This 20-minute baked southern mac and cheese is the best because there are only 4 simple ingredients. Elbow macaroni, shredded cheese, milk, and butter. No flour, roux, or egg required!
This no-fuss mac and cheese is perfect for a quick side dish. It's far from fancy but it doesn't have to be fancy to be delicious!
Only 4 simple steps. Sometimes, the simplest recipes are the best! That’s my southern wisdom 😁
Mac and cheese goes with just about anything from hamburgers to seafood to baked or grilled chicken and steak. Give a try with my Mexican Marinated Chicken.
Why We Love This Recipe
Simplicity. What I really love about this creamy southern mac & cheese is the simplicity of it. Homemade goodness with real ingredients! Nothing artificial and so much better than the boxed version. My southern grandies choose homemade over the boxed brand any day! If easy comfort food is your thing, check out my Country Style Steak served over rice!
Virtually no prep involved other than cooking the macaroni. Simply add butter, milk, and cheese to the cooked macaroni. Heat for a few minutes to get it bubbly hot.
Just 4 basic ingredients are needed. Six if you count any salt and pepper you may add. Some macaroni and cheese recipes call for flour, however, no flour is needed for this one! No roux makes this recipe the easiest!
This recipe makes about 6 servings. I consider it a small batch. However, this recipe can easily be doubled for a larger crowd. It's the perfect side dish for any occasion such as a holiday, cookout, or office party.
What to Serve with Mac and Cheese
This is one of my favorite pasta side dishes because it goes with almost everything. I love an easy side dish especially when your main dish may be more involved. Plus, it's just easier to make and take a side dish like this to something like a potluck or party.
Mac and cheese can be served with chicken or steak; fish or pork; hot dogs and hamburgers! Serve with my juicy and delicious New York Strip steak recipe!
There are a ton of different macaroni and cheese dishes out there! You can find a recipe for it in just about every cookbook ever printed. Some are baked and some are cooked on the stove. Some dishes even have different toppings (discussed below).
However, the one thing every recipe has in common is this: comfort food! Serving macaroni & cheese for the holidays is a southern tradition!
What Goes Into This Recipe
Elbow macaroni, shredded cheddar cheese (or sharp cheddar cheese), real butter, and whole milk. That's it! Simple mac and cheese recipe without flour creates a smooth, creamy texture.
Pasta: Elbow macaroni seems to be the traditional choice for macaroni and cheese, but you can choose your favorite - sometimes, I use shells.
Cheese: I highly recommend grating your own cheese. The pre-shredded cheese has a powdery coating that could result in a grainy texture. I highly recommend sharp cheddar cheese for maximum flavor.
Milk and Butter: Whole milk is best. You can even go so far as to use half and half for even more richness! As far as the butter, use the real thing!
How to Make Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
While this recipe is incredibly easy to make, you must EXACTLY follow the instructions or you'll end up with a goopy mess.
Just 4 simple steps: For best results, follow the recipe card below! It's very important to cook pasta al dente and drain. Return pasta to pot. Add room temperature butter and milk, stir just until butter is melted.
Add cheese to the hot cooked pasta. Gently stir - do not over stir. Pour into a baking dish, top with remaining cheese, and bake.
Try my Best Southern Meatloaf! It goes FANTASTIC with this easy peasy macaroni cheese recipe!
You can watch my Google Web Story at Easy Homemade Mac and Cheese.
Frequently Asked Questions
Sausage is a great main entree to serve with mac and cheese. Try my easy Brats in the Oven recipe. Delicious and super easy sheet pan recipe!
Simply add a little bit more milk to the mac and cheese if it's not creamy enough for you. When re-heating it, you may need to add a small amount of milk (¼ cup at a time) to get your preferred consistency.
Yes, and it's easy to do! Once completely cooled off, place it in a freezer-safe container, write the date on it, and it will keep fresh for up to 3 months. Tip: wrap the freezer-safe container in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn or ice crystals.
When ready to eat, let thaw in the refrigerator overnight and reheat in the microwave. you may need to add a small amount of milk (¼ cup at a time) to get your preferred consistency.
How to Avoid Grainy Mac and Cheese
- The best way to avoid grainy mac and cheese is to not use pre-shredded cheese. Buy a block of quality cheddar cheese and get yourself a cheese grater!
- Cook the macaroni al dente.
- Let the milk and butter come to room temperature before using them in the recipe.
- Do not over stir!
Tips and Substitutions
- Instead of elbow macaroni, use shells, bow tie, or penne.
- Instead of yellow cheddar cheese, use white cheddar, American cheese, or Velveeta cheese.
- Sprinkle with a little cayenne pepper for an amazing kick.
- Top off your mac and cheese with ketchup! Yes, ketchup!
- Other topping ideas may include cooked chopped bacon or panko bread crumbs.
- Any other suggestions? Let me know!
This recipe makes about 6 servings. For a larger crowd, double the recipe!
Store any leftovers in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. I prefer to use BPA-free glass containers with locking lids. Check out this 18-piece set of glass food storage containers with locking lids from Bayco, available now on Amazon. To reheat, add a small amount of milk (about ¼ cup) to the cold mac & cheese, stir, and heat in the microwave.
More Pasta Recipes You'll Love
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Easy Southern Mac and Cheese
- 2-¼ cups uncooked elbow macaroni
- 4 tablespoons butter, room temperature (slightly softened) Let the butter sit on your countertop for about 15 minutes before using it.
- ¾ cup whole milk, room temperature (or half and half, or evaporated milk) Measure the milk then let it sit on the countertop for about 15 minutes before using it.
- 3 cups freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese (divided) one 8-oz block of sharp cheddar cheese
- ½ tablespoon sea salt for boiling the pasta, if desired
- ½ teaspoon sea salt for flavoring the mac and cheese, if desired
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375F. Important: As noted in the ingredients, the butter and milk must be room temperature. Grate your own cheese. The pasta must be cooked al dente. Please follow the directions exactly or the mac and cheese texture will not be right!
- In a large pot (at least a 3-quart pot), filled one-half to three-fourths full with water, add ½ tablespoon of sea salt. Cook the macaroni al dente according to the package directions. Drain the pasta in a colander, turn off the stove, and return the cooked pasta to the pot.½ tablespoon sea salt, 2-¼ cups uncooked elbow macaroni
- Add the butter to the hot pasta and stir until butter is melted (do not over stir). Then add the milk.4 tablespoons butter, room temperature (slightly softened), ¾ cup whole milk, room temperature (or half and half, or evaporated milk)
- Add ½ teaspoon of sea salt, the black pepper, and 1-½ cups of the freshly grated cheese to the pasta mixture. Lightly toss to combine the pasta, cheese, and seasonings (do not overmix!). Taste test for flavor. Add more seasoning if desired.½ teaspoon sea salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, 3 cups freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese (divided)
- Pour the mac and cheese into a 2-quart casserole dish, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese (do not stir). Bake uncovered for 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and gently stir the mac and cheese.