How to Make Creamy + Delicious Ham Mac and Cheese

This super-creamy Macaroni and Cheese with Ham is the perfect dish to enjoy at any mealtime and share with your loved ones.

It’s a perfect way to use any leftover ham. The secret to this dish’s irresistible creaminess is hand-shredded cheese for a smooth melt and rich flavor.

A close-up of creamy macaroni and cheese with chunks of ham in a white dish, showcasing the gooey texture and rich cheese sauce

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese with Ham

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 37 minutes
Serving Size 8

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 4 cups evaporated milk 32 ounces or 2 ⅔ cans
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • cup flour
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 cups packed shredded sharp cheddar cheese 12 ounces
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 ½ cups diced leftover ham or from a ham steak

Instructions 

  • Cook pasta Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook elbow macaroni to al dente, according to package directions. Carefully remove from heat and drain, then set aside.
    A glass bowl full of cooked elbow macaroni next to a wooden spoon, ready to be added to the cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese
  • Heat milk and broth. While the pasta cooks, combine evaporated milk and chicken broth in a small saucepan or medium-sized bowl. Cover and microwave the liquid for 2-3 minutes or warm it in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
    A metal saucepan with a wire whisk containing a smooth, creamy mixture for the base of macaroni and cheese.
  • Start roux. On medium-low heat, melt butter in a large pot or Dutch oven and stir in flour until combined. Cook, stirring for an additional 2-3 minutes. Gradually add the heated milk mixture a little at a time and whisk together until the roux thickens.
    Two stages of making a cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese, showing the initial lumpy mixture and the final smooth sauce.
  • Add seasonings. Add in Parmesan cheese, Dijon mustard, smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ½ teaspoon of pepper. Whisk until Parmesan cheese is melted and incorporated.
    Adding smoked paprika, flour, and grated Parmesan cheese to a creamy base in a white pot, the beginnings of a cheese sauce for macaroni.
  • Add cheese. Off the heat, add in shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese a handful at a time, whisking until melted.
    A white pot containing a creamy cheese sauce with shredded cheddar cheese added on top, ready to be mixed for macaroni and cheese.
  • Mix in pasta and ham. Stir in pasta and diced ham. Add additional salt and pepper to taste if desired. Serve immediately.
    Step-by-step preparation of macaroni and cheese: diced ham added to a creamy cheese sauce in a white pot, followed by the integration of cooked macaroni.

Notes

It’s a fantastic way to use leftover ham, but if you don’t have any, you can easily get a ham steak from the store instead. The ham tastes excellent with the macaroni and cheese and elevates it.
The base recipe for this macaroni and cheese is a family favorite and we’ve made it so many times. 
For that extra cheesy flavor, I recommend shredding cheese by hand. (Rotary cheese shredders are the best, and I always use them). It melts better and has a great texture. But, if you’re in a hurry, bagged cheese works just fine.
 
Calories: 745kcal | Carbohydrates: 61g | Protein: 37g | Fat: 38g | Saturated Fat: 21g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 124mg | Sodium: 1080mg | Potassium: 655mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 15g | Vitamin A: 1069IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 772mg | Iron: 2mg

In our home, mac and cheese isn’t just a dish; it’s a tradition that brings everyone together, especially when it’s this Creamy Macaroni and Cheese with Ham. It’s one of those recipes that I, quite frankly, adore. There’s something about the combination of creamy cheese sauce, perfectly cooked pasta, and savory ham bits that just feels like a hug in a bowl.

The first time I made it, it was a hit with the whole family—even the pickiest eaters asked for seconds. And that’s a rare victory in my book. It’s become our go-to comfort meal for any occasion and never disappoints. Whether it’s a chilly winter evening or a casual weekend lunch, this mac and cheese with its secret touch of smoked paprika and hand-shredded cheese has a way of making any day a little better.

Overhead view of creamy macaroni and cheese with ham in a white bowl, placed on a light surface next to salt and pepper shakers and a blue-patterned napkin.

Mac and Cheese Tips

  • Pasta Perfection: Cooking the elbow macaroni to al dente is crucial. Overcooked pasta becomes mushy when mixed with the sauce. To achieve the perfect texture, check the pasta about 2 minutes before the package’s recommended cooking time. Remember, it will soften slightly when combined with the hot cheese sauce.
  • Even-Heat for Roux: A well-made roux is the foundation of a great cheese sauce. Keep the flame on medium-low to prevent the flour from burning. A burnt roux can impart a bitter taste, undermining the creamy, savory profile of the dish. Patience is key; let the roux gently come to a golden color before adding liquids.
  • Gradual Liquid Addition: When incorporating the evaporated milk and chicken broth into the roux, add the liquids slowly, in stages, while constantly whisking. This method prevents lumps and makes sure a smooth, velvety sauce. Rushing this step can result in a sauce that’s not properly thickened.
  • Cheese Matters: The success of macaroni and cheese hinges on the cheese quality. Pre-shredded cheeses often contain anti-caking agents that can affect meltability and overall texture. Taking the time to shred cheese from a block can make a significant difference in achieving that coveted silky-smooth sauce.

