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The BEST Southern Mac and Cheese

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Indulge in this Southern baked macaroni and cheese recipe featuring cheddar, Monterey jack, and mozzarella. This recipe uses no roux! It’s decadent and comforting, and an absolute must-try for anyone looking to savor a taste of the South.

Our beloved Southern mac and cheese recipe is soft and custardy and features a blend of four cheeses: mild and sharp cheddar, Monterey jack, and Kraft Mozzarella Shredded Cheese with a Touch of Philadelphia for a Creamy Melt. The creaminess and texture come from evaporated milk, half & half, and eggs. The best part: it’s baked in the oven to get that lightly golden top we all know and love!

This Southern baked macaroni is made with no roux. Butter is also optional; we’ve made this recipe with and without it, but many of you shared with us that you love it with butter! My personal opinion: it doesn’t need butter because the cheese is already oily.

Our mac and cheese is seasoned with just salt and pepper, but feel free to add your favorite spices like paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, or even cayenne. It’s a quintessential dish in soul food cuisine and is one of those meals that brings people together at family cookouts and on holidays and special occasions.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cavatappi (or elbow macaroni, shells, etc.)
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups half & half, room temperature
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter (optional)
  • 1 8-ounce block mild cheddar, shredded, room temperature
  • 1 8-ounce block Monterey jack, shredded, room temperature
  • 1 8-ounce block sharp cheddar, shredded, room temperature
  • 8 ounces Kraft Mozzarella Shredded Cheese with a Touch of Philadelphia for a Creamy Melt, room temperature (*see recipe note below)
  • 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (start with less and adjust to taste if using any other type of salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Additional seasonings, if desired (paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, cayenne, etc). See “How to season mac and cheese” below for more details
  • Cooking spray oil, for greasing (alternatively, you can use butter)

Special Equipment

  • 3-quart baking dish (We used the “deep dish” 3-quart Pyrex, the dimensions are 7 in x 11 in x 2.7 in. It’s comparable to a standard size 9 in x 13 in dish. The cheesy milk mixture is “wet”, and it fills the baking dish to the rim. As it cooks and then rests it will settle and firm up. 

Note: If time permits, allow egg, evaporated milk, and half & half to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before incorporating them into the mixture. This promotes smoother blending and a creamier texture in the final dish.

Pre-Shredded Cheese vs. Block Cheese

Southern baked macaroni is best when made with solid block cheese. Block cheese is typically fresher because it’s not pre shredded; it has a longer shelf life and retains its flavor and moisture better. Block cheese also tends to melt more smoothly and evenly.

TIP: Grating the Cheese: Ensure the cheese is finely grated for even melting. Larger or uneven shreds may result in incomplete melting.

Pre shredded store-bought cheese is convenient for quick meal preparation, as it eliminates the need for grating. However, it may not melt as smoothly as freshly grated, depending on the brand and additives.

TIP: Add More Liquid: If the grated cheese isn’t melting smoothly, try incorporating a bit more evaporated milk and/or half-and-half into the mixture.

A Note About Mozzarella

Mozzarella, especially in block form, might not melt as smoothly as other cheeses. The Kraft Mozzarella Shredded Cheese with a Touch of Philadelphia for a Creamy Melt used in this recipe contains cream cheese, aiding in achieving a creamy texture. You can see it here.

See “Substitutions and Variations” for other types of cheese that work well with Southern baked mac and cheese.

Substitutions and Variations

  • Cheeses: The types of cheeses can vary widely, but here are some of our favorite combinations to use: Colby jack, pepper jack, American cheese, smoked havarti, smoked gouda, cream cheese, and white cheddar cheese. If you can’t find Kraft Mozzarella Shredded Cheese with a Touch of Philadelphia for a Creamy Melt at your local grocery store, we recommend choosing from one of the substitutions.
  • Milk/Cream: You can use heavy cream and/or milk instead of evaporated milk and half & half.
    • Heavy cream is richer and fattier, so it would be much heavier and decadent.
    • Milk can be used as a lighter alternative. Whole milk is the best choice, but you can also use 2% or even skim milk.
  • Pasta: Marrekus loves the corkskrew shape of cavatappi, and all the nooks and ridges. However, elbow macaroni, rotini, and shell pasta are all great alternatives.
  • Breadcrumb Topping: Breadcrumbs (or crushed Ritz crackers) add a crispy, crunchy texture to the top. When the crumbs are golden-brown and toasted, it’s also very visually appealing, which makes it the perfect touch for the holidays or when hosting a gathering!

How to Make Southern Baked Mac and Cheese

Step 1: Preheat the Oven: First things first, let’s get that oven going! Preheat it to 350°F (175°C).

