My kids truly love macaroni and cheese (shocker, I know). Because I do not do box mixes very often, I went on a quest to find the best homemade macaroni and cheese recipe that has the creaminess they love combined with good fresh ingredients that I could easily throw together on a weeknight.
I love a good baked macaroni and cheese, and I also have been known to make it with a roux (flour+fat=delicious) as a thickener, but this recipe is more of an alternative to those.
It’s more for nights when you need a comforting side but just don’t have the time or energy for all those extra steps.
It took a lot of trial and error, but I finally landed on this easy creamy macaroni and cheese recipe which is a dish we make almost weekly at our house.
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A Word About the Ingredients for Easy Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
What is more important in this dish than the cheese? Be sure to use a good sharp cheddar cheese (block, NOT pre-shredded). For some reason, cheaper cheese just does not melt right. The pre-shredded stuff often has additives and it just does not work. You don’t have to break the bank, just don’t go with the cheapest option available. Also, I find that sharp cheddar makes a difference and adds a ton more flavor.
You can use whole or 2% milk but obviously whole milk will give you a more full and flavorful dish. Something to note about milk is that you have to be careful when you heat it. You don’t want it to get any hotter than a very light simmer (with just a few little bubbles, see photo below). If you let it get too hot and it comes to a rolling boil, it will change the consistency and the cheese sauce will be more grainy. It also burns easily so you will have to watch that the milk does not get too hot. The good news is that even on nights when I mess this step up and it ends up being not the perfect consistency, it is still really tastes good and my kids gobble it up.
I recommend using some kind of small pasta for this dish. Since you don’t want the milk to come to a rolling boil, I like to use pasta shells that are very small (I like to use small elbow macaroni, rotini or small penne which is also called penne rigate). This means that the pasta will cook faster and there is less of a chance that your milk will get super hot or burn on the bottom.
Easy Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
- Cheese grater
- Medium-sized pot (3 quart size or larger)
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 12 oz shredded good sharp cheddar cheese, about 3/4ths of a 16-ounce block
- 6 oz cream cheese, cubed (about 3/4ths of a 8-ounce block/square)
- 1 lb small pasta, rotini, shells, elbow, penne, etc.
- 1 teaspoon salt or more (to taste)
- Pour milk, water, salt and chicken broth into medium sauce pan and cook over medium low heat until it starts steaming.
- Pour pasta in, lower heat to low and let cook at a simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until pasta is cooked ("al dente" or still having a little bit of a firmness is recommended).
- Once the pasta is cooked to desired tenderness, add the shredded cheddar and cream cheese.
- Stir until completely melted and remove from heat and let sit for at least 15-20 minutes so sauce can thicken.
- Whole milk (you can also use 2%) can change consistency if it gets too hot. It can also burn easily. Be careful not to get the milk too hot. You want it to be steaming with maybe a few bubbles.
- Use good sharp cheddar cheese (block, NOT pre-shredded).
- Whatever pasta you use, make it small (small elbows, penne rigate, small shells, etc.)
- Be sure not to skip the last step (letting it sit for 15-20 minutes). When this dish comes together at the end and the cheese all melts in, the sauce can be a little thin. Letting it sit for 10-20 minutes gives the cheesy goodness time to cool and thicken slightly.
- This makes a big batch. It keeps in the fridge for up to about 3 days in a sealed container and reheats nicely. I normally make it and serve the leftovers several nights in a row!