Key Ingredients and Tools

  • Evaporated Milk. A pantry staple found in the baking aisle, evaporated milk adds a rich creaminess without the added water content of regular milk. It’s essential for achieving the silky texture of the sauce. Half-and-half can substitute if you’re in a pinch, though the final dish may be slightly less rich.
  • Sharp Cheddar Cheese. Located in the dairy or specialty cheese section, sharp cheddar has a deep, tangy flavor that’s crucial for the dish’s character. While you can swap it for milder cheeses, it might produce less flavorful mac and cheese.
  • Smoked Paprika. This spice can be found in the spice aisle and imparts a unique, smoky flavor that complements the ham beautifully. It’s not just for color; smoked paprika adds a layer of depth that sets this recipe apart. Regular paprika can be used if unavailable, but you’ll miss the smoky notes.
  • Dijon Mustard. Often found near condiments and salad dressings, a small amount of Dijon mustard sharpens the dish’s flavors without overwhelming it. It’s a secret ingredient that can make a big difference, offering a subtle tang that balances the richness of the cheeses.
Ingredients for macaroni and cheese laid out on a white marble countertop, including uncooked elbow macaroni, shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese, diced ham, and seasonings, ready for preparation.
  • Large Pot or Dutch Oven. Ideal for cooking the pasta and combining it with the sauce. A large pot or Dutch oven allows for even heat distribution and ample space to mix the ingredients thoroughly without spilling.
  • Colander. Necessary for draining the cooked pasta. A good colander will make sure that all the water is removed from the pasta to prevent the macaroni and cheese from becoming watery.
  • Whisk. Essential for making the roux and cheese sauce smooth and free of lumps. A whisk helps to evenly incorporate the flour into the melted butter and blend the evaporated milk and cheese into a silky sauce.
  • Cheese Grater. Freshly grated cheese melts better and incorporates more smoothly into the sauce than pre-shredded cheese, which often contains anti-caking agents. A cheese grater allows you to grate your cheese finely or coarsely, depending on your preference.
  • Measuring Cups and Spoons. Precision matters in cooking. Measuring cups and spoons are crucial for adding the correct ingredients to ensure the dish’s flavor and texture are just right.
  • Cutting Board and Sharp Knife. Needed for dicing the ham into even pieces. A sharp knife makes prep work easier and safer, while a sturdy cutting board provides a solid surface for cutting.

Serving Suggestions

Serve with Brussels sprouts or cucumber salad, for something fresh and green.

Troubleshooting and Help

 What substitutions can I use?

You could substitute half and half for the evaporated milk, although I have not recipe-tested this.
The kinds of cheese are very flexible.  I have used only extra-sharp cheddar without the mozzarella. 
You could substitute Fontina for the mozzarella.  You could substitute American for some of the cheddar cheese.  Gouda or gruyere cheese would be delicious as a substitute for some of the cheddar or mozzarella.  
You could substitute bacon for the ham or see some other options in my notes. I think this would be delicious with some cooked vegetables like broccoli, peas, onion, or asparagus.  I have not recipe tried for fear of revolt from my children.  Ha ha.  Usually, a veggie at our house is on the side with this dish. 🙂
Paprika could be easily substituted for smoked paprika if you don’t have smoked paprika.
I have substituted cornstarch for flour and used gluten-free Barilla elbow macaroni with great success.

Storing Leftovers

To store leftovers of the Creamy Macaroni and Cheese with Ham, let the dish cool down to room temperature first. Avoid leaving it out too long; you don’t want it sitting out for more than 2 hours to prevent food safety issues.

Once cooled, transfer the macaroni and cheese into airtight containers. Consider dividing it into smaller portions if you have a large amount left. This way, you only need to reheat what you plan to eat at one time. Store these containers in the refrigerator if you’ll be eating them within the next 3-4 days.

For freezing, follow the same initial steps: let the dish cool, then portion it into freezer-safe containers. Make sure the containers are sealed tightly to prevent freezer burn. Label the containers with the date so you know when you froze them. The macaroni and cheese can be frozen for up to two months. When you’re ready to enjoy it, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight.

To reheat, you might find the mac and cheese has thickened a bit. Whether you’re heating it from the fridge or after thawing frozen leftovers, add a splash of milk to help bring back its creamy texture. Warm it up on the stove over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it’s heated through. If you’re in a hurry, you can also microwave it, stirring every 30 seconds to make sure it heats evenly.

More to Easy Dinners to Love

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s incredibly versatile, too. You can easily customize it to your liking by adding your favorite cheeses or other tasty add-ins. So, whether you’re a cheese fanatic or a meat lover, you can easily tailor this recipe to your tastes.

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