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.
If you wanted to make this in advance for a party and reheat it would that still be ok? Trying to come up with some sides for a child’s birthday party that I can do in advance!
I made 2 batches of this last night for a potluck for my son’s Highschool football team. Everyone loved it and there were no leftovers!
The whole family loved this recipe!
Always been looking for a stove top mac n cheese recipe and THIS IS IT. We decided to do 2 cups of smoked gouda instead of full cheddar, and that sold this recipe for my boyfriend who was convinced his mom’s recipe is unbeatable. ;) Thanks Ali for another winner!
Where in the world has this Recipe been? I made it for our “All Nations” Church Service, OMG! No more boxed Mac-N-Cheese for our family. I’m hoping to make it again, for Thanksgiving, God willing. I decided to make a larger amount, used Sharp & American Cheeses and it was so creamy. I was so surprisingly, pleased. Thank you for sharing.
I’m a believer, just made this and it turned out great. I alwayz make baked mac& cheese but was feeling lazy today. I had packaged sharp shredded cheddar & Some sliced cooper sharp and figured what the hell its worth a shot, so glad i did. Thanks you so much for this recipe!!
I use to HATEmac and cheese until the last few years. That’s when I discovered sharp cheddar mac and cheese. But this 1 pot recipe is simply the best!!!♡♡♡♡♡♡
I followed the recipe very carefully and it ended up extremely soupy- pretty much inedible. Any ideas on what I did wrong? I thought 3 cups water + 4 cups milk was a lot of liquid. I even added in a little more than a pound uncooked pasta.
Tayler, Did you ever get an answer to your question? I’m thinking the same thing and am reluctant to make this recipe with soooo much liquid. Thanks! Cynthia
Easy and soooooo delicious ! Next time I’ll add less water though.
I seriously questioned the amount of liquid in this recipe, too! I purposely cut back….then as the pasta cooked, I realized I needed the original amounts of water and milk. I cooked it in a cast iron skillet with no cover, so there was evaporation that necessarily took place. As it began to cool, there was some serious thickening that took place. (P.S. I’m not a fan of elbow macaroni so used Canchiglie by Montebello – small, round hat-shaped pasta.)
Actually, you really need the 7 cups of liquid if you use a pound of pasta. The pasta absorbs the liquid and this is why the dish is so creamy.
Absolutely delicious, however I did substitute the 1/4 tsp of Ground Mustard with 1/4 tsp of Ground Italian seasoning.I also used Colby Jack Cheese and Sharp Cheddar Cheese;then I garnished the done dish with Ground Italian Seasoning no extra salt was needed for me.I will be using this recipe whenever I cook Macaroni and Cheese.
Made this for a class of 3 year olds & they loved it! I used whole wheat macaroni & reduced the water down to 2 cups based on comments that it was soupy & it turned out perfectly!
just wanted you to know that now when I go online to look up a recipe I look to see if you have one. you’re recipes are consistently awesome. the first one I found was your pad thai recipe. thanks! ami
The whole family enjoyed this dish! I used extra sharp cheddar and Colby cheese in place of the Parmesan. It seemed a bit to liquidity foy my tasting ( not by much- but enough to notice) so I just added some extra cheese! Can’t go wrong there. Hands down best stove- top!
Hands down the best stovetop macaroni and cheese in my book! Super creamy, reminds me of macaroni that you would get out and about – except you know what’s in this one, and it makes a whole bunch more. Absolute keeper :)
I made this for my neighbor who was recovering from a recent surgery. It turned out perfect, and I loved the “one pot”. start to finsh 30 min max. Tonight the neighbors daughter came over to thank me and ask for the recipe.
Thannk you for sharing!
I just made this recipe for my family and it’s amazing! I initially added 2 cups of water because I was worried about it being too runny but by the time the pasta had cooked the sauce looked a little thick so I added another half cup at the end. The next time I make it I’ll use the 3 cups the recipe called for.
The best recipe by far – and one pot only! I’m on dreamland. Been looking for a go to for Mac and cheese forever. This is definitely it. Amazing. Thank you !
Oh my! I just tasted this, made it for a party and it is devine! So simple yet amazing! I reduced the water to 2 cups and added a little fresh Parmesan and Italian blend cheese as I only purchased on block of cheddar to grate and it’s awesome! Thank you!
