I compared Martha Stewart's and Ina Garten's baked mac-and-cheese recipes, and I preferred the cheaper option

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I compared Martha Stewart's and Ina Garten's baked mac-and-cheese recipes, and I preferred the cheaper option

After making Martha Stewart's macaroni-and-cheese recipe on the stove and in a slow cooker, I decided to compare her stovetop recipe to Ina Garten's.

After making Martha Stewart's macaroni-and-cheese recipe on the stove and in a slow cooker, I decided to compare her stovetop recipe to Ina Garten's.
Martha Stewart and Ina Garten. Cindy Ord/Getty Images; Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

I was a huge fan of Stewart's recipes — her slow-cooker mac and cheese was incredibly creamy, and her stovetop version had a delicious crust.

After reading through Garten's recipe for baked mac and cheese, I noticed that it called for similar ingredients and followed similar steps to Stewart's stovetop recipe. I was eager to see how the chefs' recipes would compare, and which one would edge out the other as the best baked macaroni and cheese recipe.

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Up first was Martha Stewart's creamy macaroni and cheese.

Up first was Martha Stewart's creamy macaroni and cheese.
The ingredients for Martha Stewart's creamy macaroni and cheese. Erin McDowell/Insider

Though Martha Stewart's and Ina Garten's macaroni and cheese recipes are slightly similar, the biggest difference between them is that Stewart calls for four different kinds of cheese and adds sauteed onion to the dish.

You can find the full recipe here.

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I started off by melting a few tablespoons of unsalted butter in a pot on the stove.

I started off by melting a few tablespoons of unsalted butter in a pot on the stove.
Erin McDowell/Insider

I chose a medium-size pot to make the cheese sauce in.

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While the butter was melting, I chopped up some yellow onion.

While the butter was melting, I chopped up some yellow onion.
A quarter cup of chopped yellow onion. Erin McDowell/Insider

The recipe calls for a quarter-cup of diced yellow onion.

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After the butter had fully melted, I added the yellow onion to the pot and gave it a good stir. The delicious smell of butter and onions quickly filled my kitchen.

After the butter had fully melted, I added the yellow onion to the pot and gave it a good stir. The delicious smell of butter and onions quickly filled my kitchen.
Onions and butter in a yellow pot on a stove. Erin McDowell/Insider

The recipe says to sauté the onions until they become translucent, which should take about five minutes.

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While the onions were cooking, I set about the somewhat grueling task of grating all the cheeses.

While the onions were cooking, I set about the somewhat grueling task of grating all the cheeses.
Shredded cheeses. Erin McDowell/Insider

It took quite a bit of effort to hand-grate the cheeses. It was also difficult to measure out each cheese exactly, so I ended up guestimating somewhat.

However, in the end, I had the right amount of each cheese to make the sauce, plus some cheese left over to sprinkle over the mac and cheese before putting it in the oven.

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Next, I cooked the macaroni noodles.

Next, I cooked the macaroni noodles.
Cooked macaroni noodles. Erin McDowell/Insider

It took about five minutes to cook the noodles, as they're supposed to be a little undercooked before going in the oven.

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After the onions had reached the point of being translucent, I added in the flour.

After the onions had reached the point of being translucent, I added in the flour.
Onions and butter mixed with flour on the stove. Erin McDowell/Insider

It quickly thickened the onions and butter mixture. Per the recipe's instructions, I stirred the onions, flour, and butter together and left it for a few seconds until the mixture began to bubble in the pot.

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I then added three cups of whole milk. The mixture was now starting to resemble a cheese sauce.

I then added three cups of whole milk. The mixture was now starting to resemble a cheese sauce.
Cheese sauce. Erin McDowell/Insider

After a few minutes, the mixture had begun to thicken.

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To finish off the cheese sauce, I added in the four kinds of cheese - fontina, Gruyere, cheddar, and Parmigiano Reggiano - as well as the seasonings.

To finish off the cheese sauce, I added in the four kinds of cheese - fontina, Gruyere, cheddar, and Parmigiano Reggiano - as well as the seasonings.
Cheese sauce. Erin McDowell/Insider

After stirring the cheese sauce until all the ingredients were completely melted and combined, it was time to add it to the macaroni.

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By the time I poured the noodles into the larger pot and added the cheese sauce, I had been prepping and cooking for about an hour.

By the time I poured the noodles into the larger pot and added the cheese sauce, I had been prepping and cooking for about an hour.
Macaroni mixed with cheese sauce. Erin McDowell/Insider

However, the steps were easy to follow and I was able to sit down once the mac and cheese was ready to be put in the oven.

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You can make the mac and cheese in individual pans or in a larger 1 1/2-quart baking dish.

You can make the mac and cheese in individual pans or in a larger 1 1/2-quart baking dish.
Macaroni and cheese before being put in the oven. Erin McDowell/Insider

After scooping my macaroni and cheese out of the pot and into the dish, I realized I had a lot left over. I could have easily filled another 3/4-ounce dish.

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I then topped my macaroni and cheese mixture with breadcrumbs.

I then topped my macaroni and cheese mixture with breadcrumbs.
Macaroni and cheese before being put in the oven. Erin McDowell/Insider

You can use homemade breadcrumbs per the instructions from the slow-cooker version, or you can use store-bought in a pinch. I didn't have a food processor available to make homemade breadcrumbs but found that the store-bought kind didn't negatively affect my end result, and I was happy to cut out a step and save myself some dishes.

