If there’s anyone who knows about macaroni and cheese, it’s Guy Fieri. As host of Guy’s Grocery Games and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Triple D, for short) on Food Network, this “culinary rock star” as he’s known by his fans has tasted mac ‘n cheese in all 46 states he’s visited while filming Triple D.
“I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of mac ‘n cheese,” he says.
How can pasta and cheese possibly go wrong? According to Fieri, “the worst” is when it’s one mushy flat note flavor of “creaminess” where you can’t discern between the pasta and the cheese. “If you can eat it through a straw, that’s bad,” he says.
And what makes the best? Perfectly cooked pasta, properly shaped noodles, and plenty of cheese.
Be picky with your pasta
All pasta is delicious but not all shapes (or sizes) work when it comes to macaroni and cheese. Too large and it won’t get coated with cheese, too small and it’ll get lost in the sauce. “I like a pasta with ridges, so elbows or a small shell,” says Fieri. Those ridges trap the cheese sauce so you get enough in each bite. Cook the noodles as al dente as possible in salted water (“Salt water is the foundation of flavor!”)—they should have a good bite to them, not mushy. “As long as the pasta is hot and in sauce it’ll continue to cook,” he says.
Make a béchamel sauce
This creamy sauce is the critical base for a killer mac ‘ n cheese. It’s made with flour, butter, milk, and nutmeg (and whatever you do, don’t leave that spice out!). “I think a little kiss of nutmeg in there always helps out and nobody will know it’s there,” says Fieri.
Don’t skimp on the cheese
A good cheese blend ensures your macaroni and cheese has layers of flavor and you shouldn’t try to be frugal. “If you buy cheap cheese you’re going to get cheap flavor. If you’re going to eat mac ‘ n cheese, make it a bomb mac ‘ n cheese,” says Fieri. His favorites are cheddar, smoked gouda, a little Monterey, and some parmesan for that saltiness. Shred it up good (“Chunks don’t melt well!”) and sprinkle it in your béchamel with some black pepper and a pinch of paprika. And no matter how hungry you are, be patient. “You can’t rush the melting of the cheese. Let it melt and work itself together,” he says. Stir on medium heat until you’re standing over a lump-free pot of cheese sauce (too high heat will leave you with one big blob of cheese). Then add your pasta and mix until it’s completely coated.
Add some crunch
If you’re a stove-top fan like Fieri, your mac ‘n cheese is done! If a baked mac is your thing, pour it into a casserole dish and pop it in the oven until it bubbles and the top and edges turn golden. Regardless of your type, don’t shove a forkful in your mouth without topping it with some sort of crunchy element. “You need texture! I love pancetta because it’s light and crispy. Crumble bacon, crisp up breadcrumbs, add fresh herbs like scallions or chives, or crush up crackers to sprinkle on top,” says Fieri.
There’s nothing better than a heap of creamy macaroni and cheese…unless it’s on top of a burger. Make cheat day really count by piling a mound on top of a burger, one of Fieri’s favorite ways to eat it. You can taste a mac ‘n cheese burger for yourself at any of his restaurants, including Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar in New York City.