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Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese

Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese


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In my pre-child life, I made truly decadent macaroni and cheese dishes. I would buy a single wedge of cheese (the now-equivalent cost of an entire week’s worth of diapers) that would melt into perfectly cooked pasta with a creamy sauce. Sometimes I would spoon this masterpiece straight out of the pan into a bowl and eat it, and sometimes I would bake it into something with crispy edges.

But this kind of macaroni and cheese is a complete waste on my children. They want nothing to do with it. They want the from-the-box macaroni and cheese. It’s almost like it was deeply engrained in their American genes.

ESCAPING THE BLUE BOX

Of course, the truth about macaroni and cheese for most American children is that they want what they are used to. Because of busy lives and the low cost of boxed macaroni and cheese, that is what most kids know. Give them something else, even if that something else is delicious, and it’s just weird.

So, I’ve waged war on the blue box in my house. Do we have a Costco-sized box of it in our basement? Absolutely. But do I want my kids to realize that there is a whole world of better macaroni out there? Also, absolutely.

My assault on the blue box is therefore a slow one. If your kids are like mine and refuse to try different macaroni and cheese options, take it in steps.

To start, trade the macaroni in the box for a different variety. Cavatappi is what I used here, for example. If you can’t find this corkscrew-shaped pasta, fusilli will do. Use the seasoning packet so it will have the same color and flavor, but will get them used to varied shapes!

Once the door is open, you can start shifting to new cheeses, and eventually you can introduce them to something that is delicious for you and not completely foreign to them.

BABY STEPS: SLOW COOKER MAC AND CHEESE

This Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese doesn’t have any odd or expensive cheeses that will challenge young palates. However, I do like it with a slightly sturdier pasta shape so I trade the elbow macaroni for cavatappi (which also goes by cellentani).

It’s a simple and delicious mac and cheese that requires very little attention. If nothing else, if gives your hands a break from ripping open those seasoning packets!

TRICK #1: Start with Less liquid Than You Need

I’ll be the first to admit that cooking pasta in a slow cooker is tricky. The Internet will tell you that it’s easy. Toss the stuff in and come back in two hours! Perfect!

But slow cookers are not necessarily a one-size-fits-all situation and pasta is a delicate ingredient. Depending on the slow cooker and the exact pasta you are using, it might soak up all the liquid and you’ll be left with a dry mac and cheese, or it might cook quickly and you’ll be left with a gooey pasta mess. It’s a big world of equipment and pastas out there. There are a lot of variables!

So, the trick is to start with less liquid than you might end up needing.

Overcooked pasta is the worst. No one wants to eat that, especially not children. You can always add more liquid and cook the pasta a bit more, but if you overcook it, you’re sunk.

The recipe I give for this macaroni and cheese starts with the bare minimum of liquid. But this is important:

Everyone’s slow cookers are different. You may need to add more liquid. You may not. The important thing is that the noodles are completely covered or almost completely covered, but not swimming in liquid, during the cooking process.

Trick #2: Stir After 90 Minutes

One other important note: at the 90-minute mark, check the mac and cheese.

The tell-tale sign of needing more liquid in this recipe is if when you open the lid, the sauce isn’t saucy but looks gloppy and unincorporated. Or it may look solid on top, and you may think all the liquid is absorbed and might be tempted to add more.

But try stirring it first. This may help it look more uniform and creamy. In terms of liquid, use milk or any stock, or even water at this point. Any liquid will work to thin the sauce out and make the sauce perfectly creamy.

When I make this recipe, I usually have to add an extra cup of liquid after the pasta is cooked (so somewhere around the two hours mark). If you use a smaller pasta, like traditional elbow macaroni, you will need to add less liquid. Add the liquid in small batches (I usually do it a 1/2 cup at a time), stir, taste, and keep going if it needs more.

Eventually, the sauce will turn silky smooth. You’ll know when it’s right!

The DAD ADD: Crispy Bacon Crumble!

