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.
I added sauteed 2 tablespoons of chopped white onion on the butter, three slices of American processed cheese for a more traditional cheesy flavor and seasoned the sauce further with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and Lawry’s seasoning salt. I also found a liitle extra liquid, about 1/4 cup , was necessary because the sauce got a bit thick. Very quick and easy.
Felt like the recipe is good using your favorite shredded cheese or cheeses. The sharp cheddar mixed in with my usual of the Mexican mix and Colby jack mix ruined the meal for me. Will try this recipe again with the cheeses I know and love. Love how quick it took to prep and cook though! ?
Followed to a T…mine came out a little too soupy. However, the flavor was great! And it was the easiest Mac & cheese I’ve ever made. I strained out some of the sauce when I served it up…not a big deal at all. I’ll probably cut the water by a cup next time. Easy & yummy!
Very nice recipe, my son highly enjoyed! Mine was a bit on the soupy side too, but after I allowed it to sit in the pot (top off) for about 10 minutes, the pasta did absorb the extra liquid. Will keep this recipe in my rotation. Thank you!
A real winner — delicious and oh-so-homemade! I cooked it in the new Pampered Chef 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet and start-to-finish, ready in 30 minutes. Add a side of broccoli. Quick, easy and super delicious!
Super easy and fast. I add some chopped onion, Lawry’s seasoning salt and did put it in the oven with buttered bread crumbs at 325F for about 15 minutes. It did a little more dry, but I revived it with a splash of milk.
Way too much liquid. I only did 2 cups of water and 4 cups of milk and its still way too soupy. I strained off some of the liquid to save for another try. Very good otherwise.
Halved the recipe and added crab!! Homestlye decadence!!
Was delicious. Perfect thickness. Had an issue with my cheeses which cursed in the pot once mixed together. Maybe should’ve waited for the pasta/milk mixture to cool a bit before mixing in the cheeses? I added bacon, red pepper flakes and a dash of cayenne pepper.
I made this tonight. It was pretty good by my standards and excellent by my childrens’ – age eight and nine. I read the comments about being soupy and it wasn’t. I followed the recipe exactly and didn’t hustle (it took less than 30 minutes). I made sure the first mix of flour and water was thick and then added the rest of the water and milk per instructions. I did wait for a slight boil before adding the pasta. Per the reviews, I thought a little more seasoning might be necessary so I doubled the garlic powder, mustard powder and added worchestershire sauce. I made the mac & cheese first, put a lid on it and made my main – salmon. When I served it 20 minutes later, the texture was perfect.
I think the dish could have benefited from a sharper cheddar. I had only regular cheddar on hand and it was pre-grated. The thing I didn’t like (which my kids did not notice) was the taste of flour. It is only 3 T but I could taste it and it bothered me.
It was a pretty good mac & cheese but I will look around for a better stove-top version. That being said, if you are not looking for amazing, this is a good recipe.
I agree I could taste the flour and I let it cook for a minute or so to cook out that taste. But was a little bland I added more black pepper when I ate it. I felt as if it was missing something to take it To the next level. It was super easy and I did like the one pot method. I did not have extra liquid at all it was very creamy.
Maybe skip the flour in the beginning. Right before you add the cheese, stir in a slurry with cornstarch.
I think it’s possible that you tasted the flour because you used pre shredded cheese. As I understand it pre shredded cheese has flour and or potato scratch to keep it from clumping. Most recipes recommend shredding the cheese yourself to avoid this. The flour/starch combo can also prevent a smooth melt.
Having made this recipe multiple times I have never tasted the flour! If you cook it enough in the thickening stage as the directions describe you shouldn’t taste it.
I recommend following her directions and trying again and rating it fairly. You have given a mediocre review to your recipe, not hers.
It’s such good and easy Mac and cheese, I highly recommend it!
This recipe worked beautifully, just as written. It seems thin at first, but thickens when you add the cheeses and let it stand for a few minutes. While it was simmering, I stirred it frequently to keep the macaroni from sticking. I took it off the burner and waited for it to stop bubbling before adding the cheeses. (A full pound of cheddar, 4 and 1/2 cups grated.) After I made it exactly as written, I tasted it and wanted a more classic cheesy taste so I stirred in some (gasp) cubed velveeta, and another teaspoon of salt. That actually enhanced the sharp cheddar flavor, imo. I also added freshly ground pepper, after tasting it.
