This stovetop mac and cheese comes together in a matter of minutes, and it's creamy, cheesy, and always a hit with kids and adults. No baking needed!
It's a universal truth: kids love mac and cheese. While the boxed version is definitely a winner in the convenience department, it's a little lacking when it comes to authentic cheese flavor and creaminess. Kids might love it, but parents aren't nearly as enthused about the neon orange cheese powder and cartoon-character shaped noodles.
That's where this stovetop mac and cheese comes in.
It doesn't take much longer than making mac and cheese from a box, but it has the fantastically creamy, cheesy sauce you want from homemade mac. Basically, it's the best of both worlds!
Your kids will love it, you'll love that you don't have to cook it on the stove and then finish it in the oven, and everyone wins.
What You'll Need
Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
- Elbow macaroni – Other pasta shapes that work well for stovetop mac and cheese are shells, cavatappi, and rotini.
- Whole milk – Using whole milk is important for getting that perfect creamy consistency.
- Heavy cream
- Cheddar cheese
- Gouda cheese
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
What Are the Best Cheeses for Mac and Cheese?
Generally speaking, the best cheeses for mac and cheese are neither too firm nor too soft, and they’re freshly shredded from the block.
While those pre-shredded bags of cheese are convenient for making pizzas and topping baked potatoes, they have an anti-caking agent added to them to keep the shreds of cheese from sticking together. (That’s why bagged cheese shreds sometimes feel powdery.) When you use pre-shredded cheese in a sauce, it won’t melt as smoothly, resulting in a gritty texture.
You want to use a cheese with a medium firmness, and avoid using aged cheeses, which aren’t great for melting. I like to pair gouda and cheddar because gouda is an excellent melter, making for a smooth, creamy sauce, and cheddar adds that classic mac and cheese flavor.
How to Make Stovetop Mac and Cheese
If you have time to make mac and cheese from a box, you have time to make this easy stovetop mac and cheese too! Here’s what you’ll need to do.
Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the elbow macaroni and cook it according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
Make the roux. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven set over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and stir it until the mixture has a paste-like consistency. Stir frequently and cook until the mixture bubbling, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the milk and cream. Slowly pour in the milk and cream while whisking constantly. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, continuing to whisk frequently.
Finish the sauce. Turn off the heat and add the cheddar, gouda, salt, and pepper. Stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if needed.
Add the pasta. Add the cooked macaroni to the sauce and stir to combine. Serve immediately.
Tips for Success
Here are some tips and pointers for perfect stovetop mac and cheese:
- Cook the pasta in salted water. This may seem like it doesn’t matter all that much, but it really does make a difference and result in a more flavorful finished product.
- Use a large pot. Whenever you make pasta, you want it to have room to circulate and move around the pot as it boils so it doesn’t clump at the bottom.
- Omitting the heavy cream. If you to lighten up this recipe, you can swap the heavy cream for half-and-half or extra whole milk. The finished dish won’t be quite as creamy if you skip the heavy cream, but it will still taste good.
Whether you want to make your mac a meal or just round things out with a protein and side, here are some ideas:
- Add steamed broccoli to up the veggie factor.
- Stir in crispy bacon or leftover ham for a one-dish dinner.
- Make a traditional starch-veggie-protein dinner by serving stovetop mac and cheese with baked chicken drumsticks and air fryer asparagus.
- Sprinkle toasted breadcrumbs on top of each serving to mimic that crispy layer on top of baked mac and cheese.
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Stovetop mac and cheese can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. When you're ready to eat it, simply reheat it in the microwave or on the stovetop with a splash of milk until it’s heated through.
Can This Recipe Be Frozen?
Yes, stovetop mac and cheese can be frozen for up to 3 months. Simply place it in an airtight storage container or freezer bag and thaw it in the fridge overnight before reheating according to the instructions above.
Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 5 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 8 ounces cheddar cheese shredded
- 4 ounces gouda cheese shredded
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper plus more to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the elbow macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- In a large pot or dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and mix into a smooth paste. Stir frequently and cook until bubbling, about 1-2 minutes.
- Slowly pour in milk and cream while whisking. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 2 minutes. Whisk frequently to prevent burning.
- Add the cheddar, gouda, salt, and pepper. Stir until cheese is completely melted and smooth. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
- Add in the cooked macaroni and stir to combine. Serve immediately.
- Freshly grated cheese is recommended for this recipe. Pre-shredded cheeses often contain anti-sticking agents and may affect the creaminess of your sauce.
- The heavy cream adds richness and a smoother mouthfeel to the sauce. You can opt for half and half or additional milk instead of heavy cream if you prefer to make this recipe lighter in fat content.
- To store: Stovetop mac and cheese can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. When you're ready to eat it, simply reheat it in the microwave or on the stovetop with a splash of milk until it’s heated through.