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Southern baked macaroni and cheese, also called soul food mac and cheese, is the ultimate in comfort food. Creamy, rich, ooey-gooey, super cheesy, with those crispy browned cheese edges...no one can resist perfectly baked mac and cheese.
This recipe has been a long time coming. My soul food mac and cheese recipe. The mac that has been in my family for generations, the authentic Southern baked macaroni and cheese made by yours truly, the Southern Queen of Mac and Cheese.
AKA: The black folk mac and cheese. You know, the one with all the memes about how only specific people in the family (usually an Auntie or Grandma) are allowed to make it.
A staple in soul food and southern cooking, this classic mac and cheese goes back generations and is saved for special occasions. A baby of the OG 'macaroni pie' recipe created by Thomas Jefferson's chef, trained in Paris, African American Chef James Hemings.
Which is why it's here today, on Juneteenth.
This mac and cheese has been voted one of the top favorite recipes by many of my readers over the years. Y'all have made it time and time again, with thousands of rave reviews.
Made this tonight, probably the best mac and cheese I've ever had. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for an enjoyable, educational blog post! 💞-Molly, Pinterest
Amazingly addictive and comforting. Highly recommend this recipe. My family loved it!Daniela, Pinterest
We really loved this recipe! I've tried a few different homemade mac and cheese recipes and this was by far the best one. It was creamy and delicious even when I reheated it a day later. I will definitely be making this again.Tracy, Pinterest
From your kids saying it's 'bussin!' to your families entrusting you to bring it to all family gatherings, I feel so blessed to say that this authentic southern macaroni and cheese recipe that I have loved since I was a little girl is now a family favorite worldwide! It literally brings tears to my eyes knowing that so many people love this recipe.
And there's a huge reason why: this mac and cheese is easy to make, it's incredibly rich and creamy (there's no weird scrambled egg-looking, broken, greasy cheese nonsense going on here!), and the recipe is from a real southern belle.
I've been eating southern baked mac and cheese since I was in the womb, especially on Thanksgiving and Christmas with a side of collard greens and ham hock. This recipe is a tweak on my mama's mac, who got hers from my grandma's southern mac, and so on.
So you know it's legit!
When you really want rich, homey, comforting, creamy southern flavor at your sunday dinners, this is the perfect macaroni and cheese to serve. Creamy, rich, ooey-gooey, super cheesy, with those crispy browned cheese edges...no one can resist perfectly baked mac and cheese.
- Why you're going to love my soul food southern baked mac n cheese recipe
- The Origins of Southern Baked Mac and Cheese.
- Why is Southern Baked Mac and Cheese Important to Black Culture?
- What makes 'black folk' or southern baked macaroni and cheese different?
- Ingredients for Soul Food Macaroni and Cheese
- How to Make Soul Food Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
- Make Ahead Instructions
- Storing and Reheating Instructions
- More Authentic Southern Recipes
- 📖 Recipe
Why you're going to love my soul food southern baked mac n cheese recipe
It's a dump and bake, super easy recipe. Just shred your cheese, or even use pre-shredded cheese in this recipe, stir it with your half and half and milks and creams, season to taste (yes, taste the cheese mixture because you'll end up with bland mac otherwise), add your eggs, stir it all together with the macaroni, and bake in the oven. No roux, no bechamel, no fancy stuff, no stoves, no add-ins. Not even bacon this time.
It uses real ingredients. No Velveeta, no pre-mixed seasoning salt, no boxed stuff.
It's the ultimate creamy soul food macaroni and cheese. I, too, have been accosted by that weird baked mac and cheese that is clumpy, goopy, dry, and stiff. This is not her. We don't know her here. My mac is luxuriously creamy, made with five different types of cheeses, heavy cream, and plenty of flavor. If you're a true fan of mac and cheese, this recipe is for you.
The Origins of Southern Baked Mac and Cheese.
In the times of American Slavery, Thomas Jefferson summoned his chef, a black man named James Hemings, to join him in France. There, Chef Hemings trained under famous caterers, chefs at Chateau de Chantilly, and in the household of the Prince of Cond serving royalty well-created feasts.