Has anyone substituted with almond milk?
Thanks for sharing the recipe! I tried it to save time, but the pasta cooked in sauce thing just doesn’t work. It took much longer to cook till al dente and the macaroni turned out much smaller than how the pasta would usually be if cooked separately in a pot of water. The noodle texture is unusual, too. I am not sure what went wrong.
This really is THE BEST mac n’ cheese I’ve ever had! I’ve tried for years and years to make a decent mac n’ cheese and always failed miserably. THIS recipe was a game changer! Thank you!
I loved it! I used evaporated milk and truffle oil because I enjoy rich and fancy flavor.
I’m not sure how people ended up with soupy sauce— maybe you used too-quick cooking pasta?
I used Orecchiette, and I had to add water part way through to give it more time to soften. I also made sure to let each stage really thicken before adding more liquid. I think I over did it a bit cooking off the liquid at the end— the sauce thickened up more than I expected as it cooled.
I quartered this recipe and it was plenty for two adults for our main dinner course. This was quick, easy and delicious (sharp cheddar, Gruyere, Romano) I think it could be improved by some shallots and peas— it is really rich and would have benefited from something to lighten up the flavor and add some texture— but that would make it no longer one pot.
This recipe was amazing!!! Worried about the soupy comments, I reduced the amount of liquid to my dismay. Thankfully, I had some heavy cream laying available and was able to remedy my misguided attempt before I ended up with dry pasta…fyi, the starch from the pasta also acts as a thickening agent which is why the amount of liquid reconmended is required. Amazing bechemel sauce even before adding the cheese. I recommend everyone stick to the recipe as recommended as it is extremely good as is even though I just used the sharp cheddar I had on hand. Thank you for such an amazing and quick recipe. My entire family loved it along with many of the other recipes on your page. Thanks again and I look forward to trying many more of your recipes.
this was so good I didn’t add enough cheese though so if you are going to make this make sure you add the full amount of cheese or else there’s barely any flavour!
It’s great actually
Been looking for a recipe to make my Grandma’s Cremettes and Cheese. This is it! Thank you so much.
Soooo good and fun to play around with different cheeses (usually just use what I have).
Tried for the first time. THE BEST!!!! only one pot and you can measure to your exact needs and make the way you like exactly.
it was fab!
I’ve used this recipe at least 10 times. The only one that I don’t modify
Whole family loved it! We had to use store bought cheddar but added freshly grated provolone. Excellent! Making it again today. Thanks!
I made this recipe but added
Chili powder with the spices and
Heavy cream, sour cream and mozzarella balls at the end and stirred till mixed.
Came out amazing!
Loved it !!! My boys woke up at 2am and ate Mac and cheese. They are always after me to make it
I never leave reviews for recipes that turn out bad, but… this recipe did not even resemble a Mac and cheese. I read several other reviews about it being too liquidy but decided to try it anyways. I used almost double the dry pasta amount recommended. It was literally soup. As in, I couldn’t even see the pasta there was so much liquid. Really not sure how this has a 5 star rating. I’m not picky about Mac and cheese, but this was inedible.
I have made this many times and really enjoy everything about it . It is a game changer when you shred your own cheese!
This was perfect. I used New Zealand cheddar and it was great. This will be my go to stovetop mac and cheese recipe. Especially for nights when it is too hot to turn on the oven. Thank you so much for sharing!
Amazing! Honestly tastes like something you would get at a restaurant. It is creamy and cheesy. I recommend using cheeses with stronger flavors (sharp cheddar), in order to really bring out some flavor. Also, adding some hot sauce or chili powder can be a good idea for those who like things spicy. As long as you follow the recipe there is really nothing to worry about and I didn’t have any problems! This is delicious and way better than store bought mac and cheese that is from the box or frozen.
