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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. This is my FAVORITE mac n’ cheese recipe! My kids (especially my youngest) are a little picky when it comes to homemade recipes, but this one is their favorite too. I get asked to make it often. The texture and taste is perfect (although, I do add a little more mustard powder and garlic along with a little white pepper). I love that it is also a one-pot recipe, less mess and hardly any prep-work.

  2. Wow, this was really really easy and amazing! I used the cheese I had on hand and added about a 1/4 cup of cream cheese to the sauce while the pasta was cooking. I added spinach at the end. One of the best recipes for Mac and Cheese I’ve ever tried!

  3. Very yummy :). This mac and cheese was easy to make, and very yummy.

  4. Best, tastiest, simplest mac n cheese recipe I’ve tried. Tip: Although it’s called “no-bake” I ran it under the broiler until just golden, being careful not to overdo it. It added soooooo much more to the dish.

  5. Omg! This recipe is awesome!!! Made it just for me, but realized after i put the butter and flour in that I was making a family recipe… so i just guessed with my measurements, and it turned out AMAZING!!!! I used a Mexican cheese blend and an Italian cheese blend cause it was all we had, and I used almond milk instead of dairy milk. I also did shell pasta; it’s one of my favorites for mac and cheese! My mom and sister tried it and LOVED it. And whats better? You have an instant pot version!!! I will definitely be testing it in the near future. I love me some homemade mac and cheese! (Oh, and I didn’t have ground mustard, but I did have paprika, so I added that. Perfect!) Thank you so much for this recipe!!! It’s a keeper for me!

  6. This Mac and cheese was absolutely delicious!! Quick, easy and super good to be stove top! Definitely a winner in my book! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  7. So good! A little runny so added extra pasta and it was perfect. Took a little longer than 20 minutes… But worth the wait!

  8. I did my own little thing using this recipe and I’m thankful! Instead I will tell you, I’m happy I only used three cups of milk instead of the four cause it would’ve been too soupy. I also only did 4 cups of cheese as well as some extra pepper and garlic.

  9. If you ever use this recipe again, only do three cups milk and three cups water! I promise it won’t be soupy.

  10. delicious!

  11. Just made this!! If it tastes as amazing as it looks I’d give it 10 stars. It took a little longer for me too because I’m not used to cooking pasta in water and milk. Didn’t want the heat too high but was afraid of overcooking my pasta. This recipe has me hooked! I’ll REALLY know what I’m doing next time. I wound up using a store bought Mac n Cheese shredded blend. 2 packages = 4 cups.

  12. So easy, fast and AMAZING!

  13. Loved the one pot! It’s super easy, BUT we thought the sauce to pasta ratio was a little off. We had lots of sauce and needed more pasta. Maybe it depends on the pasta you use. I used a pound of Rotini. It wasn’t soupy at all! I’ll add more pasta when I reheat it. But this is a keeper!!

  14. I didn’t have any milk so I used half heavy cream and half water for the milk…so creamy and delicious! Oh, and I used onion powder for half the garlic powder…I can’t get enough of it…YUM!

  15. really easy and mine turned out amazing- my son loved it
    definitely bookmarking this site

  16. it definitely was good and not soupy at all- the only think i would add would be more cheese! i also added some broccoli and it was amazingg

  17. Delicious!

  18. I’ve made the stove top recipe many times now, taste and consistency are spot on every time with the recipe as written. Has anyone adapted this to a crock pot? My thoughts are to cook the roux stovetop, add the one cup of water and mix, then move to the crock for the remainder of the steps. Has anyone tried this?

  19. I had a 12oz. bag of bowtie veggie pasta, not a pound. Reduced water to 2c. + milk (1%) to 2c. to avoid soupiness. That wasn’t enough liquid to cook pasta, so added 1/2c. hot water + 1/2c. hot milk to simmering pasta. So, for 12oz. of pasta, use approx. 5c. liquid ( recipe calls for 7c. liquid to 1lb. pasta). I reduced the roux & spices accordingly. Grated a block of super-sharp cheese from a cheese shop to 2c., and it’s plenty sharp for me. Threw in some flax seeds as pasta cooked. Tore up the rest of a bag of salad spinach leaves at the end. Delicious. This mac & cheese recipe is so flexible…you can add any veggies that need to be used, any protein, and whatever spices you like. I have herbs & veggies in our garden now, so I may add fresh cilantro and diced peppers…we’ll see. This will be my staple mac & cheese recipe, many thanks.

  20. Excellent but a little tip the cheese won’t separate if you let the pasta cool just a little before adding your cheeses. I also use corn starch instead of flour in the beginning, but that’s just my preference.

