Baked macaroni and cheese with juicy bite sized meatballs is the very definition of comfort food. We bring this easy dinner to the table family style, in a cast iron skillet.
A meaty mac and cheese just makes so much sense this time of year ~ I’m always looking for ways to get a little extra oomph in our meals to help fight the cold. And when food prices are high, meatball macaroni and cheese is an economical meal that everybody gets excited about. This recipe takes our favorite mac and cheese and makes it even more satisfying!
how to make meatball mac and cheese
See the details and exact amounts in the recipe card below.
1. Make your meatballs
Blend together your meatball mixture, roll into small 1 inch balls, and broil for about 5-6 minutes, or until golden. They should be cooked through in that short time because they are small. The interior temp should be 160F.
2. Boil the pasta
Cook pasta two minutes shy of package directions so it’s nice and al dente. You don’t want to fully cook it because it will continue to cook in the oven. Drain and put into your skillet or baking dish.
3. make the cheese sauce
Make the cheese sauce in a saucepan and when it’s smooth and creamy pour over the pasta. Stir to mix well.
4. Top with meatballs
Nestle the meatballs down into the mac and cheese. It looks good enough to devour already!
Bake your meatball macaroni and cheese in a low oven until bubbling throughout. I like to run it under a low broiler for a little extra browning, but you need to watch it like a hawk!
You’ll never get tired of this meatball macaroni and cheese!
Why? You can switch out the different cheeses for your sauce in endless combinations. Get as homey or as fancy as you like. Switch out the pasta shapes, too. Your meatballs can be made with ground turkey or chicken if you don’t eat beef or pork.
Instead of making your own meatballs, you can use ready made. Or simply roll sausage meat into instant meatballs (one of my favorite tricks ~ see it in this recipe for Sausage Carbonara.)
For a baked macaroni and cheese like this I think pre-shredded cheese is absolutely fine, there are some very good brands out there (I like Tillamook and Sargento.) And you can choose any variety you like, just remember that sharp cheese is best for mac and cheese because it has a stronger flavor that won’t get ‘lost in the sauce’.
want to know a secret?
I’ve learned that if you add a tiny bit of processed cheese (a Kraft single, or cube of Velveeta) to your cheese sauce it will make it extra creamy and prevent it from curdling or separating, even when you use aged cheeses which are notoriously hard to melt into a silky sauce. I’ve tested this many times now and I’m convinced it makes a big difference.
more pasta for dinner
- Cacio e Pepe Macaroni and Cheese
- Pimento Macaroni and Cheese
- Mushroom Carbonara with Gruyere and Hazelnuts
- Farfalle with Salmon, Lemon, and Peas
- Jamie Oliver’s Easy Sausage Carbonara
- Breakfast Pasta Carbonara
Meatball Macaroni and Cheese
- large skillet, casserole, or 9×13 baking dish
- 1/2 lb ground beef
- 1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage meat
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
- 1 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp each, coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper
- Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until 2 minutes shy of the package instructions. Drain and set aside. Don't rinse your pasta, or add oil to it.
- Meanwhile mix together the meatball ingredients until well combined, but don't over work the meat. I like to do this in my stand mixer.
- Form small 1" meatballs and place on an oiled baking sheet. Depending on size, you should get around 30. Set your oven rack on the second from top level and broil the meatballs for about 5-6 minutes, until browned and done through. Give the pan a shake a couple of times so they brown on all sides. Watch carefully because they will cook fast. Their internal temperature should be 160F. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 325F
- In a medium saucepan melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly, for a minute or so. Don't let it brown.
- Slowly add the milk, while whisking to blend well. I switch to a silicone spoon at this point so I can scrape down all areas of the pan. Heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a simmer and thickens slightly. Don't let it boil.
- Remove from the heat and slowly stir in the shredded cheese. Stir to encourage all the cheese to melt. You can put it back on the warm burner if you have trouble getting it all to melt. Season with salt, if necessary, pepper, and a sprinkle of nutmeg.
- Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and mix well. Turn into your skillet or baking dish. Nestle the meatballs into the mac and cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until bubbling throughout. You can run it under the broiler briefly if you want more browning, but watch very carefully so it doesn't burn.