This Instant Pot Mac and Cheese recipe is the BEST version of this classic comfort food. Velvety, creamy, and cheesy are still the name of the game in this healthier version of macaroni and cheese that uses less cheese than your average recipe. This hands-off, one-pot meal is easy to make with no draining of the water and is ready in 15 minutes! A handful of traditional ingredients make this flavour-loaded mac and cheese truly irresistible!
Our other modern day pressure cooker family favorites around here are Instant Pot cabbage rolls, Instant Pot spaghetti, and Instant Pot chicken and rice. Instant Pot comfort meals for the win all day every day!
Table of contents
- Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
- Why This Recipe for Mac and Cheese Instant Pot Works?
- Ingredients for Instant Pot Macaroni and Cheese
- How to Make Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
- Optional Add-Ins and Variations
- Tips for Best Pressure Cooker Mac and Cheese Results
- Serving Recommendations
- Making Instant Pot Macaroni and Cheese in Advance
- More Instant Pot Pasta Recipes
Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
Homemade macaroni and cheese is a simple meal, not only because it’s so easy to make but because it’s humble yet delicious and loaded with flavour. For healthy pasta dishes it works as a main or a side dish and is customizable to whatever you want to add to it to make it a complete comfort meal. The creamy melted cheesy macaroni is something people just can’t get enough of!
Instant Pot macaroni and cheese is the best and fastest way to make it. When making the pressure cooker mac and cheese, it’s a dump and set recipe. This is exactly the kind of recipe you want to have on hand when you are feeling uninspired, tired, and have no idea what to make for dinner. It’s also great for when you’re running low on groceries.
Let’s be honest though, we never need an excuse to make delicious mac and cheese, it’s perfect as part of your summer Instant Pot recipes. We make it because we love it and it makes people happy!
Add all the ingredients (except the cheese and milk) and let the Instant Pot do all the work. There’s no draining the pasta after you make pressure cooker mac and cheese because through the cooking process the pasta absorbs the liquid. Then, once it’s done cooking you stir in the milk and cheese and there you have it. Creamy, velvety, and cheesy. The ultimate in quick and easy comfort food. Seriously, good luck stopping at just 1 serving!
My stovetop healthy mac and cheese recipe requires constant stirring and baked mac and cheese with cauliflower needs time to bake, so when I’m short on time, Instant Pot mac and cheese is my go-to (unless I am feeling like a little spicy, then I make chili mac!).
I like to make recipes as healthy as possible so I use less cheese than your average recipe, but trust me you won’t notice, and I also use whole wheat pasta just like in healthy macaroni salad. Gluten-free or white pasta works as well.
So, this recipe serves 6 as I’m not a fan of macaroni and cheese leftovers (I know, I know). You can also cut ingredients in half and keep the same cooking time to make less. However, if you want leftovers you can make a little more, or keep some for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner.
Why This Recipe for Mac and Cheese Instant Pot Works?
- Super easy, hands-off, and one-pot pressure cooker mac and cheese recipe for easy cleanup. With no draining the pasta!
- Total comfort food. It’s cheesy, creamy, and did I mention cheesy without too much cheese?
- It’s a versatile dish so it can be used as a main dish served with a side salad or it can be a side to complete any meal.
- Leftovers can be reheated and enjoyed the next day (you know, if that’s your thing).
- This healthier version uses less cheese, whole wheat pasta but can be customized to your preferences.
Ingredients for Instant Pot Macaroni and Cheese
- Pasta: Traditional elbow shape pasta is the classic. Any other small shape pasta that can hold the sauce like shells works. Whole wheat, white, or gluten-free will do well in this recipe for pressure cooker mac and cheese.
- Cheese: I use marble or Tex Mex cheese because it melts well, adds colour, and is available organic. A good quality sharp cheddar is also nice.
- Milk: I always have 3.25% on hand so that’s what I use. 1% or 2% will work. Just keep in mind, the higher the fat content, the creamier the mac and cheese.
