Instant Pot mac and cheese is so easy! Made with regular milk (not evaporated!), this quick mac and cheese recipe features a blend of cheeses for the ultimate in comfort food.
After five years of regularly scheduled programming on this here blog, I bring you this announcement: mac and cheese has landed.
I’m really not sure why I haven’t shared anything related to mac and cheese on here given I make a few different versions from time to time, but here we are. Better late than never, right?
And this one is a doozy. Instant Pot mac and cheese is SO easy to make and customize with your favorite pasta shapes and types of cheese. This has become my go-to for the nights before grocery shopping when the fridge is looking a little sparse, and for that I’ve toiled away experimenting with the best cheese blends. See the notes below for my findings.
The first step of this Instant Pot mac and cheese is to saute onion in butter. You can either dice the onion or grate it, though I’m partial to grating. It totally disappears once everything gets pressure cooked, just providing flavor.
After sautéing a few cloves of garlic and adding some spices, it’s time to add the water and pasta. You’ll want to add four cups of water for one pound of pasta. Give everything a quick stir, then set the Instant Pot for four minutes of manual pressure cook time. That’s all it needs for the pasta to become perfectly tender.
After a quick pressure release, you’re only a few minutes away from digging in. Time for the milk and cheese.
One difference you may find with this Instant Pot mac and cheese recipe and others is that this one doesn’t use evaporated milk. To be honest I can’t recall a time I’ve ever had evaporated milk in the pantry, so I knew it was a no-go if I wanted to stay true to this dish being a reliable standby made with ingredients I just about always have on hand.
The good news is that regular milk does the trick! I use 2% milk and find it provides a creamy and wholly satisfying outcome.
Best cheese combination for mac and cheese
Obviously this one is subject to taste, but I like a blend of four cheeses for this Instant Pot mac and cheese:
- Pepper jack
- Smoked gouda
While some cheeses can be subbed in/out, pepper jack for me is a non-negotiable. I love the hint of flavor it brings without being spicy, and is responsible for those little pepper flecks you might notice in the photos.
I’ll never pass up an opportunity to use smoked gouda (hello, smoked gouda dip), and it combines beautifully with sharpish cheddar. I’m not picky with the sharpness – use whichever type of you like. Then mozzarella rounds everything out with a mild creaminess to take this Instant Pot mac and cheese over the top!
I’ve written my preferred cheese ratios into the recipe card below, but there is a lot of wiggle room here for you to do your own thing/use up what you have on hand.
Instant Pot mac and cheese recipe notes
- If you’re looking for even more flavor to this mac and cheese (or to use up an open container), you can sub in two cups of chicken broth for two of the cups of water.
- Use your preferred mac and cheese pasta shape. Just be sure the box is 16 oz, as I’ve noticed an increasing number of varieties packaged as 12 oz. Using less pasta with the same quantity of liquid would cause it to be soupy.
- Lots of wiggle room of the cheese! Within the three cup total feel free to increase/decrease certain quantities or varieties in line with your tastes.
- I’m partial to shells, but elbows or cavatappi are always mac and cheese favorites.
Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup grated onion (about 1 medium onion)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground mustard
- 16-oz box small shell pasta, uncooked
- 4 cups water
- 1 1/2 cup milk (I used 2%)
- 1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded smoked gouda cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- Add butter to the Instant Pot and press the "Saute" button. Add grated onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so.
- Add salt, pepper, ground mustard, dry shells, and water to the Instant Pot. Stir everything up. Press the "Keep Warm/Cancel" button to shut off the Saute function, then press the "Manual" button. Using the "+" or "-" buttons, adjust time to 4 minutes of cook time.
- Once the cook time is over, carefully do a quick pressure release (see note) and give everything a stir to combine. Pour in the milk and about half of the shredded cheeses. Press the "Saute" button and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the cheese is melted and some of the liquid is further absorbed.
- Shut off of the Instant Pot and stir in the rest of the cheese. If the mixture is still more liquid-y than you'd prefer, keep stirring until it thickens to your liking.