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This Instant Pot Mac and Cheese recipe is super-easy to make with just a few simple ingredients and tastes perfectly creamy and cheesy!
Growing up, we always had an absolute feast on Thanksgiving. Everyone in our extended family would tag-team all of the traditional classics — a nice big turkey, two kinds of stuffing, our family’s favorite salad, at least a few kinds of pie, and approximately one million side dishes. But then at the very last second, my aunt would always slide one last dish into the mix — a bubbling pan of hot, hearty, homemade mac and cheese. ♡
Her famous mac and cheese was initially “just for my cousin,” who was going through a picky-eating phase at the time and wasn’t so interested in everything else on the table. But year after year, a lil’ scoop of mac and cheese would somehow always mysteriously sneak its way onto everyone else’s plates as well. And eventually, we all just conceded — it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without that mac and cheese!
Well this year, it’s definitely on our menu plan here in Barcelona for our Thanksgiving party this weekend. But since I’m planning to cook the entire meal in our tiny European kitchen (with its extra-tiny oven and stovetop), I’ve decided to forego my usual stovetop mac and cheese recipe in favor of making an Instant Pot version instead. And after testing and tweaking the recipe this week, I’ve gotta say, Instant Pot mac and cheese will probably be my go-to from now on. It’s impressively even quicker and easier than the stovetop version, and somehow even magically cooks the pasta to a perfect al dente. But best of all — it requires absolutely zero stove or oven space, which will be much appreciated this weekend.
So if your family also happens to be craving some mac and cheese this Thanksgiving — or of course, any other day of the year — I highly recommend putting that pressure cooker to use and giving this Instant Pot mac and cheese recipe a try. It’s definitely a keeper in my book!
Instant Pot Mac and Cheese Ingredients:
First, let’s chat ingredients. To make this Instant Pot Mac and Cheese recipe, you will need…
- Pasta: Any shape of uncooked pasta will do. (I used these organic shells.)
- Water: Which we will use to cook the pasta. If you would like some extra flavor, you are welcome to use half water + half chicken (or veggie) stock instead.
- Butter: Which helps the pasta not stick together too much while cooking, and also adds great flavor.
- Dijon and garlic powder: I like to add a few teaspoons of Dijon mustard (or you can use dry ground mustard) to mac and cheese, plus a tiny bit of garlic powder. Don’t worry — the Dijon doesn’t make the pasta taste mustardy! Rather, it just helps to subtly round out the flavor of the cheese.
- Salt and pepper: We will add salt to the pasta water before it cooks, and then season the mac and cheese at the very end with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Milk: We’ve tried this recipe using whole milk, evaporated milk and half and half. And frankly, the whole milk works great and still makes this mac and cheese taste super-creamy (without all of the extra calories). That said, if you would like an even creamier mac and cheese, feel free to use evaporated milk or half and half instead!
- Freshly-grated cheese: This recipe will only taste as good as the cheese you use…so I highly recommend investing in good-quality cheese that you really love! I’m a purist and almost always go with a good sharp cheddar, plus a hint of salty Parmesan, whose flavor combo I love. But Fontina, Gouda, Gruyere, Havarti, Monterey Jack, or Provolone would also be delicious alternatives. As always when making recipes that with a melted cheese sauce, it’s important to buy a block of cheese and grate it yourself. (Otherwise, store-bought pre-shredded cheeses may make your sauce clump up.)
Detailed ingredient amounts/instructions listed in the full recipe below.
How To Make Instant Pot Mac and Cheese:
To make this Instant Pot Mac and Cheese recipe, simply…
- Prep the pasta. Add the pasta, water, butter, mustard, garlic powder and 1 teaspoon salt to the bowl of an Instant Pot, and briefly stir to combine.
- Pressure cook. Cover and cook on high pressure for 4 minutes, followed by a quick release.
- Stir in the cheese. Stir in the milk and cheeses until they have melted into a creamy sauce. The sauce will continue to thicken as it sits, so if it seems too thin, just let it rest for an extra minute or two. Season with S&P.
- Serve warm. Then serve while the mac and cheese is still nice and warm. Enjoy!
*I tested this recipe using a few different (traditional semolina) pasta shapes, and 4 minutes on high pressure followed by a quick release was the perfect amount of time to cook the pasta al dente. But if you use different shapes or types of pasta (such as whole-wheat or gluten-free pasta), they may require a slightly different cooking time.
Want to customize this pressure cooker mac and cheese recipe? Feel free to:
- Add veggies: Baby spinach, sun-dried tomatoes or artichokes would all be delicious stirred in just before serving. Or, of course, you are welcome to add in some roasted broccoli or other veggies.
- Add protein: Cooked chicken, bacon, ground beef or sausage would also be delicious add-ins.
- Add extra seasonings: I also really love stirring some Cajun or ranch seasoning into mac and cheese, for a different twist.
More Cheesy Pasta Recipes:
Craving more cheesy pasta recipes? Here are a few of my faves…
- 1 pound uncooked pasta
- 4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (or 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard)
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- fine sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
- 1 cup whole milk (or evaporated milk or half and half)
- 4 cups freshly-grated sharp cheddar cheese* (or see other cheese options below)
- 1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
- Prep the pasta. Add pasta, water, butter, mustard, garlic powder and 1 teaspoon salt to the bowl of an Instant Pot, and briefly stir to combine.
- Pressure cook. Cover and set lid to “Sealing.” Cook on high pressure (“manual”) for 4 minutes, followed by a quick release. Remove lid.
- Add the milk and cheeses. Add in the milk and stir briefly to combine. Then add in the cheeses and gently stir and stir until they have completely melted into a creamy sauce. The sauce will continue to thicken as it sits, so if it seems too thin, just let it rest for an extra minute or two. Taste the dish and season with extra salt and black pepper, if needed.
- Serve warm. Serve warm and enjoy!
Pasta options: I have only tested this recipe with traditional semolina pasta. Different shapes/types of pasta (such as whole-wheat or gluten-free pastas) may have a slightly different cooking time.
Milk options: You can decide how creamy you would like to make this mac and cheese! We are quite content with using whole milk in our house, but evaporated milk or half and half would make things extra-creamy and delicious.
Cheese options: Cheddar, Fontina, Gouda, Gruyere, Havarti, Monterey Jack, Provolone — or a combination of any of these cheeses — all melt well into mac and cheese.
Why “freshly-grated” cheese: Most pre-shredded cheeses that you can purchase at the store have a coating on them that prevents the cheeses from melting well. It’s best to purchase cheese in blocks and then grate it yourself just before adding it to the recipe. (If you happen to have a food processor with a disc attachment, this will make grating even easier!)