After a few years, Chef Hemings became the executive chef at Hôtel de Langeac, the French American Embassy, and after a couple of years Jefferson took him back to the States. At Jefferson's dinner parties Chef Hemings took what he learned from traveling Europe with Jefferson, eating pasta with cheese there, and created the 'pie made of macaroni', which became a huge hit with the wealthy southerners. Jefferson had a macaroni extruder smuggled into the country just for Chef Hemings to be able to make this specific dish.
Later on, James was able to claim his right to freedom, but Jefferson required that he taught another adequate chef how to cook his beloved macaroni pie before he was allowed to live freely. So James taught his younger brother and the other enslaved cooks how to perfect the dish before living his life as a free man.
Through word of mouth, Black chefs taught each other how to make baked mac and cheese in the plantation kitchens they worked in, as the dish became a symbol of prestige due. The ingredients (and machines needed) to make macaroni noodles and especially make or buy the cheeses, were incredibly expensive so a bowl of mac and cheese was something akin to a prime rib on the table nowadays.
So despite what many say, it was not Thomas Jefferson who invented baked macaroni and cheese, it was his enslaved executive chef, Chef James Hemings. The more you know!
Why is Southern Baked Mac and Cheese Important to Black Culture?
As previously stated, baked mac and cheese was a recipe spread throughout the antebellum South by the enslaved cooks' word of mouth. Those recipes may have slightly been altered by the tastes of their traffickers or through that regional game of telephone, but at the end of the day, Black cooks kept the recipes for our own families once Emancipated.
A dish saved only for special occasions, full of many cheeses (it can get seriously expensive depending on what types of cheese are used), and beloved for generations, it holds a special place in the hearts of black folks across the country.
Black people hold macaroni and cheese in high regard, it's the pinnacle of black culinary accolades. It's not just a favorite side dish...it's THE favorite side dish.
It's creation bestowed upon only those who can be trusted with the responsibility of making mac and cheese, because you are not messing up Thanksgiving with bland, dry, overcooked, sad mac and cheese.
Our mac and cheese is just as important as any main dish at every holiday it shows up at. Which is every holiday: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, 4th of July, birthdays, marriages, births, funerals. Everything.
If you bring any type of mac and cheese recipes made from a box or in a store, you will be roasted, ragged on, and not allowed to bring food again. Possibly exiled from all cookouts, depending on how bad you've disrespected the mac and cheese.
What makes 'black folk' or southern baked macaroni and cheese different?
Seasoning salt is used sometimes, evaporated milk, the argument of 'eggs vs no eggs' always comes up, but its core is based around very simple and mostly mandatory ingredients: shredded cheese, cream or milk, short cut pasta, and loads of love. Mind you, everyone will have a different variation, though all are pretty similar besides the number of cheeses and the addition of seasoning salt.
Our mac and cheese isn't one that we tinker with, add vegetables to, or try to make healthy. It's rich, soulful, and sticks to your ribs. It's nestled between the candied yams and the green beans seasoned with turkey or ham hocks on your plate, it warms your heart and brings everyone joy and everyone leaves with some in a tupperware. That's a good mac and cheese.
Let me tell you, Essence featured my Gentleman Jack Bacon Mac and Cheese on their Instagram and the Black Caucus tore me a new one as if they've never seen bacon in macaroni and cheese before! As I said, mac is serious business in the African American community. I didn't even say it was southern baked, it was just stove top!
Ingredients for Soul Food Macaroni and Cheese
Each ingredient in my homemade macaroni and cheese has a purpose. Different kinds of cheese give different textures and I feel mine is the best cheese combination to not only have a seriously creamy mac, but also the beautiful crust of browned bubbly cheese that is a total crowd pleaser.
The Best Cheeses for Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
Use blocks of cheese for the creamiest baked macaroni and cheese, the cellulose coating on pre-shredded can make your mac more clumpy.
Sharp or Extra-sharp Cheddar Cheese. Mild cheddar just doesn't have the flavor we're looking for in a cheese sauce, so use that sharp cheddar!
Colby Jack. Monterey jack also works; we want a really melty, ooey-gooey cheese and colby/monterey jack is the one for this recipe. It's got great flavor, supporting the cheddar cheese without adding too much 'cheddar' flavor.
Mozzarella cheese. You're not going to get a great cheese pull without it!
American cheese. Don't fight me on the American cheese, honey. American cheese is made with emulsifiers, which is what keeps it rich, luscious, and creamy when you melt it down on burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. These emulsifiers help keep your harder cheeses (like that sharp cheddar) from separating in the heat of your oven while baking the mac.
