Make the Simplest, Most Delicious Bowl of Stovetop Mac and Cheese with the Help of Our Food Editors' Top Tips
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: It's a streamlined take on the classic that's on the table in just 30 minutes. Our delicious secret is a blend of three cheeses 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 both cook your pasta 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 and ensuring a creamy sauce, and a large spoon for mixing in the pasta and evenly coating each noodle with that cheesy sauce.
There are 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 Lauryn.
• Short pasta: "Choose a small shape with ridges or curves that the cheese sauce can cling to such as elbow macaroni, cavatappi, or rigatoni," says Lauryn.
• Unsalted butter
• Unbleached all-purpose flour
• Mustard powder
• Whole milk
• American cheese
• Sharp cheddar
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 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 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: As mac and cheese cools, the sauce tightens and loses some of its creaminess. But if you don't serve it right away, no worries—just place the pot over a low flame, and stir in reserved pasta water, a few tablespoons at a time, to loosen the sauce without diluting the rich flavor.
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