This post may contain affiliate links.
This stove top Dutch Oven Mac and Cheese recipe is the absolute creamiest and cheesiest! It’s made with four cheeses melted into a béchamel sauce, then topped with buttery toasted crumbs for the perfect contrasting textures. You'll be licking the spoon (and the plate) with this elevated ultimate comfort food!
This recipe was updated in 2022 to include additional photos, more recipe making tips, and improved directions.
Why you'll love this recipe
- Four different cheeses, including gouda and gruyere, make an elevated version of this classic comfort food.
- Stove top recipe so you can free up your oven for other holiday dishes.
- Uses a béchamel sauce for the perfect ratio of creamy cheesy goodness to pasta.
- Perfect as a holiday side dish or even main course.
- Why you'll love this recipe
- Equipment needed
- My kitchen favorites
- What is a béchamel sauce?
- Ingredients & Substitutions
- How to make stove top mac and cheese
- Serving Suggestions
- Expert Tips
- Storage & Reheating
- Variations & Substitutions
- Frequently Asked Questions
- More dutch oven recipes
- Dutch Oven Mac and Cheese
- About me
My kitchen favorites
What is a béchamel sauce?
The key to making this macaroni and cheese supremely creamy is using a béchamel sauce.
A béchamel sauce starts with a roux - a mix of fat and flour. The flour and butter, in this case, are cooked together to create a thickening agent. Milk is added with some seasonings to make a thick and creamy sauce. It is usually flavored with nutmeg, but I skipped it for this recipe.
A béchamel is one of the “mother sauces” of French cuisine. It is used as a starting point to create other sauces, in this case, a cheese sauce. I also use it as a layer in lasagna and in creamy pasta dishes
Ingredients & Substitutions
Pasta - For this stove top macaroni and cheese recipe, I like using elbow macaroni, cavatappi, penne, farfalle, or shell pasta. Any pasta with holes, nooks, and crannies is perfect for collecting that creamy sauce.
Butter - I always recommend using a European butter for the best flavor. All of my recipes are made with unsalted butter unless stated otherwise.
Whole milk - Whole milk works perfectly for this recipe. You can also swap out for skim milk, which will make the sauce slightly thinner. Half and half or heavy cream will work as well, but will make the sauce thicker. You may need to add a splash of water to thin it out.
Cajun seasoning - You know I love my Cajun spices! Using cajun seasoning adds extra flavor with garlic powder, onion powder, and dried herbs. Make your own with my 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 won’t make it spicy, but adds a hint of acidity to cut the richness. Use a vinegar based hot sauce like Crystal.
Cheese - This four cheese mac and cheese recipe uses creamy cheeses that melt really well into the béchamel sauce. I love the flavor combination of white cheddar, gouda, gruyere, and cream cheese.
- White cheddar adds a sharp flavor. It is hard and crumbly, but melts well. You can also use regular cheddar cheese for this recipe but I prefer an aged white variety. You can also use a mild cheddar but I love the sharp kind.
- Gouda - The perfect cheese for mac and cheese! Gouda is a semi-soft cheese that is creamy and very melty. Remove the rind, then grate.
- Gruyere - Rich, creamy, nutty, and a little bit funky. It melts very well and adds a complex earthy flavor to this cheese quartet. It's commonly used in french onion soup and Croque Monsieur.
- Cream cheese - Cream cheese ensures this is an exceptionally creamy macaroni.
PRO TIP: I always recommend buying blocks of cheese and shredding it yourself with a box grater. Pre-shredded cheese contains anti-caking agents which prevent it from melting smoothly into the sauce.
See the recipe card below for full list of ingredients and measurements.
How to make stove top mac and cheese
This easy dutch oven mac and cheese recipe can be broken down into 3 simple steps.
- Boil the pasta
- Make a béchamel cheese sauce
- Put it all together
Step one: Boil the pasta
Boil the pasta to al dente according to package directions. Drain and set aside, but reserve some pasta water - it is magical!
Step two: Make a béchamel
To make a béchamel sauce, start by making a blonde roux. Melt butter in your dutch oven, and sprinkle in flour a little at a time, making sure to whisk out the lumps. Cook the flour mixture until it darkens slightly to a white sand color - this is a blonde roux.
Next, whisk in the warmed milk a little at a time until it is all incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the sauce has thickened - this is a béchamel.
Add in the cajun seasoning, hot sauce, and shredded cheese mixture. Stir until the cheeses are melted into the béchamel sauce, and remove from the heat.
Step three: Put it all together
Fold the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce with a splash of pasta water. Mix until combined.
PRO TIP: It will look like a lot of sauce, but it is the perfect cheese sauce to pasta ratio for an extra creamy mac and cheese.
To make the toasted cracker topping, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and add the crumbled crackers. Mix until all butter has been absorbed. Toast the cracker crumbs until crisp and golden brown, stirring occasionally.
Sprinkle the buttered crackers over the top of the macaroni and cheese and serve!