Step 2: Cook the Macaroni: While your oven is heating up, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Don’t forget to be generous with the salt; it’ll add great flavor to the pasta!

Cook pasta according to the package instructions, but keep an eye on it and aim for that perfect al dente texture. Usually, it takes around 8-10 minutes. Once pasta is cooked, drain it and set it aside.

Step 3: Mix the Eggs and Dairy: In a large bowl, beat all three eggs until they get frothy. Add the evaporated milk to the beaten egg and give it a good mix. Pour in the half & half and keep mixing until everything blends together well.

Step 4: Add Cheeses, Butter, and Cooked Macaroni: Add butter (if using), and shredded cheese into the mixture; save 1/2 cup of sharp cheddar and 1/2 cup of Monterey jack for later. Gently fold in the cooked macaroni into the cheesy milk mixture.

Season with salt and black pepper, and any additional seasonings if using. Stir until well-coated.

Step 5: Layer and Bake: Get your baking dish ready by spraying it with non-stick cooking spray. Transfer your macaroni mixture to the greased baking dish. Sprinkle the reserved cheddar and Monterey jack on top.

Bake at 350°F, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, or until it becomes beautifully golden and bubbly. Allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Step 6: Serve and Enjoy: Allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving. This helps it set and cool a bit.

Why Put Eggs in Mac and Cheese?

Eggs are added to this recipe to help hold the baked macaroni and cheese together. When baked, the egg creates a custard-like texture that binds everything and prevents it from becoming loose or separating. The eggs also contribute to the overall creaminess, creating a velvety, smooth texture and a rich and luscious flavor.

How to Season

Southern baked mac and cheese seasoning can vary based on personal preferences and family recipes, but some common seasonings include:

  • Paprika: Paprika can add a subtle smokiness and a touch of color. Smoked paprika is particularly popular for its rich, smoky flavor.
  • Pepper: For those who enjoy a bit of spiciness, a pinch of cayenne pepper or white pepper can be added for a gentle kick.
  • Ground Mustard: A small amount can add a tangy, zesty note.
  • Onion Powder and Garlic Powder: Both can be used to impart depth and savory flavor.
  • Hot Sauce: A few drops can be added for those who like a bit of heat.

Tips & Tricks

  • Type of Cheese: Different brands and types of cheese can have varying melting properties. For optimal results, using high-quality cheese that melts well is crucial. Also, pre shredded cheese often contains anti-caking agents that might affect the melting process.
  • Pre-shredded Mozzarella: The recipe specifies Kraft Mozzarella Shredded Cheese with a Touch of Philadelphia for a Creamy Melt. It’s essential to use a type of mozzarella that melts smoothly. If the mozzarella used doesn’t have good melting properties, it could affect the overall texture of the dish.
  • Room Temperature Ingredients: If time permits, allow the eggs, evaporated milk, and half & half to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before incorporating them into the mixture. This promotes smoother blending and a creamier texture in the final dish.
  • Cheese Incorporation: Ensure that the shredded cheese is evenly distributed in the mixture. Sometimes, if the cheese is not well-mixed or evenly layered, certain parts of the dish may not melt as expected.
  • Covering the Dish: If you notice the top layer of cheese browning too quickly before the inside is fully cooked, consider covering the dish with foil for part of the baking time and then uncovering it to achieve a golden crust.
  • Baking Temperature and Time: Adjust the baking time based on the visual cues of the dish (golden and bubbly) rather than strictly adhering to the time.

What Goes Good with Mac and Cheese?

Serve straight from the baking dish for a comforting and cozy family-style meal alongside these Southern favorites:

  • Fried Chicken: Crispy fried chicken is a natural companion to collard greens. The contrast between the crispy exterior and the tender greens is pure comfort food.
  • Smothered Chicken: Smothered chicken, featuring tender, juicy chicken smothered in a rich, flavorful gravy, is a Southern classic that complements collard greens perfectly. The gravy adds an extra layer of savory goodness to your meal.
  • Smothered Oxtails: Smothered oxtails are another soulful favorite. The slow-cooked oxtails in a savory gravy create a delicious and hearty pairing with collard greens, offering a melt-in-your-mouth experience.
  • Fried Catfish: Crispy fried catfish or other fish varieties pair beautifully with collard greens for a complete Southern meal.
  • Candied Yams: Sweet, tender yams cooked with butter, sugar, and sometimes marshmallows provide a sweet contrast to the greens’ savory flavors.
  • Cabbage: Southern-style cabbage, often cooked with bacon or smoked meats, provides a similar earthy and hearty vibe as collard greens.
  • Pork Chops: Juicy, pan-fried or grilled pork chops are another protein option that harmonizes with the greens.

