Yes! Make Mac and Cheese Ahead (And It’ll Still Be Amazing)

Marria Beklavac By Marria Beklavac

Okay, imagine this – the party’s in full swing, and everyone’s raving about your spread. But your stomach’s growling, and all you can think about is a big bowl of mac and cheese.

Problem is, you’re the host! Can you pull off a cheesy miracle without ditching your guests? Let’s have a look…

Can You Make Mac and Cheese Ahead of Time?

Absolutely yes! Making mac and cheese well ahead of time is not only possible but can also be incredibly convenient for people with busy schedules. 

It doesn’t matter if you have hectic work schedule all through the week and need to prep up your weekly meals, host a family gathering or simply plan a busy weekend dinner, cooked mac and cheese well in advance can save you from a lot of stress and time. 

A comprehensive knowhow of the culinary techniques and different storage methods help if you want to enjoy a delicious mac and cheese meal at a later time. 

How to Make Mac and Cheese Ahead of Time

Making mac and cheese, a comfort food for people of all ages ahead in time can be a definite gamechanger. Here are a few important points to note before you plan to cook and store your favorite mac and cheese. 

  • Pasta Al dente is perfection. Pasta cooked till Al Dente works best when your plan is to make mac and cheese in advance. This helps in preventing the dish from going mushy. After cooking pasta to achieve the al dente texture, rinse it thoroughly under cold water and drain the colander. This stops the cooking process. It also removes excess starch and prevents pasta from sticking together.  

Pasta continues to absorb moisture while it sits. Undercooking the dish initially helps to maintain the dish’s texture even at a later stage. 

  • Make-ahead friendly sauce A good make-ahead preparation of cheese sauce is one where the creamy cheese sauce does not separate or become grainy upon reheating. 

Did you know that mac and cheese cooked on the stove top or baked are both suitable to be cooked ahead of time? Which is your choice? 

  • Cooling, Assembling and storing the Mac and Cheese
  • Spread the cooked pasta evenly on a baking sheet in a single layer to avoid clumping. You may line the sheet with a silicon mat or a parchment paper. This ensures the pasta to cool evenly. 
  • Once the cheese is prepared, transfer the contents into a storage container and continue to stir. 
  • Allow the pasta and cheese to cool down. This takes about 2 hours. 

It is important to cook and cool down the pasta and cheese sauce separately. This prevents any bacterial formation in the dish and thus, the storing condition is at par to maintain food safety. 

Now, combine the pasta and cheese thoroughly in a bowl. Make sure that all the layers of pasta are evenly coated with the sauce. Your creamy dish is ready to be stored. Shift the contents to the right container, according to how you want to cook the final dish. 

  • Bake: cover the dish tightly with a foil paper or plastic wrap and store your dish.   
  • Stove-top: A sealed container works best.  
  • Microwave: Store individual portions in air tight zip lock bags or containers
  • Reheating the Delicious Mac and cheese 

Reheating pasta al dente can be done in three easy ways.  

  • Oven: For baked mac and cheese, preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C), cover with foil to prevent drying out, and reheat for approximately 20 – 30 minutes. Do you love a crispy top layer in your mac and cheese? Well, if your answer is a yes, then remove the foil after 20 minutes and reheat for another 10 minutes. 
  • Stovetop: Reheat mac and cheese in a saucepan over low to medium heat. Stir occasionally to prevent overheating. In case you find the cheese sauce dry or too thick, you may add a splash of milk or cream. Adjust the seasoning accordingly. 
  • Microwave: You may heat individual portions in microwave-safe dishes for about 2 – 3 minutes. Stir-in at regular intervals of about 1 minute to prevent overheating.

PS: Reheating time varies depending on the reheating technique used, the quantity, thickness and initial temperature of the dish.

Serve immediately after reheating to enjoy the creamy cheesy goodness on your plate. 

Pro Baking Tips 

How about adding a touch of crispiness to your mac and cheese? Let’s make it easy for you with these options. 

