This homemade Crockpot macaroni and cheese is made with real cheddar cheese (not Velveeta) and regular milk (instead of evaporated milk) resulting in a cheesy side dish that everyone loves.
Whether it’s a Super Bowl party, holiday dinner or a summer BBQ, this crock pot mac and cheese recipe is a staple at my house.
Made with real cheddar cheese (and without evaporated milk), it’s oh-so cheesy and there’s never any left at the end of the meal.
Plus, you can make it a couple of days ahead of time, which is always a bonus when you’re entertaining.
And because it’s cooked in the crock pot, it’s not taking up room in your oven when you’re trying to cook everything else. (Especially important at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner when oven space always seems to be at a premium.)
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Here’s your shopping list:
- pasta – 1 16-ounce package of elbow macaroni (or other small pasta)
- dairy – ¼ cup (or ½ stick) butter, 1½ cups milk or half and half, 2 pounds (16 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese. Don’t get pre-grated cheese. It has additives that keep it from sticking in the package, and those also prevent it from melting properly in the dish.
- liquids – 1½ cups chicken broth. Since the recipe does not call for additional salt, this should contain some.
- vegetables – 1 small onion
- baking supplies – 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour.
- flavoring – a few drops of Tabasco sauce. This is optional but does make the mac and cheese less bland. And it’s not enough to make the dish spicy.
- couple of pots – one to boil the pasta and one to make the cheese sauce
- 5 to 6 quart crock pot
- slow cooker liner – this is optional but it makes clean up much easier.
How to make slow cooker macaroni and cheese
Boil the uncooked pasta in a sauce pan for 6 to 8 minutes until it is just getting soft (a little less time than what it says on the package). It will cook more in the crock pot so don’t overdo it here. When it is done, drain the water and set the pasta aside.
Finely chop 1 small onion.
Grate the cheddar cheese. A food processor with a grate attachment makes this a breeze.
Line the crock pot with a slow cooker liner if you have one. This is totally optional, but will make clean up so much easier. Just lift it out of the crock pot and throw it in the garbage.
You could also spray the inside of the crock pot with cooking spray.
Make the cheese sauce
Melt ¼ cup (or ½ a stick) butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. The pot will need to be big enough to fit all of the cheese sauce plus the macaroni.
Add the chopped onion and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes.
Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir it in. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add about ½ cup of the chicken broth to the mixture and stir until combined.
Then pour in about ¾ cup of milk and stir until combined.
Stir in another ½ cup of the chicken broth, mixing until combined.
Repeat with the rest of the milk and then the rest of the chicken broth.
Turn the heat to medium high and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly.
Add a few drops of Tabasco sauce.
Remove the sauce from the heat.
Immediately add in half of the grated cheese (about 3 cups) to the pot and stir it until it has melted.
Finally mix the cooked pasta into the cheese mixture.
Put the macaroni and cheese together
Now pour half of the macaroni and cheese sauce mixture into the slow cooker.
Sprinkle half of the remaining grated cheese (about 1½ cups) over it. This will make the mac and cheese extra cheesy.
Then pour the rest of the macaroni and cheese sauce mixture into the crock pot.
And sprinkle the rest of the remaining grated cheese over the top.
Store for later (optional)
If you’re making it in advance, the dish can be stored in the refrigerator (for up to 3 days) or the freezer (for up to a month) at this point.
If you freeze it, take it out of the freezer the night before you plan to cook it so that it has a chance to thaw.
Cover and cook in the crock pot on low heat for about 2 hours.
The cheese will lose its texture if it is cooked too long at too high of a temperature.
I have found that my old crock pot is much hotter (even on the low setting) than my newer one.
So the mac and cheese is done in about an hour and a half.
The moral of the story? Every slow cooker is different. So you’ll need to look at it occasionally to see when it’s done.
When the cheese is completely melted and starts to get a little thicker around the edges, turn the slow cooker down to the Warm setting.
I like to leave the mac and cheese in the slow cooker without stirring so you get those layers of extra cheese when you dig in.
However, you can stir it if you prefer to have the melted cheese evenly distributed.
It can be left in the crock pot for 2 to 3 hours like this before the cheese starts to lose its texture.
Again…the amount of time that the cheese will stay good depends on how hot your crockpot is. You may want to turn it off (rather than keeping it on the warm setting) if it runs hotter than most.
Yes. Make it all the way up to putting it in the slow cooker. It can be stored in the refrigerator like this for up to 3 days. Or frozen for up to a month. Take it out of the freezer the night before so it can thaw before heating it in the crockpot on the day you want to eat it.
The cheese will curdle if it has been cooked too long at too high high of a temperature. Make sure to cook the macaroni and cheese on the low temperature of the slow cooker.
Check the amount of time it takes for your crockpot to cook. Some are hotter than others (especially older ones). And you may need to turn it off rather than keeping it on the Warm setting if it stays too hot.
Also, don’t use pre-grated cheese. It contains additives to keep it from sticking in the packaging. And those additives will also affect the texture of your mac and cheese.
They were probably cooked too long in the pot before being mixed in with the cheese sauce. The pasta should be al dente (soft but firm) when removed from the boiling water.
Other slow cooker recipes you might like
- Crockpot velveeta cheese dip
- Slow cooker chicken meatballs
- Crockpot spinach artichoke dip
- Slow cooker sweet potato casserole
- Crockpot no bean turkey chili