Wow this is so good – halved recipe and worked perfectly!
I made this gluten free by using gluten free all purpose flour and using brown rice noodles, it was so good. Everyone really liked it .
My sauce never thickened and I’m not sure where I went wrong since I followed to a t ☹️
Why would you do this to people? I actually tried this recipe and it’s awful
What do you think went wrong. I just made this and it was awesome. No really. The best mac & cheese I have ever produced. I’m like a rock star in this house. What didn’t you like about it, if you don’t mind my asking?
I tried this recipe as well. I am an experienced cook and baker. This came out like soup and very little flavor (even though I sauteed minced shallots in the butter before making the roux). I ended up straining the pasta, reserving the cheesy milk soup, and doctoring with more flour, a lot more seasoning, and simmered for at least 15 minutes. Eventually it was usable, let it cool a bit, and mixed it back into the pasta. So much for one pot!
This is my favourite mac abd cheese. I was hesitant to make it with dry noodles directly in the pot, but after a couple times I tried it and it was life changing. Loveee and add my own spices. Also half a stock cube
I used chickpea pasta and it was way too soupy, but could be because it needs the starch regular pasta releases. Overall it’s okay but I would definitely adjust and maybe add less liquid. I ended up adding more cheese but it’s just too much sauce for the amount of pasta. And I usually LOVE a saucy Mac and cheese. Not a bad base recipe, but definitely adjust the amount of liquids, especially if you’re using alternative pastas.
That was so good, and so easy. Win-win! Way better than any other mac & cheese recipe I’ve made, and I have made a bunch. Didn’t change a thing (except halving the recipe cuz that’s all the pasta I had). Love your site! Love your recipes! And love your chicken enchiladas (only made that like 20 times). Sorry, I got distracted. This is a keeper! Thanks. You’re inspiring! Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.
Hi Ali, how do I incorporate vegetables into the dish? Do I cook it separately? When should I add it in? Thank you
This was delicious! I used a combination of sharp cheddar cheese and Monterey Jack cheese along with the parmesan. The leftovers also reheated great; no curdled, greasy mess. After warming up in the microwave, it was creamy and smooth and oh so tasty! Will definitely be making this again!
I made this today! It’s so easy. Pretty much followed the ingredients and instructions. I used a combination of sharp cheddar and white American cheese and added a bit more Parmesan. This is so much easier than the baked mac and cheese recipes I’ve used over the years. I’ll definitely make this again. It makes a lot too. That’s nice because we’re self quarantining and sharing food with our family members that live close by
Made tonight it came out very good. Use bagged cheese. I’m not a Mac and cheese lover. Very easy to make like the use of one pot.
Amazing Mac n Cheese! The 3 boys and husband loved it. I highly recommend it.
I am a mac and cheese snob and I LOVED this. This is perfect comfort food – creamy and cheesy and easy. I made a half batch (it’s just my fiance and I) and the ratio, including the amount of liquid, was perfect. I saw some comments that said it was too soupy, but TRUST. When you add in the cheese, if made as directed, the sauce comes out perfect. This is my new go to mac recipe.
Excellent!! Very quick and easy to make as well. I was told that my Mac & Cheese “was the bomb” this time, what did you do different mom!?
Super good but i added about 2 Tablespoons more flour as it was super watery then it was perfect!
Truly the best Mac and Cheese recipe I’ve ever tried. I added a splash of Worcestershire Sauce -began with 1/2 of the water and 1/2 of the milk and then added more of each as the brown rice pasta began to cook and soften until I had the consistency I was looking for. Worked out very well. I used bagged shredded Italian Blend cheese as well as Cheddar. Also diced some Turkey Ham and stirred in. Terrific dinner!
This came out perfectly.
For those having some issues with soupiness:
1. Make sure the first cup of water you whisk into the roux has blended into a nice thickened, bubbling mixture. Then gradually add a little water and milk at a time while simmering until it’s all incorporated. Don’t rush it. Before you add the pasta, make sure the liquid is simmering a bit.
2. When you put in the pasta, kick the heat up to get a boil going, then reduce to a good simmer. Stir several times during cooking.
3. I stirred in a couple handfuls of fresh spinach and chunks of artichoke bottoms during the last few minutes of cooking, and it came out great.
