5-Ingredient Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

updated Nov 1, 2023

A no-roux method for faster (and tastier!) macaroni and cheese on the stovetop, made with just 5 ingredients.

Serves4 to 6

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This stovetop macaroni and cheese is the recipe I grew up on. It’s got a creamy sauce, perfectly chewy pasta, and plenty of cheese. Baked macaroni and cheese is undeniably a treat, but this stovetop recipe is equally as delightful and requires way less work. As a kid, this always felt like a special treat, but now that I’m older I suspect that my mother liked making it because it’s an easy dinner that requires just five ingredients and almost no thought to pull together at the end of a long day.

I can imagine this macaroni and cheese alongside some homemade meatloaf, seared salmon, or succulent lamb chops. Whatever the reason, whatever the occasion, a bowl of this mac and cheese will always spell comfort. Here’s the best, most classic recipe I know, with step-by-step pictures to guide you.

How to Make This Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

  • Cook the pasta. Cook until it’s al dente and then strain.
  • Make the base for the cheese sauce. Warm some of the milk in a saucepan and then whisk the remaining milk together with flour in a small bowl. When the milk begins to steam, whisk in the flour and milk mixture until there are no lumps and let it thicken.
  • Add the cheese. Stir in the cheese until it has all melted and the sauce is smooth.
  • Combine the pasta and cheese sauce. Pour the pasta and 1/2 of the cheese sauce into a large bowl and stir together. Pour the remaining 1/2 of the cheese sauce into the bowl and stir until the pasta is evenly coated. Serve immediately!
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Why Does This Macaroni and Cheese Recipe Not Call for a Roux?

A roux is typically used in macaroni and cheese recipes, as well as dishes like gumbo and shrimp Creole, but my mother was a bit of a rebel. She didn’t believe in making a roux for her macaroni and cheese because she thought it was unnecessary, and honestly, I’m with her. I find that the sauce thickens just fine without clumping by whisking a little flour with some of the milk before adding it to the pan. So I say keep this weeknight meal extra simple and skip the roux!

What Kind of Cheese Is Best in Macaroni and Cheese?

Sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Colby cheese would all be great in this recipe. Any flavorful, really melty cheese will work. If you’ve got the time, shred your own cheese instead of using store-bought shredded cheese. Because of the cellulose used on most store-bought shredded cheese to avoid clumping, they tend not to melt as smoothly as freshly shredded cheese does.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

More Macaroni and Cheese Recipes

How To Make Creamy Macaroni and Cheese on the Stove

A no-roux method for faster (and tastier!) macaroni and cheese on the stovetop, made with just 5 ingredients.

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 pound

    dried short pasta, such as macaroni

  • 1 1/2 cups

    whole or 2% milk, divided

  • 2 tablespoons

    all-purpose flour

  • 2 to 3 cups

    shredded cheese, such as cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Colby

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    powdered mustard

  • Optional extras (cook before adding): ham, cooked bacon, onions, peas, mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower

Equipment

Instructions

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  1. Cook the pasta. Bring about 4 quarts of salted water to a boil over high heat in a large pot. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.

  2. Warm the milk. Place 1 cup of the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, place the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and flour in a small bowl and whisk together until there are no lumps. When you just start to see whisps of steam rising from the warming milk, whisk in the milk-and-flour mixture. Continue whisking gently until the milk thickens slightly to the consistency of heavy cream, 3 to 4 minutes.

  3. Make the cheese sauce. Turn the heat to low and begin mixing handfuls of cheese into the milk. Stir in the salt and mustard. Stir until all the cheese has melted and the sauce is creamy. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired. Remove the sauce from the heat.

  4. Combine the pasta and cheese sauce. Place the pasta and 1/2 of the cheese sauce in a large serving bowl. Stir to coat the pasta evenly. Add the remaining sauce and any extra add-ins and stir to combine. If you'd like a looser sauce, add up to another 1/4 cup milk if desired. Serve the mac and cheese immediately while still warm.

Recipe Notes

Baked mac and cheese: If you have a little extra time, you can bake the macaroni and cheese to give it a golden crust. Pour the prepared mac and cheese into a casserole dish, cover with a lid or aluminum foil, and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and a few pats of butter if desired, and bake uncovered for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the top is golden and the interior is bubbly.

Storage: Leftovers will keep for up to 1 week and can be reheated in the microwave. If the sauce is a little dry after reheating, mix in a splash of milk to make it creamy again.