Creamy One-Pot Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese is an easy, decadent meal that is done in about 15 minutes. The perfect fix for your comfort food cravings!
A while back, I posted a recipe for making creamy macaroni and cheese entirely in the microwave (Creamy Microwave Macaroni & Cheese).
My inspiration for the recipe was the fact that our daughter was visiting from college, where her dorm room has a mini fridge and a microwave. I wanted her to be able to make a comfort food meal that reminded her of home—right in her dorm room.
I have since heard from readers who have the reverse situation: their kitchen has no microwave. One reader even adapted the recipe for her stovetop (snaps to you, Debbie!). So, I figured that it was high time to post the stove-top version of this recipe.
What’s great about Creamy One-Pot Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
Full disclosure: I am fully aware that this recipe will never win over the Kraft Dinner-heads. I’m okay with that.
This stovetop macaroni and cheese recipe is incredibly creamy and full of fantastic, cheesy flavor. What the recipe doesn’t have is preternaturally orange “cheese sauce mix” with scary-sounding substances that aren’t found together in nature. Instead, we use a mix of cheddar and deli counter-quality American cheese (it’s still “process cheese”, but it IS real—AND it makes cheese sauces creamy like no other cheese, as I discuss more in Perfect Loaded Nachos.
It’s like magic: the pasta cooks in water and just a bit of skim milk. Then you add in the cheeses, and the whole pot transforms into a creamy dream—no additional cream needed! (If you like the one-pot meal strategy, be sure to check out my how-to article, Mastering Easy One-Pot Meal Recipes)
The fact that the pasta cooks right in the pan adds some starch—but it also means that we don’t have to make a roux with butter and flour to thicken the sauce. We get further calorie savings by using skim milk rather than cream or whole milk: amazingly, the flavor doesn’t suffer.
Important notes on making Creamy One-Pot Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
Never use pre-shredded cheese!
Bags of pre-shredded cheese contain other ingredients like cornstarch to prevent the shreds of cheese from clumping together. This will destroy your sauce. Instead, you can shred your cheese in advance to save time.
Add the cheddar cheese off the heat
Cheddar cheese is notorious for misbehaving if it gets too hot. You are well aware of this fact if you’ve ever tried making (for example) a cheese dip by microwaving actual cheddar cheese (rather than the stuff in the box): you end up with a greasy, clumpy mess.
Although I melt the American cheese into the pasta and sauce while the pot is on the heat, I remove the pot from the heat before adding the cheddar. Then I lid the pot for a few minutes after mixing the cheese into the pasta.
What emerges is unbelievably creamy and delicious.
Making Creamy One-Pot Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
Believe it or not, once you have the cheese grated, this dish comes together in about 15 minutes flat.
First, bring the liquids to a boil and mix in some salt and pepper. Then, add in the dried pasta. Let it simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until al dente (soft, but not completely mushy: it should still have a tiny bit of chew), about 10 minutes, or according to package directions.
Mix in the mustard, onion powder, and Sriracha (or your favorite hot sauce). Then add in the American cheese and stir to combine. Remove the pot from the heat and mix in the cheddar. Lid the pot and let sit for 3 minutes. Then give the pasta a final stir and serve!
This recipe yields 6–8 “by the books” servings of pasta. Pasta servings tend to be somewhat small, so if you’re planning to serve 8 people, the servings would be more appropriate for a side dish.
On the other hand, if you have leftovers, you can reheat them in the microwave: just heat at 50% power until warmed through and stir well.
That’s all there is to it! This is my go-to, basic macaroni and cheese recipe. Feel free to mix in some crumbled bacon, cubed ham, steamed broccoli, or whatever extras you’re in the mood for. I hope you love this comfort food fix!
P.S. For more pantry meal ideas, check out Easy Pantry Meals – Living Out of Your Pantry (and refrigerator and freezer)!
I’m sharing my One-Pot Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese recipe with:
- #CookBlogShare, a great food blogger recipe-share at Everyday Healthy Recipes.
- #CookOnceEatTwice, for recipes that are just as good left-over as they are when you made them, hosted by Searching for Spice.
Creamy One-Pot Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
- 3 cups water
- 2 cups skim milk
- 1/4 tsp. salt - (or to taste)
- 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 bay leaf - dried
- 1 lb. elbow macaroni
- 1/2 tbsp. yellow mustard
- 1 tbsp. Sriracha - (optional; see Recipe Note #1)
- 8 oz American Cheese - (good quality, about 2 cups, shredded; see Recipe Note #2)
- 8 oz medium cheddar cheese - (about 2 cups, shredded; see Recipe Note #1)
- Add the water, milk, bay leaf, salt, and pepper to a heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to boil over high heat. Stir in macaroni and turn heat to medium-low. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the macaroni is cooked to your liking, about 10 minutes (or according to package directions) for al dente. Don't drain!
- Add in the mustard, Sriracha, onion powder, and American cheese. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute or until the cheese is completely melted. Remove the pot from the heat and add in the cheddar cheese. Mix well (the cheese doesn't need to be completely melted). Cover the pot and let stand for 3 minutes. Remove the lid from the pot and stir the macaroni until sauce is smooth (if it's thin, that's okay: it will thicken up as it cools down). Remove the bay leaf and serve.
- I've had feedback that this makes the mac too spicy. I've never noticed more than a mild kick, but in light of that feedback, I'd suggest starting with a small squirt and add more to the final dish to taste. Or, omit it altogether if you're sensitive to spicy foods.
- Absolutely **DO NOT** use pre-shredded cheeses: these contain other stuff, like cornstarch, to prevent shreds from clumping together. This will destroy any cheese sauce. You can shred the cheese in advance and refrigerate in separate containers or zip-top bags.