Highly requested from my readers, this mac and cheese is made entirely in the slow cooker! No boiling pasta, no making a cream sauce, and no standing over a hot stove. Perfectly creamy and packed with flavor, this dish is great to take to a potluck, have as a holiday side dish, or even a fun family dinner!
CROCKPOT MAC AND CHEESE RECIPE
Here it is… the recipe you’ve been asking for! You’ve LOVED, and continue to love, my Baked Mac and Cheese recipe… some of you have even won awards in cooking competitions using that recipe. But we all love a great slow cooker recipe, and I’ve been busy developing the PERFECT crock pot mac and cheese recipe. One that yields an ultra creamy sauce, doesn’t get too thick, and one that tastes every bit as delicious as the OG baked mac and cheese.
HOW TO MAKE CROCK POT MAC AND CHEESE
- Add pasta and liquids to the slow cooker. Sprinkle in seasonings and stir.
- Cover and cook 1 hour. Stir. Cover and cook another 10 minutes.
- Stir in cream cheese and grated cheese. Cover and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Stir and serve.
How easy is that?! No fancy cream sauce to make… just hands-off cook time so you can go relax!
COOKING TIPS FOR CROCK POT MAC AND CHEESE
I’ve tested this recipe more times than I’d like to admit, and through all those trials and errors, I’ve come up with a few helpful tips.
- Spray the crockpot. I know it might sound weird, but it really helps keep the pasta from sticking too much to the bottom of the slow cooker.
- Use the right liquids. For most of my attempts, I was using regular, whole milk, and every time it would thicken way too much and sort of seize up on me. I’ve found that a mixture of chicken broth, evaporated milk, with a little heavy cream for richness, yields the best creamy sauce.
- Grate your own cheeses. I know… I know. It’s SO tempting to open a bag of pre-shredded cheese from the store… and I’ve done it on occasion. But most commercial pre-shredded cheeses are coated in cellulose, which essentially keeps the cheese from all clumping together in the bag. Ever noticed how bags of pre-shredded cheese that are coming up on their expiration date usually have clumps of cheese stuck together inside? It’s because the cellulose is just about gone from the cheese. That coating prevents the cheese from truly melting down into a gloriously gooey cheese sauce, and can leave your sauce a bit on the gritty side.
VARIATIONS OF CROCK POT MAC AND CHEESE
- Pasta Shapes – to mimic the classic recipe, I normally use elbow pasta. But any short-cut pasta works just as well! Medium shells, penne, rotini, etc. Just note that different pastas will have slightly different cook times, so use the recipe times as an approximate.
- Cooking Liquids – like I mentioned above, I prefer the taste and consistency of chicken broth, evaporated milk and heavy cream. However, feel free to test out different proportions of those liquids, or try out different liquids. Just note that I can only vouch for this recipe as written.
- Cheeses – As with most mac and cheese recipes, the types of cheese called for are not the only ones you can use. Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, Colby, Gruyere, sharp cheddar… any and all!
- Seasonings – feel free to add in additional seasonings that you love in your mac and cheese.
MAKING CROCK POT MAC AND CHEESE AHEAD OF TIME
I don’t recommend making this ahead of time, as I think it loses texture and creaminess. However there are some things that can be done ahead of time to prepare.
- Combine the liquids and refrigerate.
- Grate cheeses and refrigerate.
- Combine seasonings and refrigerate.
- Cube butter and cream cheese and refrigerate.
STORING CROCK POT MAC AND CHEESE
The leftovers from this mac and cheese recipe need to be refrigerated. Let the leftovers cool completely, cover, then refrigerate for up to 3 days. For optimal texture, add enough milk to thin the sauce before packing up the leftovers, that way you can easily scoop out a portion to reheat, and the milk will meld into the cream sauce as it reheats.
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT USED TO MAKE THIS RECIPE
- Slow Cooker – I prefer using a smaller slow cooker for this recipe, as I think it cooks the pasta more evenly, and this is the model I have and love. The exact slow cooker used in the photos is this one, but it’s pretty pricey!
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- 1 lb. uncooked elbow pasta (or other shortcut pasta)
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter cubed
- 12 oz. can evaporated milk (use whole milk, not low fat)
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth (unsalted or reduced sodium)
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp ground mustard
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp paprika (or cayenne pepper if you like a small kick)
- 2 to 3 oz. cream cheese (cubed) at room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
- Spray a 4 quart slow cooker insert with cooking spray. Add pasta, butter, evaporated milk, chicken broth, heavy cream, salt, ground mustard, black pepper, and paprika. Stir well to combine.
- Smooth pasta into an even layer, trying to press it down into the liquid. Not all of it will be submerged, and that's okay. Cover and cook on LOW for 1 hour.
- Remove lid and stir. At first it will be a big clump, but as soon as you start to stir, it will break up easily. Spread back into an even layer again. Cover and cook on LOW another 10-15 minutes or so, or until pasta is chewy. Not crunchy, but not finished cooking either.
- Remove lid and add cubed cream cheese and grated cheeses. Stir well, cover and let sit (with the heat off), for 5-10 minutes.
- Keep stirring and you'll see a glorious cheese sauce appear! Serve hot.
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- Mac and cheese will thicken slightly as it cools.
- Other cheeses can be used if desired.