The absolute creamiest and cheesiest homemade macaroni and cheese recipe ever. Four different types of cheese melted into a béchamel sauce poured over al dente noodles and topped with golden brown toasted buttery cracker crumbs. You'll be licking the spoon (and the plate) for this ultimate comfort food recipe. Dutch oven mac and cheese is prefect as the main course, or a side dish.
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- Always buy block cheese and shred it yourself for the best melting and best tasting cheese.
- Slowly reheat leftovers in a saucepan to prevent sauce from breaking.
- Dutch oven - A heavy pot with a heavy well fitting lid, usually made out of cast iron. I adore my Staub Dutch oven, and use it for soups, stews, sauces, and more. Martha Stewart has a more affordable version that works well. Either way a Dutch oven is a necessity in your kitchen supplies. I recommend getting at least a 6-quart dutch oven. Invest in a heavy good quality piece and it will last you years. If you don't have a Dutch oven, you can use any large heavy bottomed pot.
- Macaroni pasta aka Elbow macaroni - You can use any kind of pasta for this recipe. My favorite pastas for mac and cheese are large macaroni, cavatappi aka corkscrew, penne, shells, or farfalle aka bowtie pasta. The best pastas to use are ones with lots of nooks and crannies to hide all the cheesy goodness in.
- Butter - I always recommend using a European butter for the best flavor. Kerry Gold is my favorite. All of the recipes on Feeding Our Faces are made with unsalted butter unless otherwise stated.
- Milk - I used whole milk for this recipe. You can also use 2% or skim. Heavy cream or half and half will be too heavy for this mac and cheese.
- Cajun seasoning - You know I love my Cajun spices! I like this better than using salt and pepper only since there are a mix of other spices in it, like garlic powder. Make your own with Homemade Cajun Seasoning Recipe.
- Hot Sauce - Yes, hot sauce! I know it may seem a little strange in a mac and cheese recipe but trust me, it makes this easy mac and cheese next level. It doesn't make the final product spicy, but adds a little hint of spice and acidity to cut all the richness from the cheese. My favorite brand for this is Crystal Hot Sauce since it has a high concentration of vinegar.
- Buttery crackers - Use a buttery style of cracker for the top crumble. I like to use Ritz. You can also use panko bread crumbs if that's what you have on hand.
The best cheeses for macaroni and cheese
Always buy your cheese in blocks and shred it yourself! Anti-caking agents in pre-shredded cheeses can prevent it from melting properly. Plus why have extra additives in your food if you don't need to.
- White cheddar - A sharp cheddar cheese that is hard and crumbly, and melts well. You can also use regular cheddar for this recipe but I prefer an aged white variety. You can also use a mild cheddar but I love the sharp kind. Buy a block and shred it yourself.
- Gouda - The perfect mac and cheese cheese. A semi-soft cheese that is creamy and very melty. Remove the rind and grate it yourself.
- Gruyere - Rich, creamy, nutty, and a little bit funky. Another cheese that is perfect for mac and cheese. It melts very well and adds a little bit of complex earthy flavor to this cheese quartet. It's commonly used in french onion soup and Croque Monsieur. Buy it and block form and grate it yourself.
- Cream cheese - Why not add one more creamy cheesy layer to this mix. Cream cheese ensures this is an exceptionally creamy macaroni.
This is truly the best macaroni and cheese I have ever tasted. It's so creamy and the combination of 4 cheeses makes for the perfect flavor. Let's break this family favorite recipe down into 4 easy steps: cook the pasta, make the cheese sauce, mix it all together, and add the crunchy topping.
Cook pasta of your choice according to package directions to al dente. Drain and set aside. I always save a little bit of pasta water in case I need to loosen up the cheese sauce later.
How to make a béchamel sauce
Next up make the cheese sauce. This sauce starts with a béchamel sauce - a creamy sauce usually made from butter, flour, and milk. In a large dutch oven or other large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Slowly sprinkle in the flour over the butter while whisking and stir out all the lumps. Cook the butter and flour mixture for about 5 minutes while stirring. Allow the roux to darken just slightly to a blonde roux.
Whisk in the warmed milk a little at a time until it is all incorporated and mixture is smooth. Bring to a boil, lower heat, then continue to cook while stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Add in cajun seasoning and hot sauce to the milk mixture. Start adding in shredded white cheddar, gouda, gruyere, and cream cheese a little at a time while stirring. Combine until cheese is all melted and remove from heat.
