Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

A bowl of easy Instant Pot mac and cheese

After having multiple recipe fails on a dish that the internet assured me was foolproof, I can now attest this is the best, creamiest, most foolproof recipe of them all.

Water, noodles, four minutes of pressure cook time, add the cheese. BOOM.

Part of what made this mac and cheese recipe tricky to get right is that I couldn’t let it be just any mac and cheese you can make in a pressure cooker.

I was determined to come up with a healthy Instant Pot mac and cheese that didn’t skimp on flavor and comfort.

 

Making pasta in a pressure cooker has distinct advantages over the stove-top method.

  • Everything cooks in one pot for easy cleanup.
  • Instant Pot pasta is fast.
  • The starches the pasta releases as it cooks help create a rich, silky sauce.

When pressure cooking spaghetti, I found that you do not need to drain the pasta.

Any remaining liquid becomes a part of the robust, zest sauce.

With classic Instant Pot mac and cheese? Not so much.

No matter which pasta to water ratio I tried (usually 1 part pasta to 2 parts water is perfect), I could not reduce the water to where enough liquid was absorbed to make the mac and cheese thick, without triggering the Instant Pot “burn” warning.

It’s quite the Goldilocks situation!

  • Too much water and the mac and cheese is thin and watery.
  • Too little water and the Instant Pot registers a “BURN.”

The solution, it turns out, is obvious: drain the mac and cheese.

Every recipe I found online skipped draining, but even when I followed those recipes exactly, I still ended up with watery mac and cheese.

What I learned: if you open the lid to your pressure cooker after the pasta cooks and see a lot of liquid in the pot, go ahead and drain off some of it.

It will save you the frustration I experienced of trying to thicken the mac and cheese after the fact.

Creamy Instant Pot mac and cheese

Tips for Creamy Mac and Cheese in the Instant Pot

  • Add the cheese VERY GRADUALLY. As with Cheese Fondue, if you add too much at once, your sauce will end up lumpy.
  • Dairy burns easily in the Instant Pot, so do not use milk when pressure cooking. Instead of making Instant Pot mac and cheese with condensed milk (or any milk) use water for the liquid, then add any dairy products (including cheese) after the pressure cooking cycle is complete.
  • Vent the Instant Pot as soon as the pressure cooker time is up. Called a “quick release” this ensures the pasta remains al dente.

The Ingredients

  • Pasta. I used whole wheat elbow noodles for an extra boost of nutrition. Whole wheat noodles are better for you thanks to their higher amount of nutrients and fiber, and no one will notice the swap.

Market Swap

Whole wheat shells would also work well in this recipe.

  • Cheese. Extra sharp cheddar cheese has the intense, cheesy flavor that mac and cheese needs, and it melts beautifully into the creamy sauce.

Substitution Tip

For mac and cheese, use any flavorful, creamy melty cheese that you enjoy, or try a mix. Cheddar is classic, but feel free to swap or add gouda, fontina, mozzarella cheese, monterey jack, or gruyere.

  • Butter. For necessary richness to call this a proper mac ‘n’ cheese. Plus, cheese + butter = perfection!
  • Greek Yogurt. Adds tanginess and helps make the sauce creamy without the need for heavy cream. Plus it’s high in calcium and potassium.
  • Spices. Dry or ground mustard adds depth and very subtle tanginess. Cayenne pepper gives the dish a touch of heat. Nutmeg is the secret ingredient that will leave people wondering if you’re a mac and cheese wizard.

The Directions

  1. Stir the pasta, water, and salt together in an Instant Pot. Cook on HIGH for 4 minutes, then release the pressure.
  2. Drain all but a thin layer of water.
  3. Stir in the butter. Add the spices.
  4. Stir in the yogurt.
  5. Add the cheese SLOWLY, stirring until it melts between each addition. Serve in a bowl and DIG IN!

Storage Tips

  • To Store. Refrigerate mac and cheese in an airtight storage container for up to 5 days.
  • To Reheat. Rewarm leftovers in a pot on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
  • To Freeze. Freeze mac and cheese in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

Meal Prep Tip

Up to 1 week in advance, shred the cheese. Refrigerate it in an airtight storage container until you’re ready to finish the recipe.

Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe

The Best Instant Pot

Faster cook times, easy cleanup, and multiple cooking functions are just a few of the benefits of this appliance. It can even function as a slow cooker!

A bowl of easy Instant Pot mac and cheese

Easy, creamy, healthy Instant Pot mac and cheese.

Yes, it sounds TOO GOOD, and it is true!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Make Gluten Free Instant Pot Mac and Cheese?

Yes, you can swap the whole wheat noodles in this recipe for gluten free noodles. Since the cooking time can vary between these two types of noodles, I recommend checking them early and often to ensure they don’t overcook.

Would Regular Cheddar Cheese Work in this Recipe?

While regular cheddar cheese would work, its flavor is not bold enough to really make the dish taste its best. If you can’t find extra sharp cheddar cheese, the next best option is white cheddar.

Can I Double this Recipe?

I haven’t tried doubling the recipe myself, but I think it would work fine. The most important thing is to make sure you don’t fill the pot past the max fill line.