One pot mac and cheese is simple, doesn’t make a mess of your kitchen, is all done on the stove top, and will have dinner on the table in about 30 minutes! All of this without worries about overcooking/scorching the pasta or fussing about the amount of water you’re using.
Time for another easy dinner in my weeknight cooking series!
Better One Pot Method
It’s hard to go wrong with mac and cheese and when you can make it one pot it’s even better. Am I right? 🙂 But the methods I’ve tried over the years were never quite right. The sauce was over starchy or gluey. The pasta was too soft. The pasta burnt. (That was fun!) The recipe was fussy.
Time to try something different.
The different I’ve come up with is this: Cook the pasta and then let it rest while you make the sauce in the same pot. All the problems in the one pot method go away without any extra cleanup AND you have the initial cooking time to get things prepped for the cheese sauce.
What do you need?
- Pasta – One pound of your favorite variety though I would recommend staying away from penne or ziti.
- Cheese – A pile of cheddar and a smaller pile of parmesan.
- Milk – I use whole milk. You can switch to 2% or go for it and add a little heavy cream into the mix.
- Spices – Dry mustard, paprika, and cayenne.
- Butter – For the roux.
- Flour – For the roux and for the cheese.
How to make this
To make one pot mac and cheese, cook your pasta, then drain and set aside. Make the sauce in the pot, add back the pasta, and cook them both together.
1. Parcook the Pasta
Cook it up as you normally would in salted water until it’s almost done. You want it a little underdone here, about 2-3 minutes, so that it won’t be overdone once you’ve cooked it with the sauce.
Tip: Use only enough water for the pasta, not a full pot. This will concentrate the starches and make the sauce better.
When you drain, remember to save some of the water!
2. Make a Roux
Melt butter, add flour, whisk whisk whisk.
3. Make the Cheese Sauce
Once you have the roux, add the milk and spices and get it all nice and thick.
Then – And This Is Important – let it cool off a little. A few minutes (when it gets below 180F) is all it takes. Now add your cheese and whisk it smooth. If you think it’s getting a little too cool, move it back to the burner for a moment as you add and whisk.
4. Marry it all Together
Pour the pasta back in along with some of the water and bring it all to a simmer. Once the sauce is all creamy and the pasta is done to your taste, it’s time to eat!
Tip: Crispy breadcrumbs add a nice crunch. I have the directions for making them on a sheet pan in the notes of the recipe.
If you try my recipe for One Pot Mac and Cheese, I would love to hear from you in the comments with your experience and rating! And I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.
– Stay Safe, Annemarie
One Pot Mac and Cheese
- 16 oz short pasta
- 4 tbsp butter
- 5 tbsp all purpose flour, divided
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 tsp dry mustard
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 12 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 oz parmesan cheese, shredded
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add a spoonful of kosher salt and cook the pasta in the water 2 minutes less than the package directions. Scoop out ~1 1/2 cups of the water and drain the pasta.
- Put the pot back on the heat, bring it down to low, and add the butter. Add 3 tablespoons of the flour and whisk for 1 minute.
- Add one cup of milk and whisk vigorously until it is bubbly and thick. Add the remaining milk and bring to a simmer. Add the spices - mustard, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper.
- Take the pot off the heat and let it cool until it's under 180F when checked with a thermometer.
- Mix together the shredded cheeses with the remaining tablespoon of flour. Add cheese by the handful to the hot milk while whisking constantly.
- Once you add the last handful, add the pasta back to the pot with 1 cup of the reserved water. Bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, until the sauce is thick and creamy and the pasta is cooked through.
- Smooth Sauce: To guard against broken cheese and a grainy sauce, make sure the milk temperature is below 180F and that the cheese is mixed with flour.
- Pasta: For best results use a variety that can't all stick together during the rest while you make the sauce. Use elbows, rotini, cavatappi, fusilli, shells, or similar. Stay away from penne or ziti.
- Breadcrumbs: If you love crispy crumbs, take panko or dry breadcrumbs and toss them with some olive oil. Then bake in a 400F oven on a baking sheet until browned, about 7 minutes. (Once cooled they can be stored in a sealed container in the pantry.)