This easy homemade macaroni and cheese recipe is one of the creamiest, cheesiest recipes around! And you’re going to love how easy it is to make- no flour, no roux, just simple cheesy goodness. One taste of it’s rich, velvety sauce with a little pepper jack kick, and you’ll never want to make any other mac & cheese again.
My family loves this macaroni and cheese recipe, especially the flavor kick addition of spicy pepper jack cheese! Warm and cheesy, all melty and gooey, macaroni and cheese done right is one of the best comfort food recipes around.
RELATED RECIPE: Creamy Broccoli Mac & Cheese
And by done right, we mean a southern-style baked macaroni and cheese with that famous soul food melted cheese crust and crispy edges that still has all the creaminess of a quick stove top recipe. Can you really have both? Oh, yes you can!
And here’s the real secret, it’ not that hard! With just a few tips and some simple know-how, you’ll be making this side dish staple for Thanksgiving, holidays and every important event your family has!
Ingredients for Ultimate Pepper Jack Mac & Cheese
- elbow macaroni
- half & half
- sharp cheddar cheese
- pepper jack cheese
- cream cheese
- salt & pepper, onion powder, ground mustard, smoked paprika
- red pepper flakes & dried parsley
The Best Mac & Cheese Starts With The Cheese
- Real deal southern macaroni and cheese includes at least 3 cheeses, sometimes more. This recipe uses cream cheese for a smooth, velvety texture. Sharp cheddar for a bold cheese flavor (The sharper the cheddar cheese you use, the more cheesy your mac & cheese will actually taste), and Pepper Jack for an extra flavor/spicy boost!
- Grating your own cheese is not just a recipe “extra”; it is an absolute MUST. Shredded cheeses that you buy at the store are coated in potato starch or other anti-clumping agents that keep the cheese from clumping together in it’s plastic bag as it’s boxed, shipped and stacked in the cold case at the grocery store. Pretty handy, except that those agents will also keep it from melting smoothly. Use a box grater for this.
- Don’t want to hand grate your cheese? Use a food processor with a shredding blade and just run that cheese right through. Talk about fast!
PRO Tips for Making Homemade Macaroni & Cheese
- A baked mac & cheese is always stiffer than a stove top version. Stove top mac & cheese will always be more creamy. This is recipe incorporates what’s best about both versions. A stove top sauce that spends 2-3 minutes under the boiler to create that craveable melted cheese topping and cooked edges.
- Add your grated cheese to your sauce about a ½ C at a time. Whisk until it melts before you add more.
- Avoid a grainy sauce by making sure your mac & cheese only stays under the broiler 2-3 minutes during the final step. Also cutting the amount of half & half in the sauce with evaporated milk can help. If you’ve followed all the directions and your sauce stills turns out grainy, try 1 ¼ C half & half with 1 C evaporated milk next time.
- As with any pasta dish, it’s important not to over cook the pasta. Make sure the water is boiling when you add the pasta and only cook it 5-6 minutes for a perfect al dente texture that holds up when the hot cheese is added, everything is stirred together and then put under the broiler.
How to Make Pepper Jack Macaroni & Cheese
The other essential for good macaroni and cheese is timeline. Ideally, we want the sauce and the pasta to be ready just about the same time. We don’t one having to sit and wait on the other. The sauce gets thick, the pasta gets cold. Not good. So that everything comes together at just about the same time, make sure:
- You begin to grate your cheeses & make your sauce the minute you put a pot of water on the stove to boil for the macaroni.
- Put the butter in the pot the minute you pour the macaroni out into the colander. This way the boiler will still be HOT and will start to melt the butter before you even put the pasta back in.
- Let the pasta drain for just 1-2 minutes (don’t rinse it) so that it is still warm when you put it back in the boiler on top of the butter. Now that butter is sandwiched between the warm boiler and the warm macaroni and is just melting like… well, hot butter. Now you can gently toss that pasta and move on to putting your mac & cheese together.
- When making your sauce, it’s important to get that egg mixed into that half & half right away, before the cream gets warm, so your eggs don’t curdle. You might even whisk the two together before adding them to your sauce pot.
Other Cheesy Side Dish Recipes You’ll Love
- Smoked Gouda Cheese Grits
- Easy Creamy Fettucine Alfredo
- Creamy Broccoli Mac & Cheese
- Horseradish Mashed Potatoes with Cream Cheese & Garlic
- Ultimate Scalloped Potatoes
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Ultimate Pepper Jack Mac & Cheese
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 1 stick butter
- 2 ¼ cups half & half
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 cups hand grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 cups hand grated pepper jack cheese
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon dried parsely
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon mustard powder
- ¼ teaspoon each salt & pepper
- Turn oven on broil and spray 2-3 quart casserole dish with non stick cooking spray.
- Add pasta to boiling water and cook for 6 minutes. Drain. Return to pot and add butter. When butter melts, stir to coat pasta.
- While water is coming to a boil and pasta is cooking, shred cheeses. In a separate pot, over low heat, add half & half and beaten egg. Whisk together immediately. Add cream cheese whisk while melting.
- Add 1 C each of cheddar & pepper jack cheeses to the cream cheese mixture. Whisk until melted. Add herbs and spices. Whisk until smooth.
- Add pasta to cheese sauce. Stir until all the pasta is coated. Spoon half of the pasta into casserole dish. Top with ½ of the leftover grated cheeses. Spoon in the rest of the pasta and cheese sauce and top with the remaining grated cheeses. Top with a pinch of additional parsley and red pepper for color, if desired.
- Place under broiler just long enough to melt the grated cheese, 2-3 minutes. Remove from oven and serve!
MAKING IT EASY TO HOST & SERVE
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