Cracker Barrel mac and cheese is creamy, cheesy, simple and delicious. At a chain well known for its quirky, old-fashioned atmosphere and gold-standard American comfort food, this dish is one of the classics. Like the restaurant, it isn’t flashy, it isn’t trendy, or complicated—but it’s timeless.
It’s true that a really good family recipe for homemade mac and cheese can be amazing (secret ingredient: love. Other secret ingredient: the million little tweaks a home cook has made over the years to perfect it), if we’re talking eating out, there is no restaurant whose macaroni and cheese I love more than Cracker Barrel’s.
It is one of their most popular sides. (Why it’s a “side” and not an entrée is a little baffling—who doesn’t want more mac and cheese?)
It’s also surprisingly simple to make at home. This recipe replicates their mac and cheese in its simple, gooey excellence.
I used to find the whole idea of making a “roux” intimidating. That’s because I didn’t actually know what you did to make it, just that it was called for in cream sauces and sounded very French and quite complicated. The French part is true, but when I finally learned exactly what it was, it was ridiculously simple. A roux is nothing more than fat (usually butter) and flour whisked together until it has a pale, almost whipped texture. And it creates some kind of alchemy when used as the base for creamy sauces. Butter, flour, stirring. Magic.
How to Make Cracker Barrel Mac n Cheese
The ingredients are simple, and the recipe doesn’t take long at all, but it does require your focus and attention for a couple of minutes while the sauce comes together; timing and constant whisking are essential to avoid lumps.
It is a little unusual that the copycat Cracker Barrel mac and cheese uses only Colby cheese when most mac and cheese recipes call for cheddar or a blend of cheeses. It will surprise you, though, with how creamy and flavorful it is.
Tips & Tricks
If you can, buy the Colby cheese as a block and grate it instead of buying pre-shredded cheese. By weight, the pre-shredded cheese is more expensive and not quite as flavorful. It’s also sometimes coated with preservatives to keep it from sticking, which means it won’t melt as easily.
If you don’t have a large enough cast-iron skillet, you can make the cheese sauce in a regular pan and then combine the sauce and noodles in a casserole dish. Then bake (don’t broil) in the oven until the cheese sprinkled on top is browning.
This is also a good idea if you’re making the dish to bring to a potluck or you’re making it in advance to reheat later.
If you want to make it in advance, the mac and cheese can be assembled and will keep in the fridge for two days. Cook the pasta just a little bit less than you would otherwise, and let the cheese sauce and the macaroni both cool completely before combining. Cover tightly with plastic wrap until you’re ready to heat and serve. Sprinkle with the reserved 1/2 cup of cheese right before it goes in the oven.
It’s very cute to make the mac and cheese in individual servings. Divide the mac and cheese into small oven-safe dishes or ramekins and sprinkle each one with cheese before broiling. Kids love having individual dishes made for them, but make sure that little hands can be careful of the hot dishes.
Cracker Barrel uses Colby cheese in their Mac and Cheese. All cheese is good cheese, though. You might enjoy experimenting with other cheeses, like Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, etc. Any cheese that melts will work—it’s a great way to use up leftover cheese from another dish.
Of course, you don’t have to use traditional elbow macaroni. Any pasta that holds sauce well will work. Shells, penne or rotini are great. Or cavatappi—a variation on macaroni, larger and spiral-shaped instead of elbow—is a fun twist (pun intended).
Some favorites additions for pepping up mac and cheese:
-Red pepper flakes
-Spinach and artichoke
-Peas and broccoli
This is great for a family meal (and no matter how the Cracker Barrel menu lists it, you can absolutely make this an entrée for kids AND adults).
It’s a must for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. If you need, you can reheat mac and cheese safely the next day.
It’s fabulous for a potluck, because it doesn’t have to be piping hot to be amazing. And you will be The Person Who Brought Mac and Cheese. Everyone will love you.
This recipe—6 ingredients, super simple, creamy and cheesy and delicious—really is just about perfect.