Instant Pot | March 5, 2019

The Best Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

I’m so excited to share this recipe for The Best Instant Pot Mac and Cheese with you today! This recipe mimics the ever popular boxed instant mac and cheese, but is quick and easy (about the same time as instant mac and cheese) and packed with a cheesy, creamy sauce that will make you wonder why you ever ate anything out of a box!  Also, if you don’t have an Instant Pot, there are recipe notes giving stovetop instructions as well. 

What makes this the best Instant Pot Mac and cheese?

This recipe for The Best Instant Pot Mac and Cheese comes to you after years of mac and cheese consumption and lots of trial and error. I’ve made homemade mac and cheese for a long, long time and can confirm the importance of a few key ingredients in our favorite mac and cheese recipes. First, butter.

No respectable mac and cheese recipe can be made without the use of butter! Margarine won’t do. Second, liquid. The mac and cheese has to have a liquid (milk, cream, half and half or evaporated milk) to combine with the cheese to make a creamy sauce.

I’ve tested all types of liquid in mac and cheese from half and half to milk to broth to evaporated milk. I usually make a béchamel sauce when making mac and cheese, but for this recipe wanted to concentrate on a one-pot method. Evaporated milk is often used in recipes to create a creamy finished product and is the perfect ingredient to add creaminess for The Best Instant Pot Mac and Cheese!

To simplify the process and allow this recipe for The Best Instant Pot Mac and Cheese to be made in one pot, (without removing ingredients from the pot) I opted for a sauce made with evaporated milk rather than the traditional method of making a béchamel (butter melted, flour whisked and cooked, then add milk and whisk again) sauce and adding cheese. 

Evaporated milk, or canned milk is simply milk that has been cooked at a high temperature and high pressure to remove water from the milk… less water equals a smoother sauce.  Make sure you are using Evaporated milk, not Sweetened Condensed milk, which are basically processed the same, but the sweetened condensed has sugar added.  I highly recommend sharp cheese for the best flavor in mac and cheese. Never, ever make mac and cheese with mild cheddar. You’ll end up with a big bowl of bland, cheesy pasta! Finally, I cannot say enough about adding a few spices. Yes, even if you are cooking for children, add the paprika and 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard. It will give the dish  little interest without being spicy. If you like a little more of a kick add the cayenne and another 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard (for 1 teaspoon total of the dry mustard). You won’t notice the spices much if you follow the recommended amounts, but without any spices, the mac and cheese is a little blah! 

One Pot Mac and Cheese in 20 minutes (or less)

The Best Instant Pot Mac and Cheese is a  dream meal on a busy night. Next time you want to feed the kids a meal before heading out on date night, whip up this mac and cheese. It takes 10 minutes of your time and you’ll be able to pronounce all of the ingredients on their dinner plate! Instant Pot Mac and Cheese takes about the same amount of effort as cooking mac and cheese on the stove from a box, except it won’t boil over, and tastes about 100 times better! Also, if you have dry food storage, you most likely have a case or two of dry macaroni that’s begging to be opened and used. **One strict caution** do not leave this for the kids to make on their own. Pressure cookers are only to be used by an adult! 

Hope you love this recipe for the Best Instant Pot Mac and Cheese and let us know if you made any modifications or added in any of your own special ingredients. Happy cooking!

5 from 10 votes
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The Best Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

The Best Instant Pot Mac and Cheese is a one pot, 20 minute (or less) dinner your whole family will love! The Instant Pot makes the easiest, creamiest homemade mac and cheese ever! 

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword dinner, instant pot, Mac and cheese
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 3 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 4 cups water
  • 3 1/2 cups macaroni (a little less than 1 lb*)
  • 2 teaspoons sea or Kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter (I use unsalted) cut into tablespoons
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • dash cayenne (optional)
  • 4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated or 1 lb
  • 1 12 oz can evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup water, milk or half and half as needed*
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Combine 4 cups cold water, macaroni and 2 teaspoon salt in the Instant Pot.

  2. Set Instant Pot to the MANUAL or PRESSURE COOK or HIGH PRESSURE setting, placing timer to 3 minutes. Make sure the plastic seal is in place inside of the lid before placing lid on the Instant Pot and the valve on top of the lid is set to the SEALING position. While pasta is cooking, grate cheese and set aside. 

  3. After the timer goes off, carefully release the steam from the Instant Pot using the VENTING position on the lid. This is also referred to as quick or manual pressure release. There will most likely be some water left in the Instant Pot, but that will mix into the sauce. 

  4. Add the butter to the hot pasta inside of the pot and stir. Add dry mustard, paprika and cayenne. Stir until combined. 

  5. Turn the Instant Pot to the Sauté setting and add evaporated milk and cheddar and stir until smooth.  Immediately turn pot off after adding milk and cheese so it won't burn or overcook. 

  6. Add additional 1/4 cup of water, or milk, or half and half to the mac and cheese  if it is too thick and fold in. Serve immediately. 

