This lusciously creamy million dollar mac and cheese casserole is made with 3 different types of cheese and a crispy, buttery panko topping. It’s so incredibly good, everyone will be going back for seconds!
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Why You’ll Love This Homemade Mac and Cheese Recipe
This creamy homemade mac and cheese recipe is so superior we call it ‘million dollar mac and cheese’ around our house! Here’s why it’s the best:
- So Cheesy: The lusciously creamy sauce is made with three different types of cheese: cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Gruyere cheese!
- Family Favorite: No one can resist homemade mac and cheese! It is the ultimate comfort food that is always a hit among both the kids and adults.
- Simple: Don’t be intimated, it’s easier than you think to make. Just whisk the sauce until smooth and melty, layer everything together, and bake until bubbly.
- Versatile: Add lobster, pulled pork, truffle oil, or crispy bacon etc. There are so many ways to add more flavor.
What Is Million Dollar Mac and Cheese?
Million dollar mac and cheese is a classic American side dish. It’s like your favorite mac and cheese recipe, but better. It’s richer, cheesier, and creamier thanks to three kinds of cheese and a splash of milk.
Then it’s assembled in a casserole dish with an extra layer of cheese and sour cream in the middle for a lovely cheese pull when serving. The crispy panko topping also adds texture and makes it look particularly impressive.
Cavatappi pasta and a crispy panko topping elevate this side dish to new heights. Scroll down to the recipe card for exact amounts.
- Cavatappi Noodles: These look like swirly elbow macaroni noodles. You can use regular elbow macaroni if you prefer.
- Unsalted Butter: Try to avoid salted butter because the cheese mixture is already quite salty.
- All-Purpose Flour: Used to thicken the roux, to make the homemade cheese sauce.
- Whole Milk: 2% works too, but you want the fat to create the best tasting sauce.
- Evaporated Milk: Heavy cream is a great swap, if needed.
- Dijon Mustard: Don’t use American mustard because the flavor is very sharp and tangy. If you do not have dijon mustard, swap it for 1 teaspoon dried mustard.
- Seasonings: Garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, salt and pepper.
- Cheddar Cheese: Go for extra-sharp or sharp cheddar cheese. White cheddar is also tasty!
- Monterey Jack Cheese: It can be substituted for Colby Jack or Pepper Jack.
- Gruyère Cheese: Feel free to replace it with Gouda or even more cheddar.
- Sour Cream: Ricotta cheese will also work.
- Breadcrumbs: Panko breadcrumbs will create the best crispy texture, but regular breadcrumbs work too.
- Butter: Go for unsalted to keep things from getting too salty.
How to Make Mac and Cheese Casserole
The two secrets to any homemade macaroni and cheese recipe are properly cooked pasta and a creamy, smooth sauce. Scroll to the recipe card at bottom of the post for full detailed instructions.
- Boil: Cook the pasta according to the package directions minus one minute. Drain, rinse with cool water to prevent sticking and set aside.
- Roux: Melt the butter in a large saucepan and mix in the flour to create a roux. Whisk in the milk and evaporated milk until smooth. Add the mustard and seasonings and simmer until thickened.
- Cheese: Stir in the cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, until melted and smooth. Fold in the cooked macaroni.
- Assemble: Pour half of the pasta mixture into the casserole dish. Sprinkle half of the Gruyere on top. Spread the sour cream on top. Add the remaining pasta and then sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
- Topping: Combine the panko breadcrumbs with melted butter in a small bowl. Spread over the top.
- Bake: Bake in preheated oven until hot and bubbly and the topping is a light golden brown.
- Serve: Remove from the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes. Serve and enjoy.
A few tips to ensure your mac and cheese recipe turns out perfectly!
- Freshly Shredded Cheese: While it is easier to grab already shredded cheese, pre-shredded cheese has anti-caking agents that act as a thickener. So if you use pre-shredded cheese, it will overly thicken your cheese sauce. I highly recommend shredding your own cheese!
- Don’t Over-Cook Pasta: Set a timer on your phone to remind yourself to remove the pasta as soon as it is al-dente. Over-cooking the noodles will lead to a mushy macaroni and cheese.
- One-Pot: Use a large dutch-oven, or a cast-iron skillet, to prepare this recipe so you can go from stove-to-oven and reduce clean-up.
- Make Ahead: Let the mac and cheese cool to room temperature once you transfer it to the casserole dish. Wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Let is set out at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking. Then, top with breadcrumb mixture and bake as directed.
Variations To Try
If it’s already a “million dollar” recipe, why not add some truffle oil or lobster?
- Leftover Cheeses: Shred all the leftover bits of melty cheese in your fridge and use them for this recipe. It’ll be a unique cheese mix!
- Truffle: Drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons of truffle oil over the casserole for an impressive truffle mac and cheese. You can whip up a batch of roasted mushrooms, dice them and stir them into the pasta.
- Seafood: Elevate the dish by adding chunks of cooked buttery lobster, or crab meat, for a luxurious seafood twist.
- Smoked: If you want your mac and cheese to have a wonderful smoky flavor, swap the gruyere cheese for smoked gouda.
- Garlic: If you love garlic and want more garlic flavor, add 3 to 5 cloves minced garlic when you add the garlic powder.
- Bacon: You can add cooked and chopped bacon to the pasta, as a topping, or both!
What to Serve with Mac and Cheese Casserole
This velvety mac and cheese casserole is the perfect side dish no matter the occasion. Here are some fun pairing ideas:
- Dinner: We love to serve this creamy side southern style with a scoop of pulled pork on top. Add a side of roasted broccoli and it’s the perfect pairing!
- Holiday: This casserole is perfect alongside your thanksgiving turkey or crockpot ham! Add a green bean casserole, candied carrots and make-ahead mashed potatoes to complete the meal.
- Potluck: If you are looking for a few more sides for a potluck, this make-ahead broccoli salad or my best baked beans are both great.
How To Store Leftovers
Don’t freeze this casserole, the sauce will split and the pasta will become mushy.
- Fridge: Refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to 5 days. You can also cover the casserole dish with foil.
- Reheat: Sprinkle a serving with 1/2 teaspoon milk and microwave in 30-second intervals, until warm. Or bake in the oven at 325°F, lightly covered with foil for 15 minutes, then uncovered for 5 minutes more.
Million Dollar Mac and Cheese Casserole
- 1 lb cavatrappi noodles, or elbow noodles
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 8 oz cheddar cheese, freshly shredded (about 2 cups)
- 8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, freshly shredded (about 2 cups)
- 8 oz Gruyère cheese, freshly shredded (about 2 cups)
- 1 cup sour cream
- ¾ cup seasoned panko bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Heat the oven to 350°F and spray a 9×13 inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
- Cook the pasta till al dente, according to the package directions, cooking for one minute less than the directions require. (The pasta will cook more in the oven, do not over cook it!) Drain pasta and rinse with cool water to prevent sticking.
- While the noodles cook, melt the butter in a large skillet. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute.
- Whisk in the milk and evaporated milk till smooth. Add the dijon mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley and black pepper, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce begins to thicken, about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the cheddar cheese and Monterey jack cheese, until melted and smooth. Fold in the noodles. (If your skillet isn’t big enough, you can do this in a large bowl.)
- Pour half the cheesy noodles into the prepared casserole dish. Then evenly top casserole with half the gruyere cheese. Spread all of the sour cream on top of the gruyere. Add the remaining noodles on top and sprinkle the remaining gruyere cheese over the top.
- Combine the panko breadcrumbs and melted butter together in a small bowl. Evenly spread over the cheese layer.
- Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly and the topping is golden brown. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes to set up, then serve!
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