This easy homemade stovetop mac and cheese recipe is super creamy, rich, and delicious. It's quick and simple to make in about 30 minutes!
You may also like my cozy Baked Mac and Cheese or Mac and Cheese Soup.
Why you'll love it
This creamy mac and cheese has a heavenly thick sauce. You can make it in the time it takes to boil the pasta, and it's much tastier than boxed mac and uses everyday grocery store ingredients. It's sure to be a hit on busy weeknights or when you're craving comfort food!
I did a few tests attempting to make this easy mac and cheese a one pot recipe, but I am much happier with this version where the pasta and sauce are cooked separately. This method is fast and reliable to get that perfect texture. The key to the creaminess of this recipe? Evaporated milk. It's thicker and more concentrated than regular milk, and it makes for a smoother sauce without all the extra calories of cream.
What kind of cheese do I use?
- Use a good-quality sharp cheddar cheese. White cheddar would work as well. You could also try great melting cheeses such as Gruyère, Gouda, Colby, Monterey Jack, Muenster, or Fontina. If you like Velveeta, give that a try!
What goes into this recipe
- Macaroni - it's a classic, but you can swap the elbow pasta for a different pasta shape if you wish
- Butter and flour - to make a quick roux
- Evaporated milk - the star ingredient that makes this recipe stand out from all the others
- Garlic powder and mustard powder - these seasonings are key to making an even richer base flavor for the sauce
- Cheddar cheese - the traditional choice for mac and cheese
- Parmesan cheese - parm really elevates the sauce and makes it taste like a more luxurious grown-up mac and cheese! (don't worry; the kids will love it too)
Can I use pre-shredded cheese?
- Grate your own cheese. The extra step is worth it! The bags of pre-shredded cheese are coated with cellulose and will not melt as easily (and may end up grainy). I use this cheese grater to quickly grate the cheddar, and I use my Microplane for the parmesan.
How to make stovetop mac and cheese
This is an overview with step-by-step photos. Full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.
Boil a salted pot of water and cook the elbow macaroni according to package directions. While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in another pot, then stir in the flour and cook it for a few minutes until golden.
Slowly whisk in the evaporated milk, followed by the seasonings. The sauce will start to thicken up after a few minutes.
Take the pot off the heat and stir in the cheeses until melted. Drain the macaroni, add it to the pot with the cheesy sauce, and toss. Enjoy right away.
Tips for success
- Evaporated milk provides a creamier consistency than regular milk, so I highly recommend using it. It's found in cans, usually in the baking section of stores. Be sure not to confuse it with sweetened condensed milk, though. If you need to sub it, use whole milk or half-and-half.
- This recipe is best eaten fresh vs. making it ahead of time.
- Be sure to let the roux (flour + butter) cook for a few minutes. This cooks the raw flour taste out and gives the finished dish more flavor.
- Aim to have the pasta ready at the same time as the sauce. It's best when the hot pasta is tossed with the sauce.
Substitutions and variations
- This recipe is yummy as-is, but you can try experimenting a bit and add a pinch of chili powder, onion powder, paprika, or nutmeg if you want some additional seasonings.
- Stir in some Oven Cooked Bacon, broccoli, peas, caramelized onions, rotisserie/leftover chicken, ham, cut-up hot dogs, or even lobster!
- To kick up the heat, add a few dashes of hot sauce to your bowl or use some sliced jalapeno peppers.
What to serve with mac and cheese
- A side salad would be a great complement. Try a classic Caesar salad with my 10 Minute No Blender Caesar Dressing or mixed greens with this Olive Garden Salad Dressing.
- A slice of crusty bread, garlic knots, or Homemade Garlic Bread is always a good idea.
- It makes a great side dish with Baked Chicken Tenders for the kids and these Easy Baked Chicken Drumsticks.
Leftovers and storage
- Leftovers will keep for 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge.
- Reheat any leftovers over a low heat in a medium saucepan, adding a splash of milk as needed, and stirring often. You can also stir in a little butter to help revive the sauce if needed.
- I don't recommend freezing mac 'n cheese. The sauce is likely to separate.
More deliciously cheesy recipes to try
Questions about this creamy stovetop mac and cheese recipe? Let me know in the comments below! I hope your whole family will enjoy it. Find me on Instagram as well.
Quick & Easy Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- 1 pound uncooked macaroni
- 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 (12 ounce) cans evaporated milk see note
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups freshly grated cheddar
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Pepper to taste
- Cook the macaroni al dente according to package instructions.
- Meanwhile, in another pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook it, stirring often, until golden (about 3-5 minutes).
- Slowly whisk in the evaporated milk, then whisk in the seasonings. Cook for a few minutes until the sauce starts to thicken up (this happens quite fast, so be careful not to let it get too thick).
- Take the pot off the heat and stir in the cheeses.
- Stir in the drained macaroni and toss to coat in the cheese sauce. Add pepper to taste (and more salt if needed). It's best enjoyed immediately.
- Use regular/full fat evaporated milk for best results (not low fat). Evaporated milk is typically found in the baking aisle of grocery stores. Be sure to not mix it up with sweetened condensed milk. You can use whole milk or half-and-half instead if you need to, but results may vary. With milk, the texture may not be quite as smooth/creamy.
- I highly recommend grating your own cheeses! They will taste and melt much better than the bagged kind.
- Serves up to 8 depending on portion size/if it's served as a main course or side dish.
- Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy only and should be construed as an estimate rather than a guarantee. Ingredients can vary and Salt & Lavender makes no guarantees to the accuracy of this information.
Toni Forstik says
Another great recipe. Just made it for Super Bowl!
Love this site. I have so many recipes from Salt and Lavender.
Fantastic!! I'm so happy you liked it and other recipes from here, Toni! Appreciate your comment. 🙂
Nurse Nikki says
This became an instant favorite in my house, especially with my two kids (ages 8 and 6, both a little picky)! So creamy and so tasty! Love your recipes!
Yay!! That's so great to hear, Nikki!! Appreciate your review! 🙂
This recipe was simple, quick, and absolutely delicious! My family loved it, and I really liked that there were few ingredients that additionally kept well on the shelf or in the fridge in case I wasn't up to making this immediately.
Awesome!! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Appreciate your review, Kristina!
Another amazing recipe! I used heavy whipping cream in place of condensed milk and it worked great! Super quick and easy and the whole family loved it!
I'm so glad you all enjoyed it, Katie!! 🙂 Thanks for your review!
This is a super good, easy recipe, when you want a yummy side dish! It’s super creamy, and the freshly grated cheese is a must!! We are a family of Mac n Cheese lovers, this recipe will go right to the top of my favorites!!
I'm so pleased you enjoyed it, Deb!! 😀 Thanks so much for your kind review!