Love the Crunchy Topping on Mac and Cheese? Get a Whole Pan Full

If you can never get enough of the crispy, chewy topping on your favorite baked mac, try this method — using a pan you already have in your kitchen.

A mug filled to the brim with macaroni and cheese topped with breadcrumbs.
Photo: Faith N/Allrecipes

Who doesn't love the crunchy bits of macaroni and cheese when it comes out of the oven all hot and bubbling? This had us wondering, is there a way to make this dish and have everyone get a piece of the crispy topping that forms in the heat of the oven?

Swapping out the casserole dish for your sheet pan can help make the most of those favorite bits — along with a combination of cheese and bread crumbs of course. Here's what you want to keep in mind if you want to get the delightful crunchy topping on mac and cheese so that everyone can get a piece for themselves.

The Many Layers of Mac and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is one of those well-loved dishes that can go in so many different directions depending on how it is prepared. Some versions are a gooey mixture of pasta and melted cheese stirred in a pot on the stovetop, and other versions transfer all that melted cheese goodness to a baking dish to be finished in the oven. The advantage of the oven recipes for many mac fans is that the top layer gets a golden, crunchy texture.

Many recipes call for a topping of bread crumbs to give a contrast in texture between the top layer and the creamy, cheesy center. This gives the dish the crunch factor on top. But it usually takes some cooking time at a high cooking temp to get the layers just right.

If the focus of your macaroni and cheese experience is to embrace the crispy pieces of the outer edges of a baked creation, a simple piece of kitchen equipment can help make it happen.

The Science Behind Your Mac and Cheese

But first, let's talk about what's happening in the oven. When a traditional dish of baked macaroni and cheese gets directly exposed to the oven's heat, only the topping gets those crispy bits — the rest of the dish does not.

Exposing the dish to a higher temp or longer cooking time will give the dish a golden layer on top, but that blast of heat will risk breaking your creamy sauce. The cheese in the lower part of the dish can start to break down resulting in an unpleasant grainy interior.

So what if everyone wants that crunchy top layer?

Grab Your Sheet Pan

Enter your aluminum sheet pan! This handy piece of kitchen equipment is probably in the cabinet right now. It usually comes to the rescue with a one-pan meal on a busy weeknight.

The increased surface area when you spread the pasta and cheese sauce out on a baking pan means the pasta pieces combined with milk and cheese can be exposed to the heat of the oven in one even layer. This makes for a mac and cheese where every single bite will have that crispy edge experience.

Baking this version of macaroni and cheese on a metal sheet pan, instead of a glass or ceramic baking dish, will conduct the heat evenly and allow the ingredients to bake through as a single layer. An added bonus is that this method also means the dish will cook fairly quickly, which makes it a great time saver on a weeknight. Or it can work as a holiday side that doesn't need too much added attention.

Sidenote: This method also works with your favorite pre-packaged frozen macaroni and cheese when arranged in a single layer on the pan.

Try This Mac and Cheese Method for Yourself

Get started with a favorite mac and cheese recipe to create what will be a new crowd favorite.

Boil the pasta for your macaroni and cheese and keep tender and firm to the bite. Stir it together with the ingredients for the cheese sauce, adding milk and cream, a kick of Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and grated Cheddar cheese, or whatever you choose to add to your liking. Mix until combined and spread the mixture out onto a prepared baking sheet.

Now for that topping everyone wants: Combine panko bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, and garlic salt in a bowl. Sprinkle this mixture over the macaroni and cheese on the baking sheet. Place some butter in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat until melted to drizzle over the macaroni and cheese as well.

Bake until bubbly, and voila! Everyone gets the crunchy mac and cheese topping.

Updated by Andrea Lobas
Was this page helpful?
You’ll Also Love