How to Make Stove-Top Mac and Cheese That's So Much Better Than the Boxed Mixes

No oven space? No sweat! We’ll walk you through how to make stove-top mac and cheese that’s just as luscious and cheesy as the baked casserole version grandma used to make. Discover how to make homemade stove-top mac and cheese—no boxed mixes required—plus learn how to take your comfort food dinner over the top with savory and spicy toppings and mix-ins. 

Creamy stove-top mac and cheese is one of our favorite culinary happy mediums. Homemade stove-top mac and cheese delivers all of the wholesome ingredients you remember from grandma's comfort food casserole (and not all the extra sodium and preservatives in the boxed mac mixes) without all the wait time and oven space required for baked mac and cheese. (If you are in the mood for a baked beauty, though, we've got your back with our Three-Cheese Baked Mac, Mexican Mac and Cheese, and Gluten-Free Baked Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese recipes!)

Far from a compromise in terms of flavor and its silky, scrumptious results, stove-top homemade mac and cheese can be on your table just 35 minutes from now. Read on to discover how to make stove-top mac and cheese without baking. Then we'll share topping ideas to amp up the flavor even more or to mimic the craveable texture of a baked pasta casserole.

Macaroni and Cheese in bowls
Carson Downing

How to Make Stove-Top Mac and Cheese

Wondering how to make mac and cheese at home without oven space? Turn on your burner. Similar to the beloved blue box method you mastered as a child, homemade stove-top mac and cheese is worth this small amount of extra time and effort to whip up from scratch. No roux-making required!

Step 1: Gather Your Stove-Top Mac and Cheese Ingredients

To make our easy stove-top mac and cheese recipe, you need just four ingredients, plus butter and black pepper (we consider those two "freebies" since they're such culinary staples), as well as your preferred "accessories" to garnish your bowl.

For the pasta, consider any short-cut pasta, ideally a noodle with ridges or crevices to hold even more cheese sauce. As you gather ingredients for this stove-top homemade mac and cheese, consider:

  • Macaroni
  • Cavatappi
  • Cavatelli
  • Cascatelli (one of our new faves)
  • Orecchiette
  • Farfalle
  • Penne
  • Rotini

For the milk, choose from cow's milk or any unsweetened and unflavored nondairy milk alternative. And for the cheese, we only have two rules:

  1. Start by finely shredding the cheese by hand rather than purchasing pre-shredded mixes, since the latter are often mixed with anti-clumping agents like starches that don't melt as easily as cheese straight from the block.
  1. Opt for an easy-melting variety, such as cheddar, sharp cheddar, Gouda, Gruyère, Fontina, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Colby, or even process American cheese product (Velveeta) as the bulk of the cheese in the recipe. Then supplement this with other cheeses, if you like, such as an ounce or two of Parmesan, goat, Brie, Asiago, ricotta, mascarpone, or cottage cheese.

Beyond that, you'll just need butter, flour, and a pinch of ground black pepper.

Step 2: Prep Your Pasta

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Use a colander, strainer pot, or long-handled spider strainer to drain the noodles.

Step 3: Make the Creamy Stove-Top Mac and Cheese Sauce

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Use a whisk to stir in flour and pepper, then add the milk all at once. Cook and stir this mixture until you notice it thicken and begin to bubble. Add the cheese and use a wooden spoon or heat-safe spatula to stir until the sauce is evenly combined.

Step 4: Combine Your Pasta with the Sauce

Transfer the cooked pasta into the saucepan with the cheese mixture, stirring to coat. Cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until the stove-top mac and cheese is heated through, stirring frequently. Allow the homemade stove-top mac and cheese to stand for about 10 minutes so the sauce can have time to meld with the noodles, then grab bowls and forks and bring your appetite!

Test Kitchen Tip: Store any leftovers of this easy stove-top mac and cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To reheat, transfer the leftovers to a saucepan over medium-low and reheat until warmed through. If the sauce thickens up too much in the fridge, add a splash more milk.

Make-It-Mine Mac and Cheese
Jason Donnelly

33 Toppings and Mix-In Ideas to Make Your Homemade Stove-Top Mac and Cheese Even Better

To recreate an experience similar to baked mac and cheese without oven space (and the extra time required to toast up the top), check out "The Crunch Factor" below for ideas to level-up the texture of your creamy stove-top mac and cheese. To make it more of a meal, crown your comfort food dinner with extra protein and vegetables. And to finish things off, don't forget to shower on some spices and sauces!

Choose one or several of the bonus ingredients below to make this easy stove-top mac and cheese recipe your own:

The Crunch Factor

  • Toasted bread crumbs
  • Crumbled butter crackers
  • Crumbled corn or nacho chips
  • Crumbled cheese crackers or cheese puffs
  • Toasted pine nuts

Proteins

Vegetables

Herbs, Spices, and Sauces

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