Perfect for parties, crockpot mac and cheese is creamy, flavorful, and so easy to make. Ready to serve in just 2 hours!
Why you’ll love it: The pasta cooks right in the crockpot so you won’t need an extra pan and colander.
How long it takes: 2 hours
Equipment you’ll need: slow cooker, cheese grater
After popcorn, macaroni and cheese is one of my absolute favorite foods (although I was well-known for my love of grilled cheese sandwiches during college). I’m a sucker for any kind of macaroni and cheese. I’ll even eat it cold. There’s just something so irresistible about pasta coated in ooey, gooey, flavorful cheese. It’s comfort food.
The great thing about this slow cooker mac and cheese recipe is that it’s perfect for parties. When the mac and cheese has finished cooking, set it on Warm and it will stay hot as long as you need it.
My friend did a macaroni and cheese bar for a harvest party she threw. This recipe is ideal for that type of event. Offer a bunch of toppings like bacon, chopped tomatoes, chives, green onions, crispy bread crumbs, more cheese, whatever. Guests can take a scoop of macaroni and cheese from the slow cooker and choose their own toppings. It’s such a fun party idea.
It’s also great for potlucks. Mac and cheese is always a popular choice. Some folks just don’t like to try something with unfamiliar ingredients but everyone is comfortable with mac and cheese. Crockpot cheesy potatoes run a close second.
About This Recipe
This is a one pot pasta. That means the pasta cooks right in the sauce. This method of cooking pasta has become my favorite way to do it, whether I use a pan on the stove, my Instant Pot, or a crockpot. No water to boil, no big pots or colanders to wash. It’s a dream come true.
You’ll hardly believe how easy this recipe is. It’s foolproof. The pasta is cooked perfectly al dente and the sauce is creamy and cheesy. You just put everything into the slow cooker, and turn it on. The only thing you have to do is stir it twice during the cooking time. Easy peasy.
Speaking of cooking time, this isn’t an all day crockpot recipe. This family favorite is ready in just 2 hours!
Ready to make the best slow cooker mac and cheese ever? I’ll run through the recipe here with helpful tips thrown in. Look for complete instructions, measurements, and nutrition information on the recipe card below.
What You’ll Need
- Macaroni: For this recipe, you’ll need a 16 ounce box of elbow macaroni. I’ve only made it with regular macaroni, not whole wheat, so I can’t guarantee the results if you use whole wheat or a gluten-free alternative.
- Unsalted Butter: Use regular butter, not butter spreads. I always use unsalted butter for cooking or baking so that I control the amount of salt that goes into my recipes.
- Whole Milk: You really do need whole milk for the best creamy results. Skim, nonfat, or 2% don’t make the best creamy cheese sauce and has the potential to curdle.
- Evaporated Milk: Buy a can of evaporated milk. You’ll find it in the baking aisle of the grocery store. Please don’t mistakenly buy sweetened condensed milk which is evaporated milk with a ton of sugar added.
- Sharp Cheddar Cheese: Sharp cheddar ensures that your mac and cheese will have plenty of flavor. Shred your own for the very best results. Pre-shredded cheese contains additives that deter clumping but which also inhibit melting.
- American Cheese: You won’t see many recipes on my site that use processed cheese but in the case of mac and cheese, it really does the best job. Look for a block of American cheese in the deli. It seems to have a better quality than some of the pre-packaged brands (Velveeta, etc). Since this cheese is pretty soft and a little difficult to shred, just cut it into small cubes.
- Ground Mustard Powder: This light yellow powder made from ground mustard seeds is found in the spice aisle. It’s pretty flavorless until it’s activated by adding liquids. Mustard powder adds a very subtle flavor to the mac and cheese (don’t worry, your mac and cheese won’t taste like yellow mustard!)
- Salt & Pepper: Simple seasonings that are essential to most cooking.
How To Make This Recipe
Let’s get cooking! Dust off your crockpot and give the inside a quick misting with nonstick spray so it’ll be an easy cleanup.
If you haven’t already, shred the cheddar cheese and cube the American cheese; set them aside for now.
Measure out the whole milk and pour it into the crockpot. Shake the can of evaporated milk, open it, and pour that in as well. Add the seasonings (mustard powder, salt and pepper) and whisk it all together.
Empty the contents of a box of macaroni into the slow cooker and stir to combine it with the milk mixture. Super easy so far, right?
Sprinkle the shredded cheese on top, along with the cubed American cheese.
Cut the butter into small pieces and arrange that evenly on top. Don’t stir it in!