Three ingredients are all you need to make this all-purpose topping. It’s fantastic on any creamy pasta dish, but you’ll probably have some leftovers as well. You should keep those in the fridge and they go well sprinkled on all sorts of salad and vegetables (because bacon). Use it generously!

If you skip the bacon, make sure you salt and pepper to taste before serving to wake up all the flavors.

The REPORT CARD

While this was not the “blue box” macaroni and cheese that my kids will scarf down, it was acceptable to both of them (and much preferred by me and my wife). The kids poked it and prodded it into submission, eventually tried it, and realized that it was, in fact, pretty damn good.

The four-year old was feeling particularly ambitious on this day and even tried some of my crispy bacon topper, which I was hesitant to share. But when it comes down to it, parental love is really about sharing bacon with your kids. Nobody wants to, but you do it because you love them.

More Great Mac and Cheese Recipes!

  • Quick Stovetop Mac and Cheese
  • Easy Chicken Mac and Cheese
  • Broccoli Cheddar Mac and Cheese
  • Green Goddess Mac and Cheese
  • Chorizo Mac and Cheese

Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese

Are you looking for a decadent Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese recipe? This reader requested recipe is rich, creamy and the ULTIMATE comfort food.

Note: We use referral links to products we love.

We absolutely love it when our readers reach out to us and share some of their favorite recipes.

Recently, James- one of our Crock Partners over on Patreon-&ndash reached out to us and told us about an oven recipe that he loved and asked if we could work on adapting it for the slow cooker (with a suggested ingredient addition). We knew when had to give a slow cooker version a try when we saw the original oven recipe came from one of our favorite bloggers &ndash Shell over on ThingsICantSay.com. AND then James shared that he actually traveled to the restaurant that inspired this copycat recipe! We were sold. A recipe THAT good had to be tried. So we got to testing with our crock pots. We based our method and cooking times off of one of our favorite crock pot mac and cheese recipes while using James&rsquo adaptation of the original recipe ingredients and this decadent slow cooker mac and cheese was born. Big thanks to James (and Shell) for bringing this deliciousness into our lives!


Ingredients in this recipe

Here's what you need for this recipe:

  • Cooking spray
  • macaroni or mini shells (not cooked)
  • chicken broth
  • evaporated milk
  • butter
  • cheddar cheese
  • Swiss cheese
  • salt
  • mustard powder
  • Chives, for garnish (optional)


There have been quite a few questions on this recipe, please check here before asking in the comments as it may already have been answered. PLEASE READ the notes in the printed recipe.

Can I double this recipe and does it change the cooking time?

Yes, this recipe can be doubled provided you have a large enough slow cooker. The cooking time will not change.

The recipe says to use uncooked noodles, however, it also says to rinse the pasta?

Yes, rinse the uncooked pasta simply to remove any dust and foreign particles from the manufacturing plant.

I don’t eat yellow cheese, what is a good white substitute?

Monterey Jack works well, as does White American and White Cheddar. A marble cheese should work as well. Sharp cheddars will give this dish the best flavor, try Vermont white sharp cheddar!

Can I make this ahead and reheat it?

We don’t recommend reheating macaroni and cheese as it never tastes quite the same and there’s a possibility that the macaroni will become mushy. However, if this is a deal breaker, you can reheat it – simply add some milk to loosen the thickened sauce while reheating. We recommend making it and having it ready right before you leave. Turn off the slow cooker but leave the lid on. When you arrive stir it and loosen with milk if needed.

How many servings does this make?

This serves 6-8 people. A serving size is 2 ounces of dry pasta which expands to approximately 1.5 cups with sauce when cooked.

Why was my mac and cheese gritty?

Prepackaged shredded cheese contains an anti-caking agent that can cause your final product to taste gritty. Purchase your cheese from the deli and shred it yourself. We’ve also discovered that some less expensive cheeses are gritty even when you shred them yourself, but after the mac and cheese sits for a while the grittiness goes away.

Why was my mac and cheese mushy?

