Easy stovetop mac and cheese is just 5 ingredients and 15 minutes to make, but so creamy, cheesy and delicious! It’s perfect for an easy dinner side dish!
I am flying out to Austin, Texas, this morning for a girls weekend get away with some friends. I am SO excited!
We don't have a ton planned so we'll probably do a lot of walking and wandering around, plenty of eating, and tons of talking and laughing of course.
It's come at a perfect time, too. I'm in serious need of a break and so thankful I can get away for one!
So let's get on with the food cause I'm cruising right into vacation mode. 😉
Earlier this week I shared pumpkin baked mac and cheese with bacon, which is a super fun dish for fall and celebrating all things pumpkin. 🎃🧡
But I realized I hadn’t brought you my more basic go-to macaroni recipes.
So I’m going to right that wrong. Starting here. Starting now.
Presenting easy stovetop mac and cheese, at long last.
I’ve made this for years, starting as a homemade macaroni and cheese recipe for my kiddos to avoid the artificial boxed kind.
I love how quick and easy it is and that I always have what I need to make this. Simple, on-hand ingredients here, nothing fancy.
And this soft, creamy, cheesy macaroni and cheese is super simple to make in a pan on the stove, with no baking needed.
Just cook your pasta, make your sauce at the same time in another skillet and you are ready to dive into a bowl full!
It’s so crazy delicious!
Plus, it’s just 5 simple ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen. So you can make it tonight. Today. Right now.
And you know what else?
This easy stovetop mac and cheese is ready in just about 15 minutes!
(It could be a little longer if it takes your water a long time to come to a boil to cook the pasta. But cooking the pasta and making the sauce at the same time just takes 10 minutes, so this really is a breeze.)
It’s pretty much instant gratification for all your macaroni and cheese desires. Which is just my style. 😉
And really, it only takes a few more minutes than the boxed stuff. And I promise, it’s WAY tastier when it’s homemade!!
(If you love mac and cheese like we do, check out this one-pot turkey chili mac that's ready in just 30 minutes and a great family friendly dinner!)
Now, I’ve got some notes, tips and FAQs coming up below on how to make stovetop macaroni and cheese. Just tryin’ to be helpful.
(I’ve made a lot of mac and cheese in my day, so I want to share what works!)
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 easy stovetop mac and cheese:
- I used a classic small elbow shaped pasta for this recipe, but you can substitute other pasta types. (See more on that below.)
- This recipe uses a sharp white cheddar cheese for the cheese. You can use regular cheddar or read on for some other cheese mix-and-match ideas.
- I use 2% or skim milk for this recipe since that’s what we always have on hand, but it would work great with whole milk as well.
- I’ve also made this with soy milk before (because my daughter used to have a cow’s milk allergy) and that worked fine too. You can do that and substitute a dairy-free butter and cheese and have this be a dairy-free or vegan macaroni and cheese if you'd like.
- This macaroni and cheese may seem liquidy when you first get finished with it. As I mention in the recipe card, if you let it sit for 5 minutes or so in the pan, it will thicken up a lot. (And don’t worry, it’s still hot.)
Also, I should note this makes a lot! We use the entire 1-pound box of pasta for this recipe.
You could definitely halve the recipe and have just enough for about 4 people as a side dish if you prefer. Though I have notes below on storing leftovers if you’d like to have some on hand for another night.
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.)
- Feel free to choose regular pasta, a whole wheat or whole grain variety or even a gluten-free pasta for this recipe.
- I used the classic small elbow pasta here.
- Be sure to follow the cooking instructions on your package to cook your noodles until they’re al dente.
What cheese should I use for macaroni and cheese?
- A sharp cheddar is classic for mac and cheese. (This recipe uses all cheddar, specifically a white cheddar.)
- However, a combination of cheeses can be delicious as well.
- Gruyere is a great cheese for mac and cheese.
- Cheddar and Monterey Jack are another good combo for making mac and cheese.
- American cheese is another favorite for how melty it gets.
