10 Best Pasta For Mac And Cheese — Options For Your Palate

The rich and comforting mac and cheese is a beloved dish. There are quite a few ways to make it, though the cheese sauce and pasta are the key ingredients for any method. 

Conventionally, mac and cheese, also known as macaroni and cheese, uses macaroni pasta with cheddar cheese. However, there are other pasta options too that you may find better and more convenient. 

The choice of pasta can be something of a subjective opinion, but there are characteristics we can look at to get the most out of this recipe.

Let’s see what the best pasta options are for your next round of mac and cheese.

Top Pasta And Best Noodles For Mac And Cheese

For several people, where a recipe like mac and cheese is concerned, the words pasta and noodles are interchangeable. While the purists might disagree, the terminology exists and is used by many. 

To be perfectly clear, the context matters. The word “noodle” here refers to their use in European cuisine in general and Italian cuisine in particular. 

These aren’t the same as noodles used in Asian or Chinese cuisine. The noodles here are simply the different types of pasta to use with your mac and cheese.

1. Macaroni – Straight And Elbow Type

There is merit to picking macaroni pasta for your dish. It is, after all, the “mac” in mac and cheese. Macaroni has been the canon noodle in mac and cheese since its inception and continues to be extremely popular.

The pasta is commonly available in two forms. One’s straight and the other is bent and called the elbow. Both are hollow and small enough to be convenient to eat, while also providing enough surface area to hold the creamy cheese.

This pasta is small enough to conveniently eat and fits in your mouth with each bite. You could decide between elbow or straight macaroni depending on your preference of shape or even silverware.

Children tend to be more partial to elbow macaroni simply because of its shape. Besides, the elbow noodles (macaroni) fit easily onto a spoon. The straight macaroni is better suited if you prefer to enjoy the pasta with a fork.

2. Cavatappi

In appearance, cavatappi is very similar to elbow macaroni. But, there are some caveats that differentiate cavatappi from macaroni. Basically, cavatappi is bigger and chewier than elbow macaroni.

It isn’t remarkably different in taste, but its larger size can make a slight difference to the overall mouthfeel. Also, it needs to be cooked longer than macaroni to get the best flavor and texture.

3. Penne Or Ziti

Penne pasta or penne noodles are another great option to pick for your mac and cheese. This pasta is very similar to straight macaroni, but larger. It’s cylindrical and has a fairly good surface area. 

Ziti is also the same, though it’s much longer than penne. Of course, it is broken into smaller pieces similar to penne before it’s cooked.

Thanks to its size and shape, the penne pasta will retain a rather impressive amount of sauce and cheese. The cylindrical shape of this pasta and its size makes it a rather good choice if you want the sauce and cheese to get into and over the pasta, not just around it.

4. Campanelle

Want some fun with your mac and cheese? Use campanelle to go along with your choice of cheese. This pasta is shaped like a bell. Well, campanelle translates to bellflowers or little bells, so the shape is apparent in the name. Geometrically, it’s a conical pasta with ruffled edges.

The bell shape makes it an excellent choice to retain cheese and sauce. You could pretty much fill the hollow shape of the pasta with cheese and sauce to whatever level you like.

Plus, the somewhat unique shape offers an advantage of usability. The basic idea, of course, is to catch as much sauce and cheese as you can!

5. Radiatori

This small and squat pasta gets its name because it’s said to resemble radiators. The shape usually has a straight pipe topped with concentric and parallel fins. Its shape gives radiatori a lot of surface area, making it perfect for holding thick sauces and melted cheese.

Thanks to these properties, radiatori works amazingly as the pasta in mac and cheese. Its huge surface area and construction allow it to hold on to plenty of sauce and cheese, thus adding taste and flavor to the recipe.

6. Fusilli

Fusilli pasta or fusilli noodles have something of a helical or spiral shape. This pasta is often used in the same dishes and applications as radiatori or rotini. The spiral shape allows the pasta to hold on to the cheese sauce. 

The large surface area also means that these noodles can hold on to a lot of sauce. Fusilli’s advantage with the design isn’t just practical, it’s also visual. The pasta looks pretty great as a mac and cheese ingredient. You can eat this pasta with a fork or spoon.

7. Rotini

Rotini is very similar to radiatori and fusilli. This pasta takes something of a corkscrew and helical shape. This makes it somewhat similar to radiatori in construction, and much like fusilli in looks.

Thanks to its construction, rotini can hold large amounts of cheese sauce and be an absolute treat to enjoy with your mac and cheese!

Rotini, however, is a relatively rare find than fusilli, though more readily available than radiatori. Consider fusilli noodles if you want an easily available pasta that can hold a lot of cheese sauce. If there are more options available, consider radiatori or rotini.

8. Shell Or Conchiglie Pasta

The overall shape and style of shell pasta makes it a great option to include in your mac and cheese recipe. The light pasta is easy to get your hands on, and its shape holds on to the cheese sauce rather admirably.

Keep in mind, the shell pasta is available in several designs and styles. If you choose a longer/larger pasta, adjust the cooking time since the bigger pasta will need more time to cook.

Shell pasta is also useful if you like the cheese sauce in your mac and cheese to be more on the watery side. While most pastas in this list will work well with a thick sauce, shell pastas will fare well with thin sauce too. 

9. Farfalle (Bowtie or Butterfly Pasta)

Farfalle pasta is also known as bowtie pasta or butterfly pasta. These names are no doubt an allusion to the overall shape and style of this pasta. The bowtie shape is an excellent way to hold on to a good amount of sauce. Also, it can work effortlessly with thick and thin sauces.

Apart from the names already listed, farfalle noodles is known by a few others depending on region and variations. In some parts of Italy, this pasta is known as strichetti. 

Larger sized farfalle pasta gets the name farfalloni, while in smaller sizes, it’s called farfalline.

10. Custom Or Fun Shaped Pasta

Hey, no one said pasta has to be in one of its conventional shapes. This food is available in a whole lot of shapes and sizes, so it makes sense that you find something that’s more appealing to you visually.

Kids especially will enjoy a pasta that has more creative shapes or perhaps even their favorite characters.

Given the popularity of the mac and cheese, many of these fun shaped pastas come in designs suitable for this food. So, take your pick and enjoy your meal!


You have a lot of options at your disposal when choosing the best pasta for mac and cheese. It’s always a good choice to go with the conventional macaroni, but you don’t always have to stay with this choice.

Experiment a bit and you could find something more fun to be a part of your favorite mac and cheese.