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One-Pot Mac and Cheese

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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:

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Stovetop Mac and Cheese

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings 1x

Description

My favorite one-pot stovetop mac and cheese recipe can be ready to go in less than 30 minutes and always tastes perfectly creamy, cheesy and so comforting.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 pound uncooked pasta (I used cavatappi*)
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. Season. Taste and season with additional salt if needed.
  5. Serve. Serve warm, garnished with a few twists of black pepper and enjoy!

Notes

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. Or if your pasta lists a different cooking time, just note that you may need to use more or less cooking water.

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.

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Recipe rating

338 comments on “One-Pot Mac and Cheese”

  1. Made this and turned out really good! I did a few things differently –
    I only added 2 cups of water & 3 cups of milk only because of the reviews saying it was soupy. I could’ve added the 4th cup of milk to make it more creamy. It still turned out great.
    I used a 16oz block of velveeta cheese because I didn’t have sharp
    I used dijon mustard as a substitute for the mustard powder (didn’t have any)

    Turned out great & very cheesy!!! Only other thing I recommend is using a big pot! This will easily feed a family of 5-6.

  2. Was excited about the one pot recipe, but had a couple issues:
    1) like others, I found it very soupy. I used 4 cups of 1% milk (all I had at the time) and 2 1/2 cups of water. So I realize up front this could have been a big reason why it didn’t thicken more. I was planning on using even less, but thought the extra liquid was needed to cover the pasta while simmering.
    2) I used about 4 1/2 cups of shredded cheese extra sharp cheddar – going off the 4-5 cup recommendation in the recipe – and thought it could have used 6 cups for texture and flavor.
    3) though the sauce is flavorful and good, it’s not cheesy and rich like the mac and cheese from, say, the hot bar at Whole Foods or from delis that we have bought before. It’s reminiscent of the cheese sauce my mom used to make for us as kids to get us to eat our broccoli. (Speaking of which, I think it would be awesome to add broccoli florets!)
    I’ve made this in advance for thanksgiving tomorrow, so I’ll see how it is after resting for 12 hours or so, and hopefully absorbing some of that extra liquid! Thanks for the easy recipe to follow, and for the one-pot technique!

  3. Awesome recipe! Made some minor modifications: no mustard, only 1 T flour, and added 4oz mozzarella. Was kind of soupy at first but after it cooled in the fridge it was perfect when warmed up! Topped with crushed flamin’ hot Ruffles ;)

  4. I agree, this is the best. I just threw away all the others I had tried. This is the creamiest and passed the picky eater test AND the ‘grew up on mac and cheese’ person.
    When you have to get dinner on the table quickly, this is great too. With COVID, dinner is getting to be a chore and recipes like this are wonderful, so helpful.
    But it’s good!
    (Evaporated milk works too, if need be.)
    thanks!

  5. this recipe is god-like, i highly recommend.

  6. Just finished making this for dinner, with some tweaking of ingredients and adding other flavors this turned out perfect. Like others I reduced the water to 2 cups and I did a mixture of milks, 2 cups of whole milk and 2 cups of heavy cream and I used Colby Jack and sharp cheddar both grated fresh.. This is definitely the perfect base for creating a mac and cheese that fits your tastes.

  7. I’ve made this at least 10 times. Excellent recipe. Just be careful not to use more cheese than recommended. I normally substitute half gruyere cheese instead of parmesan cheese. If you decide to try it, just get one large slice from the deli instead of packaged. That will save you around five dollars since a half pound of gruyere cheese runs around eight dollars. At the deli one large slice I think it’s a number 10 thickness will run less than three dollars and you can use it all in the mac and cheese. You will love it.

  8. If you’re GF for whatever reason – this works with Cup4Cup flour and GF pasta! Don’t skimp on the liquid (I honestly have no idea what other reviewers were doing? The liquid is necessary, esp for GF noods) and amp up the garlic powder/mustard. This was delightfully indulgent and exactly what I needed today.

  9. I used your recipe to pull together a last minute dish with stuff that I had on hand. It worked really well! Thanks! I used some fresh Mozzarella cheese and it made it extra stringy, but I knew that would happen.

    • This is my new go to recipe! I used what I had on hand (a combo of oat milk and 2% lactaid) and ran out of block cheese, so used a mix of freshly shredded and pre-shredded cheese, and rotini instead of elbows. This was so easy and delicious. It’s true that it will be a little runny at first, but if you give it a few minutes, it will thicken up into a rich, creamy sauce. I had a lot of leftovers, and the leftovers were even better, since the sauce had even more time to set up! Loved it!

  10. The best Mac N Cheese recipe ever!!!

    A big hit with the kids, they just loved it, and fewer pots to wash which is a bonus. I would however use only two cups of water instead of three. We used a mix of red sharp cheddar, red medium cheddar, a bit of mozzarella and kashkaval, and of course parmesan.

    This is our favorite recipe for Mac N Cheese and will be our recipe from now on.