Made this tonight with a few tweaks. I used whole wheat pasta shells, just cooked for about a minute longer. Then I omitted the mustard and garlic, and added a few splashes of Tabasco at the end while mixing in the cheeses. So yummy!!!
I’ve made many mac and cheese dishes but when it comes to pure comfort food, this beats them all. I’ve also added additions such as broccoli or chicken. It’s so good. This is the best recipe out there.
Just made this recipe and it is incredibly tasty. Followed the instructions and the one pot method worked great with the timing described.
I tried it , it was a little different from my normal mac and but it wasn’t bad
It was good. Might let the mixture come to a simmer before adding pasta next time, especially with a faster cooking pasta, but the flavors were great!
Taste great but too soupy. I recommend using half the fluid.
I cut the recipe in half because I’m only cooking for myself. I tweak it a bit, adding minced garlic instead of garlic powder, and some Old Bay instead of the salt. I prefer whole wheat pasta, and have no issues with the elbows when cooking them to al dente. Lastly, I added some leftover brisket for some awesome brisket Mac and cheese. Great one pot recipe.
This was fantastic! I’ve tried a couple Mac n cheese recipes and this is by far the easiest and most tasty. I was looking for a one pot recipe be causing time. I used the cheese I had on hand which was medium cheddar and pepper jack . The only thing I added was a small amount of paprika, fresh garlic and about 3 tbls of cream cheese. Really fabulous. This will be my go to recipe from now on!
Fast, easy & awesome! Turned out perfect!
Good flavor! Makes a LOT of soupy cheese sauce. Prepared recipe with a pound of my gluten free rotini pasta & able to scoop out enough cheese sauce for a half pound of regular elbow pasta for husband as well! Will use less water next time. Added in cooked green peas when recipe was finished for some color & texture!
Creamy, quick, and easy. Winning combination.
I followed the recipe exactly and it look great. However, it didn’t have much flavor and my cheese sauce had a fine grainy texture. Has anyone else had this problem?
I didn’t experience it with this recipe, but usually the grainy texture comes from boiling the milk & adding the cheese while the mixture is still too hot. You should take your pot off heat when you add in the cheese, & the water/milk should only ever simmer, no bubbles breaking on top. Good luck
Did anyone else end up with like a strange grainy, soupy cheese sauce? I swear, this always happens whenever a roux is used to make the sauce! Flavour is great, but I can’t get past the grainy texture!
yes me too
Yum!! I’ve never made successful stovetop mac and cheese before and this was certainly a winner in my house. I used this recipe as a base and made a copycat recipe of a mac and cheese from a brewery where my husband and I had our first date. I did half cheddar and half provolone, broccoli, red pepper, and chicken – didn’t find it too soupy but I took the instruction of adding the liquid slowly to heart, adding it in about 1/2 cup at a time and waiting for it to simmer each time. I used a little less liquid – about 3.5 cups of whole milk, but only because someone (*cough* husband) didn’t realize I bought the milk for a recipe and put some in his coffee.
This is pretty darned good and easy, too. Thanks for posting.
Very tasty but also way too soupy….I had to dump half the liquid, pretty much. It is still good but next time will adjust accordingly.
I was surprised by how easy and delicious this recipe was. I cut on the water to make it less soupy. I will definitely keep making this. Thank you for sharing.
I made this. Only used 3 cups milk, and substituted one of the cups with heavy cream. I added more garlic powder (Lawry’s brand) and should have used sharp cheddar, but medium was still good. Will try sharp and gruyere next time.
Real home made mac and cheese does not need a roux, there is no need to add flour to a pasta dish. The creaminess comes from the combo of cheese and butter. This is why some mac and cheese taste grainy and later get hard as a rock
Have made this twice now, doubling the recipe for a crowd. It got rave reviews each time. Very creamy, cheesy, best Mac & cheese recipe I’ve found.
Can u make this recipe the day before? If so, will it still be creamy?
So… I don’t even like Mac and cheese. Making this was a gift of love for my pregnant daughter, but, OH MY!!! It was so easy to make AND it was delicious. I only had shredded cheese in hand so I ended up added some extra milk. I look forward to making it with yummy cheese!