Cook's Illustrated Classic Macaroni and Cheese

Total Time
Prep 40 mins
Cook 5 mins

I skipped the bread-crumb topping, and this was still to-die- for delicious. Cook's Illustrated says it's critical to cook the pasta until it is tender--just past the al dente stage. For this recipe, overcooking the pasta is better than undercooking because undercooked pasta will release starch into the sauce and make it gritty. Whole, low-fat, and skim milk all work in this recipe (I used evaporated milk and loved it--some was low fat evaporated). You can halve this recipe and broil in an 8-inch square, heatproof baking dish. If desired, serve with celery salt or hot sauce. Recipe courtesy of Entertaining by Cook's Illustrated, February 2011.

Ingredients Nutrition


  1. For the bread-crumb topping: Pulse bread and butter in food processor until crumbs are about 1/8 inch, ten to fifteen 1-second pulses. Set aside.
  2. For the pasta and cheese: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler.
  3. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat.
  4. Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt. Cook until pasta is tender. Drain pasta and set aside in colander.
  5. In now-empty Dutch oven, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming.
  6. Add flour, mustard, and cayenne and whisk well to combine.
  7. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute.
  8. Gradually whisk in milk and bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken).
  9. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes.
  10. Off heat, whisk in cheeses and 1 teaspoon salt until cheeses are fully melted.
  11. Add pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.
  12. Transfer mixture to broiler-safe 13x9 inch baking dish and sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs.
  13. Broil until crumbs are deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, rotating pan if necessary for even browning.
  14. Cool about 5 minutes, then serve.
Most Helpful

Been making this for several years. Always a hit and being asked for the recipe. I use a generous cup of panko bread crumbs mixed with 3 TBS melted butter for topping. Generally don't use cayenne because of kiddos. Never bake it - stays creamier, doesn't dry out and flavor is better I think. Just put under broiler for a few minutes for Panko to brown.

rebeccacollegio August 11, 2012

I also skipped the topping. This is very good. My 4 1/2 year old didn't like the spices. Next time, I think I will bake it longer. Probably 30 min. to 60 min.

Scrivener1 March 06, 2012

I thought this was a great basic mac & cheese recipe. I did make some changes. I crumbled a package of Ritz crackers, browned that on the stovetop in the 3tbsp. of butter, and reserved it to use for the topping. After making up the mac and cheese mixture as called for in the recipe, I poured it into a 9x13" baking pan, well-sprayed with Pam cooking spray. I topped that with a can of fried onions, followed by the Ritz crumbs. I covered it with foil to maintain moisture, and baked it at 350 in a convection oven for 20 minutes, then removed the foil and baked for another 10 at 375. It did not get dry at all. Next time, I'll substitute a few ounces of the cheddar for grated romano to give it a bit more zing. Also, someone suggested to me today to use medium-size shells instead of elbows for the pasta. Sounds like a good idea.

JamieWG December 25, 2015