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How to Melt Cheese for Mac and Cheese

We make macaroni and cheese for the cheese sauce, and this recipe how to shows you how to make the silkiest, creamiest, and most cheesy smooth sauce for mac and cheese every time.

You can use any pasta shape to make mac and cheese, as long as you have a good homemade cheese sauce- that's the money winning ticket!

Cheese sauce is the star of the show, it's what makes a mac and cheese dish reat or just so-so. And this cheese sauce is so delicious, you can even use it on other recipes other than mac n cheese.

close up bowl of macaroni and cheese in white stoneware bowl with course ground black pepper on concrete background

Why Make This Side Dish

  • It's versatile and can easily be jazzed up with more herbs and spices. 
  • This recipe is very easy to scale to make more to feed a larger crowd
  • The creamy, dreamy melty cheese sauce has the perfect texture
  • You only need a handful of basic ingredients for this comfort food recipe
  • Your own classic homemade mac n cheese is ready in only 5 steps 

Ingredients Needed

Grab these ingredients below to make a creamy, dreamy macaroni and cheese that everyone will love. Get more info on all of these ingredients in the recipe card at the bottom of the post. 

  • dry elbow shells- you can also use cellentani pasta or really any other short pasta noodles or different pasta shapes
  • butter- if using salted butter, you'll need less salt to taste later
  • milk- I recommend staying away from skim milk, if you can do whole milk - great that's even more creaminess to your sauce
  • cheddar cheese or white cheddar- shredded off the block. Pre-shredded cheese could be used but it doesn't melt as nicely or give off the same creamy factor as fresh shredded
  • American cheese or cream cheese- really amps up the velvet texture
  • starchy pasta water - reserve some from when you boil the noodles. While this is optional, it is definitely helpful
  • salt and pepper- to taste, so use good quality salt and black pepper
Forking holding mac and cheese.

How to Make Mac and Cheese with the Best Sauce

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add salt to taste. Cook macaroni noodles according to the package instructions.
  2. Right before draining, ladle out ½ cup of that starchy water to reserve for later. Drain pasta in a colander, and set aside for now.
  3. In the same pan, on low heat, add the butter, American cheese or cream cheese, milk, and shredded cheddar. Stir until melted and smooth. Keep heat on the lowest setting to melt the cheese.
  4. Turn off the heat. Toss cooked pasta in sauce until silky and coated, and salt (if necessary) and pepper to taste and serve right away.
  5. Only if necessary, and the sauce seems too thick, ladle in a bit of the pasta water and stir to loosen up.


Easy Mac and Cheese with a homemade sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

When reheating, the best way is to make sure to put it into a microwave-safe bowl and heat it on low power until everything is warmed through. As always, when reheating food, be sure to stir it periodically to avoid burning.

For best results, enjoy your mac and cheese as soon as possible for maximum flavor and texture.

If possible, I don't recommend trying to freeze your dish. The sauce will most likely break when thawing and reheating.

Tips for a Smooth Cheese Sauce

  • Shred cheese off the block for a smooth cheese, never use pre shredded because it won't melt as smoothly since there are anti caking ingredients in it.
  • Use one part semi sharp to sharp cheddar, with one part mild cheddar cheese.
  • Couple that combination with just a bit of either American or cream cheese which will make it ultra silky and creamy.
  • The American cheese or cream cheese acts as an anchor to blend the rest of the cheese into a smooth state.
  • You might not need the pasta water, but if you notice the cheese sauce isn't clinging to the noodles, a splash of this will make the cheese sauce loosen up and stick to the pasta. 

Why is my sauce runny? 

If you end up with sauce that is too runny, you most likely mismeasured something. But, don't worry, you can just make a roux to add to the sauce to thicken it up. 

To make a roux, all you need are equal parts butter and flour. Start by melting the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Then, add the flour and whisk together until it’s well combined with no lumps.

Cook for around 5 minutes until the roux starts to turn a light golden brown color. You want to be careful not to let it burn or else you’ll have to start from scratch. 

Once your roux is ready, slowly add about half of it to your cheese sauce and stir. Then add in the rest and stir again until it is nice and thick.

What else can I use this cheese sauce on? 

This easy homemade mac and cheese sauce is incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes.

You can use it on top of pizza, or as a cheesy topping for vegetables like broccoli.

You could also pour the sauce over cooked chicken breasts for an easy dinner dish. If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, you can even use the cheese sauce on nachos or even on top of a burger!

Options are endless, and oh, so delicious.

What other kinds of cheese can I use? 

If you like other cheese flavors, feel free to experiment here with your favorite different cheeses.

You can try some Monterey jack, pepper jack, or Colby jack or for a sharper flavor, try some sharp cheddar cheese in your creamy cheese sauce.

You can even use a combination of cheeses if you like.

What else can I add to my cheese sauce? 

Extra cheese is never a bad idea, but you can also try out some herbs and spices in your creamy sauce.

For a little heat, add some cayenne pepper, hot pepper flakes, or a dash of hot sauce.

For even more creaminess, swap the milk for heavy cream. Try adding in spices like garlic powder, onion powder, or a dash of ground mustard.

Try topping your mac and cheese sauce with some bread crumbs and parmesan cheese for another fun texture and flavor combo. 

This homemade macaroni and cheese is such a breeze, watch how fast it becomes one of your favorite recipes. 


📖 Recipe

two white bowls of macaroni and cheese with black pepper on concrete background

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese Sauce

Delicious creamy, smooth and cheesy homemade macaroni and cheese on the stove top.
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Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: how to melt cheese for mac and cheese, mac and cheese sauce.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 259kcal
Author: Erin
Cost: $4


  • 8 ounces dry elbow shells, or cellentani pasta
  • 3 tablespoon butter
  • ½ cup milk
  • 8 oz cheddar cheese or white cheddar shredded off block
  • 2 oz American cheese or cream cheese
  • ½ cup starchy pasta water reserved, optional
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salted. Cook pasta according to package instructions.
  • Right before draining, ladle out ½ cup of that starchy water for later. Drain, pasta in a colander, and leave set aside for now.
  • In the same pan, on low heat, add the butter, American cheese or cream cheese, milk and shredded cheddar. Stir until melted and smooth. Keep heat on lowest setting to melt the cheese.
  • Turn off the heat. Toss until silky and coated, and salt (if necessary) and pepper to taste and serve right away.
  • Only if necessary and sauce seems too thick, ladle in a bit of the pasta water and stir to loosen up.


Serving: 1g | Calories: 259kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 39mg | Sodium: 381mg | Potassium: 128mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 385IU | Calcium: 308mg | Iron: 1mg
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