The Cooking Instructions on Every Box of Mac and Cheese Are Wrong

published Jun 13, 2023
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Box of Kraft original Macaroni & Cheese Dinner on colorful graphic background
Credit: Kraft Heinz Company.

If you’ve ever lovingly made a dish of homemade mac and cheese, only to have your kid declare they like “the other kind” better — and I know you know what “the other kind” is — then you have entered into the parenting realm known as Why Bother. Welcome! 

While there are now plenty of mac and cheese brands on the market (this brand looks particularly intriguing!), taste tests confirm it’s hard to beat Kraft’s OG mac and cheese. It’s familiar, flavorful, and an absolute classic. (Annie’s is a close second.)

However, let’s talk about the cooking instructions. The side of every box of Kraft mac and cheese says to do the following, and I’m paraphrasing:

  1. Boil the noodles for 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Drain the noodles and return to the pan.
  3. Add the butter, milk, and cheese sauce to the pan (all at the same time), stir, and enjoy.

Okay, sounds reasonable. But then why do so many people do it another way? It turns out if you ask a roomful of people how they make boxed mac and cheese (Kraft and otherwise), almost no one does it according to the instructions on the box. Some modify the order and way in which they add the ingredients to prevent powdery cheese clumps and ensure even distribution of the sauce (key!); others just want to amp up the flavor and nutrition with more butter or veggies.

When I asked my Apartment Therapy colleagues how they make boxed mac and cheese and whether or not they follow the instructions on the side of the box, here’s the wide swath of the answers I received.

“No, I melt the butter, whisk in the cheese powder, then add the milk gradually.” —Faith

“I’ve always whisked the cheese powder into milk first, then I add the al dente and hastily drained pasta (with a little of the starchy water). Then I’ll cook it a little bit longer in that cheese sauce. Then I’ll melt butter into it and maybe any leftover grated cheese if I happen to have any.” —Adriana

“I actually don’t drain the noodles from the water entirely, but leave a touch of the pasta water in, then I add the powder cheese and stir. When I’ve stirred most of it in but there’s still some powder, I add a splash for milk (which honestly for me is usually an almond or a coconut milk). I also ALWAYS add a pat of salted butter.” —Adrienne

“I second the suggestion for adding salty butter. For me, it’s Kerrygold Irish butter all the way. (Actually, busting out the Kerrygold is my suggestion/answer for most things!).” —Brenda

“I think milk is unimportant! I almost always leave it out. Butter is king! I also usually add Greek yogurt in addition to some pasta water. [Also] I think big mac and cheese has been lying to us all our lives: The shape pastas hold the cheese SO MUCH BETTER than the noodles.” —Kylie

“I always make Annie’s mac but add peas, real cheese, and often garlic powder!” —Carolyn

“I am all about ‘efficiency,’ aka laziness. I love a one-pot action: boil pasta, strain most of the water, but not all, dump butter, powder, and additional cheeses (key for me), mix, and voila! I will always add a green, like spinach or broccoli, too at the very end. I am interested in testing out nutritional yeast!” —Stephanie

“Sometimes I mix in a can of tuna. It’s like a tuna melt in a bowl!” —Tara

“It’s all about the butter, not the milk. I also add a sprinkle of sugar — a family trick. My husband was shocked when I told him, but he’d been eating it for years and loved it but never noticed. My grandma and aunt always said it ‘made box mac and cheese taste a little more homemade.’ I don’t know why it works, but it’s delicious!” —Charli

Then, of course, there’s this hack, which has you sprinkle the cheese directly into the pasta water! I mean, ingenious! 

So, the next time you pull out a box of mac and cheese, forget the instructions on the side. That’s baseline stuff, but with a few tweaks you can make it so much better.

This post originally appeared on Cubby. See it there: The Cooking Instructions on Every Box of Mac and Cheese Are Wrong