This stovetop macaroni & cheese is the creamiest, smoothest Mac & Cheese you’ll ever make, thanks to a simple secret ingredient that keeps it smooth longer.
I love Mac & Cheese, but not when it’s dry and lumpy, which unfortunately is usually the case when ordering it from a restaurant. It’s just too difficult to keep the cheese sauce from getting clumpy and dry when you don’t serve it right away. Additionally, it’s nearly impossible to make baked mac & cheese that’s not dry.
I formed this recipe out of a desire to make the best mac & cheese my nephew had ever tasted. His favorite dish has always been macaroni and cheese. It still is, even as he’s no longer a kid. He often ordered it at restaurants and made it at home from a box or an oven-ready carton. But I never thought it was very good. It was always clumpy and dry or not very cheesy.
The recipe I ended up creating is both exceptionally creamy and easy enough for him – he never cooks – to make without assistance. It doesn’t require expensive ingredients. It doesn’t require a lot of time or effort.
The secret is in the sauce.
What’s the Secret?
There is one ingredient that helps make the sauce just a little extra creamy, and a whole lot smoother. While milk and flour alone will make a creamy sauce, it will become clumpy the longer it sits. If you add this one ingredient, you’ll have a much smoother, silky cheese sauce.
It’s evaporated milk. (Not condensed milk, but evaporated!)
Now, I know you probably don’t often have evaporated milk in the cupboard with which to make this dish whenever you’re craving mac & cheese, but I do think it’s worth it to stock it, just in case.
The evaporated milk subs in for a higher fat heavy cream in this dish. It’s basically just milk that’s been reduced to a smooth, slightly sweet consistency. When used in this recipe, it keeps its silkiness, while cream would become clumpy.
What Cheese to Use
If you use the right cheese – one that melts really well and is sharp enough to add flavor but not texture – your mac & cheese will be amazing every time. You don’t want to use a mild cheese, nor do you want to use a vintage cheese.
A sharp cheddar works perfectly. I always suggest that you grate it yourself from the block rather than using pre-shredded, as there is extra flour and anti-clumping agent added to pre-shredded flour that you don’t want in your dish.
For extra creaminess, I pair cheddar with a little bit of Velvetta or American cheese slices. If you’d rather not use processed cheese, you can add some gouda or emmental cheese. You can also add goat’s cheese or cream cheese for more creaminess.
How to Make Creamy Stovetop Mac & Cheese
Be sure to get the pasta cooking before you start the sauce so it’s ready to add at the end.
If you’ve ever made a roux before, this will be an easy sauce to make. You just allow the butter to melt in the pan over medium heat, then add the flour and whisk it together.
Let the mixture cook for a few minutes, then add the evaporated milk and the regular milk (or half and half, if you’re using that instead). Whisk that all together.
Now comes the best part. Add the cheese to the sauce and stir it until it becomes light and creamy, like in the photo below.
Next you’ll add the cooked noodles into the sauce. Stir, stir, stir until it’s all incorporated. You’ll want to serve it right away, when it’s at its creamiest. The longer it stays on the stove, the drier it will get.
Why the Stovetop and Not the Oven?
I personally really prefer mac & cheese made on the stovetop because it turns out creamier and richer. If you choose to bake it, it often turns dry and the cheese sort of bakes into the pasta. It’s not nearly as creamy. I think you have to add a lot more cheese to get the same great taste.
I always add a few buttery bread crumbs to the top of the mac and cheese before serving it for a little extra texture. I’ve also been known to add chopped jalapenos or bacon to kick it up a bit. You choose your favorite toppings or just serve it as is.
The first time I made this creamy mac & cheese for my nephew, he loved it. Years later he was making it for his high school friends when they came over. It’s become a classic in our family.
If you’re looking for a vegan version, try this Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese.
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Creamy Stovetop Mac & Cheese
- 3 cups macaroni pasta cooked according to package instructions
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1 cup milk (or half and half)
- 3/4 cup evaporated milk
- 8 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese shredded
- 8 ounces medium cheddar cheese shredded
- 3 slices velvetta or American cheese
- 1 tsp yellow mustard
- Cook and drain the pasta.
- Add the butter to a medium-sized pot over medium heat, allowing it to melt but not sizzle. Add the flour and whisk together. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the regular milk and evaporated milk and whisk together.
- Add the cheese stirring constantly until melted.
- Once the cheese is melted and fully combined, add the pasta and stir well to incorporate everything. Serve immediately.
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Laura is a home cook who loves making new recipes and finding new favorite things to eat, whether at home or abroad. She also runs a popular travel blog and spends a lot of her time traveling for food.