Tricks To Making The Creamiest Mac And Cheese Ever

There's nothing like a warm, gooey bowl of delicious mac and cheese, am I right? Mac and cheese is a comfort food if there ever was one, but if you don't make it right, you'll end up with a less-than-comforting bowl of dried out, not-cheesy-at-all noodles. Worse yet, you might end up with a gritty, mealy mess. That doesn't mean you should turn to that familiar blue box whenever a craving arrives — homemade mac and cheese is the best, by far (and you've got this!). To make the creamiest mac and cheese ever, you just have to do a couple of things differently than you might do them now. In fact, it's probably a lot less complicated than you might think. Armed with these tricks and ideas and a little know-how, you'll be well on your way to the creamiest mac and cheese ever. But be careful who you tell — once word gets out that you've mastered this dish, you'll have more dinner guests than you can handle!

Add cream

This one seems pretty obvious, but we're going to start with it anyway. To get creamy mac and cheese, you have to have a creamy sauce. Rather than making a more traditional béchamel with whole milk, up the ante with a partly or mostly cream base. According to Epicurious, using a combination of milk and cream instead of just milk, plus whisking your cheese into the base in three stages will make your sauce the creamiest it can be.

Add yogurt

Like cream, yogurt can give your sauce a little bit of oomph. Swirl some in for added depth of flavor and creaminess. Make sure you choose a yogurt with some fat content to it, rather than the fat-free kind. Also make sure you're using one that's not flavored (plain is best) and one without any added sugar. You don't want your cheese sauce to be sweet.

Add mascarpone

Mascarpone is a creamy Italian cheese that's the perfect secret ingredient if you're looking for an extra-creamy mac and cheese. Like cream cheese, even just a dollop of mascarpone will elevate the creaminess quotient of your favorite dish. Add a little or add a lot for the creamiest mac and cheese ever.

Add more salt

Salting pasta water is like a giant myth meatball of misleading and untrue "scientific" facts. Salt does not make water boil faster — at least not to the degree of cooking just your basic Wednesday night dinner. For a tasty mac and cheese, you need to salt the daylights out of the water; somewhere around a tablespoon per every two quarts. If that seems too scary and salty, just do it the easy way: When you add salt, add more than that. It's pretty likely you're not putting in enough. Another important step is to salt the water as it comes to a boil. Don't just toss the salt in as soon as you pour the water into the pot.  A nice kosher or sea salt will do, just skip the iodized salt unless you love the taste of metal.

The salt flavors the pasta, which will give you a tastier pasta; it's still called mac and cheese, not cheese and mac, despite what some people told you. The firm, tasty pasta will hold the cheese better, and make the dish much better.  An easy way to ruin mac and cheese is with a frumpy pasta — and that's what you're going to get if you skip the salt.

Choose your cheeses thoughtfully

You might think you can just throw whatever cheeses you happen to have in the fridge into your mac and cheese, and, to a certain extent that's true. But if you're looking to make the creamiest mac and cheese you possibly can, you'll want to be a little more discerning. A cheese like Parmesan, for instance, isn't going to melt super well, meaning it's better for a topper than for your creamy cheese sauce. Cheddar and similar cheeses that melt well (Monterey Jack is a good one) will make your sauce the creamiest it can be.

Cook your noodles in milk instead of water

Cooking your noodles in milk instead of water makes your resulting mac and cheese creamier. According to The Kitchn, cooking your noodles in milk instead of water makes the sauce creamy before you even add the cheese sauce. The starches in the noodles get released as you cook them, helping to thicken the mixture from the start. That will ultimately help with the resulting creaminess.

Give cottage cheese a try

When you're considering which cheeses to use for your extra creamy mac and cheese, you might want to consider adding in some cottage cheese. It'll make the sauce extra creamy and extra cheesy without complicating the overall flavor profile too much. Again, you'll want some with a tiny bit of fat if possible for the creamiest, richest sauce, but if you can't swing cottage cheese with fat, the fat-free kind will work as well.

Be careful with the roux

Though a roux is important for thickening up your cheese sauce, you want to make sure that you don't add too much of your flour and butter mixture because otherwise the sauce can get too thick, which negatively impacts the creaminess. Too much butter and flour (otherwise known as roux when cooked) will make your sauce more like glue than a creamy, rich sauce.

Make the cheese sharp white cheddar

If you're looking for the smoothest, creamiest cheese sauce for the best macaroni and cheese ever, you'll want to use sharp white cheddar. This cheese, according to Martha Stewart Magazine, makes for the most luxurious sauce. Other kinds of cheeses can get gritty, stringy, or otherwise unappetizing, but not sharp white cheddar — that one stuns every time. Plus, the flavor is the perfect compliment to your otherwise rich, fatty dish. The sharpness of the cheese will cut through the butter and cream flavors to round things out.

Stick with the stovetop

All too often, baked macaroni and cheese takes on more of a casserole feel than the creaminess you're looking for here. To prevent that, cook it entirely on your stovetop rather than finishing it in the oven. The sauce (hopefully) won't get overly thick and clumpy on the stovetop, meaning the end result will be creamy and silky smooth — just what you're after.

Choose your noodles carefully

When making mac and cheese, you need to consider your desired ultimate outcome when choosing a noodle. You don't have to stick with macaroni every time just because that's the technical name of the dish. If you're going for the utmost creaminess, opt for a noodle that will hold a lot of sauce. Noodles with ridges are always a good choice: cavatappi, cavatell, rotini, and even penne are all good mac and cheese noodles.

Cook your pasta past al dente

Make sure you cook your noodles appropriately when making mac and cheese, especially if you want it to be the creamiest it can possibly be. You need to make sure that you cook the pasta you're using al dente, which is Italian for "to the tooth," because if you undercook it, your sauce can get gritty from the extra starch. You also may want to adjust the flour in the roux to accommodate how you're planning to cook your noodles. Using less flour in the roux might help to offset the undercooked noodles.

Try burrata

Looking for that salty, tangy bite to your mac and cheese but mozzarella isn't just breaking down the way you want? Try the cousin to mozzarella, burrata. The uncommon cheese is softer and silkier than mozzarella, almost oozing with deliciousness. Basically it looks like a standard mozzarella ball, but when you cut it open it's almost runny — like a poached egg, only instead of yolk it's just the tastiest mozzarella that isn't mozzarella you've ever had.  

It usually carries a more hefty price tag than mozzarella, so rather than simply exchange your mac and cheese mozzarella with burrata, it's more economical to use both; just half your mozzarella amount and put burrata in its place. If you're looking for a white cheese mac and cheese, you simply cannot go wrong with burrata. Word to the wise: Once you crack opened a burrata, it goes dry pretty quickly, so if you use it, act fast and remember any leftover burrata needs to be gobbled up within 24 hours.

Hack the box

Are you just cracking open a box of Mac and Cheese? We don't judge, that's perfectly fine. But it's also perfectly fine to sort of help the box flavor a bit with some steps (or fun add-ins) that will make it taste a whole lot better. Here's a basic rule that is almost 100 percent accurate; the cheaper the price, the more butter you need. Kraft suggests 1/4 cup of butter (or margarine) — if you want this creamy you need more than that. It's not exactly healthy but that's the price you pay for creamy mac and cheese.  

As for the milk, a standard box will require 1/4 cup of milk. Sub out half of that for cream. After you get the butter and cream mixed in, hit it with a shot of your favorite hot sauce, just to round out the cheesy flavor, and you'll have the best 99 cent box of mac and cheese you've ever tasted.