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Cheese Sauce for Mac and Cheese Recipe

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This quick and easy recipe makes the best homemade cheese sauce for mac and cheese in less than 15 minutes. It’s cheesy, creamy, flavorful and sure to be a family favorite. It makes the best comfort food weeknight dinner, and it’s also perfect to serve as a holiday side dish.

Cheese Sauce For Mac and Cheese

If you want to make a perfect gooey and creamy homemade cheese sauce for mac and cheese, then you’ve come to the right place. This is seriously the easiest and best cheese sauce for mac and cheese!

It’s made with freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese and whole milk to give it that rich and creamy texture that we all love. The garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and a little mustard powder adds depth to the flavor that just brings it over the top. That flavor paired with the perfect consistency is what makes this the ultimate cheese sauce for mac and cheese.

I even like to swap the sharp cheddar with white cheddar occasionally and make white sauce for mac and cheese. Regardless of the cheddar used, this cheese sauce recipe clings perfectly to the pasta, coating it in smooth and silky goodness.

It makes straight up simple comfort food for any day of the week. It’s quick and easy enough for a weeknight dinner, but special enough for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Also, I’ll let you in on a little secret, I don’t just use this cheese sauce recipe for mac and cheese! My family loves it when I put it on steamed veggies for dinner, and I love to pour it over nachos and baked potatoes. I just know you and your family will love it, too!

Ingredients

Unsalted Butter: Butter is the fat used to combine with the flour to make the roux, which is how the cheese sauce is thickened.

Flour: Acts as a thickener in this cheese sauce, which helps it cling to the pasta.

Whole Milk: Whole milk adds richness and creaminess to the sauce. I recommend using room temperature milk because the sauce is much less likely to curdle.

Cheddar Cheese: Use freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Pre-grated cheeses are coated in an anti-caking agent that prevents the cheese from melting smoothly.

Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Ground Mustard, Paprika: These spices add a layer of depth to the sauce which enhances the flavor of the cheese.

Salt & Black Pepper: These are essential seasonings that bring out the flavors of the other ingredients.

The labeled ingredients for cheese sauce for mac and cheese.

Alternative Ingredients

You can switch out the sharp cheddar for a different type of cheese. White cheddar, Monterey Jack, or even a nice Gruyere are great alternatives. For a spicier kick, try adding a little cayenne pepper or hot sauce to the mix.

How To Make Cheese Sauce for Mac and Cheese

Prepare the Saucepan: Completely melt the butter in a saucepan. (See the recipe card below for the full printable instructions.)

Create the Roux: Once the butter has melted, sprinkle in the flour and whisk until your mixture is smooth. 

Adding flour to the melted butter in a hot skillet, and then mixing to create a roux.

Add the Milk: Slowly pour the milk into the roux while continuing to whisk. This prevents any lumps from forming in the sauce. 

Add the Spices: Add the garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, and paprika to the sauce, stirring well to make sure they’re fully incorporated.

Whisking in milk into the roux, and then adding garlic, onion, and mustard powder.

Melt the Cheese: Once your mixture is nice and thick, reduce the heat. Add the cheese and stir until it is completely melted.

Season to Taste: Season your sauce with salt and black pepper to taste, then give it a final stir to make sure everything is well combined.

Adding shredded cheddar cheese to the milk mixture, and then stirring and adding salt and pepper.

Rest and Serve: Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow it to cool and thicken for a few minutes before adding the pasta. See the recipe card below for the full written instructions, including ingredient amounts, and helpful tips, etc.

Mixing salt and pepper into the cheese sauce in a hot skillet.

Pro Tips

  • Use freshly shredded cheese. It melts better and gives a smoother texture to the sauce compared to pre-shredded cheese.
  • Whisk constantly while adding milk to the roux to prevent lumps.
  • Use room temperature milk, it mixes better with the roux and helps create a smoother sauce.
  • Don’t overcook your pasta. Remember, your pasta will continue to cook in the sauce, so aim for al dente when boiling your pasta.

What Is Macaroni Cheese Sauce Made Of?

Macaroni cheese sauce is a combination of unsalted butter, flour, whole milk, and shredded cheddar cheese that is spiced with a mix of garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, and paprika.

Why Do You Make A Roux For Mac And Cheese?

