Gluten Free Mac and Cheese
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Gluten Free Mac and Cheese is creamy and cheesy, made with gluten free pasta in a homemade cheese sauce and topped with a crispy breadcrumb topping, ready in under 45 minutes!
This recipe is a household favorite because it’s pretty easy to make with only a few simple steps! It’s the perfect comfort food for the weekend. I like to serve this with a protein (like grilled chicken or steak), and a light side salad or vegetable like steamed broccoli.
We’re also adding 1/4 cup parmesan cheese to the crunchy topping, for that sharp cheesy parmesan flavor. You could also use extra cheddar cheese if you don’t have parmesan, or just use breadcrumbs.
Ingredients You’ll Need
Gluten Free Pasta. I’m having an easier time finding gluten free macaroni noodles (aka gluten free elbow pasta) lately. Especially ones that don’t fall apart in a mac and cheese recipe, so if you have that available to you, then use it!
If not, a gluten free penne or rotini pasta will work fine.
The key here is to cook the pasta according to package instructions, but stop it a little early. The pasta needs to be an al dente texture (not quite soft yet), so it can finish cooking while it’s baking.
If you add pasta that’s really soft already, it’ll end up being mushy once the dish is done. I always give the pasta a rinse in cold water after I drain it, to stop it from cooking any further while I prepare the cheese sauce.
Gluten Free Flour. Use your favorite gluten free all-purpose flour blend here. The gluten free flour is key for thickening the cheese sauce. I use my regular 1:1 gluten free baking flour, the same one that I use for my baking recipes.
Milk. The amount of fat in the milk will help determine how rich, creamy, and thick the cheese sauce turns out.
I use regular whole milk. If you want it lighter, use 2% milk or skim milk. For a heavier sauce, use heavy cream or half and half.
Unsalted Butter. I use unsalted butter, so I can control how much salt goes in the recipe later. If you use salted butter, I’d leave the salt out of the seasoning, then just add to taste right before mixing the cheese sauce and pasta together.
Cheese. We’re using two types of cheese! Sharp cheddar cheese, and a creamy gruyere. You can use all cheddar if that’s what you have, or add a pepper jack for flavor.
It’s important to buy a block of cheese and shred it yourself. I do this pretty quickly in the food processor, check your model for how to do this properly.
The pre-shredded cheese has added ingredients to prevent it from caking together in the bag, but this also stops it from melting right for a cheese sauce.
Gluten Free Breadcrumbs. I use plain gluten free breadcrumbs. You can use seasoned breadcrumbs here, too.
Parmesan Cheese. Adding parmesan cheese to the breadcrumb topping adds a lot of cheesy flavor, and also helps it get crispy!
Spices. We’re not going too crazy, just some kosher salt and black pepper, with paprika for flavor and color, and nutmeg to help balance some of the flavors.
Olive Oil. Once your pasta is drained, you want to drizzle it with some olive oil. This keeps it from sticking together and makes it easier to work with later.
How to Make Gluten Free Mac and Cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cook your pasta according to package directions, but stop when the pasta is al dente.
- In an oven-safe pot or dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Then sprinkle in the flour, and whisk together until the flour begins to brown and smell slightly nutty. Once this happens, very slowly add the milk. Whisk often until the mixture begins to thicken, about 3-5 minutes.
- When it starts to thicken, add the grated cheese and stir together. When the cheese is melted, remove from the heat and stir in the pasta.
- In a separate bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Add melted butter and stir everything together. Add evenly to the top of the mac and cheese, then bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes, or until topping is golden brown. If you want a crispier topping, turn the broiler on for 1-2 minutes, watching closely so it doesn’t burn.
Refrigerate leftover gluten free mac and cheese for 3-4 days in an air-tight container. When reheating, add a splash of milk and stir everything together to help with the texture.
Freeze mac & cheese for 2-3 months, wrapped tightly in an airtight container. But this dish is best when it’s just made.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best cheeses for mac and cheese are cheddar and gruyere, in my opinion. The cheddar melts and adds a nice flavor, plus the classic mac and cheese color.
Gruyere has a strong aroma, but when mixed in the cheese sauce with the cheddar it becomes really creamy and rich, and just rounds out the flavor of the cheddar nicely.
Monterey jack and pepper jack are also really nice options for mac and cheese.