Cream Cheese. And cream cheese...'cause my mama uses it. If it ain't broken, don't fix it. It adds more moisture and creaminess to the mac and there are all kinds of flavors you can use. My mom uses sour cream and chive flavor, it's SO good. You can also use sour cream or mascarpone cheese, which is like a lighter Italian cream cheese.
Pro Tip: We keep our house pretty cool so I put the cream cheese in the microwave for about 30 seconds to make it looser and warmer, which helps it mix evenly into the mac and cheese during the colder months. Try it!
Garlic Powder. A must, a must, a must. We want good flavor, add in the garlic powder.
Onion powder. Same as the garlic. It adds good flavor!
Mustard powder. It brings out that 'cheese' flavor, it intensifies that tangy cheddar flavor.
Smoked paprika. Look, if you're looking to add that little oomph, that special little something to your mac, this ingredient is it. It's not spicy like cayenne pepper, but has a delicious smokiness that is so good and adds depth!
Other Ingredients for the Best Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Unsalted butter. To grease down your baking dish! The heavy cream acts as the 'butter' in the dish without making it really greasy so it isn't needed within the macaroni and cheese.
Chicken broth. We're not boiling our noodles in a large pot of water, all flavorless and sad. The pasta needs just as much flavor as the rest of the dish. Boil the pasta in chicken broth and watch how everyone's minds will be blown, I guarantee it!
Eggs. Look, I know it's a controversial ingredient. But once again, I've got a reason for the eggs! The egg whites keep structure so you don't end up with a soupy, stringy, cheesy mess on the inside, while the fats (it's all about the fats y'all!) from the egg yolks control those cheeses and keep them from getting grainy and gritty and oily. I will say that it can be optional, but for the most authentic experience you'll want to use them.
Elbow Pasta. Sure, you can use just about any short-cut pasta shape, but elbow noodles are just the classic shape that everyone loves. It holds the cheese sauce so well and is a familiar shape that kids love.
Heavy Cream. The fats, y'all. You don't want the cheese to separate from the heat of the oven, so fats are very important. Heavy cream takes the place of where most people use butter in their mac, so we get the fats without the grease pooling on top of the whole thing at the end.
Half and Half. I know a lot of people use evaporated milk, which is whole milk that is reduced until it's thicker. I like half and half, but if you cannot find it use the same amount of evaporated milk.
How to Make Soul Food Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
First, you need to have a lot of love and soul. Got that? Okay. Let's move on.
Now, rub down an 8 by 11 or 9 by 13-inch baking dish with the butter. Give it a good, generous layer of butter.
Next, cook macaroni pasta in the chicken broth until just under al dente. It needs to be undercooked so that it doesn't end up mushy and overcooked in the oven.
While your macaroni is cooking, shred your cheese but save half of the cheddar and colby jack to make that bubbly, delicious browned cheese crust that everyone will want to fight over because we all know that it's the best part!
In a large bowl, mix in all of the different cheeses, the half-and-half and heavy cream, and your spices. A little mustard powder boosts the cheese flavor, salt and black pepper are a must, garlic and onion powder, and smoked paprika for that little extra somethin'.
You can find smoked paprika in any grocery store and its flavor is such a great, smoky addition to the mac and cheese. You will not regret having some smoked paprika in your life.
Mix in the cooked macaroni pasta into the cheese, then give it a taste for seasoning. Add a little salt if needed, or pepper or garlic, whatever you want to boost up in flavor. Make sure to always taste for seasoning before moving on to adding the eggs!
Then stir the eggs into the macaroni mixture. Get it nice and well-mixed before adding it to the buttered baking dish and spreading it evenly in there.
Cover it in the rest of the cheddar and Colby jack, sprinkle with some smoked paprika, then bake for 35-40 minutes. No, there are no bread crumbs here!
I honestly can tell you this is the best macaroni and cheese you will ever make in your life. Which is exactly why it's such a cultural staple.
And no, I will not argue with you about it. I stand on my decision.
Make Ahead Instructions
Readers have put together this baked mac and cheese the day before, baking it the day of, with no problem. Go all the way up to Step 7 and bake the day of.
