5-Ingredient Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
Creamy, dreamy 5-ingredient Instant Pot Mac and Cheese is so easy to make. Trust me, you’ll find yourself making it at least once a week! Great as a side, or toss a few steamed veggies in and make it a full meal!
This is dangerous.
When all you need is five basic ingredients to make instant pot mac and cheese at home, guaranteed you can get into a lot of trouble.
Trouble like, I’ve got all the ingredients on hand! All I need to do is toss it all into the instant pot, and there comes a perfect side dish for dinner. It’s a complete meal for the little ones in your life. Can you tell I’m envious that they live off a cheese and pasta diet?
But it’s also all sorts of wonderful for situations like when you’re headed to Friendsgiving or Thanksgiving party in the next 5 minutes, and you procrastinated until the very last second to come up with something to take with you! Luckily the prep time on this is around 10 minutes. That’s if you decide to shred the cheese yourself (which you totally should!)
Instant Pot mac and cheese is the newest addition to my line of instant pot recipes. During the holidays, I always get messages from people asking for side dish recipes that can be made in the instant pot or slow cooker so that they don’t take up room in the oven. In the past, I’ve done a slow cooker cranberry sauce. Last year, I shared my recipe for garlic and herb mashed potatoes made in the instant pot in 20 minutes! Then there’s also a slow cooker and an instant pot version of butternut squash soup.
So this year, I wanted to do my take on instant pot Mac and cheese. To my pleasant surprise, I actually like instant pot Mac and cheese better. The stovetop or the oven version just isn’t as good!
So didn’t see that coming!
Ingredients for instant pot Mac and cheese:
- Uncooked elbow macaroni: You could also use shells or other small shapes of pasta if that’s what you have on hand.
- Butter: Adds a little creaminess!
- Ground mustard: this adds a bit more complexity to the mac and cheese.
- Shredded cheese: the kind of cheese you use is entirely up to you! I do suggest using a blend of different cheeses for the best flavor if you are making this for adults. The complexity of the Mac and cheese is much more pleasing that way! I like to do a blend of nutty and stretchy cheeses. If you’re making this for kids, one kind of cheese will do!
- Here are my suggestions: Sharp cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, Monterey Jack, fontina, provolone, parmesan cheese, havarti, gouda, and gruyere. The variations on are endless on this recipe!
- regular milk or half and half: I know a lot of people also like to use evaporated milk and though it does work well in a pinch, I find the flavor of the Mac and cheese is much better with half and half!
How to make the best instant pot mac and cheese:
- Toss is all in. Add the elbow macaroni, water (or stock), butter, slat and mustard powder to the instant pot. Stir it all together to make sure you aren’t left with clumps of seasonings. We want a smooth cheese sauce at the end!
- Pressure cook it. Top your pressure cooker with a lid and turn it to the sealing position. Then, program the instant pot to manual high pressure for 4 minutes. This is just long enough for the noodles to cook to al dente. Once the cook cycle is complete, you can do a manual pressure release, but know that if you have a full pound of pasta in there, you will get some sputtering of hot liquid out the vents! For this reason, I like to give it a bit of time to naturally release the pressure before turning the valve.
- Finish it and serve! Turn the instant pot to the ‘keep warm’ setting and stir in the shredded cheese and milk (or half and half) with a wooden spoon. You want to gently stir until the cheese is completely melted. Taste and adjust your comfort food to your liking! Add more salt or pepper as desired. If you want to bump up the veggie content on this, feel free to stir in some steamed broccoli once the cheese and macaroni are combined. Leftovers go into an airtight container and are good in the fridge for up to 4 days.
FAQs about this recipe
I own the 6-quart and made an entire pound of pasta in there without any issues; you could also do this in the 8-quart if that’s what you have. The 8-quart would also hold a double batch of this easily if you’re feeding a crowd!
I know this recipe still works should you decide to use whole wheat macaroni, all you need to do is up the pressure cooking time to 5 minutes. But unfortunately, I haven’t had much luck with using gluten-free pasta in the instant pot. If you decide to change the shape of the pasta, the pressure cooking time may change, and I’m not sure how much longer it’ll take, and it may require a little trial and error on your part. For best results, I suggest using good ol’ macaroni or something that has the same cooking time as macaroni!
Tips for making the best instant pot Mac and cheese:
There are a ton of ways to make this simple recipe even better; here’s what I like to do:
- Don’t shy away from seasonings. Swap the salt for garlic salt (when do I not love garlic in everything, right?)
- Add a chicken bouillon cube in with the pasta to help flavor the mac and cheese even more or swap half of the water for chicken broth. Just be sure not to replace all the water with chicken broth here without reducing the salt because otherwise, the mac and cheese will be way too salty.
- Swap the whole milk for half and half, or swap half of the milk of heavy cream to make this even more luxurious! It’s not something I do often, but if you’re serving this to a crowd, the half and half will make this even better!
- Use a variety of cheeses. Sure regular old cheddar will do the trick, but when you swap out a cup for something like gouda or Havarti, the blend of flavors really makes this taste so much more delicious. Just be sure to stir constantly while you melt the cheese in because something like mozzarella or provolone could leave you with cheese bombs if you don’t mix them in well!
- Don’t use pre-shredded cheese. I say this way too often, but pre-shredded cheeses are often coated with anticaking agents (such as potato starch) so that it doesn’t become a massive clump of cheese in the package. For best results, I suggest using a block of cheese and shredding it yourself! Generally, an 8-ounce block gives you 2 cups of shredded cheese.
- Make sure your homemade mac is yellow: Even though parmesan isn’t a cheese that you often see in traditional mac and cheese recipes, it’s something that I like using here. But just keep in mind that you don’t want to use more than about ¼-⅓ cup of it here. It’ll add a whole lot more salt to the mac and cheese otherwise. Also, your ratio of white to yellow cheese is higher, your mac and cheese may not be as yellow!
If you like this recipe, you might also like:
- Gruyere Mac and Cheese with French Onion Crust
- One Pot Chili Con Queso
- Most Amazing Macaroni Salad
- Bubbly Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole
- Broccoli Cheese Soup (low Carb!)
- 1 pound uncooked elbow macaroni
- 4 cups water (or ½ chicken stock + ½ water)
- 4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into small pieces
- ¾ teaspoon salt (or garlic salt!)
- ½ teaspoon dried mustard powder
- 3 cups shredded cheese (see notes)
- 1 1/4 cup whole milk or half and half
- PRESSURE COOK: Add the elbow macaroni, water (or stock), butter, salt, and mustard powder to the instant pot. Stir to combine, cover, make sure the instant pot vent is sealed. Program the IP to manual high pressure for 4 minutes. Once the timer goes off allow the pressure to release naturally for 4 minutes. If you do a manual pressure release immediately, just know that some of the hot liquid may sputter out from the vent.
- FINISH: With the Instant Pot on the ‘keep warm’ setting, stir in the shredded cheese and milk. Continue stirring until all the cheese is completely melted. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as desired and serve warm!
- Cheeses: You can use a variety of cheeses for this recipe. I like to use a high percentage of cheddar cheese (medium) plus a combination of others such as havarti, Monterey Jack, pepper jack, parmesan, fontina, mozzarella, etc. see the post for a full list of ideas!