Making a roux for mac and cheese is an essential step to get a creamy and smooth sauce. The roux is a mixture of melted butter and flour that helps to thicken the sauce and allows the cheese to melt evenly without clumping. 

A layer of freshly made cheese sauce poured over macaroni in a large dish.

Can You Make It Without Flour?

Yes, you can make mac and cheese without flour. Instead of using flour, you can use cornstarch as a thickening agent to get a similar consistency. You will need half the amount of cornstarch to flour. 2 Tablespoons flour = 1 Tablespoon cornstarch.

What Is The Best Cheese To Melt For Mac And Cheese?

Sharp cheddar cheese is a fantastic choice for mac and cheese due to its smooth melting ability and its tangy flavor, which complements the creamy sauce perfectly. However, feel free to try different cheeses based on your personal preferences. White cheddar, Monterery Jack, and Gruyere are all great options.

How To Make White Cheese Sauce For Mac And Cheese

To make a white cheese sauce, replace the cheddar cheese with white cheddar cheese. The process will remain the same, and you’ll end up with a deliciously creamy white sauce.

A close up image of macaroni covered in cheese sauce.

Can You Make It Ahead of Time?

Absolutely! You can make the sauce ahead of time and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When you’re ready to use it, simply warm it over low heat, stirring occasionally until it’s hot. If it has thickened too much, just add a little milk to thin it out.

Can You Freeze It?

Yes, you can freeze the sauce. Make sure it’s completely cooled before transferring it to a freezer-safe container. When you’re ready to use it, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight, then warm it up on the stove over low heat, mixing in a little milk if necessary to thin it out.

What Kind of Pasta Goes Best with This Sauce?

Classic elbow macaroni is my favorite for mac and cheese, but you can definitely use it with any type of pasta. Try it with shells, penne, or even rigatoni!

A close up image showing the cheese sauce texture over macaroni.

Can I Use This Sauce with Other Dishes?

Absolutely! This sauce is not just for mac and cheese. It’s delicious over steamed vegetables, or poured over a microwave baked potato.

Keep In Touch

I’d love to hear what you thought of this recipe in the comments or on Instagram! @KeyToMyLime #KeyToMyLime

Pin this recipe for later!

A Pinterest pin image with a picture of cheese sauce for mac and cheese with title text at the top.

Mac and Cheese Recipes

If you like this recipe, be sure to check out all of our other pasta recipes. Some reader favorites are:

Yield: 6 servings

BEST Homemade Cheese Sauce for Mac and Cheese

The best cheese sauce for mac and cheese recipe.

The best homemade cheese sauce for mac and cheese recipe is quick and easy. It’s cheesy, creamy, and perfect for dinner or as a holiday side.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk, room temperature
  • 2 cups freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese*
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Start by melting the unsalted butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once it's melted, add the all-purpose flour and whisk continuously until smooth to create a roux, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Slowly pour in the milk while continuing to whisk. This will help prevent lumps from forming in the sauce. Cook this mixture, stirring frequently, until it starts to thicken, about 5 minutes.
  3. Turn down the heat down to low, and then add the shredded sharp cheddar cheese to the saucepan. Keep stirring until all the cheese has completely melted into the sauce.
  4. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, and paprika to the sauce. Stir well to incorporate all the spices.
  5. Season with salt and black pepper according to your taste preference. Give the sauce one final stir to make sure everything is well combined.
  6. Remove the saucepan from heat and let the sauce sit for a couple of minutes before pouring it over your cooked macaroni.

Notes

*I recommend using freshly shredded cheese because pre-shredded cheeses are coated in anti-caking agent that can make the texture of the sauce gritty.

This sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

To reheat, pour the sauce into a saucepan and warm it over low heat, stirring occasionally until hot. Add a small amount of milk if the sauce has thickened too much in the fridge.

For a lighter version, you can use 2% milk, but whole milk will give the sauce a richer texture.

This recipe makes enough sauce for about 1 pound (16 ounces) of dry pasta. If you like your macaroni and cheese saucier than average, you’ll need to either use less pasta or make more sauce.

Nutrition Information:

Serving Size:

1/6

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 248Total Fat: 19.1gCarbohydrates: 7.5gFiber: 0.2gSugar: 4.3gProtein: 11.6g

Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.

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I hope you and your family love this cheese sauce for mac and cheese recipe as much as we do!

The best cheese sauce for mac and cheese recipe.

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