Cheese lovers, this one is for you! This ultra-creamy and cheesy slow cooker mac and cheese recipe is absolutely loaded with cheesy goodness and is what comfort food dreams are made of.
Man, oh man, is this slow cooker mac and cheese ever good! It’s definitely not everyday food — I mean, it’s loaded with lots of cheese — and it’s such a treat. And don’t you deserve to treat yourself? Why not, right?
The only question now is do you eat your mac and cheese with a fork or a spoon? In our home, hubby prefers a spoon and I prefer a fork, but, honestly, does it even matter? As long as you get that deliciousness into your piehole, you’re good, LOL.
Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese Ingredients
- Dried macaroni pasta: Also known as elbow macaroni. This style of pasta is classic for homemade macaroni and cheese. You can substitute with a similarly sized pasta if you prefer.
- Cooking spray: For greasing the slow cooker. This is super important. Along with periodically stirring, this helps prevent the mac and cheese from sticking. If you don’t have cooking spray, grease with some butter.
- Milk: I used whole milk and full-fat evaporated milk. This adds creaminess and richness.
- Cheddar cheese condensed soup: You can substitute with an equal amount of evaporated milk, but I love the cheesiness it adds.
- Shredded cheese: I used cheddar cheese and Monterey Jack cheese. Shred your own versus buying pre-shredded cheese for optimal results.
- Velveeta cheese: This is a popular processed cheese product that’s soft, a bit salty and known for it’s bright orange hue. It adds richness, cheesiness and colour to the recipe. As an alternative, you can substitute with cream cheese. It won’t add the same cheesiness, but will make the pasta creamy. As another option, you can use half Velveeta cheese and half cream cheese. Or, try American cheese (the block cut into cubes, not the slices).
- Seasoning: Like freshly ground black pepper, mustard powder, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and ground cayenne pepper. Feel free to add a little more (or less) of an ingredient, depending on your preference.
- Unsalted butter: I prefer to use unsalted butter versus salted here since there is added salt in the recipe.
How To Make It
Here is an overview of how to make slow cooker mac and cheese (full details are in the recipe card below):
- Cook dried macaroni pasta about 2 minutes short of al dente (follow the package instructions), drain, rinse with cold water, then drain again. The pasta won’t be fully cooked at this point and that’s okay (it’ll finish in the slow cooker).
- Spray the slow cooker with cooking spray, then add the slow cooker mac and cheese ingredients. Stir until everything is nicely combined. Cover and cook, stirring periodically, until the pasta is fully cooked through and the sauce is thick, creamy, cheesy and totally delicious!
How Long Does It Take To Cook?
Generally speaking, I find that it takes about 2 hours to cook the mac and cheese in the slow cooker on the low setting. Of course, slow cookers can vary greatly, depending on the brand and model. If it’s done in less time, great! If you need a little more time, go for it. You’re basically looking for the pasta to be cooked through, the cheese to be melted and to end up with a lovely thick, creamy and cheesy sauce.
Unlike baked mac and cheese, it’s important to periodically stir the mac and cheese as it cooks. Now, I don’t mean to stir continuously or anything. Basically, after it has cooked for 1 hour, I like to remove the cover and give things a little stir to encourage everything to blend together and make sure nothing is sticking. After that, I cook for another 1 hour, stirring about halfway and then again when it’s done.
Tip: When stirring, try to do this rather quickly, meaning don’t have the slow cooker cover off too long. You don’t want to lose all of the heat in the slow cooker.
Baked mac and cheese and slow cooker mac and cheese are entirely two different beasts, in my humble opinion. Similar to stovetop mac and cheese, slow cooker mac and cheese often tends to have a looser and creamier consistency than baked mac and cheese. Plus, mac and cheese in the slow cooker doesn’t have a golden brown (and sometimes crunchy) top that you can get with a baked mac and cheese. Both, of course, are delicious and I wouldn’t turn down either if offered!
Since I do love a bit of texture, I toasted up some panko bread crumbs in a little butter in a frying pan. It literally takes minutes to do but adds such a lovely flavour and texture to the macaroni and cheese.
While the panko bread crumb topping is totally optional, I do highly recommend it.
As an alternative to panko bread crumbs (or in addition to), you could top your mac and cheese with some crumbled crispy bacon (yum)!
What To Serve With It
For a satisfying comfort food meal, a big bowl of homemade mac and cheese is all you need, really (that’s what I think, anyway). But if you want to make things more substantial, go for it!
You can enjoy this mac and cheese as a main or as a side to something else.
If enjoying as a main, it pairs great with a green salad or some garlic bread. You can even mix in some steamed broccoli florets just to add a little veggie goodness and colour.
As for condiments, I love serving mac and cheese with ketchup and/or hot sauce. What do you like to serve with your mac and cheese?
Leftovers and Reheating
Like with most mac and cheese recipes, this slow cooker mac and cheese is best enjoyed freshly made. That’s when it’s ultra-cheesy and just plain delicious. As it cools, it will lose its creaminess and start to firm up a tad.
Of course, if you have leftovers, that’s okay too. Properly store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.
