I can say with confidence that the best part of baked mac and cheese is the crispy top: noodles that are just beginning to char, ideally coated in a layer of crispy breadcrumbs. Really, those crunches are the biggest reason to transfer a dish that could be finished on the stovetop (in less time! with fewer dishes!) to another container and then cook it.

Yet there is a problem with most baked goods macaroni and cheese recipes: only the top is directly exposed to the crispy heat of the oven, while the rest of the dish could just as well have been prepared on the stove – and although sautéing the mac at high heat produces that golden brown top it also comes at the risk of breaking your creamy sauce. But as I recently ate the entire top layer of a macaroni and cheese casserole (“Don’t look at me,” I said to no one in particular), it occurred to me that he would have just been best to make this macaroni and cheese on a shallow baking sheet, which would increase the surface area of ​​the cheese noodles and maximize their crispy potential.

I’m definitely not the first to consider griddle macaroni and cheese, but I’d love to get into the chat with a recipe it makes for a mac that’s as creamy as stovetop stuff beneath its deliciously crispy filling. Cook it on a aluminum sheet plate, which conducts heat much more efficiently and evenly than glass or ceramic pans, also ensures that this mac cooks quickly and evenly. And this recipe’s short and simple ingredient list – no need to mess with a roux! – means you can do it tonight, and quickly, but it’s also a great addition to the Thanksgiving table.

Start by cooking a pound of pasta. Call me what you will, but I think wavy cavatappi – not U-shaped macaroni – makes the best macaroni and cheese because its larger surface area and twists allow more sauce to cling to each piece of pasta. (In a pinch, though, most short noodles will work just fine.) To keep the cheese sauce creamy and encourage it to coat each noodle, I turn to a mixture of finely grated parmesan cheese, grated cheddar cheese, and cream cheese, stabilized with a porridge of milk and cornstarch. (Hence the lack of roux and any worries about the sauce breaking down while the macaroni cooks.) A big scoop of strong Dijon mustard cuts the richness of the sauce. Once everything is together, mix the pre-cooked pasta and spread it evenly on a baking sheet.

As for the skillet, a half rimmed pan (between 16 and 18 by 13 inches) works best for this recipe. A slightly smaller cake pan (usually 15 x 10 inches) will be a bit too small. That said, you can still use it, but you might want to hold back a cup or two of the cheese-coated pasta to ensure that deliciously crispy texture in the final dish.

Speaking of crispiness: to enhance the texture, cover the pasta with a blanket of panko before sliding the pan into the oven. The breadcrumbs will toast to a delicious golden brown, adding even more crispiness (or is it crunch?) with every bite. After this first crash bite of the serving spoon depressed, you’ll find yourself backtracking for a few seconds in no time.