My favorite one-pot stovetop mac and cheese recipe is easy to make in 30 minutes with just 6 main ingredients and always tastes perfectly creamy, cheesy and so comforting.
I’m a firm believer that everyone needs an excellent stovetop mac and cheese recipe in their back pocket. But I have to say I’m especially partial to this one because — as someone who eagerly avoids washing extra dishes at all costs — it comes together quickly and easily in just one pot! ♡
I’ve made plenty of mac and cheese recipes over the years that cook the cheese sauce separately in an additional saucepan. But the brilliance of the one-pot method is that you get the added bonus of super-concentrated starchy pasta water to work with, since you only use about half the amount of liquid typically used to cook pasta. This does wonders with helping the shredded cheese to melt and emulsify and cling to the pasta, creating an ultra-silky, creamy, cheese sauce. And even better? It all comes together in less than 30 minutes!
We’re “plain” mac and cheese fans here in our house, usually opting to serve this pasta with some roasted veggies and a simple green salad on the side. But of course, the options for stirring any of your favorite add-ins (proteins, veggies, herbs, seasonings, sauces, etc) right into the pot of mac and cheese here are limitless. I’ve included lots of ideas and tips below, so please feel free to take this base recipe and customize it exactly to your liking. And enjoy, enjoy!
Let’s make some macaroni and cheese!!
Macaroni and Cheese Ingredients
Before we get to the full mac and cheese recipe below, here are a few important notes about the ingredients you will need. (This recipe was updated slightly in 2022, but for those of you looking for the original ingredient amounts, they are included in the notes below the recipe.)
Pasta: The shape of pasta that you choose here is important, since cooking times can vary pretty widely between different pasta shapes (which will also affect the amount of liquid that they each soak up). I developed this recipe using cavatappi, which has a nice, chewy bite and lists an approximately 8-minute cooking time on its package. If you decide to use a different pasta shape, try to find one whose package lists a similar cooking time. (Or if the cooking time varies significantly, just note that you may need to use more or less water while cooking.)
Milk + water: I recommend using whole milk with this recipe, but just about any plain milk (dairy or plant-based) will work here.
Dijon mustard: A teaspoon of mustard helps to bring out the flavor of the cheddar in this recipe, without making the pasta taste noticeably mustardy. (Although you are welcome to add more mustard if you love that flavor!)
Fine sea salt and black pepper: We will cook the pasta in a teaspoon of fine sea salt. But since different brands of cheddar can vary pretty in terms of saltiness, I recommend giving the pasta a final taste after mixing in the cheese to see if it needs extra salt. I also love adding a generous amount of black pepper to mac and cheese, but feel free to add your desired amount to taste.
Garlic powder: I also like to add a hint of garlic powder to the mix for extra depth of flavor.
Sharp cheddar cheese: I really recommend using a good-quality sharp or extra-sharp cheddar (either yellow or white) since it provides the main seasoning in this dish! As always when making homemade mac and cheese, be sure to shred the cheddar by hand too, so that it melts well.
Parmesan cheese: Aged Parmesan cheese also adds some deliciously salty, nutty, umami flavor to this dish and helps to bring out the best of the cheddar. Please be sure to freshly-grate the Parmesan too!
Homemade Mac and Cheese Tips
Here are a few of my best tips I’ve learned over the years for making one-pot mac and cheese:
The pasta shape you choose makes a big difference. The biggest complaint I hear about one-pot mac and cheese recipes is that the pasta-to-liquid ratios don’t turn out quite right, usually resulting in an overly “soupy” cheese sauce. This is usually due to using a pasta shape that cooks very quickly, leaving behind extra water in the pot that has not been properly soaked up. As mentioned above, I recommend avoiding this by using a pasta shape that lists an 8-minute cooking time, in order to properly blend with the liquid and cheese ratios in this recipe. Or if not, you’re welcome to use whatever pasta shape you like, then just double-check that you only have about 1/2 cup of starchy pasta water remaining in the pot (discarding any extra) before mixing in the cheese.
