Great taste, wonderful creamy texture in the easiest creamiest slow cooker mac and cheese you will ever see. You can make this tonight. No blue box for you.
Just put that uncooked macaroni in the crock pot. Yep, uncooked. Add some milk and spices. Cook. Then add cheese and in a few minutes you’re done. No can of soup needed. Serve FRESH today.
My previous slow cooker mac and cheese has been well received. It is consistently in the top 10 on a Google search, and it made my top 10 recipes for last year. But still something bothered me, and I keep experimenting to the point I feel like American Test Kitchen here. I have lost count, but I’m in the high teens here.
So what bothered me so much? The precooking of the pasta, the effect of heat on the cheese making it separate some and last (and the real thorn in my paw) was that can of soup. I HATE recipes that call for highly processed this and that. I do them occasionally, but home cooking shouldn’t be that way. You shouldn’t need a can of soup or a package of mix to make something. And crock pot cooking seems to be the epicenter for this, cream of _____ soup is everywhere or the mandatory onion soup mix. Some recipes use 3-4 pre-made things. IT DRIVES ME CRAZY…
I never thought I would rate a mac and cheese a five, but this is it.
Notes: I went through a lot of trial and errors here. A lot of mac and cheese was eaten, and a lot went down the sink as not worth of a reheat. They were OK but just not worthy… But the stove-top mac I did last month convinced me that I did not need to pre-cook the macaroni, I just had to do it right.
First the heat. This must be done on low. This is NOT a recipe you should cook on high and cut the time in half. The cheese will be more likely to separate some, and the macaroni will either be over or under cooked.
Second. American made shredded cheese that we all buy does not like long or high heat. It is waxier than block cheese, and it just won’t take it. I’m sure a better cheese like a block of Cabot would do better but are you going for a $10 cheese for this? So the cheese should not cook for long periods. Put it in near the end and let it melt and deliver its creamy goodness.
Third, a little fat is needed. I have only fat free milk usually. So since I was using that, I added a tablespoon of butter. That is enough fat to equal just over 2% milk. So if you use whole or 2% milk, you may not need the butter, but I would keep it for taste. Or even leave it out with 0% for health reasons but the texture will suffer a little.
Feel free to vary the cheese type and spices to your taste. This is a “Crock Pot for Two” recipe. A double recipe would still be fine in my 3.5 qt. cooker or use a large crock pot for larger batches.
Update Feb. 9, 2013: Many are having issues ( and many are not) with liquid being left at the point of the pasta being al denta. My initial cookings had almost no liquid at this point. The variations could be due to the cooker or the pasta. While cookers vary a lot, I have corrected for that by picking the al denta point, not a specific time. The pasta is the remaining issue and I believe is the trouble maker here. I have adjusted the recipe to eliminate this extra liquid at the al dente point. Don’t drain it in a strainer, just remove any free standing liquid, the liquid on the pasta should be enough.
Update August 26, 2013: It has been suggested to have a specific warning about the type of pasta. Since the comments are getting a bit long, it is a good idea. Many failures seem to be related to whole wheat or other non-standard pasta. I don’t believe these non-standard pasta are a good idea in this recipe. If you have made this with a non-standard pasta and did well, please post the brand and any specific modifications you did.
Whole Wheat report: See comment by Katie January 18, 2014, for whole wheat pasta technique.
Things you already have. Opps… I left the salt out of the picture.
Dump 2 cups milk, 1 cup standard (not whole wheat or other non-standard) macaroni, 1/2 t dry mustard, 1/2 t salt, 1/4 t each of pepper, garlic powder, and paprika, and l T butter into a smallish slow cooker. I used a 3.5 qt one. Mix well.
Cook on low. Stir well at 1 hour into the cooking and check the texture. Cook until pasta is al dente, another hour or so for me. Slow cookers vary some your time may vary some. DO NOT COOK BY TIME ONLY HERE.
When the pasta is al dente, drain any free fluid, add 1 cup of shredded cheese. I used sharp cheddar this time.
Mix very well.
Continue on low until cooked to your taste. About 5-15 minutes.
This is the crock pot after the meal. My wife scooped it all out into bowls within 30 seconds of her first bite. I think she liked it.
July 3, 2016