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After half an hour in the oven, my macaroni and cheese was done, and it was delicious.

After half an hour in the oven, my macaroni and cheese was done, and it was delicious.
The finished mac and cheese in a Pyrex dish. Erin McDowell/Insider

The top layer of macaroni and cheese had a delicious, lightly browned crust, while underneath the macaroni and cheese was still perfectly creamy. It was enough to feed about four people, though I could have fed more if I had more dishes to bake the rest of the leftover macaroni.

The macaroni and cheese was really flavorful, with a slightly smoky taste.

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Ina Garten's recipe for baked macaroni and cheese calls for fewer ingredients.

Ina Garten's recipe for baked macaroni and cheese calls for fewer ingredients.
The ingredients for Ina Garten's macaroni and cheese. Erin McDowell/Insider

The recipe only uses two types of cheese — extra-sharp cheddar and Gruyere — making this recipe a little less time-consuming and expensive to make. Perhaps to make up for less cheese, the recipe uses more butter and milk than Martha Stewart's version.

You can find the full recipe here.

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The recipe calls for a whopping 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter.

The recipe calls for a whopping 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
The butter melting in a pot on the stove. Erin McDowell/Insider

Two tablespoons are reserved for the end, so you start off by melting 6 tablespoons in a pot on the stove. It's important to melt it at a low heat — you don't want the butter to burn or boil.

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While the butter was melting, I started boiling the pasta.

While the butter was melting, I started boiling the pasta.
The macaroni boiling. Erin McDowell/Insider

The recipe calls for a pound of macaroni or cavatappi pasta. The celebrity chef also recommends adding oil to the pot of boiling water, which prevents the pasta from sticking to the bottom.

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While this recipe does call for fewer ingredients, it does require an extra pot.

While this recipe does call for fewer ingredients, it does require an extra pot.
The flour and butter mixture. Erin McDowell/Insider

After the butter was done melting, I added in a half-cup of all-purpose flour. The key is to whisk the mixture together until it has no clumps.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, I began heating up a quart of milk.

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I then added the hot milk into the flour and butter mixture.

I then added the hot milk into the flour and butter mixture.
Cheese sauce on the stove. Erin McDowell/Insider

The next step was whisking it together until the ingredients were fully combined.

While the mixture was off the heat, I started grating my extra-sharp white cheddar cheese. The recipe calls for 8 ounces, which ended up being the entire package. It took a while to grate, so I was thankful that I had bought pre-grated Gruyere cheese.

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After adding in the two kinds of cheese, my sauce was beginning to thicken.

After adding in the two kinds of cheese, my sauce was beginning to thicken.
The cheese sauce. Erin McDowell/Insider

I seasoned the pot of cheese sauce with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Ina Garten's recipe uses similar seasonings to Stewart's, save for the cayenne pepper that Stewart uses.

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Ina Garten recommends boiling the noodles fully before putting them in the oven, rather than leaving them slightly al dente.

Ina Garten recommends boiling the noodles fully before putting them in the oven, rather than leaving them slightly al dente.
The macaroni and cheese in a pot. Erin McDowell/Insider

This was another slight difference between the two recipes.

After my noodles were cooked, I poured the cheese sauce over them and mixed it all together with a wooden spoon.

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The cheese sauce in the Garten recipe was slightly thicker and had a distinct "cheese pull."

The cheese sauce in the Garten recipe was slightly thicker and had a distinct "cheese pull."
The macaroni and cheese in a pot. Erin McDowell/Insider

I scooped the mixture into a baking dish and waited for the oven to finish pre-heating to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Garten recommends topping the macaroni and cheese with breadcrumbs and tomato slices before putting it in the oven.

Garten recommends topping the macaroni and cheese with breadcrumbs and tomato slices before putting it in the oven.
The finished Ina Garten macaroni and cheese. Erin McDowell/Insider

I made one side of my dish with tomatoes and one without so I could see which one I preferred.

The recipe calls for homemade breadcrumbs, but I opted to use the same store-bought ones I used in the Martha Stewart version for the sake of a fair comparison.

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After about half an hour, the mac and cheese was bubbling and browned on the top. The dish smelled heavenly.

After about half an hour, the mac and cheese was bubbling and browned on the top. The dish smelled heavenly.
The finished Ina Garten macaroni and cheese. Erin McDowell/Insider

The tomatoes were slightly roasted.

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I thought the tomatoes took the macaroni and cheese to the next level, but the Martha Stewart recipe was much cheesier.

I thought the tomatoes took the macaroni and cheese to the next level, but the Martha Stewart recipe was much cheesier.
The finished Ina Garten macaroni and cheese. Erin McDowell/Insider

The Ina Garten version tasted like an adult-friendly version of a childhood favorite, while the Martha Stewart version was more classic. The tomatoes added a ton of tart flavor to the dish and a unique texture, but I was torn over which I preferred.

Both recipes have their high points, but I couldn't ignore the fact that the Ina Garten recipe was cheaper due to the fact I only needed two kinds of cheese. It was also dramatically easier to make. With the Stewart version, I had to prep onions and grate four kinds of cheese, for not that much more flavor in the end.

If I was to choose which one to make again, I would definitely opt for the Ina Garten macaroni and cheese.

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