Don’t overcook the pasta. Since the pasta will continue to cook a bit more in the pot while you are stirring in the cheese, it’s essential that you only boil the pasta until it is *just* shy of al dente so that it will not be overcooked in the end. If you keep a close eye on the pasta and give it a taste test or two near the end of its cooking time, you’ll be good to go!
Always shred the cheese by hand. Store-bought shredded cheeses are coated with an anti-clumping mixture that prevents them from melting well into a smooth sauce. So anytime you’re making mac and cheese, I recommend purchasing blocks of cheese and shredding them by hand.
Don’t forget to season. Cheese brands can vary pretty dramatically in terms of their saltiness, so don’t forget to give the pasta one final taste test after mixing in the cheese and season it with a final round of salt and pepper if needed.
Potential Recipe Variations
This mac and cheese recipe is designed to be a base recipe that you can add to and customize however you’d like, so don’t hesitate to experiment and have fun with it! For example, feel free to…
Use more cheese: My original version of this recipe called for 4 cups (instead of 2 cups) of cheddar, which is of course extra cheesy and delicious! I prefer the lighter version, which I still find to be plenty cheesy, but feel free to use however much cheese you prefer.
Use half and half: If you want an even creamier mac and cheese, you’re welcome to sub in half and half in place of milk.
Use a different blend of cheeses: Other cheeses that can work well in place of (or mixed with) cheddar could include fontina, gouda, gruyere, havarti, Monterrey Jack, or pepperjack cheese.
Add a protein: Chicken, beef, pork, bacon (or guanciale, pancetta, prosciutto, etc), sausage, shrimp, salmon, scallops, or plant-based “meats” would all be delicious options.
Add veggies or greens: Asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, fennel, green beans, kale, mushrooms, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini or other pasta-friendly veggies would be great.
Add extra seasonings: There are endless ways that you could play around with the seasonings in this macaroni and cheese recipe. You could add in some additional fresh or dried herbs (such as basil, chives, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, etc), other seasonings that you enjoy (such Cajun seasoning, herbs de Provence, za’atar, etc), lemon juice, or additional sauces (such as basil pesto, Mexican salsa verde, pumpkin purée, etc). Just be sure to thoughtfully add seasonings that will pair well with whatever cheese blend that you use.
More Mac and Cheese Recipes
Looking for more cozy homemade macaroni and cheese recipes to try? Here are a few of our faves:
2 to 4 cups (8 to 16 ounces) freshly-grated sharp cheddar cheese (see note below)
1 cup (1 ounce) finely-grated Parmesan cheese
freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Cook the pasta.Combine the pasta, water, milk, Dijon, sea salt and garlic powder in a large stockpot. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring the pasta once every few minutes, until the water reaches a boil. Adjust heat as needed to maintain a rolling boil. Continue cooking the pasta, stirring once or twice per minute, until the pasta is *just* barely al dente. (Cooking time will depend on the shape of pasta that you use, so please keep a close eye on it.) Remove pot from heat.
Remove excess water (if needed).Check to see how much starchy pasta water remains in the pot. If it seems that there is more than 1/2 cup or so, dip a heatproof measuring cup in to remove and save the excess water, then set it to the side. (If by chance there is no starchy pasta water left, please add 1/2 cup hot water to the pot.)
Add cheese.Add the cheese to the pasta and gently stir until completely melted. If the pasta seems too dry, stir some of the reserved starchy pasta water back in as needed.
Season.Taste and season with additional salt if needed.
Serve.Serve warm, garnished with a few twists of black pepper and enjoy!
Type of pasta: The pasta shape that you use here is an important factor, since the cooking time (and thus, the amount of water soaked up) by different pasta shapes can vary dramatically. I recommend using a pasta shape that lists an approximately 8-minute cooking time on its package, such as cavatappi, which is shown in the photos above. If your pasta lists a different cooking time, just note that you may need to use more or less cooking water. (You should only have about 1/2 cup of starchy pasta water remaining in the pot, removing any extra, before mixing in the cheese.)
