Make-Ahead Creamy Mac and Cheese for 300

I have made Mac and Cheese dozens of times during my three years of working at the IPC kitchen, but I was never quite satisfied with the result. Creamy, yet flavorful mac and cheese for 300 seemed like a distant, unachievable goal.

However, I was inspired to give it another try after reading Jenna's post on her success of making Mac and Cheese. Though I could not use her exact recipe (it contained blue cheese; we have too many young palates who wouldn't be too keen on that) I wanted to give it another try. Creamy Mac and Cheese or bust!

Cook elbow pasta alente. I cooked 12 pounds of pasta and used six full-size disposable, aluminum steam pans for easy clean up. This can be done up to two days ahead. Toss a bit of melted butter before storing. Bring to room temperature before adding cheese sauce.

For cheese sauce, make blonde roux: cook butter until it begins to foam. Add dry mustard, freshly grated garlic, and cayenne pepper.

Add equal amount of flour and cook until light golden.

Whisk in chicken broth and milk slowly. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking often until slightly thickened.

Add freshly grated sharp cheddar and Colby cheese. Colby cheese gave the sauce the smooth texture I was after.

Divide and pour cheese sauce over pasta. Adjust with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil.

This is not a necessary step for home cooks. But for large volume cooking, use stainless steel steam pans to support the weight of the food, since thin aluminum disposable pans are used. Then, carefully pour a little hot water between two pans to keep the pasta edges from burning. Hot water acts as an added insulation to the pans, keeping the temperature even throughout the pans.

For crisp, buttery topping, toss Panko bread crumbs, a dash of paprika or dry rub, and melted butter. Spread it on a rimmed cookie sheet and toast in oven for 8-12 minutes. After mac and cheese is completely heated through, sprinkle topping right before serving.

Ahhh. Finally...dreamy, creamy Mac and Cheese! I was so thrilled! Thank you so much for the inspiration, Jenna!

Make-Ahead Baked Mac and Cheese
Serves 6-8 (sit down dinner); buffet 16-18; portioned and served 25+

2 Cups of Toasted Panko Bread Crumbs (see note below)
1 pound elbow macaroni, or any small pasta
1 tablespoon table salt
6 tablespoons (3 oz) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons ((1.8 oz) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 medium garlic clove, grated
2 1/4 cups chicken broth
3 1/3 cups milk
1 pound Colby cheese , shredded (4 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , shredded (2 cups)
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Make the topping and set aside. Bring 4-5 quarts of water to boil, add 1 tablespoon of salt and pasta. Stir and cook until just beginning to softened and firm in the center to bite. About 5-7 minutes depending on the quantity. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

2. Wipe the pot dry and heat the pot medium heat. Add butter and melt, stir in the garlic, mustard, and cayenne for about 30 seconds until fragrant and butter begins to foam. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden.

3. Gradually whisk in broth and milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken). Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until slightly thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes (requires more if cooking a large amount). Off heat, whisk in cheeses until cheeses are fully melted. Add pasta and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Pour into 13x9 inch baking dish.

4. To Store: After cooling, wrap the dish tightly with plastic wrap first then foil. Refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze up to 1 month. Thaw completely and bring the casserole to room temperature before baking. Toast, cool, then freeze bread crumbs.

5. To serve: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove plastic wrap! But cover tightly with foil. Bake until the filling is hot throughout, 40-45 minutes. Add topping and serve.

Toasted Panko Topping:
2 Cups of Panko Bread Crumb
1 teaspoon of paprika or dry rub mixture
4 tablespoon melted unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Toss bread crumbs, paprika (or dry rub) and melted butter in a bowl. Spread out over a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring until toasted. 8-12 minutes. Cool completely.

Make-ahead tips:
Make the casserole and refrigerate up to 2 days. Or freeze up to 1 month. Thaw in refrigerator completely in the refrigerator about 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before baking in oven.
For serving 300 people: for 12 lbs of pasta, make recipe X 11 for the cheese sauce.

3-4 Days ahead: all cheese was shredded with food processor and stored in refrigerator.

Up to 6 hours ahead: cooked 12 pounds of pasta, drain, drizzle some melted butter & store in 6 full-size disposable steam pans until ready to bake
**toast topping, cool completely and set aside

Up to 3 hours ahead: make cheese sauce, divide and pour into 6 pans. Cover with foil and set aside until ready to bake.

1 hour ahead: Put 1 1/2 cups hot water between 2 layers of pan. Bake until filling is hot. Before serving, generously sprinkle topping.


  1. This looks so comforting and delicious! My kids would go wild for this! They love Mac n Cheese! I am going to make this asap! : )

  2. Miss Kay, the first photo on your blog is gorgeous!!! I love the lighting and the back drop!!! Absolutely wonderful! :)

  3. Kay, Your mac and cheese looks so good(One of my favorite dishes)! Congrats on achieving your goals with it! I am so impressed with all the food you make...It never looks cafeteria style/industrial/mass produced, rather it always looks like it came out of your home kitchen! Delicious:)

  4. This sounds really good. My husband occasionally asks for mac and cheese - will try this one next time. Thanks.

  5. Kay, this looks delicious! I will not make it for 300 but for 6!
    Hugs to you today!

  6. You are a very brave woman cooking for 300 people! You would have no problem becoming a caterer! :)

  7. I'll have to try this! I've had more mac and cheese failures than I can count, and when I saw this recipe on TK I immediately put it into my recipe box. Thanks for recommending it--now I know for sure that I have to try it.

