Looking for easy comfort food? This Instant Pot mac and cheese recipe is the answer! The pressure cooker allows you to skip the colander draining step, and the combination of evaporated milk, cheddar, & Monterey Jack cheese creates the most flavorful sauce.
In under 30 minutes, the Instant Pot makes flavorful macaroni and cheese the whole family will love. This homemade dish is rich, cheesy, and luxurious. The convenience is that boiling the pasta noodles and making the sauce happens all in one place with no extra pots or colander to clean.
This recipe makes for a fast dinner or side dish when stovetop space is limited. It begins with pressure cooking dried noodles with just enough water to absorb and tenderize them to about al dente. The pasta is then combined with evaporated milk, two types of cheese, and a little bit of mustard to create the most flavorful cream sauce.
Cooking dried macaroni under pressure
The right ratio of pasta-to-water is 1 pound dried noodles (about 6 cups) to 3 cups of water. This gives the Instant Pot just enough water to boil and cook the macaroni in 5 minutes under high pressure. In that brief period of time, the pasta absorbs all of the liquid. No draining necessary.
Evaporated milk replaces roux
The concentrated milk solids in the evaporated milk are what replace the thickening power of flour in a roux. The consistency is not as thick as a bechamel sauce typically used in a classic macaroni and cheese. However, since the starches in the pasta water don’t get drained, they add body and smoothness to the sauce that sticks nicely to the noodles.
What is evaporated milk?
It’s an unsweetened cows milk that has been heat-processed and pasteurized to remove about 60% of the water. According to the USDA Commercial Item Description, regular evaporated milk must contain not less than 6.5 percent of total milk fat.
It’s a shelf-stable canned or tetra-packed product that has a slightly sweet taste, medium viscosity, and beige color from the thermal canning process. The lactose (milk sugar), proteins, minerals (like calcium), and fats are solids in the milk that concentrate down, creating a much creamier consistency than fresh milk.
Two types of cheese
I use equal ratios of sharp Cheddar cheese and Monterey Jack cheese for the sauce. The aged cheddar provides a slightly tangy flavor and an orange hue. Monetary Jack has a higher moisture level which creates that sought out creamy cheese pull. I find that 3 cups total is plenty, any more and it gets too clumpy and sticky.
Storing and reheating
This Instant Pot macaroni and cheese can be stored in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat in small batches in the microwave. Heat on “high” power setting in 30-second intervals, stirring in between until pasta is warm.
Can this be made on the stovetop?
Yes! If desired, simply follow the manufacturer’s direction on how long to boil the noodles. Drain the water, leaving about ¼ cup in the pan. Stir in the mustard, salt, and then add in the evaporated milk. Warm up the milk over medium heat for a few minutes, turn off the heat, then gradually stir in the cheeses until completely melted.
Alternative mix-ins to add flavor
- Cayenne, chili powder or chopped jalapenos
- Smoked paprika
- Garlic powder or onion powder
- Chopped bacon, grilled chicken, or pulled pork
- Parmesan, smoked gouda, or gruyere cheese
What I serve this with
Can milk, cream, or half-and-half be substituted for evaporated milk?
Regular milk will not provide the same rich consistency and needs to cook down longer to concentrate the solids. Half-and-half is closer to the amount of fat, but still slightly higher and would need to simmer before adding the cheese. Heavy cream has nearly double the fat, so add in half as much otherwise the sauce will become too greasy.
Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
- 1 pound (454 g) elbow macaroni, shell or Cavatappi
- 3 cups (720 ml) water
- 1 teaspoon (6 g) kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) dijon mustard, or yellow mustard
- 3 cups (24 ounces) evaporated milk
- 1 ½ cups (173 g) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 ½ cups (173 g) shredded Monterey jack cheese
- black pepper
- Add noodles, water, salt, and mustard in the Instant Pot, stir to combine.
- Make sure that the release valve is in the "Sealing" position.
- Place the lid on the Instant Pot, turn and lock.
- Press "Manual" button on the Instant Pot on high pressure, and then set the timer to 5 minutes using the "+" or "-" buttons.
- It will take about 10 minutes for the pot to heat up and build up pressure. You will see some steam release from the lid, and then the time will start on the display.
- Once cook time is complete, turn off by pressing the “Cancel/Warm” button.
- Carefully quick-release the pressure by turning the steam release handle on the lid to "Venting" position.
- Carefully remove the lid, opening the top away from you as steam will be released from the pot.
- Select "Saute" on the Instant Pot.
- Add the evaporated milk. Stir occasionally until the sauce has warmed up, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Turn off the heat by hitting the “Cancel/Warm” button.
- Gently stir in cheeses, about a ½ cup at a time, until completely melted and sauce is smooth.
- Taste and season with more salt and pepper as desired. Serve warm.
- Dijon mustard can be substited for 1 ½ teaspoons of dried mustard.
- Store macaroni and cheese for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.
- Reheat in small batches in the microwave on "High" power in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until warmed through.