Amount of cheese: My original version of this recipe called for 4 cups of cheddar, which is delicious, but also felt like a bit heavy. After remaking this recipe multiple times over the years, I prefer making it now with 2 cups good-quality white cheddar, which still tastes plenty cheesy to me. But of course, you are welcome to use whichever amount of cheese you prefer.
Recipe edit: This recipe was updated in 2022. The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons flour (sautéed together first to make a roux), combined with 3 cups water, 4 cups milk, 1 pound uncooked pasta, 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard (all simmered together until the pasta is cooked), combined with 4 cups shredded cheddar and 1/2 cup Parmesan (stirred with the pasta until melted). I omitted the roux from the updated version because I found it unnecessary to thicken the cheese sauce and subbed Dijon for ground mustard keep it stocked in their kitchens.
Yum! Definitely making this soon! I just read that Lidl is opening some markets here in the U.S. to compete with Aldi—how does it compare?
I hope they bring that to Canada as well – can’t wait!!!
I like both of them. They are not quite different in their product range, the prices are very similar. Maybe Lidl has a bigger product range and more brands, but I’m not sure.
This sounds yummy! I’m lazy and learned how to do mac and cheese in the microwave (I use a combo of mild cheddar and feta for that). I’ll have to try this one, though. And oh, do I envy you that cheese festival in Barcelona…
Is there a particular type of milk you would use? Whole milk? I’m a non-fat drinker, but I don’t think that would be ideal for this recipe :)
I used almond milk, and it turned out perfectly. I honestly wouldn’t know about any dairy milks; I’m lactose intolerant (not too bad, but dairy milk messes up my stomach more than anything else), and my family doesn’t use dairy milks unless it’s raw milk. But if it worked with almond milk, then it might work the milk that you have! It’s worth a shot!
This Mac & Cheese looks so creamy & delicious! Um! Thanksfor sharing the recipe, Ali
Have you ever tried a few drops of Worcestershire Sauce in the recipe for the sauce? I have, but in the 2-pot method, and it is superb IF you want to amp up the flavour of the cheese a little.
Didn’t like the taste( pasta won’t get soft, too chewy. The taste of cheddar is too overpowering.
This looks incredible!!!
Cheesy perfection! I’ve always been skeptical about one-pot pastas (I guess I feel like I have more control over the outcome when I cook the pasta and sauce separately), but now I’m dying to give this a try!
And you’re so right about freshly shredded cheese–it’s the ONLY option.
Thanks for the inspiration!
I’m not a fan of pastas or cheese, but this recipe makes me want it now and I will defo make it soon! Perfect dish for a lazy night in front of tv :D
A tiny, tiny sprinkle of curry powder…of the bottled, brand name spice manufacturer sort….brings out the sweet notes in the cheese so nicely but doesn’t cause the whole dish to taste of curry.
Like when you add curry powder to dutch croquettes. Good idea. So good I’m gonna do it. Thanks.
This recipe is perfect. Just finished eating a bowl for lunch. My mother loves it too.
Delicious looking recipe – it’s one I’ve used for years! Lol!
I use cream in place of some of the milk (when I want the full flavor version), add a dribble of Worcestershire Sauce, and crumbled mature Rosemary Manchego cheese to change it up a bit. That cheese adds a creamy, salty, rosemary, nuttiness flavor that takes it up a level.
And, don’t forget, if you use an overproof pot, you can put it under the broiler for a ferw minutes to get that wonderful brown cheese top.
Now I have to go make some…
Good for you Nancy!
This looks amazing! Thanks for sharing!
I wish I could post a pic of how creamy this came out. Really delicious, as I knew it would be! Anything I make from you comes out yummy. Thank you!!
I just made this for our Christmas lunch, so easy and delicious!
This was so easy and so creamy!
I made this for Christmas and it was a major hit. I added a tablespoonful of black truffle oil, and added a topping of panko, Parmesan, and butter browned in a skillet and then tossed with more truffle oil to each serving. Absolutely delicious.