Storing and Reheating Instructions
Store the mac and cheese either plastic wrapped in its baking dish or in an airtight container for up to about 4 days. Reheat in the microwave or in the oven at 300 degrees F until it's fully warmed through and melty.
If you want breadcrumbs (and honestly, I've made great mac topped with crispy panko!) do not add the cheese on top of the macaroni. Just add a buttery breadcrumb topping, like I have in this creamy baked mac and cheese recipe.
Absolutely! Add in one more egg and bake it for an extra 10-15 minutes.
You can freeze the mac and cheese before it's baked. Freeze everything mixed together without the eggs in a freezer-safe container or bag for up to 2 months. When ready to make it, thaw it fully in the fridge and continue the recipe.
If you're not serving to staunch believers in classic southern baked mac, I would definitely add in some crumbled bacon.
More Authentic Southern Recipes
- Slow Cooked Southern Green Beans
- My Grandma Reid's Southern Candied Yams
- Southern Banana Pudding with Vanilla Meringue
- Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread
- Cozy Creamy Chicken and Herbed Dumplings
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- 16 oz (500 g) elbow macaroni, uncooked
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 8 oz (225 g) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 8 oz (225 g) colby jack cheese, shredded
- 8 oz (225 g) part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 8 oz (225 g) American cheese, cubed
- 4 oz (125 g) cream cheese, cubed and room temperature
- 1 cup (250 ml) half and half
- 1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- ½ teaspoon (4g) smoked paprika
- 1-2 teaspoon (3g) garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon (3g) onion powder
- ½ teaspoon mustard powder
- 2 large eggs
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Butter an 8 by 11 or 9 by 13-inch baking dish and set aside.
- Fill a large stockpot or dutch oven halfway with chicken broth (or water if you don't have broth), and bring to a boil. Add in elbow macaroni and cook until just under al dente, according to package directions. Do not fully cook or overcook the macaroni pasta, it'll finish cooking through completely in the oven. Once just under al dente, drain the pasta.
- While the pasta boils, use a wooden spoon to mix the half and half, heavy cream, half of the cheddar cheese, half of the Colby jack cheese, all of the mozzarella cheese, all of the American cheese, and all of the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl.
- Add smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, mustard powder, and some kosher salt and pepper, stirring well and tasting the mixture to ensure there is a good flavor. Do not add too much salt, since cheese is pretty salty and will add its saltiness as it bakes. Once satisfied with the seasoning, stir in the cooked macaroni and eggs until well incorporated with the cheese.
- Pour the macaroni mixture into the baking dish and spread evenly.
- Top the macaroni and cheese generously with the rest of the cheddar cheese and colby jack cheese. Sprinkle the top with a little more smoked paprika, if desired.
- Bake the mac and cheese for 35 minutes or until the cheese crust is bubbly and nicely browned. Do not over-bake or the macaroni pasta will become mushy and the cheese mixture will become dry.
- Let the baked macaroni and cheese cool for about 10 minutes or until just cool enough to serve. Serve hot so the cheese is nice and creamy.
- Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Notes for the Best Mac and Cheese
For extra creaminess, use 8 ounces of cream cheese.
Don't have half and half? You can use evaporated milk (not condensed milk!) instead.
You can use whatever cheese you like, (monterey jack, whole milk mozzarella, mild cheddar, extra-sharp cheddar cheese) as long as they aren't hard cheeses like aged gruyere or 1,000 day aged gouda. They tend to separate and not melt easily when baked.
But the less aged versions like red wax gouda and smoked gruyere, are good to go into the mac. Softer cheeses like burrata, brie, camembert, and chevre (goat cheese) are also welcome to the party to replace the cream cheese.
Doubling the Recipe
This recipe doubles just fine, only add one more egg and use a (much) larger baking dish, you'll probably need the disposable aluminum ones because it's a LOT of macaroni and cheese. Bake it for an extra 10 minutes as well to ensure the custard gets cooked and that cheese crust gets nice.
Make Ahead Instructions
Readers have put together this baked mac and cheese the day before, baking it the day of, with no problem. Go all the way up to Step 7 and bake the day of.
Storing and Reheating Your Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
Put the mac in airtight containers or keep in the baking dish wrapped in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Reheat a serving in a microwave-safe bowl with a splash of milk to mix in and keep the mac and cheese.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 399Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 63mgSodium: 651mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 3gSugar: 2gProtein: 32g
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.