If you think something sounds too good to be true, you haven’t tried Instant Pot Mac and Cheese yet.
Or rather, you haven’t tried this 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 (actually) foolproof recipe of them all.
Water, noodles, four minutes of pressure cook time, add the cheese. BOOM.
Better-than-the-blue-box bliss is yours!
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.
In Well Plated style, I was determined to come up with a healthy Instant Pot mac and cheese that didn’t skimp on flavor and comfort.
(And if you don’t think that is possible, you clearly haven’t tried the Ultimate Creamy Mac and Cheese in The Well Plated Cookbook yet, but I digress.)
As Instant Pot Spaghetti demonstrates, 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.
How to Make Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
Ready for the fastest dream comfort dinner?
Let’s make easy 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.
- 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.
- Cheese. Extra sharp cheddar cheese has the intense, cheesy flavor that mac and cheese needs, and it melts beautifully into the creamy sauce.
- 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.
- Stir the pasta, water, and salt together in an Instant Pot. Cook on HIGH for 4 minutes, then release the pressure.
- Drain all but a thin layer of water.
- Stir in the butter. Add the spices.
- Stir in the yogurt.
- Add the cheese SLOWLY, stirring until it melts between each addition. Serve in a bowl and DIG IN!
- 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!
Easy, creamy, healthy Instant Pot mac and cheese.
Yes, it sounds TOO GOOD, and it is true!
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
- 8 ounces uncooked whole wheat elbow macaroni pasta or whole wheat shells
- 1 3/4 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt divided
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 2 to 3 pieces
- 1 (5.3-ounce) container full fat Greek yogurt do not use fat-free, about 1/2 cup
- 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese* shredded (about 2 cups)
Place the pasta, water, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a 6-quart or larger Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker. Stir well. Set to cook on high pressure (manual) for 4 minutes (for elbow macaroni noodles) or 5 minutes (for shells). As soon as the timer goes off, release the remaining pressure.
Carefully open the lid to the Instant Pot. If it still looks very liquidy, drain off all but a thin layer of the pasta water, reserving any water you drain away. (I used an oven mitt to pick up the Instant Pot insert and drain a small amount of excess water into a liquid measuring cup with a spout.)
Stir in the butter until it melts. Then, stir in the mustard, black pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Next, stir in the Greek yogurt.
Add the cheese by small handfuls (a few tablespoons at a time), stirring to completely melt between each addition. Don’t rush the process or your mac and cheese will be lumpy (your patience will be rewarded!). If at any point, the pasta cools too much, turn on the Saute function for a minute or two as needed. The mac and cheese should look very creamy and saucy, but if it is thicker than you would like, add a little of the reserved pasta water until your desired consistency is reached. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Enjoy!
- *For the smoothest, creamiest mac and cheese, shred your own cheddar from a block. Pre-shredded cheeses are coated with a powdery substance to keep them from flaking and will not melt smoothly. The fastest way to do this (it takes seconds!) is in a food processor fitted with a grater blade.
- 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.
Serving: 1(of 4)Calories: 504kcalCarbohydrates: 46gProtein: 26gFat: 26gSaturated Fat: 15gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 74mgPotassium: 225mgFiber: 0.1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 771IUVitamin C: 0.1mgCalcium: 472mgIron: 2mg
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