Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

4.75 from 28 votes
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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.

Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

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.

elbow noodles in a pressure cooker

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.

pouring evaporated milk into an Instant Pot with macaroni 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.

Graded cheddar cheese and Monterey Jack cheese with pasta noodles

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

serving spoon scooping mac and cheese from an Instant Pot

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

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.
4.75 from 28 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Course Side
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni, shell or Cavatappi
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard, or yellow mustard
  • 3 cups evaporated milk
  • 1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 ½ cups shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • black pepper

Instructions 

  • 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.

Equipment

Notes

  • 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. 

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 8 servings
Calories 491kcal (25%)Carbohydrates 51g (17%)Protein 24g (48%)Fat 21g (32%)Saturated Fat 13g (65%)Cholesterol 66mg (22%)Sodium 655mg (27%)Potassium 422mg (12%)Fiber 2g (8%)Sugar 10g (11%)Vitamin A 578IU (12%)Vitamin C 2mg (2%)Calcium 548mg (55%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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13 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. sawrigh says

    This was an easy and delicious classic creamy mac ‘n’ cheese. I will keep this in rotation, for sure. I used dried ground mustard and upped it to 3 teaspoons just because I know I like the ground mustard flavor, plus 2 teaspoons paprika. Fantastic!

  2. Dee says

    His Jessica,
    I would love to make this for Thanksgiving, but don’t know how far in advance I can make it. Will the mac and cheese keep for about 2 hrs if I set the IP on “warm” after stirring in the milk and cheese?
    Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I think 2 hours would be okay to keep on warm. Just make sure to check it and stir a few times before stirring so it doesn’t get stuck to the bottom of the pot. Let me know how it goes!

      • Dee says

        Hi Jessica! So I made the mac and cheese for Thanksgiving as planned. I think the max time to keep this Mac and cheese on warm in the IP is 1 hour, the pasta became too dry after that.
        This recipe will definitely be on my Thanksgiving side dish rotation because it’s so yummy and quick to make! Thank you again.

        • Jessica Gavin says

          Thanks for the tip, Dee! I agree, I made it for thanksgiving too and it’s the cheesiest when eaten within 30 to 45 minutes.

  3. Amy says

    This looks amazing. Do you know how using whole wheat elbows changes pressure cook time or liquid amounts?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I think you can keep the time and liquid amounts the same for whole wheat pasta since it’s an enclosed chamber. Let me know how it goes!

  4. Lynn Meadows says

    During the winter holidays, you just want something hot, gooey, and yummy. Mac and Cheese is my favorite comfort food and this recipe is so delicious. Thank you Jessica for sharing this =)

  5. Brenna says

    This turned out amazingly! I doubled up the recipe in my 6qt instant pot and had zero issues! It was a hit at my thanksgiving potluck and with my fiancé as leftovers 🙂 We’re gonna try this with a gluten free pasta next time! Thanks again Jessica!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      So happy to hear that you enjoyed the recipe Brenna! Good to know that the recipe can be easily doubled. Let me know how the gluten-free pasta turns out!