Crock pot mac and cheese is tender, cheesy, incredibly creamy and so delicious! It’s great for a hands-off side dish the whole family will love.
Keeping this quick today so I can finish up work and head to the airport. ✈️
Some of my girl friends and I are getting together for a Mardi Gras weekend. 🎉 However, we're doing it in Alabama, where one of us lives and where they apparently also have parades, floats, balls, the whole shebang.
I cannot wait! So let's get moving on to the food.
Apparently, it is my mission in life to make sure you can whip up some macaroni and cheese in every single possible way.
Today it’s crock pot mac and cheese, because the more ways to make it, the better!
(And coming soon is an Instant Pot macaroni and cheese version. I’m seriously dedicated to covering all the bases.)
What I love about this slow cooker version is how incredibly creamy it is.
The pasta is tender and flavorful from cooking in all the creamy liquids, the liquid gets perfectly absorbed so the texture is great, the cream cheese and whole milk add a ton of richness and the cheddar cheese melts right in.
Every bite is so soft and cheesy and utterly delicious. ❤️
Plus, it takes just a few minutes to prep and then you can walk away and get on with your evening.
(Or stay in the kitchen sipping some wine and pretending like you are slaving away on dinner. I won’t tell!)
When it’s ready though, everyone will come running to the table, ready to gobble this up and go back for seconds.
It’s that good!
Now, I’ve got some notes, tips and FAQs coming up below on how to make crock pot macaroni and cheese. Just tryin’ to be helpful.
(I’ve made a lot of mac and cheese in my day, so I have lots of tips and ideas to share.)
If you want to jump on down to the recipe, simply scroll right on through the rest of the text. The recipe card is near the bottom of the page, above the comments section.
Notes on crock pot mac and cheese:
- I used a classic elbow pasta for this recipe, but you can substitute other pasta types. (See more on that below.)
- The recipe calls for all cheddar (well, there’s cream cheese too, but the shredded cheese is all cheddar) and I used a sharp white cheddar. But you can mix and match cheeses if you’d like. I have details below on that too.
- I opted for whole milk for this recipe, but you can also use a can of evaporated milk. Or you could try it with 2% or skim milk. The recipe cooks rather quickly, so I’ve never had an issue with curdling.
Since we’re making this in the slow cooker though, I wanted to offer a few trouble-shooting tips, especially helpful if this is your first time making it.
(Cause it’s a slightly different process than making a stovetop version.)
Tips on slow cooker macaroni and cheese:
- It helps to spray your slow cooker with cooking spray before adding your ingredients.
- You’ll want to push the pasta down into the liquid as much as possible before you begin the cook time.
- When you go to stir the pasta and add the cheese, it will feel like a hard mass of pasta in the crock pot. Don’t panic, just give it a few good stirs to get it going and you’ll see that everything softens and moves along and the pasta is actually tender.
Also, I should note, this makes a lot! You could definitely halve the recipe if you have a smaller slow cooker. (Mine is a 6.5 quart.)
Though I have notes below on storing leftovers if you’d like to have some on hand for another night. Always a good thing. 😊
OK, now for a few commonly asked questions….
What pasta should I use for macaroni and cheese?
- You can use a small elbow pasta, a medium shell pasta, orecchiette or another small shaped pasta. (Here’s a cool list of all the different pasta shapes for a visual guide with a quick description for each one.)
- It just needs to be on the smaller size so it cooks completely in the crock pot.
- Feel free to choose a whole wheat or whole grain pasta, regular pasta or even a gluten-free pasta.
- I used a classic elbow pasta here.
What cheese should I use for macaroni and cheese?
- A sharp cheddar is classic for mac and cheese. However, a combination of cheeses can be delicious as well.
- Gruyere is a great cheese for mac and cheese. You can use half cheddar and half Gruyere for a great flavor combo.
- Cheddar and Monterey Jack are another good combo for making mac and cheese.
- American cheese is another favorite for how melty it gets.
And of course, I have to share some topping ideas with you! Cause toppings are just the best.
Here’s a few ideas if you want to dress up and finish off this crock pot mac and cheese recipe.
Macaroni and cheese toppings:
- Extra cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, Parmesan, etc.)
- Cooked, crumbled bacon 🥓
- Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
- Chopped chives or green onions
- Hot sauce or sriracha for some heat 🌶
- Pickled jalapeños
- Pico de gallo
- Sour cream or Greek yogurt
- Sliced avocado or a dollop of guac
And now that we’re all done with our pasta dish, let’s round out the rest of the meal!
What should I serve with slow cooker mac and cheese?
- We love this with a big green salad for something fresh and light. 🥗
- It’s also great with steamed asparagus or broccoli, roasted or sautéed Brussels sprouts or green beans.
