Easy, Creamy 5-Ingredient Mac and Cheese

updated Jan 29, 2020
Creamy Mac and Cheese

It only takes 5 ingredients and 20 minutes to whip up the absolute creamiest mac and cheese.

Serves6 to 8

Prep10 minutes

Cook22 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

I love mac and cheese! Not just as a busy mom, but as a person who likes easy meals that are simple, creamy, and comforting. I think every kitchen should have a go-to boxed version and a back-pocket homemade one. This five-ingredient mac and cheese is mine.

On nights when we get home late and our favorite box isn’t in the pantry, this one-pot recipe is my savior. It cooks in about the time it takes to boil water and only dirties a single pot (and no strainer!). Here’s how to do it.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

The Best, Easiest Way to Make an Extra-Creamy Sauce

There are a lot of shortcut ways to make your mac and cheese extra creamy. You can add cream cheese or evaporated milk, heavy cream or extra butter. But this version is smarter: It uses the pasta’s own starch to make a creamy and thick sauce for the macaroni.

Instead of draining the pasta and adding starchy water back to the pot, the pasta is cooked in a precise amount of water and milk. As it cooks, the pasta soaks up most of the liquid and releases a little starch into the remaining liquid. Off the heat, you’ll add some shredded cheese, butter, salt, and pepper, which will combine with the starchy liquid to create a super-creamy cheese sauce.

Sharp cheddar cheese is my favorite for flavor, but my kids seem to prefer a 50/50 mix of cheddar and Colby Jack. Use what you’ve got on hand (but skip the pre-shredded stuff, as it can get grainy in the hot macaroni).

Creamy Mac and Cheese

It only takes 5 ingredients and 20 minutes to whip up the absolute creamiest mac and cheese.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 22 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 2 cups

    whole milk

  • 1 3/4 cups

    water

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 pound

    dry elbow macaroni

  • 8 ounces

    sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place 2 cups whole milk, 1 3/4 cups water, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, then add 1 pound macaroni. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, shred 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese (about 2 cups).

  2. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the cheese and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, and stir until melted and combined. Top with ground black pepper if desired. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 5 days.