It may seem like lots of sauce, but it makes for the perfect cheese to pasta ratio. If you feel like your sauce is not thick enough, you can reduce it a little more over low heat, but it will thicken as it cools. If you happen to over reduce the cheesy sauce, you can stir in some pasta water to loosen it up.
Now fold in the cooked pasta until it is all incorporated into the cheese mixture.
In a saucepan melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Crumble the crackers and add them into the pan. Toast the cracker crumbs over medium heat until golden brown. Sprinkle the buttered crackers over the top of the mac and and cheese and serve!
Can I make this ahead of time?
I don't recommend making this dish ahead of time, as it is always better when freshly cooked.
How to store leftovers?
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
If you have leftovers you don't know what to do with, mix leftover mac and cheese with Dutch Oven Chili - trust me.
How to reheat?
The reheating process for cream and milk based sauces can be tricky. If you reheat this in the microwave, chances are the sauce with break - aka the fats will separate from the sauce and the cheese dish will become oily. To prevent this, I slowly reheat cream based sauces like this mac and cheese in a saucepan over low heat while stirring. Slowly heating it back up will help stop the sauce from breaking.
What to serve with dutch oven mac and cheese?
You can definitely serve this classic comfort food as a main dish, but it's great as a side dish too.
- I know macaroni and cheese isn't technically a Thanksgiving dinner staple, but it always was in our family. Thanksgiving wasn't complete without a big pan of macaroni and cheese.
- Mix it with Dutch oven chili for an insanely good chili mac. This is a great way to use up the leftovers!
- Slice up chicken breasts to add on top.
- It's perfect with BBQ like pulled pork, beef brisket, or pork ribs.
- Jalapeño mac and cheese - Stir diced pickled jalapeños into the cheese sauce with the pasta for a spicy kick.
- You can also add a little heat to the mac and cheese by using pepper jack.
- Buffalo mac and cheese - stir in some buffalo sauce and add blue cheese crumbles on top.
- Baked mac and cheese - to turn this into a baked macaroni and cheese recipe, pour the mac and cheese into a baking dish, sprinkle the buttered breadcrumbs or crackers over the top, then broil in a preheated oven until crumbs are toasted and golden brown.
- Add in some roasted garlic cloves for a garlicky twist on this favorite comfort food.
The best cheese for macaroni and cheese are ones that are creamy and melt well. My favorites are white cheddar, gouda, and gruyere. Try a combination of all 3 for the best ever mac and cheese. You can also use cheddar, brie, muenster, Parmesan cheese and/or Monterey jack.
The secret to the creamiest mac and cheese ever is in the sauce. Make a béchamel sauce and melt your cheese into it. The kinds of cheeses you use can also affect the creaminess. I like using cheeses that melt well, like white cheddar, gouda, and gruyere.
Any questions? I'd love to help! Drop a comment below or send me an email!
Dutch Oven Mac and Cheese
- Dutch oven
- 1 pound pasta macaroni, cavatappi, penne, farfalle or shell pasta
- 4 + 2 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 4 cups milk whole, warmed
- 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce vinegar based
- 8 ounces white cheddar shredded
- 8 ounces gouda shredded
- 8 ounces gruyere shredded
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- ½ sleeve buttery crackers I like Ritz
- salt and pepper to taste
- BOIL: Boil pasta according to package directions.
- MAKE A BLONDE ROUX: Melt 4 tablespoons (½ stick) of butter over medium heat. Whisk in ¼ cup of flour slowly, stirring out all the lumps. Cook for about 5 minutes while stirring, allowing the roux to darken slightly to a white sand color (should not be browned!). This should be a blonde roux.
- MAKE BÉCHAMEL: Whisk in the warmed milk a little at a time until it is all incorporated and mixture is smooth. Bring to a boil, lower heat, then continue to cook while stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Add in 2 teaspoons cajun seasoning and 1 teaspoon hot sauce. Start adding in white cheddar, gouda, gruyere, and cream cheese a little at a time while stirring. Combine until cheese is melted and remove from heat. Salt and pepper to taste.
- MIX IT ALL TOGETHER: Stir in the pasta and combine.
- MAKE THE TOPPING: In a saucepan melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Crumble the crackers and add them into the pan. Toast the cracker crumbs over medium heat until golden brown. Sprinkle the buttered crackers over the top of the mac and and cheese and serve!