  • Mix melted butter with crushed crackers or breadcrumbs and spread it evenly. 
  • Shred cheddar cheese for the golden crust on your dish 
  • Add parmesan cheese if you like it creamier with a nutty flavor. 
  • What more? Combine two or more cheese toppings to create your customised dish. 
  • Seasonings like parsley, thyme and rosemary are good choices. Combine these with onion and garlic powder to enhance the flavors. 

Make these creative additions to your dish and flaunt your culinary skills

  • At a fun twist to you weekend party with a mac and cheese bar. Allow your guests to indulge in different toppings and seasonings to customise their plate. 
  • Use muffin tins, chocolate tarts and moulds to bake bite-size appetizers. 
  • Golden cheesy bites – bake till the top layer of the cheesy bite turns crispy and golden   
  • Install a live mac and cheese counter for your guests. You can serve mac and cheese in the form of mini waffles, grilled bell peppers, slider buns with a dollop of barbeque sauce, tacos, stuffed mushrooms, grilled cheese with crispy bacon bits and lot more. 

Freezing Fully Assembled Mac And Cheese Vs. Freezing Components Separately

Freezing Mac and cheese for later is possible. It usually depends on how long you would like to freeze the dish and the freezing technique used. 

  • For Consumption within 3-4 days: If you plan to use the mac and cheese within 3-4 days of freezing, you may store the fully assembled dish promptly in the refrigerator.  
  • For consumption with a week or two: If you have a large batch of cooked mac and cheese al dente, then storing the individual portions in the freezer is a good idea. You may consider using freezer safe containers or zip-lock bags. 
  • For long term consumption: If you plan to store mac and cheese for a month or two, then its likely that you store the pasta and cheese sauce separately. This prevents any kind of bacterial formation on the food. 

Ideal Storage Containers For Mac And Cheese

  • Zip-lock or vacuum sealed bags 
  • Air-tight containers 
  • Aluminium foil
  • Freezer safe containers or casseroles with ceramic or glass fit lids 
  • Silicon Freezer trays with individual compartments 
  • Freezer paper and freezer bags 

Thawing Mac And Cheese 

Thawing mac and cheese properly is essential if you intend to maintain the food safety and quality. Here are the different thawing options – 

  • Overnight in the fridge: This thawing method preserves the texture and flavor of the dish perfectly. Also, it is the safest method that minimizes the possibilities of bacterial growth. 
  • Cold water bath: This is a relatively fast thawing method and can take anywhere between 30 minutes to several hours depending on the quantity.
  •  Microwave thawing: This is the fastest thawing method for mac and cheese. However, it requires continued monitoring to prevent drying up or overheating. 

Are All Mac And Cheese Dishes Suited For Freezing? 

Well, it is important for you to note that not all mac and cheese dishes are suited for freezing long time. Mac and cheese cooked with one of the following ingredients may turn into a dissatisfying eating experience. 

  • Heavy cream and delicate sauces can turn dry and grainy. 
  • Added veggies like spinach and tomato tend to turn mushy.  
  • Toppings like bread crumbs may turn soggy 
  • Eggs can become rubbery or grainy upon freezing. 
  • Dairy substitutes have different thawing properties. 

How Long Can You Store Make-Ahead Mac and Cheese? 

Make-ahead mac and cheese can be stored for as long as one to two months; if stored correctly. However, the smoothness, texture and taste might change with time. 

Ill-suited freezing and incorrect timeframe for storage can deplete the quality of the food and also prompt harmful bacterial growth.  

While storing and freezing mac and cheese for long time is technically safe, the quality begins to diminish rapidly after a certain point. Over the time, the mac and cheese might lose its taste and texture.  

One good idea is to store individual portions of the dish and use it as per your requirement. This way, the frozen mac and cheese remains untouched and good to use when needed. 

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By Marria Beklavac Owner
Hey there! I'm Marria Beklavac, a barista by trade and a cook by heart. My culinary journey started at 12, inspired by my grandpa, who first introduced me to the wonders of cooking. His passion sparked mine, leading me to a life where each meal is an adventure. In Terra's Kitchen, I blend my love for coffee with my zeal for cooking to share my culinary exploits with you. This blog is my space to share the joys, discoveries, and lessons from my kitchen to yours. Welcome aboard – let's cook up some magic together!