If it cooks too fast or too long it will get mushy. The biggest culprit is an older slow cooker that may cook hotter (even on low) than a newer crock pot. Leave the lid on for one hour on low. DON’T increase the temp to High! Stir after one hour then check after 15 more minutes. Check and stir every 15 minutes after that if needed. Mine was done is 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Mushy mac and cheese can also be the result of using gluten free macaroni noodles as they do not hold up as well. One of our readers made this successfully with gluten free pasta. she said hers was done in 90 minutes but began to get mushy at 2 hours, so it’s important to keep an eye on it!

Can I mix all of the ingredients, refrigerate overnight, and put in the crockpot a few hours prior to serving?

Yes, with the exception of the pasta. Wait until you take it out of the fridge and are turning the slow cooker on before you add the macaroni.

I’m confused by the cooking time, is it 2 hours or 3?

Actually, it’s up to 3 hours. You should cook the dish on low for 1 hour, then stir it and check for doneness. After that, check it periodically (every thirty minutes or so) until it is done. The actual cooking time is completely dependent on the slow cooker you have (similar to ovens, they all cook differently), hence the “up to 3 hours” instruction.

Can I use regular milk instead of evaporated milk?

Don’t use regular milk. However, you can create your own evaporated milk. To make 1 cup of evaporated milk, simmer 2 1/4 cups of regular milk down until it becomes 1 cup.

Is evaporated milk the same as condensed milk?

Condensed milk is sweetened and the two cannot be used interchangeably.


Do You Have To Use Velveeta Cheese in this Mac and Cheese Recipe?

Velveeta is an ingredient in this recipe that people love or hate. We don’t eat Velveeta very often at all, which is why I don’t mind using it in this recipe. The creaminess it adds to the mac and cheese just can’t be duplicated. BUT I will say that I have had many people make this recipe and tell me that they have used cream cheese in place of the Velveeta with great results. I, personally, have never done this, but I like to give options in case you aren’t down with Velveeta.

So creamy, so cheesy and so so delicious.


Slow Cooker Macaroni & Cheese!

  • 16 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 (16 ounce) package shredded sharp cheddar
  • 8 ounces Velveeta
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  1. Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese
  2. Ingredients
  3. 16 ounces elbow macaroni
  4. 1 tablespoon salt
  5. 4 tablespoons butter
  6. 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
  7. 2 1/2 cups milk
  8. 1 (16 ounce) package shredded sharp cheddar
  9. 8 ounces Velveeta
  10. 8 ounces cream cheese
  11. 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  12. Bring a large pot of water to boil for the elbow macaroni. Add 1 tablespoon salt to water. Cook macaroni according to package directions until al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain and rinse.
  13. Spray inside slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray. Add all ingredients, saving about 1/4 cup cheddar, and stir.
  14. Cover and cook on high for 2 to 3 hours, stirring twice.
  15. Sprinkle with reserved cheddar and cover until melted.
  16. ENJOY!

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Crock-Pot Mac & Cheese

Homemade macaroni and cheese is a process. You need to make a cheese sauce while also cooking pasta in another pot. And you'll almost definitely feel the need to make a buttery topping and bake it (even though it was already perfectly cheesy and saucy already). The amount of dishes is insane.

Enter: this slow-cooker mac & cheese. Everything&mdashincluding the pasta!&mdashcooks in a slow cooker. And in the end you have just ONE DISH to clean. Answer to your inevitable doubts and questions are below. (We were skeptical at first too!) And for more easy dinner ideas, check out our best slow-cooker recipes.

Does the pasta actually cook?

Yep! Until it's perfectly al dente 😉. You just need to start checking after 2 hours, every 20 minutes or so. Pasta, if cooked too long, tends to get gummy if sits in a slow cooker for too long.

How does the sauce cook?

With the elbow noodles! The evaporated milk, whole milk, and cheeses slowly melt together into perfectly creamy sauce. You really only need to stir it once before serving.

Why evaporated milk?

About 60% of its water has been removed so it's much more concentrated, making it creamy AF. Meaning it's pretty perfect for mac and cheese.

Can I sub milk? Or what about cream?

