Homemade One Pot Mac and Cheese

Creamy, Homemade One Pot Mac and Cheese is as easy as a handful of ingredients and ten minutes on the stove for the most DELICIOUS macaroni and cheese!

One Pot Mac and Cheese with text overlay


 

Okay, folks...today's recipe is one that just might revolutionize your life! Every kid loves plain, simple, stovetop macaroni and cheese from a box, right? And every adult enjoys creamy, cheesy, made-from-scratch mac & cheese, loaded with various cheeses and baked in the oven to decadent perfection. But what if I told you that you could have the best of both worlds???

Homemade One Pot Mac & Cheese is just that...a recipe quickly made on the stove using a single pot, just like the good ol' boxed stuff. Let's face it...the boxed variety of mac & cheese doesn't exactly seem "natural," with its neon orange packet of powdered cheese. Granted, you can splurge on the kind with the packet of gelatinous cheese "sauce," but that seems a little iffy as well.

One Pot Mac and Cheese in bowl

So what are you to do if your kids want macaroni and cheese...and you'd prefer to make it with actual, real cheese...but you don't particularly want to go to the effort of preparing a roux-based cheese sauce, dirtying multiple dishes, and waiting for it to finish baking in the oven? Well, THAT, my friends, is when you make this recipe.

The Secret to Success!

Homemade One Pot Mac and Cheese is seriously simple to throw together yet it turns out soooo creamy, cheesy, and delicious...just like homemade mac & cheese should! And the secret?

Cooking the pasta in milk. You read that right...milk!

As the little macaroni noodles cook, the milk naturally renders down into a creamy sauce, and all you have to do at the end is stir in shredded cheese.

That's it! So it's basically the same steps as the ubiquitous box, except using milk in place of water and real cheddar in place of orange powder. And the results are so much tastier.

Ingredients including pasta, cheese, and milk

Troubleshooting

This recipe is pretty straightforward to make, but you do need to closely follow the directions because the ingredients can be a bit persnickety if you don't. I experimented with this recipe multiple times to get it just right, and I have to say...it ultimately turned out pretty darn perfect. 😉

So what did I do wrong before I got it right? Well initially, I started off cooking my pasta in all whole milk, which actually made the mac & cheese too creamy, if you can believe that's even possible. The sauce actually tasted like milk, even after adding the cheese.

I decided to rectify this problem by cooking my pasta in a combo of milk and water. And what do you know? It worked perfectly! Creamy pasta that complemented -- rather than overshadowed -- the flavor of the cheese.

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese in a pot

A Note About the Milk

As I just mentioned, I always have whole milk on hand, so that's what I used to develop this recipe. However, if you buy skim milk or 1% milk, you probably won't need to thin out your milk with water before boiling the pasta...just use all milk and it shouldn't turn out overly creamy. For 2% milk, I'd still use some water, but not quite as much as is recommended when using whole milk. No matter what combo of milk/water you end up using, just be sure that total amount of liquid stays consistent with the recipe.

The next facet of this recipe that initially gave me problems was the type of pasta that I used. I first attempted making this macaroni & cheese with corkscrew pasta (fusilli). But because you have to stir the pot pretty continuously while the pasta cooks, this fragile variety ended up breaking down a bit. Also, the edges turned out a bit too soft while the center was a bit too firm.

Next, I went with the obvious pasta choice for mac & cheese...elbow macaroni! And sure enough, it worked beautifully, maintaining its shape and cooking quickly and evenly. I used small macaroni noodles (to give you a point of reference, the cooking directions on the box indicated cooking it for 5 to 7 minutes...also, 8 ounces of this size of elbow macaroni measured out to about 1 ¾ cups in a dry measuring cup), so I would recommend you do the same, just to be sure this recipe works consistently for everyone. 🙂

A few final notes (I'm apparently feeling all America's Test Kitchen today) and I'll let you get on with your mac & cheese making.

