This extra easy, ultra-creamy, super cheesy homemade mac and cheese is made on the stovetop in two simple steps and takes less than 15 minutes to make. It’s a classic your whole family will love.
No matter how old you are, you’re never too old for mac and cheese. It’s the ultimate comfort food. Like every kid, it was a favorite lunch and dinner growing up, especially if it had sliced hot dogs in it. Now as an adult, it’s one of the most nostalgic dishes, right up there with my Mom’s spaghetti, sloppy Joes, and tuna noodle casserole, conjuring happy memories from my childhood. And while I love making a batch of my BEST baked homemade mac and cheese for special occasions when feeding a crowd (like Thanksgiving or Christmas), this easy stovetop macaroni and cheese is my go-to for a quick dinner, and here’s why:
- It’s made with ingredients in the pantry but no longer from the blue box.
- It’s all real cheese.
- There’s no need to make a roux.
- Heck, we even skip draining the noodles.
It’s the easiest, creamiest, cheesiest mac and cheese you’ll ever make.
What’s in This Creamy Stovetop Mac and Cheese
The list of ingredients in this mac and cheese is basic, but there are two ingredients that really lend the most to its creamy success: Evaporated milk and American cheese. Yep, adding those two processed but real foods make this meal the cheesiest, and creamy even as it cools to room temperature.
- Small macaroni noodles such as elbows, spirals, rotini, or shells
- Evaporated milk
- Kosher salt (feel free to add pepper as well, if you like)
- Ground mustard/mustard powder
- Garlic powder (optional)
- American cheese––I love this old-school cheese for how
- Mild cheddar cheese (you could use sharp cheddar if you wanted)
Why Use Evaporated Milk in Mac and Cheese
Regular macaroni and cheese is typically made with fresh milk, but I actually prefer using evaporated milk. Evaporated milk is real cow’s milk that’s been cooked down so some of the water content evaporates, creating a shelf-stable, always-at-the-ready ingredient. I always have a stash on hand in my pantry, for mac and cheese, and those times I run out of milk for my coffee. It’s a good sub. It’s concentrated and has a slightly heavier taste than fresh milk.
In macaroni and cheese, evaporated milk keeps the cheese from breaking and becoming either chalky or greasy because there’s less moisture to contend with.
What to use instead of evaporated milk. To make your own evaporated milk, simmer 2 ¼ cups of regular milk down to 1 cup. Or replace it with ¾ cup whole milk and ¼ cup half-and-half or cream.
What 2 Cheeses Make Mac and Cheese
In this recipe, we’re cooking from scratch to match the flavor and taste of the boxed version of macaroni and cheese so choosing milder cheeses works best (just don’t use mozzarella, as it doesn’t lend enough flavor).
I use two kinds of cheese for this recipe, with each contributing its own merits to make mac and cheese that is smooth and lush but not overly cloying.
- Cheddar cheese. Choose a block of mild or medium cheddar cheese for flavor and be sure to shred it yourself (it will melt much better than pre-shredded cheese)
- American cheese. American cheese is what gives this mac and cheese the extra creamy factor. I get it from the Smith’s Grocery deli counter where six slices work just right.
But is American cheese even real?
American cheese is a 100-year-old way of cheesemaking that preserves the protein of milk longer than in traditional cheeses. It’s made from milk, rennet, and salt, just like every other cheese, and shouldn’t be confused with the single slices of processed cheese sold in packages.
How to Make Creamy Mac and Cheese from Scratch
In this recipe, we cook the noodles with water and evaporated milk together from the start so there’s no draining of the noodles needed.
Here are instructions for how to make it:
Add the water, evaporated milk, butter, and elbow macaroni to a large pot and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Boiling these ingredients all at once adds starch from the noodles to the sauce, thickening as it cooks. Plus, it makes things easier with no need to drain, and your pasta will still be al dente.
*NOTE* Keep a keen eye on the pot as it comes to a boil so it doesn’t boil over. Adding the evaporated milk to the water and noodles raises the internal heat and adds more bubbles so the mixture will overflow in an instant if you turn away for too long.
Add a Hint of Flavor
Add ground mustard and kosher salt to the noodles while cooking. Ground mustard is a natural enhancer to a melty cheese sauce where it lingers in the background just barely being noticed and kosher salt flavors the noodles as they cook. Avoid using prepared mustard as it imparts a vinegar bite.
To help the dried mustard mix cohesively and without lumps, whisk the ground mustard into 1 tablespoon of water until smooth, then stir into the sauce and noodles while cooking.
If you want, just a pinch of garlic will do. If you like, add ⅛ teaspoon of garlic powder at this time too.
