Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

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In just four minutes of cooking, whip up the ultimate Instant Pot Mac and Cheese! Creamy, indulgently rich, and bursting with cheesy goodness, it’s comfort food made effortlessly fast!

Overhead image of the Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

Instant Pot Mac and Cheese is part of our Back-To-School Lifesavers — a series of recipes that are intended to have little (or no) veggie chopping, minimal prep time, around 10 ingredients or less (not including pantry staples), and use kid-friendly ingredients. Click here to see all the recipes in the series!

Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

My kids can’t get enough of mac and cheese—it’s always on their request list. So, in this series, I knew I had to share a speedy, kid-approved, and delectable mac and cheese recipe.

I’ve previously shared our favorite one-pot (BBQ pork-filled) version, but this one is tailor-made for the pressure cooker! Packed with flavor, oozing with cheese, and incredibly creamy, it’s an instant hit. The best part? Just toss the ingredients into the pressure cooker, spend a few minutes grating cheese, and by the time you release the pressure, you’re moments away from mac and cheese bliss! 

PROCESS INGREDIENT SHOTS OF THE INGREDIENTS THAT GO INTO INSTANT POT MAC AND CHEESE

Instant Pot Mac and Cheese Ingredients

  • Elbow pasta: Grab a full box of UNCOOKED elbow pasta. No pre-boiling needed—let the Instant Pot handle that magic!
  • Chicken broth: Concerned about saltiness? Opt for low-sodium varieties. Vegetarian? Simply swap with vegetable broth. For a richer flavor, I recommend using a good brand’s broth (like Swanson®).
  • Seasoning mix (Paprika, onion powder, dry mustard powder, and garlic powder): This combo is our flavor powerhouse! They’re all essential, so don’t skip ’em!
  • Fine sea salt and pepper: Salt brings out the cheesiness in the dish. If it feels lacking, sprinkle in a tad more. Remember, table salt is saltier than kosher salt, so adjust accordingly. Always season gradually to suit your palate.
  • Unsalted butter: Control your dish’s salt level with unsalted butter.
  • Sharp Cheddar cheese: Freshly grated is the way to go. Those bags of pre-grated ones? They often have additives that hinder smooth melting. Pick an aged Cheddar for a more intense flavor. See “quick tip” box below.

Instant Pot Mac and Cheese Ingredients, continued

  • Mozzarella cheese: Fresh mozzarella offers a really nice creamy consistency for this Instant Pot Mac and Cheese.
  • Parmesan cheese: You can’t beat authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano for taste and texture. Pro-tip: Use the finer side of the grater for that silky-smooth sauce consistency.
  • Whole milk: Wanting an even richer dish? Swap with half-and-half. However, steer clear of low-fat versions; they just don’t thicken up the same way.
  • Hot sauce (optional): Choose a brand that you prefer; each has a distinct flavor and heat level. And if heat isn’t for everyone, keep it on the side. Let everyone dash it into their own bowls as desired.

QUICK TIP

To elevate your mac and cheese game, aged Cheddar is the secret. Many store-bought Cheddars are aged around 3 months. But those aged 9-15 months? They’re flavor gold. Brands like Tillamook® have varieties aged up to 24 months, ensuring that robust, cheesy essence. For reference, Tillamook’s sharp ages 9 months, while the extra-sharp enjoys 15-24 months of aging. Indulge and enjoy!

Process shots of Instant Pot Mac and Cheese-- images of the uncooked pasta being added along with seasonings and chicken broth. Then it all being pressure cooked

How To Make Instant Pot Mac and Cheese (Tips)

  • Chicken broth: Begin with chicken broth for a rich flavor base. If you’re worried about saltiness, use low-sodium varieties, or, if you’re using regular broth, skip any extra salt at first. Adjust seasoning at the end for the perfect finish.
  • Milk matters: Stick with regular milk, either 2% or whole (preferably whole!).
  • Cheese mix: Diversity is key! A blend of sharp Cheddar, mozzarella, and Parmesan truly hits the spot for this Instant Pot version of mac and cheese! Remember to stir continuously as you add the cheese to avoid any clumps and ensure a nice and creamy melt.
  • You don’t need expensive cheese: True, specialty cheeses can be delicious, but they don’t always make for a better mac and cheese. And price doesn’t always equate to flavor in this context. More importantly, whatever type of cheese you get,  always grate it yourself. Pre-grated varieties often come coated in anti-clumping agents, giving your dish an undesired grainy, powdery texture.
  • Taste testing: Think your mac and cheese lacks that cheesy punch? It might be a salting issue. A pinch more might be all you need to bring out the flavor. Be mindful of the salt type; table salt is stronger than kosher salt, so adjust amounts accordingly. As always, season to your taste preference

QUICK TIP

We refer to Instant Pots in this recipe, but any similar multi-process pressure cooker will work. Instant Pot is a trademarked brand of pressure cookers manufactured by Instant Brands.

Process shots-- images of the butter, milk, and cheese being mixed through the dish

Grate Cheese in a Flash!

  • Food processor: The quickest trick in the book for grating large cheese quantities? Use a Food Processor with a grating attachment. Just chop the cheese into feed tube-friendly chunks and let the machine do the magic.
  • Stand mixer: Got a KitchenAid mixer? Their cheese grating attachment is a game-changer. I often grate big batches of cheese right after shopping and stash them in zippered bags. Come dinnertime, my cheesy dishes are a breeze to whip up!
  • Warmth matters: Grating softer cheeses? Pop them in the freezer for 15-20 minutes. It firms them up, letting you grate without a gooey mess. (Perfect for mozzarella.)

QUICK TIP

Feeling daunted by cheese shopping? Try a grocery pick-up service. Just type in your desired cheese variety, and let someone else handle the hunt. It’s a game-changer!