This mac and cheese can be the main dish, or pair it with other side dishes for the main course. Here are some serving suggestions for this recipe.
- Sous Vide Cajun Turkey Breast + Boursin Mashed Potatoes
- Roasted Asparagus and Brussel Sprouts
- Turkey Burger with Caramelized Onions, Melted Brie, Sun-dried Tomato Mayo, Bacon and Arugula
- Dry Rubbed Oven Baked Chicken Wings
Sign up for the newsletter, its juicy.
- Grate cheese yourself rather than buying pre-shredded cheese. It will melt much better.
- Reserve some pasta water to help the pasta stick to the cheese sauce.
- Add flour a little at a time to your roux while whisking to ensure there are no lumps.
- Whisk milk in gradually to the blonde roux to more easily incorporate it into the sauce.
Storage & Reheating
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. It makes the best chili mac and cheese!
How to freeze: I don’t recommend freezing this recipe, as it will not keep its texture once thawed.
How to reheat: The best way to reheat this mac and cheese is slowly in a saucepan over medium heat while stirring. Add a splash of milk or past water to loosen up the mac and cheese. This method will help prevent the sauce from breaking.
If you reheat this in the microwave, chances are the sauce will break - meaning the fats will separate out of the sauce and it will become oily. If you have to reheat in the microwave, I would do it for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until warm. Add milk to help loosen the sauce.
Variations & Substitutions
I love this recipe as is, but here are some fun variations to try!
- Jalapeño mac and cheese - Stir diced pickled jalapeños into the cheese sauce with the pasta for a spicy kick.
- Buffalo mac and cheese - stir in 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.
- Caramelized onion mac and cheese - Stir in caramelized onions at the end for a delicious sweet onion flavor.
- Roasted garlic mac and cheese - Add in mashed roasted garlic for a garlic lover’s version.
- Butternut squash mac and cheese - Fold in roasted butternut squash purée for a fall twist.
- Chili mac and cheese - I love combining leftover mac and cheese with chili for a deliciously comforting chili mac.
- Change up the cheeses - I love this 4-cheese combination, but you can swap out or add your favorite different types of cheese. Try monterey jack, sharp cheddar, parmesan cheese, or pepper jack for a hint of spice.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best cheese for macaroni and cheese are ones that are creamy and melt well. My favorites are cheddar, brie, white cheddar, gouda, and gruyere.
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.
I recommend buying blocks of cheese to shred yourself. Pre-shredded cheese contains additives and anti-caking agents which can prevent it from melting smoothly into the sauce.
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.
This mac and cheese is definitely better when made fresh. If you have to make it ahead of time, reserve some pasta water separately and refrigerate. Slowly reheat the mac and cheese over low heat with pasta water while stirring until it is heated throughout. You can also add in a splash of milk to help loosen up the sauce.
Let's hang out! Follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or sign up for the newsletter.
Any questions? I'd love to help! Drop a comment below or send me an email!
Dutch Oven Mac and Cheese
- Dutch oven at least a 6 quart capacity
- Box grater
- 1 pound dried pasta elbow macaroni, cavatappi, penne, farfalle or shell pasta
- 4 + 2 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk 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 cubed into 1 inch pieces
- ⅓ cup crushed buttery crackers or panko breadcrumbs
- salt and pepper to taste
- BOIL: Boil pasta to al dente in heavily salted water according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Reserve about ½ cup of pasta water.
- 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 is a blonde roux.
- MAKE A BÉCHAMEL: Whisk in the warmed milk a little at a time until it is all incorporated and mixture is smooth. Bring to a simmer, lower heat, then continue to cook while stirring frequently for about 5 minutes until thickened. 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. Stir until cheese is melted into the sauce and remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- MIX IT ALL TOGETHER: Fold in the cooked pasta with a splash of pasta water to the cheese sauce. Mix until combined.
- MAKE THE TOPPING: In a saucepan melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add crumbled crackers or panko breadcrumbs into the pan. Toast over medium heat until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle the buttered crackers over the top of the mac and and cheese and serve warm!
- I always recommend shredding your own cheese with a box grater. Pre-shredded cheese contains anti-caking agents which prevent it from melting smoothly into the sauce.
- How to store leftovers: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
- How to freeze: I don’t recommend freezing this recipe, as it will not keep its texture once thawed.
- How to reheat: The best way to reheat this mac and cheese is slowly in a saucepan over medium heat while stirring. Add a splash of milk or past water to loosen up the mac and cheese. This method will help prevent the sauce from breaking.
- If you reheat this in the microwave, chances are the sauce will break - meaning the fats will separate out of the sauce and it will become oily. If you have to reheat in the microwave, I would do it for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until warm. Add milk to help loosen the sauce.
Hey good lookin', what ya got cookin'? I'm Lauren and I love to teach you how to make the good stuff, from scratch! I use fresh quality ingredients to create impressive but approachable restaurant worthy recipes.
Leave a Reply