pepper jack, cheddar, mozzarella). Layer back and forth, starting with noodles and ending with cheese. You should have two layers of each in a standard 10’’ cast iron skillet.
- Pour the milk mixture on the noodles. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover, and bake 10 minutes more until brown and bubbly. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving and enjoying!
- This recipe can easily be doubled and baked in a 3 quart enameled cast iron pot to serve 8-12 people. Simply double the ingredients and layer into a larger dish. If using a 3-quart Dutch oven, you will have four layers of shells and cheese. Alternatively, you can reduce the recipe ingredients by ½ to serve 2-4 people.
- Make smoked mac and cheese: bake the mac and cheese on a grill or smoker heated to medium heat (350-375℉). Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes until the top is brown and bubbly.