Put the cover on the crockpot and turn it on LOW. Set the timer for one hour.
When the timer goes off, remove the lid and give the mac and cheese a good stir.
Put the lid back on and set the timer for 30 minutes. After the time has elapsed, give the mac and cheese another good stir.
Repeat the last step: set the timer for another 30 minutes. That’s it! Your mac and cheese should be perfectly done, with al dente pasta and creamy cheese sauce. Wasn’t that so easy?!
Here’s a short summary: Cook 1 hour; stir. Cook 30 minutes; stir. Cook 30 minutes; serve.
If you’re not quite ready to serve your mac and cheese, turn the crockpot to WARM, and keep it covered.
This recipe makes 8 main dish servings but if you’re serving it as a side dish, it will be more like 12 servings.
Uncooked pasta will cook in a slow cooker as long as there is plenty of liquid. As it hydrates, dry pasta absorbs a lot of the sauce so make sure you follow the recipe directions. It may look like it’s very soupy but just wait! By the time the pasta is tender, most of the liquid will be absorbed. The pasta also adds starch to the sauce, making the sauce creamy and delicious.
Canned evaporated milk is condensed milk. Sixty percent of the water that milk usually contains is removed, leaving a rich and concentrated product. It works perfectly for mac and cheese because it is so creamy. Plain milk, especially the lower fat varieties, tend to make the sauce somewhat watery or the sauce may separate.
Sharp cheddar is usually the first choice for mac and cheese because it’s so flavorful. However, when it’s melted, cheddar doesn’t always have a creamy texture. American cheese, which is a processed cheese, melts beautifully but doesn’t have a lot of flavor. A combination of cheddar and American cheese gives the best of both: great cheese flavor and creamy texture!
Make It Your Own
- Not a fan of sharp cheddar? Substitute a different variety of cheese, or combinations of cheese. Monterey Jack or a sharp colby work well. Try various kinds of cheese and see which one you like the best.
- Like a crisp topping? Sorry to say, it’s a little difficult to achieve a crisp topping in a crockpot. Here’s how you can do it: Transfer the cooked mac and cheese to a baking pan, top it with breadcrumbs, cracker crumbs, or potato chips, and broil it for a few minutes or until it’s crisp and browned. Otherwise, you might love our super easy baked macaroni and cheese. Did you know you can make your own breadcrumbs? It’s easy and it’s a good way to use day-old bread.
To get a head start on the recipe, prep the cheddar and American cheese ahead of time. Refrigerate it until you’re ready to use it. Really, that’s the most time-intensive part of the recipe.
Since this meal takes 2 hours to cook in a slow cooker, it’s a make-ahead meal. It’s perfect if you want to avoid last minute prep.
Storage & Reheating Tips
Cool leftover mac and cheese to room temperature and put into storage containers. It will keep for 4 days in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer. I like to freeze it in resealable freezer bags and flatten it. The flattened bags stack easily and thaw more quickly. For best results, thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
To reheat, microwave individual portions at medium heat until warmed through. Try not to overheat it; it warms up pretty quickly. Larger portions can be warmed up in the oven, covered, at 350°F, until warm. If the pasta seems dry, stir in a tablespoon or two of milk.
more macaroni and cheese
Don’t you worry, I have you MORE than covered! Be sure to try:
- Baked macaroni and cheese (one of the most popular recipes on Rachel Cooks!)
- Copycat Panera Bread macaroni and cheese
- Instant Pot Mac and Cheese – so easy!
- Instant Pot Mac and Cheese with Broccoli
- Pumpkin macaroni and cheese with bacon and caramelized onions
- Copycat Easy Mac (microwave macaroni and cheese)
- Macaroni and cheese pizza
- 16 ounces elbow pasta (macaroni), uncooked
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¾ teaspoon ground mustard
- ground black pepper, to taste
- 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
- 8 ounces American cheese (from the deli), cut into small cubes
- Spray slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray.
- Add milk, evaporated milk, salt, ground mustard, and pepper to slow cooker; whisk until combined. Add dry pasta, stir.
- Top with cheese and cubed butter. Don’t stir them in.
- Cover and cook on low for 1 hour; stir.
- Cover and cook 30 minutes more; stir. Cover and cook 30 minutes more. Mac and cheese should be creamy and thick.
- Switch to warm until ready to serve.
- Makes 12 cups.
- For best results, use block cheese rather than pre-shredded. It melts more smoothly.
- Refrigerate leftover mac and cheese for up to 4 days, or put into freezer safe bags, flatten slightly, and freeze for up to 3 months.
- Recipe updated 2/2022.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.