Mac and cheese gets the creaminess from the fat in the milk, butter, and cheese. Avoid using low or nonfat items for a really creamy mac and cheese.
Also, don’t over-cook the cheese sauce, go low and slow, whisking often. When you’re adding the milk, add it very slowly. If you add the milk too quickly, it can make the sauce have a gritty texture.
If you don’t add the breadcrumb topping, there is no need to bake the mac and cheese. You can just enjoy it from there!
If you want a crispy topping, then baked mac and cheese is the way to go.
More Gluten Free Pasta Dishes
- Greek Pasta Salad
- Chicken Broccoli Alfredo Bake
- One Pot Easy Chicken Alfredo
- One Pot Chicken Parmesan and Pasta
How to Make Mac and Cheese Dairy Free
If you want a dairy free version, make a few easy substitutions. Always check your ingredients for gluten or dairy, because some things can vary by brand.
Keep in mind that the fat from the dairy-based ingredients helps make the sauce creamy, so you may have a thinner cheese sauce.
Cheese. Use a dairy-free cheese option. There are a few vegan cheeses that melt well, just make sure they are also gluten free. I find the nut-based cheeses have a better flavor.
Milk. You can use a dairy-free milk, like unsweetened almond milk or canned coconut milk. Check the brand to make sure it’s gluten free.
You can also use vegetable broth, but the sauce will be a darker color and the flavor will remind you of gravy (it will still taste ok).
Butter. Use a vegan butter option that is gluten free, or canola oil.
Parmesan. Omit the parmesan entirely and add the same amount of breadcrumbs into the topping instead.
- You can add other spices according to your taste. Try a teaspoon garlic powder, teaspoon mustard powder, or a teaspoon onion powder.
- Use white cheddar for white cheddar mac and cheese. The gruyere would also work fine in a white sauce.
- If you don’t have bread crumbs, you can throw some plain gluten free cereal (like plain Chex, not the sweet kind) in a food processor and use that. You can also use cracker crumbs, just pulse gluten free crackers in the food processor a few times to make the cracker crumbs.
- Add some chili powder, cayenne pepper, or red chili flakes for a spicy flavor.
- For a more complete meal, add some cooked pieces of chicken or cooked ground beef when you mix in the cooked pasta.
- Shred the cheese yourself from a block! Store-bought shredded cheese has anti-caking ingredients that don’t melt well in a cheesy sauce. Start with a block of cheddar cheese.
- I like to make this in a dutch oven, so I can go from making the cheese sauce and straight to the oven in the same pan. You can also just transfer the mac and cheese to a baking dish instead. Make sure to spray the baking dish with cooking spray.
- Gluten free pasta does best when rinsed with cold water, which is the opposite of regular pasta (most of the time).
If you loved this recipe, be sure to leave a 5 Star review below, and tag me with a photo of your finished recipe on Instagram @Jacqui_DishingDelish!
Gluten Free Mac and Cheese
- 12 oz gluten free pasta, elbow or rigatoni
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup gluten free all-purpose flour, 1:1
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3 cups sharp cheddar cheese , shredded
- 2 cups gruyere cheese , shredded
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
For the Topping
- 3/4 cup gluten free breadcrumbs, plain
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 Dutch oven (or a pot and a baking dish)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cook your pasta according to package directions to al dente. Drizzle with the olive oil and stir it together to prevent the pasta from sticking.
- In a dutch oven, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and whisk in the flour. When it begins to brown, slowly add the milk and spices while whisking. Keep stirring until the mixture begins to thicken, about 3-5 minutes.
- When it starts to thicken, add all of the shredded cheese and stir everything together. When the cheese is melted and creamy, remove from the heat and stir in the pasta.
- In a separate bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Add remaining melted butter and stir everything together. Add evenly to the top of the mac and cheese, then bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes, or until topping is golden brown.
- If you want a crispier topping, turn the broiler on for 1-2 minutes, watching closely so it doesn’t burn.
- Shred the cheese yourself from a block! Store-bought shredded cheese has anti-caking ingredients that don’t melt well in a cheesy sauce.
- I make this in a dutch oven, so I can go from stovetop straight into the oven in the same pan. You can also transfer the mac and cheese to a baking dish instead.
- Gluten free pasta does best when rinsed with cold water to stop the cooking process while you prep the next step.
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