Recipe Notes

  • For Stove top instructions: Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain off all water, reserving some for sauce. Add butter to pan and turn heat to medium. Mix until butter is melted. Add evaporated milk, heat until milk is hot about 2 minutes. add grated cheese and other spices. If needed, add a bit of pasta water to thin. Serve immediately. 
  • Make sure to release pressure manually after the timer goes off. If the pasta is allowed to sit for a long period of time it will overcook. After 3 minutes, I have found the pasta is cooked to perfection. This may vary depending on altitude
  • It is best to use cheese that is not pre-grated for best results. Pre-grated cheese has much of the moisture removed to preserve the cheese and keep it from molding, and as a result is not the best product for melting. 
  • You may use almost any type of cheese, but I think sharp cheddar works the best. If you like the taste of Velveta, cut 3 cups into cubes and add to recipe in place of grated cheddar. This recipe also works well with Sharp white cheddar or other flavors of cheese, such as smoked gouda, etc. You may also combine cheeses to equal 4 cups total. 
  • Additional items such as crushed garlic, chopped chives, parsley, and chopped ham or other cured meats may be added after the pasta is cooked. 
  • If you like your mac and cheese to have a little more of a kick, add 1 teaspoon of dry mustard instead of 1/2 teaspoon. If serving to children, leave out the cayenne. 

24 thoughts on “The Best Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

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  1. This looks so good! I can’t see the evaporated milk as an ingredient in the recipe—does it call for a whole can? Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Whitney,
      Thanks for the heads up! Just added it to the ingredient list. It’s a 12 oz can.
      xo
      Si

  2. 5 stars
    Made this last night and loved it! We used up whatever bits of cheese we had to add up to the 4 cups (smoked sharp cheddar for half and then little bits of Swiss, Velveeta & cheddar for the rest) and it worked out great. I also used half and half instead of milk at the end because I needed to finish it off, worked great. Will definitely be making this again

    1. Jen,
      Glad you loved this recipe! It is the perfect recipe for using up extra cheese. Thanks for your comment and for reading ABK!
      xo
      Si

  3. 5 stars
    I made this when you first posted it & it came out perfectly, even with the mistakes I made. I made it again today, as directed & it’s still amazing!
    The first time I used preshredded cheese & it was still super smooth and creamy!

    1. Hi Farah, the shredded cheese makes all the difference. There’s nothing like homemade mac and cheese. Thanks for sharing and for reading ABK!
      xo
      Si

    2. 5 stars
      Dinner tonight was steak, this amazing Mac and cheese and your summertime lemonade. I can’t believe how quick and easy this was. The pasta was cooked perfectly – I’ve never had an IP pasta dish cook properly first time either until now. Loved it and I will make it again!

  4. 5 stars
    After trying a couple of other mac & cheese instant pot recipes, this REALLY is the best! Creamy, flavorful. The only bad thing is you will be tempted to eat it all! Great recipe!!

  5. 5 stars
    This has become a family favorite! So much so that we want to make it for an extended family lunch we’re hosting on Sunday. Any suggestions or instructions for doubling the recipe? Thank you!

    1. Hi Sarah, you could double this recipe, as long as you have the bigger version of the instant pot. You won’t need to change the cooking time for doubling the recipe. Hope this helps and thanks for asking!
      xo
      Si

  6. 5 stars
    I’m so mad I even tried any other recipe for Mac and cheese in my instant pot before this one. This really is the best one!! (Which of course is not surprising at all because all your recipes are my favorite!) Thanks again Si!

    1. Hi Ginger, Im glad your family loved this recipe! Thanks for sharing your review and as always, thanks for being an ABK supporter!
      xo
      Si

  7. 5 stars
    This was so good! I made it for the kids, but even the adults ate it up. We used tillamook sharp white cheddar and it turned out great.

  8. Love this recipe. So easy and SO delicious! We love to serve it with pulled pork sandwiches. Nothing beats homemade Mac and Cheese!

  9. We love this recipe! As a follow-up to Sarah’s question on making this for a crowd–is the bigger pot you are referring to the 8 quart? Would it not work in the 6 quart to double? Also, would it work to cook a batch a little ahead and hold it in a warming oven? I’m trying to decide if it would get too gummy. 🙂

    PS My sister-in-law, Diana Beecher, is the one who introduced me to your amazing website and fantastic recipes a long time ago. 🙂 Thanks for helping me up my game in the kitchen with your proven and delicious recipes!

  10. 5 stars
    I made this and even my two year old prefers this to any other Mac n cheese! And so easy!! Thank you for such an amazing recipe!

  11. Hi Si,

    I want to make a smaller quantity of Mac and cheese, so would reducing all the ingredients by half work, if I keep the pressure cooking time for the macaroni the same?

    Thanks for your help!

  12. 5 stars
    I made this last night and it ended up being super yummy but it was really soupy after I added everything. I ended up adding a small amount of cornstarch mixed with cold water and it thickened right up. I am at a really high altitude (7500 feet). Does this affect the amount of water that the pasta needs to cook? Thanks for this simple and delicious recipe!

    1. Hi Amanda,

      Im not sure if the altitude would effect the amount of water needed but I do know it effects the amount of time it takes to come to pressure. Maybe that’s why you are having issues? Next time, try to use a little less water. This is the first time I believe I’ve heard of a reader having this problem. Thanks for leaving your comment, maybe someone else at a high altitude will chime in!
      Thanks for reading ABK,
      xo
      Si