  11. I rate a 5 because if this were up against Mac n chz it tops it. I kid u not, so easy, super creamy (don’t forget to take it off the heat b4 adding chz), super gone. Thank you Gimme!

  12. Was super delicious but I had too much sauce as well. Had to boil some xtra pasta, tossed it in & it was perfect. Might dbl the pasta next time

  13. I made this for the first time last night and I was worried because of previous comments about “soupiness” and a flour taste. I followed the recipe and I have to say this is the most delicious stovetop mac I have ever had. I made sure to let the flour mixture thicken before I started adding water and milk….which I added very slowly, while stirring constantly. The whole gang loved it! I used cavatappi pasta, half white sharp cheddar and half yellow sharp cheddar (plus the parm, of course). I seasoned to taste with salt, pepper, and Cholula hot sauce. We will be eating leftovers today! Merry Christmas.

  14. I have this recipe memorized because I have made it so many times. My kids love mac and cheese and they declare this one the best mac and cheese.

  15. This was fantastic! My kids loved this version.

  16. Quick and easy! I love it

  17. My boyfriend and I made this for dinner and it was hands-down the best mac and cheese we’ve ever had. We used a mixture of 5 different kinds of cheeses: cheddar, pepper jack, Mexican blend, Colby-jack blend, and Parmesan cheese. We loved how easy it was and that it was all done in one pot!

  18. Thanks for the recipe. It is super easy and quick to make.
    I had cooked pasta so I just made the sauce portion. Followed the recipe but use 1 cup of milk instead of all the liquid listed. I was lazy to shred the cheese so I just broke it into piece and continuing stirred on the stove until all melted. Then added pasta and mixed really well. My kid love it.

  19. this was AMAZING!!!
    I substituted half of the milk with Half and half. Even though I do not have the original to compare either to, ours was super creamy and delish!!
    a quick easy side dish to whip up, and tastes SO. MUCH. BETTER. than boxed!
    Our little one gives it 2 thumbs way, way up!!

  20. Loved this recipe. I added monterey jack and colby with my cheddar and parmesan. We will definitely make this again.

  21. Made it for my 16 year old sister, her boyfriend, and my 12 year old brother they loved it! I used Pepper Jack, Mozzarella, and Velveeta cheeses. Pepper jack for bite (they’re teens it’s not fun if it doesn’t bite), velveeta for creaminess, and mozzarella to make sure the creaminess is well balanced

  22. Made this tonight because my 9 year old was craving mac and cheese. It was excellent. There will be a repeat performance later in the week for school lunches! Smile. Thank you or a delicious recipe.n Cooking the elbows in the milk sauce does make a difference. The pasta is soaked in the sauce. Also I used fresh garlic because, I did not have dried garlic at home. Still fantastic.

  23. I also do not understand what others are doing. I used all the water and milk and its spot on! Everyone loves this. It’s our new go to mac n cheese!
    Thanks so much!

  24. Yum ??? thanks :D

  25. Hi just wanted to watch the video but can’t find it?Please let me know how to thanks!

  26. It was alright. My husband said it was good, but I and my 2 year old son didn’t really like it. I have made the 2 pot method before and prefer that, but I wanted to give this one pot method a try.

  27. I just made this and it was so good! The whole family loved it! I followed the recipe exactly, but using penne. I used sharp cheddar, smoked Gouda, and Parmesan. I think if you follow the recipe EXACTLY, and are patient with your roux and adding the water to the roux slowly and really let it thicken before adding the rest of the liquid, there shouldn’t be an issue. Also, the sauce thickens a lot while the pasta cooks if it is simmering correctly. It makes a lot of sauce but it is super creamy, not soupy at all. And as with all recipes, don’t skip the part where you season to taste. Adding the right amount of salt at the end brings out the delicious cheese flavors. Will definitely make this again!

  28. First time ever making stove top mac n cheese and its the best quick easy and convenient my family and I love it

  29. This recipe is so easy. I ran with it and put every kind of cheese that I had available. My family loved it

  30. This was the first time I’ve ever made macaroni and cheese from scratch. It came out so good!! I used my own raw milk straight from the farm and instead of sharp I used mild cheddar and used four cups. Other than that I didn’t change anything from this recipe. Turned out super good and flavorful. Will be using this recipe again!!

  31. Outstanding! My family loved this dish, I added some bacon bits and I definitely will make it again!

  32. This was the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had. I bought shredded mexican blend cheese because I’m lazy. Still was delicious.

  33. Weirdest way I have ever made Mac n’ cheese, but oh my gosh SO GOOD!! I love it, it’s a nice thick creamy sauce.

  34. I have never rated a recipe before, except on the AllRecipes app, but I gotta chime in here. I was so nervous about adding 7 cups of liquid to pasta and expecting it to become mac and cheese, but this is perfect.

    The multiple reviews calling it soupy didn’t help alleviate my concerns, so I have to admit that at first I was cautious about adding my liquids. I started with 2 cups of water and 2 cups of milk, dumped in the DRY, UNCOOKED pasta, and within a few minutes of simmering it became apparent that my skeptical liquid amount wasn’t going be enough.

