Real Stovetop Mac and Cheese

Introducing my go-to mac & cheese recipe! Without exaggeration, this dish has been under development for more than a year. That much time has passed before I discovered my go-to mac and cheese recipe.

The blue box mac and cheese I grew up loving was the kind of traditional stovetop dish I was looking for. But I wanted to use actual ingredients to make my stovetop mac & cheese. I didn’t want it to be overly cheesy, but I also didn’t want it to be creamy and delicious either.

Here is my go-to mac and cheese recipe that satisfies the criteria listed above. I chose yellow cheddar on purpose, and I chose boxed-style noodles. It’s created simply with cheddar cheese, cream, and a few flavor-enhancing dried spices.

What’s best? Making this mac and cheese couldn’t be simpler. The best mac and cheese is homemade!

The Best Mac and Cheese for the Stove

This mac and cheese recipe is great for these reasons:

  • It has all the creamy texture and delicious cheese flavor you desire.
  • I guarantee that you won’t miss the absence of either butter or flour in this recipe.
  • The delicious sharp cheddar flavor truly comes through without the flour.
  • This mac is really simple to make gluten-free. Use gluten-free pasta only!
  • I have to give Melissa Clark credit for this idea. In her most recent book, Dinner: Changing the Game, I discovered her recipe for stovetop mac and cheese. You may buy it at Food52 online as well.

My alterations Although I discovered that mac and cheese needs a few additional spices to be completely delectable, including mustard powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and the slightest bit of cayenne pepper, her recipe called for freshly grated nutmeg. Even though the combination is slight, it has a significant impact. Believe me.

Since I found the procedure to be a little shaky, I also modified it. Every time I make this mac and cheese as described here, it comes out wonderfully.


I tried stovetop and baked béchamel sauce mac & cheese recipes before to discovering this method. Whatever the formula, the béchamel versions came out taste a little gritty and floury.

A stomachache followed my attempt at mac and cheese using evaporated milk, which tasted more like Velveeta than actual cheese. I also tried mac and cheese made with Monterey Jack, which has a milder flavor than cheddar and a much goopier texture (indeed, I didn’t want gloppy mac!).

I also employed some utterly unorthodox techniques. Instead of using cream, I attempted to avoid using it and ended up with a stringy mess. Even recipes for mac and cheese that called for yogurt or cauliflower purée were not mac and cheese. By far, my straightforward cheddar-and-cream recipe is the finest!

Cooking Advice for Mac and Cheese

Invest in good cheddar cheese. Here, the cheese flavor is the most prominent one (and rightly so). To get the most cheddar flavor, I favor sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese.

Hand-grate the cheese. To keep the cheese shreds from clinging to one another, pre-shredded cheese is coated with starch or cellulose. You might not be able to get a completely creamy, melted cheese sauce if you use those extraneous ingredients.

Mac and cheese tastes better with nicer pasta. The organic strozzapretti noodles from Montebello are my favorite (affiliate link; they are the noodles in these pictures). They can be found at Natural Grocers or my neighborhood health food store.

Make certain that your ingredients are prepared and measured. This dish is quite simple to make. Before adding the next one, you won’t have time to measure the ingredients!

Never overcook cream. Too much time spent letting the cream boil dehydrates it to the point where the cheese sauce becomes stringy. Once it begins to boil (which may be the instant the cream touches the pan), set the one-minute timer, and you will have the ideal sauce.

Do you want to make this mac and cheese lighter?

Real cheese and real cream are used to make this mac and cheese. It’s worth it and unbelievably delicious. However, here are some suggestions for improving its nutritional value:

For the heavy cream, use half and half instead. Whole milk and heavy cream are combined to form half and half. Even while it won’t be as creamy or rich, your mac and cheese is still excellent.

Add vegetables! Six ounces of pasta should be used instead. When there are just 2 to 3 minutes left in the cooking time for the pasta, add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of chopped broccoli florets (from 1 head of broccoli) or 1 cup of fresh or frozen peas to the pasta pot. As instructed, drain and add to the cheese sauce. Alternately, add 1 to 2 cups of cooked or roasted veggies at the very end. Excellent roasted Brussels sprouts.

Make use of premium ingredients. Dairy products that are raised on grass frequently contain more beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. If you want to avoid extra growth hormones, buy organic cheese and cream.

Use whole-wheat pasta. While adding whole grains and raising the amount of fiber, this won’t lower the calories or fat level. The mac and cheese will become more full as a result. DeLallo and Bionaturae are the two whole wheat pasta brands I prefer.

Make your noodles out of a thicker shape. (For example, chiocciole, fusilli, or rotini.) While doing this won’t lower the amount of calories or fat you consume, it will appear as though you are eating more spaghetti because it fills up more of your bowl. If you substitute another type of noodle for the macaroni, measure it in ounces (8 ounces is typically half a box; you’ll need more than 2 cups; the precise amount depends on the form).

Also read: Epic Vegetarian Tacos


  • 8 ounces (2 cups) regular or whole-wheat macaroni noodles
  • 2 teaspoons salt, for the pasta cooking water
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • 1 ⅓ packed cups (5 ounces) grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ teaspoon mustard powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon onion powder
  • Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper, or a dash of your favorite hot sauce


  1. Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add the noodles and salt. Cook until the pasta is al dente, according to package directions. In the meantime, make sure all of your ingredients are measured and ready (I combine the dry spices in a small bowl).
  2. Drain the pasta and leave it in the colander for now. Return the empty pot to medium heat. Immediately add the cream and let the mixture come to a boil. Once boiling, set a timer for 1 minute.
  3. Once the minute is up, add all of the cheese and spices. Stir until the cheese has fully melted to produce a creamy sauce. Add the pasta, stir until the pasta is evenly coated in cheese sauce, and remove the pot from the heat.
  4. Taste and season with salt, if necessary. Serve immediately.