One Pot Mac and Cheese in a bowl

Tips & Tricks

  • Please use freshly grated, extra-sharp cheddar. Pre-shredded cheese has an additive to prevent it from clumping in the package, and I'm afraid it may hinder your cheese from melting smoothly. And while extra-sharp cheese can be rather strong to eat straight-up, it's mellows out when melted into sauces. By comparison, mild cheddar would be almost bland in a recipe like this. Of course, that being said, this is your one-pot wonder, not mine, so feel free to use your favorite type of cheese or combo of cheeses.
  • As far as other flavorings, in addition to the basic ingredients of pasta, milk, cheese, salt, and pepper, you may also add garlic powder and/or dry mustard powder for a little extra zip.
  • And finally finally, remember that your macaroni & cheese will continue to thicken as it cools. For this reason, I prefer for the consistency to be on the slightly runny side (as opposed to overly thick) when the pasta is done cooking. The pasta will continue to absorb the sauce as you pull it off the stove and serve it.
Homemade Mac and Cheese in a bowl aerial view

Wow, I feel like that's a lot of explanation for such an easy recipe! But I really want this one to turn out well for y'all, because it's super easy when executed correctly and it's such a great way to churn out a quick pot of homemade macaroni & cheese. I have to admit that I've still been buying boxed mac & cheese (albeit organic) for my kids, because they like it and the homemade stuff has always been too much effort for a quick weeknight side dish. But now? I can make this homemade, stovetop, One Pot Mac and Cheese in the same amount of time it takes to make a box, with real milk and cheese! Mind. Blown. Hope this recipe blows your mind, too... 😉

More Kid-Friendly Fare

Homemade One-Pot Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese in a white bowl with a spoon

Homemade One-Pot Macaroni & Cheese

Creamy, from-scratch, Homemade Macaroni & Cheese is as easy as one pot, a handful of ingredients, and ten minutes on the stove!
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 6 regular servings (or 4 generous servings)
Calories: 253kcal
Print Pin Rate

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 to 1 ¾ cups water
  • 8 ounces small elbow macaroni
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (about 1 cup, packed)
  • Optional: ½ teaspoon garlic powder and/or ½ teaspoon dry mustard powder

Instructions

  • In a medium pot set over medium heat, combine milk, 1 cup water, macaroni, salt, and pepper. Bring to a low simmer, stirring frequently to prevent the macaroni from clumping and the milk from boiling over. Once the mixture simmers, reduce heat to low (it should continue simmering) and stir continuously until pasta is done to your liking, about 8 to 10 minutes. The macaroni will absorb the liquid while cooking, so stir in additional water as needed, ¼ cup at a time.
  • Once pasta is done and the sauce is creamy, remove the pot from the heat and gradually stir in the grated cheddar, ⅓ cup at a time, until smooth and melted. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper, if necessary. You may also stir in garlic powder and/or dry mustard at this point for extra flavor, if desired. Serve immediately.

Video

Notes

  • If using low-fat or skim milk instead of whole milk, you will probably want to adjust the proportions of this recipe to use more milk and less water (see post for a more detailed explanation).
  • Using small elbow macaroni is recommended for this recipe. Another shape or size of pasta may require you to adjust the cooking time, which may also affect how much liquid you need to use by the time the pasta is cooked.
  • Extra-sharp cheddar will give this mac & cheese more flavor than mild cheddar, but feel free to use your favorite cheese(s). Freshly grated cheese is recommended for smooth melting.
  • To prevent your cheese from clumping up, be sure to add it after the pot has been removed from the heat. Also, do not dump in all of the cheese at once...stir it in gradually, making sure each batch is fully melted before adding more.

Nutrition

Calories: 253kcal | Carbohydrates: 31g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 25mg | Sodium: 339mg | Potassium: 183mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 290IU | Calcium: 213mg | Iron: 0.6mg
Made this recipe? I'd love to see on IG!Mention @FiveHeartHome or tag #FiveHeartHome!

Adapted from LifeHacker

You May Also Like

4.99 from 53 votes (12 ratings without comment)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




57 Comments

    1. I haven't tried using a non-dairy milk in this recipe, Lauren, but I don't see why it wouldn't work. Please let us know how it turns out if you decide to give it a try! 🙂

  1. 5 stars
    My kids love this macaroni and cheese so much. I usually add a few tablespoons of butter with the cheese, but otherwise I follow the recipe faithfully. It's better than boxed mac and cheese, and almost as easy.

  2. 5 stars
    Seriously delicious!! 🙂 I have made homemade mac & cheese so many times and it has never been yummy. This is!!! I used 2 c 2% milk, 1/2 water with mine and the dash of garlic powder & dry mustard at the end tops it off! Thank you!