FAQ

What is cavatappi?

Cavatappi is a type of pasta that has a corkscrew-like shape. The name “cavatappi” is Italian and translates to “corkscrew” or “corkscrew-shaped.”

Can I make Southern style mac & cheese without butter?

Yes! This recipe does not use any butter; it doesn’t need it! You can add 1 to 2 tablespoons if you just need to have butter.

Can I make this the day before?

Sure! Follow this recipe up to the point just before folding in the cooked pasta with the cheesy mixture. Keep the cavatappi and cheese mixture separate until you’re ready to assemble and bake the dish. Place each component in separate airtight containers and refrigerate for up to 24-48 hours.

How long does it last in the refrigerator?

Baked macaroni and cheese lasts up to 3 days in the refrigerator

How long can baked macaroni & cheese sit out?

No more than two hours. If the temperature in the room or space is higher than 90°F (32°C), then don’t let it sit out for more than an hour.

Summary

This indulgent Southern baked mac and cheese recipe features a blend of cheddar, Monterey Jack, and mozzarella. What sets this dish apart is that it’s prepared without a roux. It’s perfect for those seeking an authentic taste of Southern comfort, and a must-try for anyone looking to elevate their mac and cheese game.

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Southern Mac and Cheese

  • Author: cooks with soul
  • Prep Time: 20 mins
  • Cook Time: 40 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 810 servings 1x
  • Category: side dish
  • Method: baked
  • Cuisine: southern, soul food

Description

Indulge in this Southern soul food-style baked mac and cheese featuring cheddar, Monterey jack, and mozzarella. This recipe uses no roux and is rich, decadent, and comforting. It’s an absolute must-try for anyone looking to savor a taste of the South. 


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 cups cavatappi (or elbow macaroni, shells, etc.)
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups half & half, room temperature
  • 12 tablespoons butter (optional)
  • 1 8-ounce block mild cheddar, shredded, room temperature
  • 1 8-ounce block Monterey jack, shredded, room temperature
  • 1 8-ounce block sharp cheddar, shredded, room temperature
  • 8 ounces Kraft Mozzarella Shredded Cheese with a Touch of Philadelphia for a Creamy Melt, room temperature (*see recipe note below)
  • 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (start with less and adjust to taste if using any other type of salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Equipment:

  • 3-quart baking dish (We used the “deep dish” 3-quart Pyrex, the dimensions are 7 in x 11 in x 2.7 in. It’s comparable to a standard size 9 in x 13 in dish. The cheesy milk mixture is “wet”, and it fills the baking dish to the rim. As it cooks and then rests it will settle and firm up). 

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook macaroni according to the package instructions, until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  3. Beat eggs in a large bowl until they get frothy. Add evaporated milk and stir. Pour in half & half and keep mixing until blended well.
  4. Add butter (if using) and shredded cheese to the mixture, but save 1/2 cup of sharp cheddar and 1/2 cup of Monterey jack cheese for later.
  5. Gently fold in cooked macaroni into the cheesy milk mixture. Season with salt and black pepper, and any additional seasonings if using. Stir until well-coated.
  6. Spray baking dish with non-stick cooking spray, then transfer mac and cheese to greased dish.
  7. Sprinkle reserved sharp cheddar and Monterey jack cheese on top of the macaroni.
  8. Bake at 350°F, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, or until it is golden and bubbly.
  9. Allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Notes

Add more seasonings, if desired (paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, cayenne, etc). See “How to season mac and cheese” for more details.

Mozzarella, especially in block form, might not melt as smoothly as other cheeses. The Kraft Mozzarella Shredded Cheese with a Touch of Philadelphia for a Creamy Melt used in this recipe contains cream cheese, aiding in achieving a creamy texture. If you can’t find it, we recommend choosing from one of the substitutions (Colby jack, smoked havarti, smoked gouda, cream cheese, and white cheddar).

Keywords: southern mac and cheese, baked mac and cheese, mac and cheese, evaporated milk, eggs

23 Comments

  1. This recipe was the best mac and cheese ever. After combining the main ingredients, we divided it into 1lb tins where we added things like bacon, mushrooms, and or tomatoes, according to our taste. I cooked it for 30 minutes, topped it with hot honey and it was perfect!

    1. Hi! We used a 3-quart baking dish (specifically the “deep dish” 3-quart Pyrex, the dimensions are 7 in x 11 in x 2.7 in.). It’s comparable to a standard size 9 in x 13 in dish.

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