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5 Easy-to-Make Homemade Mac and Cheese Recipes That Are Better Than the Box

5 Easy-to-Make Homemade Mac and Cheese Recipes That Are Better Than the Box

By Tina Popowski
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Photo Courtesy: Burcu Atalay Tankut/Moment/Getty Images

Winter is all about comfort foods, and there might not be a dish that soothes our collective cold-weather woes better than one of the most classic side dishes of all time: macaroni and cheese. If grey skies or snow flurries have you craving something hearty and traditional, a warm bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese is sure to satisfy — but noodles and powdered cheese from a box might not.

Fortunately, this gooey pasta dish isn’t too difficult to whip up from scratch; you just need to find the right recipe. The best recipes for mac and cheese vary from taste bud to taste bud, but we've rounded up five homemade options that are bound to delight. Get ready to fall in love with this childhood favorite all over again as you check out some versatile recipes for your next comfort food-based dinner.

Best Baked Mac and Cheese

Things don’t get much more satisfying than pushing your spoon through a crisped layer of cheese and into the soft, melty center of a bowl of mac and cheese — and a classic baked version is a great choice when you fancy yourself a traditionalist. If that sounds about right, you’ll want to try this oven-baked mac and cheese recipe from Damn Delicious. To start, you’ll create a roux — that flour-and-butter base of a creamy sauce — and add spices, evaporated milk and cheddar and Parmesan cheeses for some definite richness.

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Photo Courtesy: Damn Delicious

This recipe also recommends dividing the pasta-and-cheese sauce blend up into individual serving sizes, which you’ll bake after topping with more shredded cheese to create a bubbly shell. For easy baking, equip your kitchen with these Cast Iron Serving Bowls. Durable and rustic, these mini metal baking dishes hold the perfect amount of macaroni and cheese for a nice dinner side — but we wouldn’t blame you if you’re tempted to grab two.

Best Southern-Style Mac and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese can be traditional, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be decadent. If you’re cooking for a special occasion or simply want to try a new-to-you take on an old favorite, consider this Southern casserole-style recipe from The New York Times Cooking.

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Photo Courtesy: Johnny Miller for The New York Times

So what exactly makes it Southern? Regional culinary tradition dictates that mac and cheese dishes from down south are often made custard-style, meaning you whisk eggs and milk together to serve as the base for the sauce. The result is a firm but creamy dish that holds its shape and is packed with sharp cheddar flavor in every bite.

Because this macaroni and cheese needs multiple stints in the oven to become the smooth and luxurious dish that it is, you’ll want to have some sturdy bakeware on hand to handle the job. This deep and durable Emile Henry casserole dish comes in a range of colors that make the dish itself perfectly presentable on the dinner table or toted to a party. As an added bonus, it’s got enough height that you’ll have no problem stacking up the multiple layers of cheese and pasta this recipe calls for.

Best Creamy Crockpot Mac and Cheese

Some days, you just don’t want to deal with standing over the stove stirring and straining but you still want to enjoy hearty, home-cooked flavors. That’s precisely the right time for whipping up a (crock)pot of stick-to-your-ribs mac and cheese. This recipe from The Chunky Chef delivers, and it’s also a great go-to when you’re not in the mood for mac that’s topped with all sorts of extras and baked in the oven.

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Photo Courtesy: The Chunky Chef

"Macaroni and cheese in a slow cooker?" you might be wondering. But this cooking technique — and the dish it produces — is doable, dependable and oh-so-delicious. You’ll simply add some tried-and-true ingredients like elbow macaroni, butter, heavy cream, chicken broth and spices and let them simmer in your Crock-pot until all the liquid is absorbed. Then, you’ll stir in shredded cheeses and the secret ingredient that gives this dish its over-the-top creaminess: cream cheese. Don’t be surprised if your dinner guests treat themselves to second (or third!) helpings.

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Best Stovetop Mac and Cheese

How does this stovetop recipe by Gimme Some Oven differ from your standard store-bought boxed versions? The answer may surprise you, and it doesn't necessarily come down to the cheese. Sure, using freshly grated cheese is bound to elevate any dish, but shaved parmesan and cheddar aren't the only things that give this meal a certain bite. You’ll see that this regular mac and cheese recipe isn't so typical when you spy the garlic powder and ground mustard — and the fact that it’s a one-pot dish, so cleanup is pretty much not a concern.

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Photo Courtesy: TheCrimsonMonkey/E+/Getty Images

You’ll start with the semi-traditional step of creating a roux, and then you’ll add almost everything — the pasta, the spices, the milk and the water — and let it cook through. When the noodles are tender, you’ll stir in the cheese, and voila! Dinner is served in just about 15 minutes. If you're in the mood for something savory and a little salty, you can quickly fry up some bacon to add as a topping. After all, with the time you'll save by cooking in a single high-quality stock pot, you can create some tasty toppings or side dishes to accompany this easy recipe.

Best Vegan and Gluten-Free Mac and Cheese

Warding away vampires and avoiding gluten while sticking to a vegan diet have never been tastier or easier than they are with this recipe from Minimalist Baker. It ticks all the boxes for a perfect pasta dish — with a whole head of roasted garlic serving as a savory show-stopper. Other key ingredients include gluten-free penne, almond milk and that vegan essential — nutritional yeast — for creating an unbeatable cheesy flavor. While people often think that translating classic dishes into vegan-friendly fare adds extra steps and ingredients, that couldn’t be further from the truth with this recipe. You’ll only need 10 ingredients, many of which you might already have in the pantry.

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Photo Courtesy: Minimalist Baker

Short on time while you’re cooking this up? Use this handy garlic roaster to reduce your prepwork while still enjoying the signature caramelized taste that the garlic adds to this mac. Once you've taken a bite of this dish, you'll never want to chow down on garlic-free macaroni ever again. It’s safe to say this’ll be a hit, even with the non-vegans at the dinner table.