This is delicious! I easily adapted this to be gluten free with GF pasta and flour. It was amazing! I have tried other recipes before and was disappointed, I no longer need to look for a new recipe! Thank you!!
My husband is GF and loves mac and cheese. Would love to hear how you modified, e.g., which GF pasta, whether you changed the proportions of milk, etc.
I made 1\2 batch and added fresh chopped garlic instead of the garlic powder. Must admit this was very good for a stove top Mac and cheese! Very easy to make. Thank you
Just made this with what I had on hand: Unsweetened Soy Milk and Smoked Cheddar and Parm.
It turned out great!! I only made half a batch and it is absolutely an easy recipe for any night of the week, and adaptable to any milk. Thanks for sharing! I added some paprika to amp up the smokiness too.
This was absolutely delicious, and so easy to make. I love that it’s all in one pot. I found that the pasta needed a fair amount of stirring before it came to a simmer to avoid it getting stuck to the bottom of the pot, but that’s no big deal. Thanks for another delicious recipe!
This sounds great. I’m so excited about being able to do it all in one pot so I’ll try it tonight
I followed instructions using sharp cheddar/smoked Gouda/parm for the cheeses. I was nervous about the amount of liquid left in the pot after simmering and once the pasta was al dente. Even after stirring in the cheese, it looked like pasta soup. But after it sat off heat for 20 mins, it was perfectly creamy and delicious! Our family loved it and I will definitely make it again.
OMG the cheese in this baby!! Literally want to dig in NOW! Yum!!??
I made this last night and my husband and I were both big fans – it is definitely the creamiest mac and cheese we’ve ever had! I made it exactly as written (using sharp white cheddar and parmesan cheeses) but my only critique would be that I found it to be a little too sharp overall (perhaps this is just personal preference). Next time I make this, I’m going to use regular cheddar with the parmesan and see if that solves it. My husband requested pepper jack as another option, which I think would be delicious. The possibilities are endless! Thanks again, Ali, for another easy, delicious recipe!
Needed a quick dinner idea tonight so I did a quick google search for stovetop Mac and cheese and this recipe popped up. It was perfection!!! Absolutely delicious and so easy!! And I’m so glad I took your tip and used the cooking time to fresh grate the cheeses I really think it made all the difference. I halved the recipe for my family of four and it made the perfect amount. Being able to make Mac and cheese without having to boil a separate pot of pasta is dangerous for the waste line but awesome when you need a quick dinner on the table! :) I’ve never made a one pot pasta dish before so I was skeptical but It turned out really great. I can’t wait to adapt this recipe in the future by adding veggies/chicken etc. I made your naan recipe last week too and it was awesome. Thank you so much for all of your great recipes!!
*waistline :) sorry for the typo!
Just made this for dinner… ready in 15 minutes and one of the best Mac and cheese dishes I’ve ever had!!! Thank you!!
Oh my goodness! This will now be my go-to mac and cheese recipe; made it last night for supper and it was absolutely delicious and soooo creamy and cheesy! To be quite honest, I was a little bit nervous about cooking the pasta in the base sauce but it turned out perfectly. The only small changes I made based on what I had on hand was I used garlic puree instead of powder and used sharp white herbed cheddar. After the cheese was added I added in chopped smoked bacon which I pre-cooked and fresh chopped scallions to make it even more decadent. Yum!
Hi! This sounds delish and I decided to make it…is 1 pound of pasta 1 cup uncooked? I looked it up online and it was a bit confusing ?♀️Seems like I have a pasta soup…I put in a little more than a cup of dry macaroni. Tks!
1 lb of pasta is the entire box. One cup of dry pasta wouldn’t be nearly enough
Made this tonight, and I’m in the middle on it. Overall it had a really good taste, I used 1/2 Gouda and 1/2 sharp cheddar, my sauce turned out grainy so I guess I needed to cook my roux a little longer, but it was really soupy. We had to wait close to 30 minutes for it to completely thicken, by that time it was cold and we had to re heat. Any suggestions for next time? Maybe cut down the amount of liquid in it? Is this problem that you’ve run into?