  8. Super impressive, so simply..except for that fact you cooked for 300! wozer. I hope you had a blessed weekend.

  9. Mac & Cheese for 300 is no mean feat. When I was training & still an apprentice, we cooked regularly for over 500, so I know what goes into this. Congratulations, glad it turned out a winner.

  10. My husband made mac and cheese one night and used panko bread crumbs as topping, something I've never done and it was great! I can't imagine cooking for 30 people let alone 30!

  11. Looks delish! I have a question about the steam pans. We do a lot of potluck dinners at church and was wondering if I did a small amount of water in an aluminum pan and then placed my dish (in another aluminum pan) on top, if it would have the same effect. I always bring my food at 9 a.m. and we don't eat till 12 noon. I end up trying to bring something that doesn't have to be hot. We do not have any warming capabilities in our fellowship hall.

    1. Dear Sarah....you can have your church purchase a steam rack pan holder which holds 2 gel burners. You can put a pan of water, then your pan of mac and cheese and then light the gel burners . The gel burners keep food hot for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

    2. You can also make this and put it in a large crock pot to keep warm until serving. :)

  12. Ahhhh, nothing's as good as classic mac! So many great memories! I work at a camp during this summer, and mac, hand's down, is the all-time favorite!
    I can't wait to try this recipe!

  13. For 300?! Wow! The panko crust makes this mac 'n cheese so enticing.

  14. I REALLY hope I don;t have to make anything let alone a mac n cheese for 300 people!! U are a super hero seriously :-)
    But those are some really good tips. Will keep them in mind.

  15. so much cheese, so little time! i love the breadcrumb topping--it's an essential component to a good mac and cheese!

  16. I love your usage of panko bread crumbs! That's the only kind of bread crumbs I use :)

    I hope the Secret Circus will be fun.. I've actually never been a circus before haha

  17. I've never made mac and cheese! Yours look so gourgeous! I'll have to make it untill weekend!
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe!

  18. a friend of mine recently told me she was planning on making mac and cheese for her own wedding reception. this is perfect, love all the make-ahead and scaling-up tips...just forwarded the link to her! :)

  19. How can you make this ahead when I already wanna eat it now!!!!!

  20. Ms. Kay, this looks delightful! I can never get my homemade mac n cheese just right - this is one I simply will have to try! YUM!!

  21. Cooking for 300? Amazing...and so nicely done...so comforting and tasty :-)

  22. Hi Kay-It's amazing how you extended your recipe for 300...Wow, when I cooked for the church, the largest capacity was 200, and never made mac and cheese, just tons of rice, spaghetty and mashed potatoes, as a side dish.
    Love your recipe, and also the addition of the chicken broth...the only thing I would change is 1 teaspoon of salt, instead of 1 Tablespoon, since the chicken broth, and the cheese has sodium in it.
    Fabulous, Kay...I applaud you!

  23. Thanks for this ...I've never quite gotten a good Mac & Cheese result either! I'll try it.

    Also, I wanted to tell you ...in case I hadn't...I love your name ...every time i read "Heritage" I think "What a neat name!"

  24. that was a super ambitious task for sure! wonderful work, though!

  25. I will never, ever use anything but Panko bread crumbs again! Where have they been all my life?! Why have I never heard of them before?! I must've ate a whole cup of the toasted crumb topping before I sprinkled it on the mac 'n' cheese - which was also fabulous! Thanks, Kay!

    Katie M.

  26. You are so welcome, Katie! My pantry is never without it! You can find this at a Korean/Asian market much cheaper than American grocery stores. Or on Amazon.com (and no they didn't pay me to promote them) :)

  27. I'm not familiar with Colby cheese is that the yellowish color like sharp cheddar or is it the one like mozzarella color. Thanks.

  28. Hi, Elajr! Welcome! Colby is much milder and softer than cheddar. I have seen colby as yellow as cheddar and some without yellow coloring. Either way, the texture is milder and softer even mozzarella.

  29. I'm trying to price for my wedding, do you recall how much was the cost?

    1. Hey, Ashley! I'm running off to work this morning, but I'll come back and answer your question! :)

    2. Ashley, please email me directly and I can help with pricing. If you have whole sale club like Sam's, it will be cheaper than buying ingredients from local grocery store. I also need to know how many you will be serving. email me at thechurchcook@gmail.com

  30. Could you please tell me your portion size that gives 300 servings from 12 lbs of pasta? (Is it a 1-cup serving or smaller?) Trying to figure out how much I need to make for our school kitchen.

    Also, do you think I could hot hold it in the oven (over the pan of water) for an hour or more to serve all of our shifts? Thanks!

    1. Hi, there! Sorry for delayed response. It will be a 1/2 cup portion. The cheesy sauce and pasta really make a big batch. And when you serve with main dish with a side or two, 1/2 cup of mac is plenty! :)

  31. I'd love to see the ingredients list for the three hundred. I cook for our church and could use this recipe>

    Thanks in advance