Tips for the Simplest, Most Delicious Stovetop Mac and Cheese From Our Food Editors

Best of all, their favorite recipe just happens to be a one-pot dish.

test kitchen mac and cheese

Always a favorite, stovetop mac and cheese is comforting to eat and surprisingly easy to make. If you're ready to ditch the boxed versions, try our editor's go-to recipe: a streamlined take on the classic that's on the table in just 30 minutes. Our delicious secret is a blend of three kinds of cheese and mustard powder for a subtle kick. Want to make this classic for dinner tonight? Get the easy recipe and our editors' pro tips.

The Tools You'll Need

First, grab a medium-sized heavy pot. You'll minimize cleanup by choosing an option that you can use to cook your pasta and then make your sauce. Next, pull out your box grater. "Grate the cheese by hand! Pre-packaged cheese lacks the flavor of the real thing and often has stabilizers and additives," says senior food editor Lauryn Tyrell. She recommends grating cheese on the medium (not large) holes for easiest melting.

You'll also need a colander for straining the pasta, a whisk for making a proper roux (which ensures a creamy sauce), and a large spoon for mixing in the pasta and evenly coating each noodle with that cheesy sauce.

Grocery List

No fancy ingredients are necessary for this recipe. You might think three different types of cheese is excessive, but we're here to say when your dish is this streamlined, every ingredient plays its part. "American melts smoothly, sharp cheddar adds a punch, and Parmesan brings richness and a hint of nuttiness," explains Tyrell. You can use nearly any type of short pasta that you desire, but Tyrell recommends choosing "a small shape with ridges or curves that the cheese sauce can cling to such as elbow macaroni, cavatappi, or rigatoni."

* Short pasta
* Unsalted butter
* Unbleached all-purpose flour
* Mustard powder
* Whole milk
* American cheese
* Sharp cheddar
* Parmesan

Pro tip: For easier grating, put the blocks of cheddar and Parmesan in the freezer for five minutes first.

Cook the Pasta

Prepare one pound of short pasta in a medium pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about two minutes less than per package instructions. Drain, reserving one cup of pasta water (which you may use later).

Make a Bechamel Sauce

Return the empty pot to medium heat; add 3 tablespoons butter. When butter melts and foams, add 1/4 cup flour and whisk until darkened slightly, one to two minutes. Add two teaspoons mustard powder; whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in three cups warm whole milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, three to four minutes.

Pro tip: To prevent clumps, warm the milk in a saucepan or microwave before adding it to the roux.

Melt the Cheese

Reduce heat to low and add the cheese in three batches, starting with one cup (four ounces) chopped American. Follow with two cups (eight ounces) grated sharp cheddar and one cup (two ounces) grated Parmesan. Whisk to fully combine after adding each cheese. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Add pasta, stir to coat, and serve.

Pro tip: The sauce will tighten as the mac and cheese cools, but you can still make it ahead. When you're ready to eat, reheat the pot on low and stir in a few tablespoons at a time of reserved pasta water—this loosens the mixture without taking away any of the flavor.

Get the Test Kitchen's Favorite Stovetop Mac and Cheese Recipe

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