Hey Ali! I put my own spin on this recipe with different cheese and pasta and absolutely loved it. I will make it again and again because it comes together so easily. I posted about it on my blog and would LOVE if you would check it out.
Very good but now that I know I think 9oz of sharp white cheddar would be suffice. Don’t get me wrong, full cheese is delicious but it doesn’t need all that cheese.
Life changing M&C and a must to keep handy if you have kiddos! My kiddo-critic said this was much better than my previous recipe on rotation. I even indulged! More like this, pls
I’m planning to make this for a family get together as something easy for the kids to grab if they are fussy for dinners! Any idea if this reheats well Ali?
Thanks for the easy, one-pot, delicious recipe!
Turned out like I just kicked Martha Stewart’s ass outta the kitchen..
So delicious! My husband and I just finished eating. It was perfectly cheesy and creamy! Even my husband liked it!! Thank you for sharing.
Hi, this is a friendly warning!! This dish is dangerous ‘cause you may finish the whole pot before you serve your family and friends. Thanks, this recipe is one step above all the others.
Excellent and easy! Made it two times this weekend. First time for a holiday party and second time for my boy who is visiting for winter break! Easy to mix and match the cheese and add ins like bacon or small bits of veggies.
OMG, this recipe is super simple and absolutely delicious. I have never seen a one pot wonder recipe for Mac and cheese. This is delicious and my family loved it.
Yum! Need to let it sit for about 10 minutes after it done for ultra creaminess. I subbed cream cheese for the parmesan, and added fresh cut scallions into my last stir. Also, in addition to the dry mustard, I added about a 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika. Delicious!
This was fantastic! I did take the suggestion of grating the cheese rather than purchasing pre-grated. I think this did make a big difference. So creamy and easy; will be a keeper in our house!
Found this recipe after realizing I had no boxed mac and cheese, but did have all the ingredients to make this. Love the idea of cooking the pasta in the same pot. I already, randomly, had a bunch of leftover cooked elbows, so just warmed that up in the pot and then added a mix of cheese I had on hand (pre-shredded Italian mix, cheddar, and mexican blend). I’m sure shredding it fresh would be even better, but I had three hungry kids coming in from playing in the snow and had to improvise. They all loved it, including my 4 year old who loves the blue box. :)
My husband and I just finished eating this! Man, that was really great! We added in some colby jack because we didn’t have quite enough sharp cheddar and a bit more fresh parm and it was awesome. My mind is swirling with all the possibilities….I think the base+adding cheese at the end would be great with broccoli for broccoli cheddar soup or potatoes for a potato cheddar soup…thanks so much!
Just made this!! And it is ideed just as quick, easy and absolutely tasty as described!! Thank you! Recipe imprinted into the brain :-D
Awesome! Loved it! So easy too!
This was so delicious and super easy/quick to make! thank you!
This was a good last-minute meal! I broke the recipe rules and used what I had on hand, and it was fine. After the first cup of water, I added a carton (4cups) of low sodium chicken broth, a can of evaporated milk, and for the cheese, Aldi’s Gruyere and Swiss, along with the parm. It melted well despite the anti-caking agent. I added extra Dijon to the cooking liquid, and some turmeric for a golden color. Yum!
Pretty good, but it didn’t come out quite right. Far too much water/milk. I had a soup when I put in the cheese. Also, it didn’t have the cheesiest flavor in the end. After I thickened it up with a few tablespoons of cornstarch, it was pretty creamy and good. My boyfriend had no complaints whatsoever.
Super easy! I halved the recipe and it came out great. Had to add a little more liquid before the noodles were done cooking but I did not accurately measure anything so I’m sure that was due to my estimating ? would make again!
This is the best ever, no cooking the pasta before hand, no baking . Followed your recipe and just added some panko that I had salted with butter. Gave it a bit of crunch. Delicious