Also, you may have heard about cooking your noodles in milk instead of water.
I’ve done this before and while it gets really creamy noodles, it’s not my favorite method for a few reasons:
- It is really easy for the milk to bubble over the top of the pan. The minute you take your eyes off it, it’s going to bubble over and create a huge mess on your stove.
- I’ve even tried the wooden spoon on top of the pot and it helped, but it’s still a risk.
- If you make the pasta in the milk and then just drain most of it and stir in your cheese, you are missing the butter/flour mixture that’s the base of a traditional cheese sauce. And that shouldn’t be missed.
Of course, you know I’m happy for you to experiment and play and make a recipe your own, but I did want to share my perspective and experience on that.
OK, moving on.
You know how I feel about toppings, right? My undying love for toppings. My belief in always having toppings. Toppings for everyone. Toppings for life!
Here’s a few ideas if you want to dress up and finish off this easy homemade mac and cheese recipe. Some are pretty basic and some are a little more wild.
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
- Sliced grilled chicken
- Crumbled ground beef or turkey
- Sliced avocado or a dollop of guac
- Steamed broccoli, halved cherry tomatoes or sautéed mushrooms make a great vegetable addition.
Or, if you want to keep it classic and unadorned, that’s completely OK too. My kids tend to be purists that way. 😉
Regardless, you’ll need to round out your meal.
What should I serve with easy stovetop 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.
- Need a protein main to go with this?
- Grilled or baked chicken or pork would be great here. Baked chicken thighs are an easy favorite. Or try balsamic pork tenderloin with thyme or spice-rubbed pork chops. It’s great alongside some pulled pork sandwiches too. Or try 15-minute paprika chicken for a quick and easy dinner all around.
- Grilled or seared steak would be delicious as well.
It's also great as a holiday side dish as part of a Thanksgiving or Christmas table spread.
OK, now let’s discuss any leftovers you may have and what to do with them.
Can I reheat macaroni and cheese?
- You definitely can and 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.
- Feel free to add a few splashes of milk and/or some extra cheese to make sure it doesn’t dry out as it reheats.
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 dinner partly 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 (details above).
I hope you’ve enjoyed mac and cheese week here on the blog. And stay tuned, because I’ve got other versions coming at you soon! (Like my classic baked mac and cheese and crock pot mac and cheese. And Instant Pot mac and cheese too.)
You can sign up for free e-newsletter to get all of my new recipes delivered straight to your inbox so you never miss a thing. I’ll even send you my free e-cookbook, Healthy Weeknight Dinners, as a thank you!
- 1 (1 lb.) box macaroni or small or medium shell pasta
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons flour of choice
- 2 cups whole, 2% or skim milk (see notes)
- 3 cups shredded cheddar cheese (see notes)
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add a small handful of salt and the pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, according to the package directions until the pasta is al dente. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly.
- Slowly add in 2 cups milk, whisking constantly, until the mixture is smooth. Add the shredded cheese, salt and pepper and stir until the cheese is melted. Let the cheese sauce cook for 2-3 minutes to warm through.
- Add the cooked, drained pasta to the cheese sauce and stir until well combined.
- Turn off heat and let the mac and cheese sit for 5 minutes (this helps it thicken up.) Taste and adjust seasonings and serve hot.
Milk: I use 2% or skim milk for this recipe since that’s what we always have on hand, but it would work great with whole milk as well.
I’ve also made this with soy milk before (because my daughter used to have a cow’s milk allergy) and that worked fine too. You can substitute a dairy-free butter and cheese and have this be a dairy-free or vegan version.
Cheese: I used a sharp white cheddar cheese for the cheese in this recipe. You can use regular cheddar or a combination of cheeses (such as cheddar and Monterey Jack, Gruyere or American cheeses.)
Reheating: 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. Feel free to add a few splashes of milk and/or some extra cheese to make sure it doesn’t dry out as it reheats.
Freezing leftovers: Extras freeze great! 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 (details above).
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 286Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 55mgSodium: 502mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 14g