- Want a protein main to go with this? Grilled or baked chicken or pork would be great here. Try my balsamic pork tenderloin with thyme or spice-rubbed pork chops. 15-minute paprika chicken or easy crunchy baked chicken would be great too.
- Or make a grilled or seared steak to go with this.
Ta-da! Delicious dinner on your table!
OK, and now let’s discuss any leftovers you may have and what to do with them.
Can I reheat baked mac and cheese?
- You definitely can; I have many times before.
- You can reheat single servings easily in the microwave, starting with about 45 seconds to a minute, then stirring and adding additional time until it’s nice and hot. This keeps everything moist as well.
- You can also transfer leftovers to a smaller casserole dish and warm it in the oven. I usually cover it with aluminum foil and bake at 325 for 15 minutes, then uncover and bake 5-10 more minutes until it’s heated through. (Be sure to check it. Sometimes it needs longer.)
Just be careful not to dry out the dish with the oven method. Honestly, I prefer the microwave because it’s faster and gets the dish nice and piping hot again. Cold spots are no fun.
Let’s also discuss long-term storage…
Can I freeze leftover mac and cheese?
Absolutely! Freezing leftovers is a great way to cut down on food waste, especially when a dish like this makes a lot. You’ll have part of your dinner ready to go another night!
Simply let the leftovers cool down, then transfer to a freezer-safe plastic bag or container, label it, and keep in the freezer for 4-5 months.
Defrost it overnight in the fridge and then reheat in the microwave or in a small casserole dish (see those reheating details above).
And there you have it!
Your slow cooker is ready to make you a delicious, incredibly creamy macaroni and cheese that will have your whole family looking forward to dinner time. Doesn't that sound lovely?
And as mentioned, stay tuned because I have another version of macaroni and cheese coming up early next month. (Spoiler alert: It’s an Instant Pot version. 😊)
You can sign up for my free e-newsletter to get all of my new recipes delivered straight to your inbox once a week so you never miss a thing. I’ll even send you my free e-cookbook, Healthy Weeknight Dinners, as a thank you!
P.S. Want some fun flavor twists on mac and cheese? Check these out:
- Pumpkin baked mac and cheese with bacon
- Healthy chicken broccoli mac and cheese
- Kale and butternut squash mac and cheese
- Baked taco mac and cheese casserole
- 1 lb. macaroni or small shell pasta
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1 ½ cups whole milk (or a can of evaporated milk)
- 1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 oz. plain cream cheese (regular or ⅓ less fat)
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground mustard
- 2 to 2 ½ cups grated cheddar cheese
- Spray the insert of your slow cooker with cooking spray.
- Add the pasta, butter, milk, broth, cream cheese, salt, pepper and ground mustard to the slow cooker. Stir well to combine and press the pasta down so it’s as submerged as possible in the liquid.
- Cover and cook in the slow cooker on high for 1 hour 15 minutes.
- Uncover and stir the pasta. It may feel like a hard mass but don’t panic, just give it a few good stirs to get it going and you’ll see that everything softens and moves along. Add the shredded cheddar cheese to the slow cooker and stir well to mix it in.
- Cover the slow cooker again and let it sit for 10 minutes. (The slow cooker is done with the cook time and turned off at this point.)
- Stir again and then you’re ready to serve!
Milk: I opted for whole milk for this recipe, but you can also use a can of evaporated milk. Or you could try it with 2% or skim milk. The recipe cooks rather quickly, so I’ve never had an issue with curdling.
Pasta: I used a classic elbow pasta for this recipe, but, a small shell pasta, orecchiette or another small shaped pasta. You can choose a whole wheat or whole grain pasta, regular pasta or even a gluten-free pasta.
Cheese: The recipe calls for sharp cheddar, but you could sub in some Gruyere or Monterey Jack for some of this cheese if desired.
Optional toppings: Extra cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, Parmesan, etc., cooked, crumbled bacon, chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped chives or green onions, hot sauce or sriracha for some heat, pickled jalapeños, sour cream or Greek yogurt, sliced avocado or a dollop of guac.
Leftovers: Mac and cheese saves and reheats very well. You can reheat single servings easily in the microwave, starting with about 45 seconds to a minute, then stirring and adding additional time until it’s nice and hot. This keeps everything moist as well.
Freezer: Mac and cheese freezes great too! Simply let the leftovers cool down, then transfer to a freezer safe plastic bag or container, label it, and keep in the freezer for 4-5 months. Defrost it overnight in the fridge and then reheat in the microwave when ready to serve.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 493Total Fat: 31gSaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 96mgSodium: 903mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 1gSugar: 4gProtein: 26g