  21. Yes! The pasta absorbs much of the liquid during the cooking process. Almost to a “T”, but not quite :-)

  22. Being a fellow cheesivore, I love an ooey-gooey-cheesy Mac-n-cheese. And this did not disappoint! I must say, I was a bit nervous cooking the pasta in the roux mixture, but after doing so it all makes sense. I’m not certain where the folks went wrong whose turned out watery and unappetizing. Let mine cook for just a touch more after adding the cheese and waited about 10 minutes- and it set up beautifully. The only modification I made (don’t tell anyone!) was to add my secret ingredient- a spoonful of bacon fat (don’t repeat that!). Otherwise, this is a great recipe that is very easy to make.
    Thank you for sharing!

  23. Delicious’. Turned out perfect. Made exactly as directed. I was skeptical about cooking in all that water but it was nice and creamy

  24. Very good and SO easy. My family loves it with 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper instead of garlic/mustard combo, but the recipe itself is fast and just one pot to clean (yeah!). Turned out perfectly and everyone wants it again. Thanks, Ali!

  25. This is a great recipe. I ran out of milk so I had to put a little less liquid and it still worked and tasted great! This was so quick, easy and tasty.

  26. This was absolutely the easiest homemade macaroni and cheese on a stove top that I have ever made. I used smoked gouda, cheddar, and fontina cheeses. Since I didn’t have parmesan in the house, I used asiago. And I added bacon. Smoky, creamy… Lovely. It’s going to be the go to in my house!

  27. I’ve tried numerous mac & cheese recipes and could never find just the right one, I stumbled across this one tonight and was really skeptical about five cups of liquid, but it turned out to be just the right amount. I followed this recipe exactly and it turned out perfectly. I found extra large elbow macaroni at the grocery store and also threw in some gruyere and the result was spectacular The flavors, textures, and ratio of sauce to cheese to macaroni is just right, I wouldn’t change a thing. I finally have a go-to mac & cheese recipe that I can haul out whenever I get a hankering.

  28. This was a good recipe, though I tweaked it.

    Observing the reviews left before me, I only did two cups of water, and three cups of milk. Four cups of cheese were used, which for using only marble…was way too much. It made the Mac and cheese super thick.

    I did enjoy this generally though, and feel like once I get an optimal cheese purchased for this…that it will be delicious.

    Ps. This only made 4 servings for me, which with the amount of cheese used…is a lot ;)

  29. I had to change some things up because I didn’t have the parmesan cheese and had to use half bagged sharp change cheese and half Colby cheese that I shredded. It was still perfect YUM! I can’t wait to make it the correct way next time. It was so creamy and delicious!

  30. It was way too creamy for me. I recommend putting 1.5 noodles than what it calls for and maybe trying to thin out the cheese if it is too thick for you.

  31. One of my favorite ways to use leftover mac / cheese is as follows. Put the leftovers in an oiled square container. Refrigerate so it sets up in one big block. Turn out the block and slice some thickish slices off it. use egg wash and bread crumbs to coat the slices. Pan fry til golden brown. Enjoy!

  32. Not a fan of this recipe. Texture was questionable and not a fan of the overall flavor due to the seasoning choices. Overall wouldn’t make again.

  33. Never buying the boxed stuff ever again- this was as easy if not easier and soooooo much better. I had preheated cheese, fussily, and used mustard instead of the powder and still perfection!

  34. Every year I make Mac n’ cheese. I’ve tried every single recipe, and every year I’m like nope not a home run. Until now, this is it. I added a generous portion of ground white pepper. It’s now a family favorite. So easy too!

  35. Very creamy! Great recipe. Thank you!

  36. Not sure why other commenters had “too soupy” results. I measured everything (halving the entire recipe), cooked the roux for a good 90 seconds till golden before slowly adding liquids/stove temperatures as instructed. I used whole-grain penne pasta (what I had on-hand), fresh-grated sharp cheddar and other cheeses on-hand (plus the fresh-grated parm, of course) and the result was a delectable, beautifully creamy delight. Definitely a keeper recipe! Can’t wait to have it again with some fresh spinach thrown in! YUM!!!! Many, many thanks!

  37. I made this and tweaked it a little. I boiled my pasta first, drained it and set it aside. Then I eliminated the water and made the cheese sauce according to the recipe and it is SO good!

  38. This was amazing. I ran out of regular milk & used evaporated milk instead. A happy lil accident 😁. Also waited until the water/milk mix boiled before adding noddles.Thank you for sharing this recipe! It was amazing!