- Spices: A touch of mustard, garlic powder, salt, and pepper is all a good macaroni and cheese needs.
Tip: I recommend buying a block of cheese and grating it yourself as it will not be coated in anti-caking agents that prevent cheese from melting. Also, there is such a difference in quality and taste when using freshly grated cheese.
How to Make Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
- Add pasta, butter, spices, and water to any size Instant Pot. Most Instant Pot recipes do not require stirring but here I prefer to stir to make sure the pasta cooks through.
- Cook for 3 minutes on high pressure with the lid closed and valve set to Sealing. It will take your pressure cooker about 5-7 minutes to come to pressure. The smaller the pot, the faster it pressurizes.
- Wait 8 minutes before releasing pressure. This means you will do a partial natural release. If you turn the valve to Venting right away pasta water will splatter everywhere. Once the 8 minutes is up, then go ahead and turn the valve to venting to finish the release of pressure.
- Open the lid and stir the pasta. If you see some is stuck together, just separate it gently with a spoon.
- Add cheese in portions stirring in between. Instant Pot macaroni and cheese might look stringy but once you start stirring in the milk, it will become creamy.
- Add milk. We like creamy macaroni and cheese, so 1 cup is the perfect amount for us. You can add less and in portions if you prefer. Keep in mind pasta soaks up liquid by the minute.
Optional Add-Ins and Variations
- More mustard: You can add more mustard, use Dijon instead of yellow mustard or skip all together. We like just a tiny touch because it does give it a bit of extra tang to our Instant Pot macaroni and cheese.
- Extra heat: A touch of hot sauce adds more flavour than it does heat. It’s nice! Sriracha, Frank’s Red hot or even a touch of cayenne (ok, so this one has heat), will work.
- Spices and seasonings: Everything bagel, Montreal steak spice, paprika, nutmeg, soy sauce and even honey are great additions for you creative types 🙂
- Bacon: Leftover chopped bacon crumbles. I like to bake mine at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes until nice and crispy. Way less mess and they’re basically ready by the time the mac and cheese is done.
- Dairy free: Use your favorite plant based milk and cheese but keep in mind taste will change and so might the texture.
- Lactose free: By all means, lactose free milk and cheese are readily available at most grocery stores and will have the same taste and texture in the end.
- Broth: Using chicken or vegetable broth instead of water will give your macaroni and cheese another layer of flavour.
- A few readers asked to use yogurt instead of milk. Absolutely you can, mac and cheese will be more tangy. Sour cream would have the same effect.
Tips for Best Pressure Cooker Mac and Cheese Results
- How long to cook gluten-free pasta: I would cook it for 1 minute with the same 8-minute pressure release. This means you set the time to 1 minute but it still cooks as the pressure builds and releases.
- If pasta appears undercooked: Try this. Close the lid, let it sit for 5 minutes and let the residual heat continue to cook the pasta. Don’t fret, it will get there.
- 3 quart Instant Pot: No changes to the recipe are necessary.
- Double the recipe? Yes, in 6 or 8 quart Instant Pot only. 3 quart is too small for that.
It could be due to a few reasons. The first being the altitude of where you live affecting the pressure. The second, is perhaps you didn’t add enough liquid to your pot. In order for the noodles to cook properly and absorb the right amount of liquid, you need to make sure your liquid to pasta ratio is spot on. Last, even if your pasta to liquid ratio is right, if you didn’t make sure all pieces of pasta were submerged in the liquid, that could have been the cause for some of it to remain undercooked.
Here you may have run into the opposite problem of adding too much liquid for the amount of pasta. Either that or you let it naturally release for too long, especially for the type of pasta you used. It still cooks as it sits in the pot during the building of the pressure, the cooking time, as well as the releasing of the pressure. If you’re not following the time accurately, you can easily overcook the macaroni.