  3. 4 stars
    Made this tonight with gluten-free elbow pasta and it was a hit! I didn't follow your recipe to the T but that's just because I'm the type of cook that adds a little bit here and a little bit there. I never really follow a recipe, I always end up making it my own. But your recipe is easy to follow and easy to make. We will definitely be making this again! 😉

  4. I want to make a small dish for my grandson. He would eat mac and cheese every night. What would be the ingredients to add if I wanted to cook 1/2 cup of uncooked macaroni. This would make about a cup of mac and cheese, just enough for his dinner. He likes the boxed but we don't like the chemicals and preservatives. Can you tell me how much milk and water to add to cook the macaroni, amount of salt, and cheese. I think he would like a medium cheddar cheese. I would not add dry mustard or garlic seasoning.

    1. Hi there! I've never tried scaling down this recipe so I can't guarantee how it will turn out. But if you'd like to start with 1/2 cup uncooked macaroni, I would use one-fourth the amount of all of the other ingredients. Use a small pot and keep in mind that you may have to adjust the liquid and/or cooking time to account for such a scaled-down recipe. I'm sorry I can't provide more specifics, but I think it's just going to take some trial and error. I hope it works out if you decide to try it! 🙂

  5. 5 stars
    This is delicious and hit the spot got some serious comfort lunch (yep, those are hotdogs!). Started with 1c water plus 1.5c 2% milk; the garlic powder and dry mustard; added some red pepper flakes and Red Robin seasoning. Added more milk (not water) a splash at a time - cooked for 10 minutes (high altitude). Honestly, it tasted good before I even added the cheese. Had a T butter ready, but it didn't need it. SLOWLY added the freshly finely shredded sharp cheese (most sharp cheese would be tasty). Added a bit more milk throughout. So creamy...yum!!

  6. 5 stars
    I’ve been on the hunt for a good, non-gritty, homemade Mac and cheese recipe and this one is a winner!! The only changes I made were adding 1/2 cup of heavy cream to the 1 cup of milk, a little garlic powder, and a little bit of Parmesan cheese at the end. Amazing!!!

    1. So glad you enjoyed it so much, Mackenzie! I bet it was extra yummy with that heavy cream. 😉

      1. 5 stars
        Been making this for years now and comes out perfect every time. My wife and I absolutely love it. Simple, yet so satisfying!

  7. 5 stars
    This is my go-to macaroni and cheese recipe for easy dinner nights. My 4 year old daughter always asks for this homemade one over the boxed ones! Absolutely delicious and easy to make!

  8. Great recipe! I doubled the ingredients because I wanted leftovers for the next day.

    Mine tasted great, but unfortunately it had a gritty texture. I turned off the heat before I added the cheese, but the pot was still on the burner. Was the residual heat still too hot? How did you achieve a creamy, smooth texture?

    Thanks!

    1. It's definitely possible! Removing the pot from the burner and stirring in the cheese very gradually (allowing it to fully melt before adding more) always results in a creamy texture for me. 🙂

  9. 5 stars
    Made this tonight and added a little bit of garlic powder and Dijon mustard. My picky family loved it! Only thing I’ll do different next time is double the recipe because everyone wanted seconds!

      1. I'm making this even simpler by making it in a foil pan in the oven instead of on the stovetop- I don't even have to clean the pot! I doubled the recipe, using a full pound of pasta and an 8 ounce package of cheese.

        First I combined the milk, water, salt, and pepper in the foil pan. then i added the pasta, stirred it in, and then the cheese and stirred it in. I covered it and it's now baking for 1 hour. At that point, I plan to remove the cover and sprinkle some crumbs over the top (stale cheeze-its that i crumbled up) and bake for another half hour before serving. I may or may not stir the mac and cheese before adding the crumbs.

        I have baked ziti in another pan at the same time, and will add the mozzarella cheese to that pan when i add the crumbs to the mac and cheese.

  10. 5 stars
    I tried this with mozzarella cheese. I added a bit of oregano and paprika too. It turned out really great! Really love how there is no hassle of straining the pasta and making a sauce in another pan. I'm thinking about adding chicken and probably mushrooms the next time I make it. Thanks a lot for this wonderful recipe!

  11. 5 stars
    Quick and easy! The recipe is perfect as it is but also simple enough to switch out cheeses and add spices.

  12. I made tried this recipe twice and it tastes amazing! However, if the dish sat for even a very short amount of time it developed a gritty texture to it rather then creamy. I followed the recipe exactly so not sure what I am doing wrong? I really love this recipe but would be a lot better if I can get the consistency right.

  13. I don't have elbow mac on hand, just rotini and penne rigati, and no chance of getting to the store!! Any suggestions on which of my pasta options to go with? I feel like maybe the penne might be a bit sturdier. It looks great, can't wait to give it a whirl!

    ~Jessica