  39. This was a great recipe! My son is a very picky mac & cheese connoisseur and while he likes most of my cooking, he’s never been a fan of any mac & cheese recipe I’ve tried. I have celiac disease so I used gluten-free pasta and gluten-free flour. In the past, I think due to the gluten-free flour, the cheese sauce has always had a grit to it. I read through the comments and used corn starch instead of a gluten-free flour blend this time as one of the other commenters suggested. I did everything else the same except I only had 2% milk so I used part 2% and part cream. I also used a combination of medium cheddar, sharp cheddar, aged gouda, mozzarella, and parmesan — only because I had bits of each left and so I had to use it all. I thought it was delicious, although my son felt the cheese flavour was a bit sharp for his tastebuds. Next time I might do a mix of medium cheddar, gruyere, mozzarella, and parmesan and see how that goes for him. I find just medium cheddar a bit bland and he finds sharp cheddar too sharp. But unlike some others have found, it was not soupy at all. The only other change I might make next time is to use 1.5 x the pasta, which would likely be a better cheese-to-pasta ratio for us. Anyhow, overall it was a hit for us and that is elusive when it comes to mac & cheese in our house! Thank you!

  40. This is the go-to Mac n’ cheese recipe in our home! We do make quite a few changes (I like to “feel out” a recipe) but the foundation is exquisite.
    We cook this dish in a cast iron skillet. Make the roux the same way, but we start with only two cups milk and water each. We then pour in as much pasta as the liquid can cover. Once it’s simmering, we usually need to add a touch more milk (approx 1/4-1/3 cup) to ensure the pasta cooks properly.
    At this point we add in broccoli florets and season as suggested, but sub onion powder for the mustard. Then we top the creamy goodness with panko and Italian seasoning breadcrumbs (a nice, full layer) and the same amount of Parmesan.
    Pop the cast iron skillet under the broiler on “High” for 3-5 minutes! Then you have an incredibly creamy Mac n’ cheese with an herbed crust.

  41. This recipe saved my life. I had run out of time to make my traditional big Mac and cheese for Christmas Eve and found this recipe. My son and I threw it together very fast and they wiped it completely out. I’m actually up on Christmas morning making another pot so they can carry some back with them. Thank you so much for an easy wonderful and delicious recipe.

  42. It could’ve possibly been you didn’t add enough cheese! I always and more cheese than it says about 3/4 – 1 cup of cheese and could’ve also been the pasta type I used the shells and it’s always been thick and yummy!

  43. This turned out to have the perfect consistency for us…great flavor too!

  44. Tried twice with digged brands of cheese. Followed to a T and I get a “gritty” texture. Not sure what needs to be changed.

  45. Wow, this is by far my absolute favorite mac ever. I do use shredded cheese from the store as well as block cheese, and it works super well. Also, I just use a clove of garlic and a squirt of mustard-probably dijon- instead of the powders, and its super good. It makes enough for everyone. Thanks!

  46. Super yumm. I make this al the time.

  47. I also find it soupy so I reduce the milk and water by 1/4-1/2 cup. If necessary I will add more little by little.

    Important detail about adding mustard! If you don’t have dry and are substituting prepared, do NOT add it till you’re adding the cheese. Adding it in the pasta cooking stage curdles the milk (presumably due to the vinegar in the prepared mustard). Finally figured this out after many rounds of this recipe!

  48. Our favorite mac and cheese recipe. I was wondering if you could freeze it?

  49. I did some weird slight variation on this and it didn’t turn out well. I halved it, but ended up keeping the 2 T of butter and flour because I’ve never made a roux before, so I was afraid that it was gonna be impossible to stir if there was only 2 T of stuff at the bottom of my pot. I also actually used bacon grease instead of butter. It didn’t even taste particularly cheesy despite using sharp cheddar. I think the bacon grease ruined it somehow, and it probably needs the butter to have flavor. When I try this again (still halved), I’ll also probably only use 1 1/2 c milk instead of 2.

  50. Terrific recipe. I was surprised by the process. Adding uncooked pasta to the sauce was a first for me, but it worked great.

    I added smoked paprika to the cheese sauce since I’m on a smoked paprika kick. Turned out great. I imagine this recipe would make a wonderful base for adding extras like ham, bacon or a variety of vegetables.

    Thanks for sharing your recipe.

    • Easy and good. Husband loved it too. I thought it would be too liquidy but after cheese was added the consistency improved. I used whole milk and full fat cheese maybe that helped to absorb the liquid.

    • Tastes okay but the texture is a bit grainy/starchy. I suppose that is to be expected when you cook the pasta in the sauce. I think I’d rather use an extra pot to boil the pasta separately and have a silkier and smoother sauce without the extra starch. It was quick and easy though, which takes it from 3 stars to 4 stars for me.