3 Secrets to Making the Perfect Mac and Cheese

When done right, this comforting classic beats the box any day. 

macaroni-cheese
Photo by Melanie Acevado/Getty Images

Though undeniably delicious, homemade mac and cheese can be quite divisive. Sharp cheeses and toasted breadcrumbs may sound like necessities to adults, but kids often turn up their noses at anything other than a box. In this week’s episode of “Things Cooks Know,” hosts and Real Simple editors Sarah Humphreys and Sarah Karnasiewicz discuss their tips for creating the ultimate homemade mac and cheese—and how to ensure the whole family will devour it.

1. Pick the perfect pasta
The noodle is the base of the entire dish, so it’s crucial that you choose the right kind of pasta. Noodles with lots of nooks and crannies—such as shells, mini penne, elbows, and corkscrews—ensure you achieve maximum cheesiness with every bite. If the dish is eventually being baked in the oven, parboil the noodles and drain when they’re still slightly chewy.

2. Don’t skip the roux
Though it might be tempting to use a recipe that doesn’t require a roux, it’s a helpful step that improves the dish’s texture (and ensures the end result isn’t a congealed, slice-able casserole). To begin, cook equal parts flour and butter in a saucepan over medium heat until a paste forms. Whisk in warm milk until it creates a creamy sauce, and then stir in your shredded cheese until it reaches a smooth consistency. 

3. Use a variety of cheeses
To ensure the flavors aren’t too strong for the kids, choose cheeses that (most) everyone will love. A good rule of thumb is to choose one sharp and one creamy, such as sharp cheddar and jack, or gruyere and Parmesan. Experiment with combinations and ratios by tasting the roux as you add the cheese.