Recipe Review

I Tried the Internet-Famous 3-Ingredient Mac and Cheese (and I Get Why It’s So Popular)

updated Dec 2, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

I love Serious Eats because they believe in science. They explain the “why” behind the ingredients and cooking methods in each of their recipes, and do it in a way anyone can understand. In their stovetop mac and cheese recipe, for example, they explain that evaporated milk, thanks to a protein micelles, helps keep an emulsified sauce smooth and creamy. Instead of a roux, you’ll prepare the pasta with just enough water to cook it through, then use the milk and the starchy pasta water to create a luxurious cheese sauce.

What attracted me to this recipe was the promise of “creamy, gooey, cheesy, glorious” mac and cheese with only three ingredients. Plus, our very own studio food editor Jesse wrote a love letter to it, so I knew it had to be good. By the looks of the comments section, it also has a devoted fan base, and is one of the most talked-about recipes on the Serious Eats subreddit. But could such a simple recipe take home the top prize? I tried it to find out.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

How to Make Serious Eats’ Stovetop Mac and Cheese

Out of the four recipes I tested for this showdown, this was the easiest. It requires just one pot and no strainer, making it perfect for people who don’t want excess dishes to wash.

You’ll start by placing six ounces of macaroni in a medium saucepan and adding just enough cold water to cover the pasta. Season the pasta and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat while stirring. Cook until most of the water has been absorbed and the macaroni is almost cooked to al dente, about six minutes. Add evaporated milk and bring the mixture to a boil, then add the cheese and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring, until the cheese is melted and the sauce is creamy. Season and serve.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

My Honest Review of Serious Eats’ Mac and Cheese

I cannot deny the ingenious nature of this method: one pot, no strainer, everything ready in 10 minutes. But while I’m definitely going to steal this method, I likely won’t stick to this recipe.

Unfortunately, the promise of gooey, cheesy, glorious mac and cheese did not quite come through. The dish was bland and not very well-balanced, even with added salt. Out of the four recipes I tested, this one had my least favorite flavor profile. I also felt it would be better with more cheese, and that butter would have brought the flavors together a little more.

With that said, I think this method is perfect for when you want mac and cheese for lunch at home without any fuss, and it does have potential. See my tips below for how to improve upon this smart technique.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

If You’re Making Serious Eats’ Stovetop Mac and Cheese, a Few Tips

  1. Add more cheese. One of my favorite recipes from this showdown called for 10 ounces of cheese and eight ounces of milk, while this recipe called for equal parts cheese and milk. I think increasing the cheese would definitely make this recipe better.
  2. Spice it up. I think adding mustard powder and cayenne or hot sauce would help balance out the cheese sauce, and that a bit of butter would have brought all the flavors together. Next time, I’ll likely add a little more salt to the pasta while it cooks, too.

Rating: 6/10

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

Have you ever tried Serious Eats’ stovetop mac and cheese? Let us know in the comments!