Process shots of instant pot Mac and cheese-- images of the cheese being added and it all being enjoyed

What To Serve With Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

When serving a rich dish like mac and cheese, it’s great to pair it with sides that can complement its creaminess and provide a contrast in flavors and textures. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Green salad: A simple garden salad with a light vinaigrette dressing offers a fresh contrast. 
  2. Roasted vegetables: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or asparagus can balance out the heaviness of the mac and cheese.
  3. Garlic bread: Crispy garlic bread or soft dinner rolls are always a hit and perfect for soaking up any leftover cheese sauce.
  4. Coleslaw: A tangy and crunchy coleslaw can offer a refreshing crunch.
  5. BBQ: Pulled pork, BBQ chicken, or ribs can be a protein-packed companion to your carb-heavy mac and cheese.
  6. Fruit salad: A light fruit salad or a side of fruit can offer a sweet and refreshing counterpoint.
Overhead view of Instant Pot Mac and Cheese, still in the pot.

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Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

5 from 3 votes
In just four minutes of cooking, whip up the ultimate Instant Pot Mac and Cheese! Creamy, indulgently rich, and bursting with cheesy goodness, it's comfort food made effortlessly fast!
Print Recipe

Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

5 from 3 votes
In just four minutes of cooking, whip up the ultimate Instant Pot Mac and Cheese! Creamy, indulgently rich, and bursting with cheesy goodness, it's comfort food made effortlessly fast!
Course Dinner, lunch, Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 4 minutes
Total Time 24 minutes
Servings 6 servings
Chelsea Lords
Calories 558kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 pound elbow pasta (uncooked)
  • 1 carton (32 oz or 4 cups) chicken broth
  • ¾ teaspoon each: paprika, onion powder, and ground mustard powder
  • teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
  • cup freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese (Note 1)
  • ¾ cup freshly grated mozzarella
  • cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (grate on small holes -- Note 2)
  • ½ cup whole milk or evaporated milk (plus more as needed to loosen)
  • Optional: hot sauce

Instructions

  • INSTANT POT: Add pasta, broth, and seasonings to Instant Pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I add ½ tsp each of salt and pepper). Ensure the lid is secured and set the valve to the sealing position. Pressure cook using the manual function for 4 minutes. Once completed, immediately release the steam by turning the valve to "vent". (Be careful-- a burst of steam will come out.) Remove the lid when all the steam has been released. Turn off Instant Pot and pull out the metal insert and place on a trivet.
  • MEANWHILE, PREP: Grate all the cheeses (See Note 4) and set them aside. Grate Cheddar and mozzarella on large holes and Parmesan on small holes of the grater. Gently pack cheese in measuring cups to get an accurate measurement. Measure out milk and let it reach room temperature.
  • ADD CHEESE: While mixing constantly with a wooden spoon, add butter and ¼ cup of milk to the pasta. Stir until the butter has melted. Gradually add cheese, about ⅓ cup at a time, stirring constantly until each addition is completely melted. Alternate adding cheese with the remaining ¼ cup milk, incorporating it one tablespoon at a time.
  • FINISH: Taste. If needed, season with additional salt (we'll add ¼ up to ½ tsp but we prefer it on the saltier side!). OR, stir in a splash of hot sauce (up to 1 tsp) for a kick. To make smoother or if the pasta becomes too thick, you can loosen it more milk as needed. Enjoy mac and cheese hot and creamy!

Video

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Cheddar cheese: Grab a block of cheese and grate it yourself to avoid a big cheese clump or grainy mac and cheese! Find "sharp" Cheddar cheese, which is aged to impart a cheesier flavor. When it's time to measure, ensure you're gently packing the grated cheese into your measuring cup. This guarantees the right cheese amount for this recipe. A key tip: Add the cheese to Instant Pot slowly, stirring thoroughly after each increment. Dumping it all in at once could lead to a clumpy mess.
Note 2: Parmesan: Do not use canned or pre-shredded/grated Parmesan--the cheese doesn't melt smoothly and you'll be left with a big clump. Instead, use a block of Parmesan and freshly and finely grate on the small sides of a grater.
Note 3: Milk: Start with ½ cup and add more if you find it needs to be thinned out a little bit more. The pasta will continue to absorb liquid so the longer it sits or is stirred the more milk it will need.
Note 4: Grate cheese quickly! The quickest trick in the book for grating large cheese quantities? Use a Food Processor with a grating attachment. Or, if you have a KitchenAid mixer, their cheese grating attachment is a game-changer.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 558kcal | Carbohydrates: 60g | Protein: 26.6g | Fat: 23.2g | Cholesterol: 67.6mg | Sodium: 1006.7mg | Fiber: 2.7g | Sugar: 4.1g

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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5 from 3 votes (1 rating without comment)

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8 Comments

  1. Cant wait to make this soon for me can i use vegan butter / cheeses and almond milk i never had instant pot mac and cheese before perfect for my after office meals

  2. 5 stars
    This was a lifesaver the other night day when I was in a rush. I never added parmesan cheese to my mac and cheese and this did certainly take the flavor to another level.

  3. Chelsea, have you ever tried this recipe iin a slow cooker? I’m looking for a crockpot mac and cheese recipe to bring to a holiday pot luck but wanted to use a recipe from a blogger I trust!

    1. Hey Briana! I did try it in a slow cooker and it didn’t cook evenly or well unfortunately. I’ll keep working at nailing a slow cooker mac and cheese, but I don’t have one yet. Thanks so much for your kind comment and trying so many of my recipes over the years <3

      1. 5 stars
        Just wanted to follow up that I ended up making this for my holiday potluck at work and it was a huge hit! I’m so glad I chose this recipe. I prepped all of my ingredients the night before and did the pressure cooking at work. So easy and delicious!

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