Southern baked mac and cheese is a classic! You’ll love the rich, creamy cheese sauce and the crispy panko topping that browns to perfection in the oven.
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As someone who is originally from the South, I can say with authority that Southerners take their mac and cheese seriously. Every family has their own version and their preferences for types of cheese, baking temperatures, and toppings. When I want to make a big dish of comfort food for a get-together, this Southern baked mac and cheese is my go-to recipe!
Not only does it make enough for a crowd, it’s also incredibly easy to prepare. It’s a little bit like making stovetop mac and cheese, with the added bonus of crispy panko. The result is a creamy, cheesy baked mac and cheese with a golden, crunchy top.
Classic Southern Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe
This baked mac and cheese isn’t just for special occasions either. It’s perfect for a weeknight meal, especially when you have picky eaters in the family. (Seriously, what kid doesn’t like mac and cheese?!)
Serve it up with some fresh vegetables or a green salad to round out the meal. No matter how you make it, you’ll love this Southern classic!
Ingredients for Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
See recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
- Nonstick cooking spray
- Elbow macaroni – You can also use another shape like shells.
- Unsalted butter – If you only have salted butter on hand, you can use that, but just be sure to add less salt to the recipe. Learn more: When to Use Salted vs. Unsalted Butter
- All-purpose flour
- Milk – Whole milk is best for a rich, creamy sauce.
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Garlic powder
- Smoked paprika – This is my secret ingredient for amping up the flavor!
- Cheddar cheese – Choose a mild cheddar, as aged or sharp cheddar cheese doesn’t melt as smoothly.
- Swiss cheese
- Panko breadcrumbs – While you can use regular bread crumbs, panko adds a lot more crunch.
- Unsalted butter
- Try substituting gruyere cheese or gouda for the Swiss, or add some Parmesan to the mix.
- For a little extra flavor, you can also add some cooked bacon to the macaroni when mixing it with the cheese sauce.
- Work some veggies into dinner by folding steamed broccoli into the mac and cheese before adding it to the baking dish.
How to Make Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
- Cook the noodles: Boil the pasta in a pot of salted water until it is al dente. Drain and set aside.
- Prepare: Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Coat an 8 x 8 casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- Start the sauce: Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until it is incorporated.
- Finish the cream sauce: Reduce the heat to low, then whisk in the milk in a slow, steady stream. Stir in the salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.
- Add the cheese: Remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the cheddar and Swiss cheeses until they melt. Fold in the cooked noodles, then pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
- Make the topping: In a small mixing bowl, stir together the panko and melted butter until the breadcrumbs are moistened. Sprinkle the mixture over the top of the macaroni and cheese.
- Bake: Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the sauce starts to bubble up around the edges of the dish.
Although it takes a little more time, I recommend buying blocks of cheese and shredding them yourself. Pre-shredded cheese has an anti-caking agent added, which keeps it from melting as smoothly as freshly grated.
This Southern baked mac and cheese goes with so many classic Southern dishes like Crock Pot Ribs, fried chicken, cornbread, and Southern green beans. Or just make the mac as your main dish and serve it with a simple side salad!
How to Store Leftover Baked Macaroni and Cheese
To store leftover baked mac and cheese, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. To reheat, place the mac and cheese in an oven-safe dish and bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until it’s hot and bubbly. (Smaller amounts won’t take as long to reheat.)
It depends on the recipe. For this Southern baked mac and cheese, it is best to bake it uncovered so the topping can get nice and crispy. If you are making a mac and cheese without a topping, covering it will help keep it moist.
If your mac and cheese isn’t creamy, it could be over-baked or it could be because you used store-bought pre-shredded cheese, which sometimes has a dry, grainy texture in a cheese sauce.
In my opinion, the 3 best cheeses for mac and cheese are cheddar, Swiss, and Parmesan. These three cheeses combine to give the creamy texture and sharp flavor that makes this dish so delicious.
Baked mac and cheese is done when the top of the dish is golden brown and the sauce starts to bubble around the edges.
Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 16 ounces elbow macaroni
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 cups cheddar cheese shredded
- 1 cup Swiss cheese shredded
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions, leaving a little bit on the firm side. Drain and set aside.
- Preheat an oven to 375ºF. Coat an 8 x 8 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Once completely melted, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until flour is incorporated.
- Turn the heat down to low, then whisk in the milk in a slow, steady stream. Stir in the salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until the sauce has thickened, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t scorch.
- Remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the cheddar and Swiss cheeses. Once the cheese has melted, gently fold in the cooked noodles. Pour into the greased baking dish.
- In a small mixing bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs and melted butter until the breadcrumbs are moistened. Spread evenly over the top of the macaroni and cheese.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the top is golden brown and the sauce starts to bubble around the edge of the dish.