For the best Broccoli Cheese Casserole, start with fresh broccoli and add a creamy cheese sauce that’s made from scratch. Top it off with buttery panko and it will be come a holiday tradition that you’ll want to make all year long.
You can make this ahead and then just bake for 15 minutes.
I’m sure you’re wondering why this is the BEST broccoli cheese casserole, but I promise you that this broccoli casserole is different from the others. Here’s what it doesn’t have: rice, canned soup, gloppy cheese, mayonnaise, or Ritz crackers.
Instead it has the creamiest cheese sauce flavored with just a little shallot and garlic. Then it’s topped with crunchy buttery panko. You might think it would be a time consuming recipe, but it’s easy and only takes about 20 minutes to assemble and 15 minutes to bake.
Why you’ll love it
- A cheese sauce so good that you can get the kiddos to eat broccoli
- Quick and easy to prepare
- Nothing artificial in this casserole
- You can make it ahead
- It just takes 15 minutes to bake
- It’s a perfect compliment to almost any meal
- Great to take for a potluck
What you’ll need for broccoli and cheese Casserole
- You’ll need panko bread crumbs. What are panko bread crumbs, they are a Japanese-style bread crumb made from white bread without crust. The result is a crispy coating when used for fried food as it doesn’t absorb as much oil. When combined with a little melted butter and parmesan, it creates a crispy topping for this awesome broccoli cheese casserole. You can find it on the bread aisle or order them on Amazon.
- Next for a creamy cheese sauce, you want to use a sharp cheddar cheese but what keeps the sauce creamy and not gloppy is the addition of a cup of American cheese. Why American cheese, because it contains emulsifiers which help hold the sauce together. It has a pretty mild flavor so by using just a cup and then 2 cups of sharp cheddar, you get a creamy but flavorful rich sauce. Get the American cheese from the deli it’s generally a better quality.
- For the broccoli, use fresh broccoli, not frozen which will end up being watery in this recipe. Just cut it into 1-2 inch bite size pieces and cover and microwave for about eight minutes. By steaming the broccoli first, it keeps it’s texture and flavor and reduces the cooking time in the oven.
- The cheese sauce requires liquid and I’ve found that half-and-half works the best. Cream is too rich and milk not creamy enough. The recipe will still be delicious if you want to cut back and use whole milk but fat free milk will not give you a creamy sauce.
- To season the amazing cheese sauce, you’ll need a little flour, a shallot, some garlic, hot sauce (I use Texas Pete) and dry mustard.
I used to make broccoli casserole with a standard bechamel cheese sauce using just cheddar cheese, but then I started adding a little American cheese and now this has become my go-to cheese sauce. It’s great over Kentucky Hot Browns.
How do you make Cheesy Broccoli Casserole
Step 1: Cover a bowl of broccoli with plastic wrap and Microwave.
Step 2: Sauté a shallot and garlic until soft and add flour. Slowly add the half-and-half and bring it too a boil. It will thicken slightly but will not be as thick as a bechamel sauce. Remove from the heat and add cheese whisking until it has melted and then season.
Step 3: Combine panko, parmesan and melted butter.
Step 4: Place broccoli in your baking dish and pour the cheesy sauce over the top, stirring to combine.
Step 5: Top with the panko mixture. If making this ahead, wait to add the panko topping until right before baking.
Step 6: Bake for 15 minutes and let cool for about 10 minutes before eating.
So what’s so great about this particular broccoli casserole, it’s the cheese sauce. It’s not overpowering but has a subtle flavor from the shallots and garlic. The American cheese adds a creamier texture that you won’t see in other broccoli and cheese casserole recipes.
Making your own sauce is one hundred times better than broccoli casseroles that use mushroom soup. While adding soup might be a little quicker, you can make this casserole in twenty minutes, the extra few minutes is so worth it. This broccoli casserole recipe does not contain rice. I love rice, but it makes for a heartier casserole which is not what you need with a large meal.
Have I convinced you to add it to your Thanksgiving meal yet! Test it out with a simple rotisserie chicken dinner and you’ll transform a boring weeknight dinner.
This casserole is great for potlucks or Holiday dinners because you can make it ahead and bake it right before needed. Since it only takes 15 minutes to bake, you won’t tie up the oven which might be needed for other side dishes. If making this ahead, let it come to room temperature and wait to add the panko topping until right before you put it in the oven.
The left-overs freeze great, just reheat in the oven or even in the microwave.
To keep the sauce creamy, add a cup of American cheese and for flavor add two cups of sharp cheddar. A little parmesan is added to the topping.
If you want more broccoli than cheese, you can easily increase the amount of broccoli. This recipe uses 8 cups of broccoli.
If you’re a broccoli fan but don’t want to make a casserole, then try a Broccoli Salad, it’s always a crowd pleaser.
Need some more Thanksgiving Sides
What else can you do with Panko breadcrumbs
You can add it to the coating for French toast for super crispy French Toast Sticks. It gives a crunchy coating to Parmesan Chicken Fingers, and will help hold Chicken Marsala Meatballs together. I always keep a box in the pantry.
Broccoli Cheese Casserole
- ¾ cups panko breadcrumbs
- ½ cup parmesan cheese
- 6 tablespoons butter melted (divided)
- 2 heads broccoli florets (about 8 cups) cut into bite size florets
- 1 shallot (about ¼ cup) chopped fine
- 2 garlic minced
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups half-and-half
- 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese 8 ounces
- 1 cup American Cheese 4 ounces
- 2 teaspoons hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- Preheat oven to 400º.
- Place cut broccoli in a microwave safe bowl with ¼ teaspoon of salt. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 8 minutes, until it is tender but not mushy. Drain and pour into a 9 x 13 baking dish.
- Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and add shallots and garlic cooking over medium heat until softened about 2 minutes. Add flour and whisk cooking for a minute. Slowly whisk in half-and-half and then turn to high and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, it will be only slightly thickened. Add cheddar and Amerrican cheese, hot sauce mustard, 11/2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and whisk until the cheese has melted and it is smooth.
- In a small bowl combine panko, 3 tablespoons melted butter and parmesan.
- Pour cheese sauce over broccoli and stir to combine. Cover with panko mixture.
- Bake uncovered for 15 minutes until the cheese is bubbly around the edges and the top is golden brown. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- You can increase the amount of broccoli
- If making ahead, wait to add panko topping and refrigerate. Let it warm to room temperature, add panko right before placing it in the oven.
- Don’t substitute the American cheese, you need this for the creamy texture.
- You can freeze and reheat in the oven.