Easy Creamy Crockpot Mac and Cheese
Want a super easy crockpot recipe that every one will love? This creamy mac and cheese is delicious and simple to prepare. Just add the ingredients to the slow cooker, give it a stir and leave it to cook. Voila! It’s ready to enjoy in no time.
It’s comfort food season and I’m sharing one of my favorite crockpot recipes: creamy macaroni and cheese. It’s just one of the savory recipes you should try if you’re over pumpkin this fall. This dish is super easy to make and a crowd pleaser!
Why this recipe works
This mac and cheese is made without evaporated milk and it still turns out nice and creamy every time. If you want to enjoy this dish in 3 hours, you can precook the pasta. However, if you have extra time, you can use uncooked pasta and have it ready in 4 to 5 hours.
Other perks to this recipe: You can double it if you’re serving a crowd (make sure your crockpot is big enough!) There are make ahead options if you are prepping for a big event. It only takes 10 minutes to prepare and you can leave it on warm until ready to serve.
- Pasta: Elbow macaroni is the classic option, but you can also try cavatappi (corkscrew pasta), mini shells or penne!
- Cheese: Shred the cheese yourself! Do not use pre-shredded cheese. It has an anti-caking agent that causes the cheese to not melt smoothly.
- Seasonings: Dry mustard adds a “can’t put my finger on it” flavor that keeps you coming back for more. I like a pinch of ground nutmeg (a trick I picked up from my mom), but if you prefer a little more kick, I would substitute the nutmeg with ground cayenne pepper.
- Milk and cream: This is what makes this dish extra creamy. Full fat milk and heavy cream. Don’t skimp here!
I love sneaking in some vegetables to macaroni and cheese. I usually stir in 1 cup peas or small broccoli florets. Chopped spinach works too! Another option is adding meat. My preference is 1 cup diced ham or pancetta. Some cooked crumbled sausage would also taste delicious!
You can get creative with the cheeses. I suggest using cheddar as the base, then using a mild cheese and a pungent cheese. For mild, try mozzarella or Monteray Jack, and for pungent cheese, go for Gouda, Parmesan or Gruyere. Measurements for substitutions stay the same.
How to make crockpot mac and cheese
- Cook the pasta: Bring water to a boil and add salt. Cook the pasta until very al dente. While the pasta cooks, grease the crockpot with butter. Drain the pasta.
- Add ingredients to the crockpot: Add the pasta, milk, cream, 1 ½ cups of cheddar, the gouda and mozzarella, flour, mustard, onion powder, and salt and pepper to taste to the crock.
- Cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Stir the pasta occasionally, about every 30 minutes.
- Add remaining cheddar cheese 20 minutes before done cooking. Stir and serve.
You want the pasta very al dente so keep a close eye on it while boiling it! It should take no more than 5 minutes. I suggest using a thicker pasta that is sturdy so it doesn’t become mushy in the crockpot. I like Barilla macaroni elbows.
Remember to stir the pasta occasionally. Unfortunately this is not quite a set it and forget it recipe. You need to stir the ingredients to ensure the cheese is melting evenly and the pasta is not getting overcooked or stuck in clumps. After 2 hours, taste the mac and cheese to check for doneness. Some crockpots cook faster than others.
Make ahead options
If you’re making this dish ahead of time, here is what you need to do! Cook the pasta super al dente, drain, cool and refrigerate in an airtight container. Mix everything except the pasta together in the crock pot (or bowl) and refrigerate it for up to 48 hours. When ready to cook, add all the ingredients to the crockpot and cook according to the recipe.
I do not recommend cooking the mac and cheese ahead of time and reheating it. The texture is never as creamy when you reheat it. If you must take that route, you may need to add more milk to the pasta if it’s too dry. Alternatively, you can keep the macaroni in the crockpot on warm for up to 2 hours.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, but I think the slow cooker makes the cheese creamier. For stove top, cook the pasta a little longer until al dente. Reserve half cup pasta water and drain the pasta. Add all the ingredients to a large pot over low heat and stir until cheese it melted. If pasta seems dry, add additional pasta water or milk.
If the cheese becomes too hot or sits too long, then the fat will separate causing the cheese to become oily.
Most likely the pasta was over-cooked. This can happen if the crockpot is too hot (especially with older models). It helps to use thick good-quality pasta. Barilla is a good brand option.
Crockpot recipes are my favorite because they are so simple! Here are a few more of my favorites:
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Crockpot Mac and Cheese
- 1 16 ounce box elbow macaroni
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cups (480 ml) whole milk
- 1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
- 2 cups (240 g) cheddar cheese, shredded. divided
- 1 cup (120 g) gouda cheese, shredded
- 1 cup (120 g) mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- Pinch ground nutmeg
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- Boil the macaroni in salted water for 5 minutes, making sure it is very al dente. Drain and rinse the pasta in a colander. (Alternatively, you can use raw pasta, simply increase the cooking time to 4-5 hours)
- Meanwhile, spray the inner crock of a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray, or grease with butter.
- Add the al dente macaroni, butter, milk, cream, 1 ½ cups of cheddar, the gouda and mozzarella, flour, mustard, onion powder, and salt and pepper to taste to the crock. Stir well, cover, and cook on low for 2 ½ to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Starting at 2 hours, try tasting for doneness.
- In the last 15 to 20 minutes, sprinkle the remaining cheddar on top of the pasta. Before serving, taste and add any additional seasonings. Serve immediately or keep crockpot on warm setting for up to 2 hours.