You’ll never have a better baked mac and cheese than this one inspired by a restaurant in St. Louis!
Nearly two years ago, we took a family vacation to St. Louis. We had a great time exploring the city and making lots of family memories. We also tried some incredible food. The hamburger from Hi-Pointe Drive-In was fabulous. Cookies from Insomnia Cookies hit a sweet spot. Floats from Fitz’s Root Beer were in their own category of sweet treats.
But, hands down, the most memorable for me was Salt + Smoke BBQ. My daughter and I went there solo while the boys ate elsewhere. The barbeque was good. Stupidly good. However, the baked mac and cheese with Ritz cracker topping stole my heart.
I literally said to my daughter as we were eating, “If I wasn’t already married to your dad, I’d marry this mac and cheese.” That may sound dramatic, but the mac and cheese really was that good. (I’m not even a big mac and cheese fan.)
Since we live a few hours away from St. Louis, I knew my odds of having that baked mac and cheese with Ritz cracker topping again were slim. If we go back someday, I’ll definitely hit it up. But until then, I’ve found and tweaked a recipe that tastes incredibly similar.
This baked mac and cheese with Ritz cracker topping has become a regular for Thanksgiving dinner at my house. I’ve served it to up beside sloppy joes. Most recently, I made it as a main dish and enjoyed every single bite of it. So much so that I seriously debated having its leftovers for breakfast the next day. You have got to try this simple recipe that only uses six ingredients (besides a bit of salt and pepper)!
Stovetop prep for the baked mac and cheese with Ritz cracker topping
Salt the water in a large pot and let it come to a boil, then add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 12 minutes. While the pasta cooks, preheat the oven to 300-degrees (F). The Salt + Smoke mac and cheese uses pasta shells, so that’s what I have used. You could use any pasta shape you prefer.
About four minutes before the pasta is finished getting, melt 2 tablespoons of butter into a medium saucepan over medium/high heat.
When the pasta is finished cooking, strain it and return it to the pot, removed from the heat. Once the butter has melted, stir in 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Here’s how it will look start to finish:
Once the flour and butter are well combined and cooked together, begin adding in the heavy cream about 1/4 cup at a time. Let it mix in each time completely before adding more. It will go from a texture of runny oatmeal to mashed potatoes to pudding to sauce.
Once the cream is completely stirred in and the mixture is more sauce-like, continue cooking it over medium/high heat, stirring frequently. When it just starts to move around a bit, remove it from the heat. Do not let it boil. It will look like this:
Next, stir in 8 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese. Salt + Smoke uses white cheddar, I think, but I use triple cheddar blend because it’s easier for me to find. Add a dash of salt and pepper.
Getting it ready to bake
Once the cheese sauce is totally together, pour the sauce over the cooked and strained pasta.
Stir together the sauce and pasta so it is well mixed and all the pasta is covered.
Transferred the coated pasta into a 9×13-inch baking dish, lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Use a spoon to spread it evenly throughout the dish.
Crush the Ritz crackers for the topping and spread over the top of the prepared mac and cheese. I use about 8 to 10 Ritz crackers for this. I have store brand ingredients for everything except the crackers, because the buttery flavor of Ritz really does work best for this recipe. (Please note that I am in no way affiliated with or sponsored by Ritz crackers.)
Bake it in the preheated 300-degree oven for about 12 minutes until heated through. I often serve this with additional crackers on the side for added crunch if people want. Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.
I promise this will become your favorite baked mac and cheese recipe! Look at this cheesy, yummy goodness!
Baked mac and cheese with Ritz cracker topping
- 1 pound medium pasta shells
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
- 8-10 Ritz crackers crushed
- salt & pepper to taste
- Bring a lot pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 12 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 300-degrrees (F).
- About four minutes before the pasta is finished cooking, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan over medium/high heat.
- Add 2 tablespoons of flour to the butter and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Drain the pasta and return it to its pot off the heat; set aside.
- Slowly add the heavy cream to the butter and flour mixture. Stir in about 1/4 cup at a time, waiting until it's completely mixed in to add more.
- Once the cream is all added, continue cooking over medium/high heat, stirring frequently, until the liquid starts to move. Do NOT let it come to a boil.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the 8 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese until completely melted and smooth. Add a dash of salt and pepper. (If you use unsalted butter, you may need to add more salt.)
- Pour the cheddar cheese sauce over the cooked and drained pasta. Mix well so the sauce covers all the pasta.
- Spritz a 9×13-inch baking dish lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Pour the pasta into the baking dish and spread it out evenly.
- Crush the Ritz crackers by hand and sprinkle evenly over the top of the pasta.
- Bake for 12 minutes until heated through. Serve immediately, and enjoy!
Find more delicious family recipes like this one in the “Favorite Recipes from Families with Grace” cookbook. Download your FREE copy today!