5 Tips for Making a Better Mac and Cheese

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Photo by Angela Carlos

On the Cheesy Special episode of Guy’s Grocery Games, things got cheesy while the chefs competed for the chance to shop for $20,000 in Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Market. In each of the three games, cheese was the focus. The chefs demonstrated their expertise in working with this ingredient by incorporating triple-cream cheese into ice cream bases and using shredded Gouda for a crunchy frico. In the first game, the chefs added everything from pungent blue cheese to classic cheddar into ooey-gooey comfort food dishes.

Not surprisingly, more than one contestant chose to go the macaroni-and-cheese route in Game 1. Here in Food Network Kitchen, we took note of their triumphs and shortcomings in attempting to produce the ultimate macaroni and cheese for the judges. With some tips from the show, as well as a few of our own, we’ve put together a checklist for making the ideal bowl of rich, molten cheese with macaroni.

Use a Roux — or Don’t

To roux or not to roux? You can make a creamy, smooth cheese sauce fast by using a roux, but as we learned from watching the contestants compete, starting with a roux as the base for your sauce risks strangling the delicious cheese flavor.

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Mix and Match Your Cheeses

No matter whether you prefer aged, smoked or tangy cheeses, combining cheeses with different flavors (sharp with mild) and textures (creamy with firm) will add texture and depth to the flavor of your macaroni dish.

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Save Your Pasta Water

If you choose to not use a roux, you might find that your milk- or cream-based cheese sauce is a little thin. Adding some of the starchy pasta water to your sauce will help thicken and bind your sauce together.

Undercook the Pasta

Avoid mushy, overcooked pasta by initially undercooking your macaroni. Subtract one or two minutes from the suggested cooking time on the package. Add your mostly cooked pasta to the sauce and gently warm until the sauce is hot and bubbling and your pasta is perfectly al dente.

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Add Crunchy Toppings

A little crunch can go a long way in adding texture to what can quickly become a mushy bowl of overcooked pasta and heavy cheese. This week, one of the chefs opted for a crunchy pretzel-crumb topping that received praise from the judges. You can also top your macaroni and cheese with panko or herbed breadcrumbs for the same crunchy, flavorful effect.

Watch Guy’s Grocery Games on Sundays at 8|7c.

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