Delicious! Turned out great!!!
So glad I found this, it’s now our all time fav Mac n cheese recipe! Love it!
Great recipe!! I adjusted the water to just two cups and it turned out great, still saucy but not soupy. A fantastic base.
Loved it! It’s everything Ali says it would be. Unknown to me and like an experiment, this recipe can be replicated in several different ways and in my case, like J, I used a smoky gouda along with a mix of a sharp, nicely aged white cheddar and regular sharp. Made for a nice lacto-ovo vegetarian.
I gave it a 5 star rating but a caramelized top would have been nice; will pop into oven for a few to get that melty, cheesy top.
I made it!! Thank you!
I am going to make this tonight however I don’t have ground mustard. Is there something I can use in its place?
Delicious mac and cheese. I’ll never make another recipe again!
This is SO good! Not only is it just fantastic creamy homemade Mac and cheese, but it’s EASIER THAN THE BOX! No strainer necessary, and I love the truly one pot set up. Our family loves this and we are Mac and cheese snobs from the south! Be careful if you substitute a pasta that has thicker sections than cavitappi (example: fusilli or shells) that you may need to cook it a little longer than the 9-10 min for perfect al dente. This is a complete KEEPER RECIPE!
I added 1/2 teaspoon of granulated onion and shredded up whatever open bricks of cheese I had in the fridge. D delicious lunch formy quarantined family.
I gave it 4* just because it seems to have too much cheese! :) Very nummy. I made half the recipe and 8oz of cheese was just wayyyy to much. I definitely recommend the recipe just put the cheese in increments to your desired amount. Very easy, one pot dish! I didn’t have sharp cheese, due to the Shelter In Place order, I just used what I had which was a Mexican Cheese blend.
Just made this and it came out great! Some reviews say it was soupy but I’m guessing they didn’t cook the butter and flour long enough so it didn’t thicken up for them. It came out great for me!
Made this recipe last night with pulled pork! Was great and done in 30min. I was worried about the liquid as I always read the comments, but I follow the recipe exactly and it came out perfect. I made sure when I added the fist cup of water to the roux I took the time to really wisk and make sure it thickened. I used white shredded cheddar but I am on a search for yellow that will make it taste more like…yes….Kraft. My kids just love it and they are teenagers. Maybe just a mild yellow cheddar? I have tried many Mac and cheese recipes searching for creamy and this one is great. I would like to add it is great on time as well. Although we all have a lot of time on our hands, after working all day in yard yesterday I was able to whip this up with my crockpot pulled pork in no time! Thank you so much for creating a simple, delicious, creamy Mac and cheese!! xo
Thank you… This sounds amazing!
After 40 + years of making Mac n cheese, I finally have found a great recipe that is creamy, easy to prepare quickly, and tastes delicious. This is definitely a keeper recipe.
I just want to address two reviews I read about the macaroni being soup-like and another person afraid of that and therefore reluctant to try it. I followed the recipe step by step and the consistency was literal perfection. I almost didn’t make the recipe because of other comments I saw but I’m so glad I did. It was delicious. Not even close to soupy. The only change I needed to make was adding seasoned salt and a splash of hot sauce.
Wonder if those who ended up with soupy pasta may have pre cooked their pasta???
This recipe is a WINNER. I followed everything except the milk and cheese part. Instead of 4 c milk, I used a 3-cup mixture of whole milk, heavy cream and oat milk (roughly equal portions). For cheese, all I had was almost 8 oz of extra sharp shredded and almost 8 oz of Italian cheese mix (pre-shredded). It came out perfect. I think that extra cup of milk would’ve been too much (the only reason I didn’t use the full amount is because that’s all I had on hand). And the blend of cheeses was delicious. This will be out new go-to for quick mac and cheese.
Yes Letitia, I think so! I failed to read the instructions properly and cooked my pasta separately and was about to leave a poor Review when I saw your comment just before sending review! Mine was sooooooo soupy and I could not believe how many people liked this recipe!
Now that I realize my error, I cannot in clean conscience say anything else until I do it right next time.
Thanks for pointing this out!
Even if they were cooked prior, that has nothing to do with the cheese/water/milk ratio.
Don’t precook the pasta, it works perfectly