    If you’ve ever made a mornay sauce (which is essentially what this is: roux>béchamel>mornay) for mac, you probably have an idea of how much your cheese thickens up your béchamel. By the time the pasta started to swell, I was rushing to add the omitted liquids and get it back to a simmer.

    And it is GREAT. This isn’t a baked casserole cafeteria-style mac, this is a stove top mac. It’s gooey, creamy, the ultimate comfort food. You can obviously amp up the flavor with herbs, spices, and different cheeses, but as written with sharp white cheddar you’re looking at an unpretentious homestyle classic comfort mac. It’s basically what Stouffer’s is trying to be, only Stouffer’s sucks because it’s soupier, plasticky, and less flavorful.

    I would highly recommend using large elbow noodles or cavatappi (which is what the author uses) to achieve the best pasta vehicle-to-sauce ratio.

    Don’t be anxious about it being soupy, DON’T cook your pasta before adding it to the pot, and DO enjoy your steaming bowl of cheesy comfort. I will absolutely be making this again–fearlessly.

  35. I accidentally let the milk reach boiling point before I turned it back down. Does that mean the Mac and cheese is ruined? Is there a way to salvage it?

  36. Made this last night for my husband for Valentine’s Day. I’m not a big fan of Mac and cheese and never made homemade, but I loved this and so did he. I used dry milk instead and I shredded some cheese and used some packaged 4 cheese blend and some packaged mozzarella because that’s all I had. Let’s face it times are tough. I also omitted the garlic powder and mustard, but it turned out great. Loved it so much I had two bowl’s. Never reviewed a recipe before either. Thanks I’ll make it again. One pot works great!

  37. I don’t usually like mac & cheese but I LOVED THIS RECIPE SO MUCH??

  38. Sooooo good! And Soooo easy!! Our 16 year old made it all by herself (she doesn’t like to cook)!! We also made the entire recipe gluten-free by replacing items that had gluten in them! We definitely will be making this again!!

  39. You need a Link at the top of your page for the RECIPE … That’s what I want, not a 15 minute read. Thanks

  40. I’ve tried one pot mac and cheese recipes before and they’ve never really worked for me. But this one does! I think it’s the roux that makes the difference. I halved the recipe and the amounts of water/milk worked fine for me; not soupy like some reviewers have said.

    I didn’t measure the cheese but probably used closer to 4 cups (for a half recipe). I used medium cheddar, parmesan, and a little leftover mozzarella, but I think it would be even better with sharp cheddar next time. After the pasta was cooked, I transferred it to a baking dish, topped with breadcrumbs, and baked at 400 for about 20 minutes until toasted on top. Tasted great and I’ll definitely make this again!!

  41. I’ve been making mac & cheese for too many years to count and since I am 70+ you can figure it out. Well, boys, I was skeptical about the Barcelona connection not thinking why a so-called all-American dish would be perfected across the pond but, nevertheless, I must concede that indeed this is one of the best mac & cheese recipes I have ever encountered! [Just an historical note: Incidentally, we all know that it was originated in Italy, but, in 1802, President Thomas Jefferson first served Macaroni and cheese at a state dinner thereby introducing it as an American dish.]

  42. Great recipe! I used taco blend cheese, pepper jack and a little cheddar. Also used paprika, cumin, and chili powder. If you can’t tell I like things with a bit of kick to them. I see what other comments were saying about the “soupiness” but I think after sitting for a bit, reheating it should be fine.

  43. Sooo easy and delicious!!! You cannot go wrong with this recipe.

  44. I’ve used this recipe many times, my whole family absolutely loves it. The last two times I made it I used chickpea pasta. Delicious!!! Thank you for sharing this with us!!

  45. This recipe turned out and tasted great! I followed the recipe exactly and this turned out awesome. It was not runny, but a nice smooth, cheesy texture. I’m not quite sure what the other recipe users may have been doing incorrectly. I even used shell noodles and it was almost like eating Panera mac and cheese!

  46. Really cool recipe. I added about 1/2 cups homemade taco seasoning at the step where you add the mustard, and added thinly sliced chorizo at the step where you add the cheese, and turned out super well. I also replaced one cup of the milk with heavy cream because I like my mac and cheese a bit heartier/thicker, and added 2 tsp turmeric at the end for color.

  47. THIS AMAZING!!! I would recommend this recipe to everyone I know!!!!!!!!! <)

  48. I may never go back to baked Mac n cheese again. I mixed cheddar and gruyere cheeses (plus the Parmesan as indicated) and added about 2 tbsps of nutritional yeast powder for extra cheesiness. Followed the directions and it came out perfectly. Thank you!

  49. the best stovetop mac and cheese out there thank you!

  50. Made it just as written, and it did have the soupy sauce others have mentioned. As it cooled, however, the sauce thickened, and OMG it is so good! I’ll be trying spicier cheese blends in the future, if it’s just for my husband and me, but this was perfect for grandkids and we all loved it. Thanks for sharing!