A little bit of excess water is ok if you’re happy with the texture of your pasta. Too much water is a sign you just used too much for the type and amount of pasta. The water will eventually absorb if it’s just a bit. If it’s more than just a bit, you could choose to drain it and keep going or keep it and use less milk.
Now you’re speaking my language! For some reason I don’t enjoy leftover macaroni and cheese (let me know in the comments if you feel this way too!), so halving this recipe or making in a 3 qt pot is up my alley. You’ll still have enough for 2 portions if you’re eating it as a main meal. If you’re using it as a side, you may still get a bit of leftovers, depending on portion sizes of course.
Obviously, we like pasta and cheese on its own. I mean, what’s not to like?! 🙂 But to make it healthier and a complete meal, here are a few ideas:
- Chicken: Serve with baked chicken breast or oven baked chicken thighs for a protein-packed dinner.
- Veggies: Roasted cauliflower or baked asparagus adds necessary fibre, vitamins, and colour to the plate. No time? We always whip up this green smoothie when in a rush.
- Side dish: Making this recipe as a side dish? Check out these healthy Thanksgiving recipes and holiday recipes.
- Dessert: Finish off your meal with a homemade peach cobbler made in the Instant Pot.
Please enjoy without the guilt and if you are looking for something lower carb, check out spaghetti squash mac and cheese! 🙂
Making Instant Pot Macaroni and Cheese in Advance
- Keep Warm function: Keep in mind pasta absorbs liquids fast and the longer you heat it, the faster the sauce dries out and the pasta becomes mushy. You can rehydrate it by adding a splash of milk take it off the warm function and just reheat it before serving.
Storing & Reheating
- Storing: Pasta doesn’t freeze well. You can refrigerate leftovers for up to 2 days. Or make less, by cutting recipe ingredients in half and keep the same cook time.
- To reheat: In the Instant pot, press Sauté and add a splash of water. Stir gently until heated through. Milk burns in a pressure cooker easily, so that’s why I recommend water. On the stovetop, do the same over low heat. If you’re only reheating a serving or two, pop it in the microwave.
More Instant Pot Pasta Recipes
- Instant Pot chicken alfredo
- Instant Pot parmesan chicken pasta
- Instant Pot ground beef stroganoff
- Instant Pot meatballs (one pot with pasta too)
- Browse 45 healthy Instant Pot recipes for dinner ideas.
Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
- To any size Instant Pot, add pasta, butter, mustard, garlic powder, salt, pepper and water.
- Close the lid, turn pressure release valve to Sealing and press Pressure Cook on High or Manual for 3 minutes.
- After allow pressure come down naturally for 8 minutes to prevent splatters all over your counter. Then turn pressure release valve to Venting to release remaining pressure.
- Open the lid and stir pasta gently.
- Add cheese in portions, stirring in between. It might look stringy.
- Then add milk in 1/4 cup portions until desired consistency, stirring in between. Mac and cheese will become creamy.
- Serve immediately.
- Store: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 2 days. Or make less, by cutting recipe ingredients in half and keep same cook time. Reheat on Sauté in Instant Pot and add a splash of water. Stir gently until heated through.
- Freeze: Pasta doesn’t freeze well.
- More mustard: You can add more mustard, use Dijon instead of yellow mustard or skip all together. We like just a tiny touch.
- Dairy free/Lactose free: Use your favorite plant based milk and cheese but keep in mind taste will change. A few readers asked to use yogurt instead of milk. Absolutely you can, mac and cheese will be more tangy.
- How long to cook gluten free pasta: I would cook it for 1 minute with same 8 minute pressure release.
- If pasta appears undercooked: Usually due to altitude or whatever other reason because it is Instant Pot. Then close the lid, let it sit for 5 minutes and it will get there.
- Instant Pot size: No changes to recipe necessary if using 3 quart Instant Pot. Recipe can be doubled in 6 or 8 quart Instant Pot only.