To reheat, place whatever portion of mac and cheese you want to reheat in a large nonstick frying pan, add a tiny splash of whole milk (my favourite), chicken or veggie broth or water (just enough to loosen things, about 2 to 4 tablespoons, depending on how much pasta you are reheating), and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it’s heated through and creamy and cheesy again.
Can You Freeze It?
Leftover mac and cheese freezes wonderfully! To freeze, allow the mac and cheese to cool, then properly store in a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. Don’t forget to label the container with what it is and the date it was made so you know for later.
Tip: Freeze leftover mac and cheese in individual portions. That way, you can take out what you need at any given time (you know, when you have a hankering for some cheesy pasta). I like to thaw the mac and cheese in the refrigerator overnight and reheat the next day.
Tips for Making the Best Mac and Cheese
- I tend to find it’s best to par-cook your dried macaroni pasta before adding to the slow cooker. You don’t want to cook it all the way, but rather about 2 minutes short of al dente. Just follow the package instructions. If it says it’s 5 minutes to al dente, cook it for about 3 minutes. If it says it’s 9 minutes to al dente, cook it for about 7 minutes … you get the idea! By doing this, the pasta doesn’t turn out mushy or overly soft after it’s done in the slow cooker.
- As mentioned earlier, I highly recommend shredding your own cheese for this recipe versus buying packages of cheese that are already shredded. Cheese is such a large part of mac and cheese (I mean, it’s in the title, right?), so take the time to shred some yourself. It actually melts a lot better than the pre-shredded stuff, meaning a creamier, cheesier, meltier mac … and isn’t that what we all want?
- Speaking of cheese, this slow cooker macaroni and cheese recipe is loaded with cheesy goodness! I used condensed cheddar soup, Velveeta, cheddar cheese and Monterey Jack. The variety of Monterey Jack cheese that I used was flavoured with red chili flakes which adds a lovely colour and spice to the mac and cheese (which I love). If you don’t have that on hand, you could use regular Monterey Jack cheese and add in some crushed red pepper flakes or omit the crushed red pepper flakes entirely if spice isn’t your thing.
More Yummy Comfort Food Recipes
If you make this slow cooker mac and cheese recipe, be sure to leave a comment below!
Cheese Lovers Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese
Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese
- 1 (16-ounce) or 454-gram box dried macaroni pasta
- Cooking spray, to spray slow cooker
- 1.5 cups whole milk
- 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
- 1 (10-ounce) can cheddar cheese condensed soup
- 8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese, 2 cups or ½ pound (I used a medium cheddar cheese)
- 8 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese, 2 cups or ½ pound (I used a red chili version)
- 1 (9-ounce or 250-gram) package Velveeta cheese, cubed (or cubed American cheese)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus a little extra for serving if you like
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or a few dashes of your favourite hot sauce
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed (about 2 ounces)
Panko Bread Crumb Topping (optional but delicious)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup unseasoned panko bread crumbs
Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese
- Cook the macaroni pasta about 2 minutes shorter than package directions for al dente, then drain. Rinse under cold water, then drain again. (The reason why we're not fully cooking the pasta at this point is because it will finish in the slow cooker; if it's fully cooked before going in the slow cooker, the pasta will be too soft once it's done in the slow cooker.)Note: Packages of dried macaroni noodles can vary quite a bit in cook time. Some packages I've had listed a cook time to al dente at 9 minutes, while others 3 minutes. Just keep that in mind and cook just short of al dente.
- Spray a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. (This is important because it greases the slow cooker and helps minimize the mac and cheese sticking to it).
- To the slow cooker, add the partially cooked macaroni pasta, whole milk, evaporated milk, cheddar cheese soup, cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, Velveeta cheese, black pepper, mustard powder, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, cayenne pepper and butter. Stir to combine.
- Cover with the slow cooker lid and cook on low for 1 hour. Carefully remove the lid, stir the mac and cheese (try to do this rather quickly so you don't lose too much heat in your slow cooker), then cover again.Tip: When stirring, stir well, getting all around the sides of the slow cooker and bottom, to make sure nothing is sticking.
- Continue to cook the mac and cheese for another 30 minutes, then remove the lid and stir again. Cover and continue to cook for another 30 minutes or until the pasta is cooked through and the sauce is thick, creamy and cheesy.Note: Slow cookers vary. Cook the mac and cheese, stirring periodically, until the pasta is cooked through. With my slow cooker, the mac and cheese was done in about 2 hours.
- Once everything is cooked, stir again. I like to let it sit for 5 minutes before serving (you can make the panko bread crumb topping during this time, if you like).
- Stir the mac and cheese again, then serve (l love to sprinkle a little fresh black pepper over each serving). Optional, but totally delicious, is to sprinkle over some of the panko bread crumb topping over each serving. Yields about 6 to 8 servings if served as a main or about 10 to 12 servings if served as a side.Note: The mac and cheese will firm up a little more as it cools.
Panko Bread Crumb Topping
- Melt butter in a small nonstick frying pan over medium heat.
- Stir in panko bread crumbs and toast, stirring regularly, until golden brown and crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Once they're done, remove from the pan so that don't overly brown.
A note on times provided: appliances vary, any prep and/or cook times provided are estimates only.
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