Reduce the Sauce in the Noodles
Cook the noodles until al denté with about ⅓ cup of creamy sauce left in the bottom of the pan. Cooking the noodles directly in the water and evaporated milk creates a lightly thickened sauce thanks to the gluten and starch of the noodles.
Avoid cooking the noodles and sauce dry! The style of noodles will depend on the cooking time. Sturdier, high-quality Italian noodles will take longer to cook where American macaroni takes less.
If the sauce runs dry, add more water and evaporated milk to the pan until the noodles are cooked.
Add the Two Kinds of Cheese
Add the cheese in batches. When adding the cheese to your cooked pasta, use a heavy wooden spoon to really get in there and stir things up and add the cheese in batches. Gently fold so the noodles don’t break apart.
The result is mac and cheese that’s smooth and rich and creamy.
Mac and Cheese Mix-Ins and Toppings
There’s not much you can do to make mac and cheese better than this, unless you added a few simple ingredients to make a meal, like:
- Veggies like spinach, peas, corn, sun-dried tomatoes, cooked broccoli, or roasted cauliflower
- Meats like chopped bacon, ham, or sliced hot dogs
- Caramelized onions or snipped chives
- A drizzle of pesto
- A garlicky toasted breadcrumb or Panko topping
- Cayenne pepper or hot sauce if you want some heat
How to Reheat Mac and Cheese
To reheat mac and cheese, microwave for 45 seconds on high power or 1 minute on medium power. To reheat on the stovetop, add 1-2 tablespoons of milk to the pan with the mac and cheese on medium heat.
How to Freeze Mac and Cheese
I don’t really recommend freezing this mac and cheese, as it just doesn’t hold up as well after it’s been in the freezer. If you’re looking for a good mac and cheese to freeze and bake, use this recipe instead.
What to Serve with Mac and Cheese
- The Best BBQ Chicken
- How to Make the Best Grilled Salmon
- The Best Greek Chicken Marinade
- Bratwurst In Beer With Onions
- Oven Roasted Chicken with Lemon Rosemary Garlic Butter
- Daddy’s Baked Hamburgers
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
Easy Creamy Homemade Mac and Cheese
- 8 ounces elbow, spiral, or shell macaroni noodles , about 2 ¾ cup
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups water
- 1 12-ounce can Kroger evaporated milk
- 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard , dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
- ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder , optional
- 4 ounces American. cheese , about 6 slices
- 4 ounces grated mild cheddar cheese , rounded ½ cup
- In a medium saucepan, add the noodles, butter, water, evaporated milk, and salt. In a small bowl, mash the dry mustard with a fork until smooth and add to the noodles. If using, add the garlic powder at this time. Stir the mixture then bring to a boil and quickly turn down the heat to a simmer before it boils over. Cook the noodles to the package directions 5-8 minutes, or until tender. There should be ¼ to ⅓ cup liquid left in the pan when the noodles are done cooking. If not, add 1-2 tablespoons more evaporated milk to the noodle mixture. Remove from the heat.
- Add the cheese in batches to the noodles and use a wooden spoon to stir and combine until creamy. Taste for seasoning and serve hot.
More Mac and Cheese Recipe Ideas
- The Best Homemade Mac And Cheese
- Skillet Cauliflower Mac And Cheese
- Instant Pot Creamy Mac And Cheese Five Ways
- Lobster Mac And Cheese
- Fried Mac And Cheese Balls Recipe
- Stovetop Pesto Macaroni And Cheese With Corn And Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- 5-Ingredient Cacio E Pepe
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I wanted to start by saying, I NEVER take the time to rate recipes. Never. I’ve been on a search for a long time for perfect homemade mac and cheese and never found it until this recipe. This recipe is EVERYTHING. I could eat it every day. The only thing I do different is that after I’m done boiling the pasta, I drain it all off into a bowl because a LOT does not absorb for me. I just put in 1/3 cup and then a few tablespoons as I’m stirring the cheese to keep it smooth. Make this dish, you won’t be disappointed!! Thank you so so so much!
So glad you liked it Elizabeth!
My kids looove Mac and cheese but I hate buying it from the box… Not only was the an easy mac n cheese recipe but just kids absolutely loved it!!! It was so delish- my kids are very picky w seasonings so I only seasoned w salt which was good enough for them. Absolutely win! Thank you!!
Ashley @ Foodie Crush
Yay! I am glad you all enjoyed it!
We made this mac and cheese for dinner last night and it was wonderful! Most of the other homemade mac and cheese recipes I’ve tried either come out too dry or too clumpy. This one was perfect! Very creamy and flavorful.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it so much Jena. I agree that it is PERFECT!