We wouldn't. There's already a decent amount of milk in here anyways. If you only use milk, the sauce would be kinda watery and soup-like. It also wouldn't be as rich. Heavy cream has wayyy more calories and fat and would take the decadence of macaroni and cheese to a whole new (and unnecessary) level. Just stick with the evaporated milk.

Can I use different cheeses?

Totally! You just want to choose one (or three) with good melting properties. Think: mozzarella, fontina, and Monterey Jack. And stick to 4 1/2 cups total.

What temperature do I cook it at?

In your slow cooker, you'll want to go with HIGH as opposed to LOW heat.

Editor's Note: The introduction to this recipe was edited on September 30, 2020.


Recipe Summary

  • 8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon Louisiana hot sauce
  • 8 ounces cooked andouille or other spicy sausage links, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 1 medium red or yellow sweet pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 4 ¾ cups dried bow tie pasta
  • 6 ounces sliced American cheese, torn into bite-size pieces
  • ½ cup shredded smoked Gouda or cheddar cheese (2 oz.)
  • ¼ cup milk

In a 3 1/2- or 4-qt. slow cooker combine chicken, Cajun seasoning, and hot sauce toss to coat. Stir in next four ingredients (through onion).

Cover and cook on low 6 hours or high 3 hours. If using low, turn to high. Stir in pasta. Cover and cook 10 minutes stir. Cover and cook 10 minutes more stir again.

Turn off cooker. If possible, remove crockery liner from cooker. Top mixture with both cheeses (do not stir). Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in enough of the milk to reach desired consistency.

If your slow cooker has a warm setting, you can hold the macaroni and cheese up to 2 hours. If mixture begins to look dry, stir in up to 1/2 cup additional milk to reach desired consistency.


Recipe Summary

  • cooking spray
  • 1 (16 ounce) package uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 2 (12 fluid ounce) cans evaporated milk
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 (14 ounce) bag frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste

Spray the inside of slow cooker with cooking spray.

Stir uncooked macaroni and vegetable oil together in the slow cooker until pasta is coated.

Stir Cheddar cheese, evaporated milk, milk, broccoli, salt, and black pepper with macaroni until fully combined.

Cover the cooker and cook on Low until macaroni is tender and the sauce is bubbling, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring often to reduce sticking.


4 Ingredient Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese Recipe

This was my first time making slow cooker mac and cheese. I’ll admit that I much prefer the blue box to homemade macaroni and cheese. Homemade mac and cheese just takes way too much work. I was curious if I’d like it in the slow cooker better.

If you look at a lot of Crock Pot mac and cheese recipes you’ll notice many have one thing in common – evaporated milk. My guess is the evaporated milk helps to add the milk creaminess and it can withstand the longer cooking period.

Many of the recipes also call for processed cheese. Instead, this recipe uses two common cheeses – sharp cheddar and Monterrey jack. If you want to make it fancier try a mix like fontina and gruyere. You can really use any cheese you want, but you want it to melt nicely and have a good flavor.

This is not a slow cooker recipe you can just set on low in the morning and come home to at night. It only needs to cook for 2-4 hours. It also needs a little watching towards the end. But it’s a great way to make homemade mac and cheese while running an errand or to free up space on the stove top for a side dish.

Making this slow cooker recipe was also a reminder on why it’s important to pick the correct size slow cooker. I made half of a recipe and used 4 quart slow cooker and it was barely 1/4 full. This is not the best way to cook in a slow cooker. You want it to be 2/3 full for optimum performance.

If you halve the recipe, use a smaller slow cooker. The mac and cheese turned out fine, but it took under 2 hours. You could double the recipe if you have a larger slow cooker. Or just use a smaller 2-3 quart slow cooker for a single recipe.

The results of this slow cooker mac and cheese recipe is a sturdy mac and cheese that more resembles a casserole or baked mac and cheese. It was delicious! You could definitely add some bread crumbs on top, too. You could also add a little more liquid to see if it gets saucier. But it was still very good – for homemade mac and cheese. And it was super easy, which is a major win for busy cooks.



Comments:

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