Looking for an easy 4 ingredient mac and cheese recipe? You’re in the right place! In this post, you’ll learn how to make a super simple one-pot mac and cheese recipe with just 4 ingredients. Ooey gooey and full of cheese, it’s the perfect weeknight meal!
One-pot mac and cheese with 4 ingredients
Who else agrees that mac and cheese is the best food? It’s hands down one of my family’s favorite meals, and they request it at the very least once a week. I’m so excited to share my take on 4 ingredient mac and cheese!
You won’t believe how easy this one-pot mac and cheese is! The recipe has the simplicity of the blue box but the taste of homemade mac and cheese. Perfectly cooked pasta, creamy cheese sauce, and a whole lotta flavor.
This pasta dish is perfect for those busy midweek nights when you need DELICIOUS food on your dinner table FAST. It’s a no-frills, honest-to-goodness, straight-up easy mac and cheese recipe that you’ll be happy to come back to again and again.
Short on time? Tap the jump-to-recipe button at the top of the page or click here to go to the printable recipe card right away!
Why you’ll love 4 ingredient mac and cheese
- Quick + easy: With 4 easy-to-find ingredients, minimal prep, and just 15 minutes of cook time, this is the easiest mac and cheese recipe you’ll ever find.
- Cheesy deliciousness: Simple doesn’t mean boring, though! A mix of cheddar and parmesan adds aromatic, cheesy goodness to every bite.
- One-pot: Clean-up will be minimal because everything is cooked in one pot!
- No roux: You won’t have to fiddle with making a roux (flour-butter mixture) to thicken the sauce – the cheese does all the work for you. Added bonus? No floury after taste!
- Kid-friendly: Your family is going to love this mac and cheese, and plates will be licked clean.
Your grocery list for this 4-ingredient mac and cheese recipe could not be simpler! See the recipe card below for the exact ingredient quantities. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Elbow pasta: The recipe calls for 12 oz of noodles, which makes 6 servings. Macaroni, elbow pasta, or shells are best. The noodles you see in the photos are conchiglie, but you can really use whatever short pasta you wish.
- Milk: You’ll need whole milk for the cheese sauce. I recommend sticking with whole milk and skipping 2% or non-fat for this recipe. You can even use half-and-half if you’d like an extra creamy cheese sauce.
- Cheddar: Extra-sharp orange cheddar gives the recipe some oomph and provides incredible aroma + character. White cheddar is perfectly fine, too. Just be sure to buy extra-sharp for maximum flavor.
- Parmesan adds a rich, salty-sweet flavor and helps to thicken the cheese sauce. While you can freshly grate parmesan, pre-grated works just as well and will save some time.
What, no spices?
Yep, that’s right. My goal was to keep the recipe as simple as possible, so I skipped the spices. Sharp cheddar and good-quality parmesan are plenty flavorful and salty on their own, meaning adding additional seasoning isn’t really necessary.
Still, if you want to add some spices, scroll to the variations section below to see my recommendations.
How to make 4 ingredient mac and cheese
Simplicity is key here! Making this stovetop mac and cheese recipe is easy! The 4 components of this pasta dish are cooked to creamy perfection in just one pot. Here’s a breakdown of the recipe step-by-step:
Step 1: Bring to a boil
Add the pasta and milk to a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. This will take approximately 5 minutes. Stir frequently, so the milk doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pot.
Step 2: Cook pasta
Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium. Stirring regularly, continue to simmer the pasta for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the noodles are al dente and cooked through. The exact cooking time will depend on your chosen type of pasta.
Step 3: Add cheese
Take the pot off the heat and put the cheese on top. Let sit for a minute or so, then stir the cheese into the pasta until the cheese melts and everything is well combined. Taste and, optionally, season with salt and pepper.
Step 4: Serve
Serve immediately and sprinkle with cracker crumbs, parsley, and a few cracks of black pepper. Enjoy!
Tips for success
4 Ingredient mac and cheese is the ultimate easy comfort dish! Here are a few helpful tips to help the recipe turn out perfectly.
- Don’t use prepackaged shredded cheddar. This cheese is coated in starches, so it doesn’t stick to the bag it’s in, which prevents the cheddar from melting as well as compared to a freshly grated cheese block. For a smooth and creamy sauce, shred the cheese yourself.
- Thinner sauce: If you’d like to thin out the sauce, add more milk by the tablespoon until the sauce reaches the desired consistency.
- Thicker sauce: To thicken the sauce, stir in more grated cheese. Keep in mind that sauce quickly thickens as it cools.
- Serve right away. This is one of those meals that tastes best served immediately because the noodles keep soaking up the sauce as it cools.
The great thing about easy mac and cheese recipes like this is that you can customize them to your liking. I have a few tasty ways to add other flavors:
- Cheese: Feel free to try a different cheese combo. Havarti, Gruyere, Asiago, Gouda, Munster, Colby, Pepper Jack, and Fontina are all delicious options for mac and cheese.
- Spices: If you want a bit of a kick, add mustard powder, red pepper flakes, or chili powder. You can also serve your 4 ingredient mac and cheese with hot sauce on the side. Alternately, try smoked paprika, Italian seasoning, or Cajun seasoning for different flavors.
- Topping: If you like a breadcrumb topping, combine 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Transfer the mac and cheese into a casserole dish, sprinkle with the breadcrumb mix, and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.
- Veggies: This 4 ingredient mac and cheese recipe is a fabulous base for veggies. Add 2 to 3 cups roasted or sauteed broccoli, bell peppers, asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms, or spinach.
- Protein: Stir in chopped cooked chicken or rotisserie chicken, cooked ground beef, ground turkey, sliced sausage, thick-cut bacon, or roasted seafood like salmon and shrimp.
- Gluten-free: For gluten-free mac and cheese, prepare the dish with your favorite gluten-free pasta.
3 Ingredient mac and cheese
To turn this recipe into a tasty 3 ingredient mac and cheese, simply omit the parmesan cheese and prepare the recipe with 1 1/2 cup cheddar instead. The pasta and milk amounts remain exactly the same.
That’s right! Just pasta, milk, and cheddar plus a pot, and you have yourself a delicious 3 ingredient mac and cheese! It’s everything you love about classic mac and cheese but with minimal ingredients. Get ready to be wowed!
How to store 4 ingredient mac and cheese
Leftover mac and cheese tastes fantastic the next day! Transfer the cooled mac and cheese into an airtight container. Store refrigerated and consume within 3 days.
Reheating one pot mac and cheese
I recommend reheating this stovetop mac and cheese the same way it was cooked. Place the mac and cheese back into the pot and heat over low to medium heat. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons milk and constantly stir until creamy and hot.
Can you freeze 4 ingredient mac and cheese?
Yes! This simple mac and cheese recipe freezes fairly well. Just note that the cheese can become a bit grainy, but still delicious. Here is what to do:
- Allow the mac and cheese cool to room temperature.
- Then transfer it into a freezer-safe container and seal it airtight.
- Label and freeze for 2 to 3 months.
- Allow defrosting in the refrigerator overnight.
- Reheat following instructions.
Making 4 ingredient mac and cheese a head of time
You can completely prepare this easy mac n cheese in advance and gently reheat it following the instructions above
If you know you will be reheating, take extra care to cook the pasta al dente by testing the pasta a few minutes before the package instructions specify. Al dente means the pasta should be soft but still have some bite.
The only caveat when make mac and cheese ahead is that it will lose some of the creaminess. Simply add additional milk to help get the texture right.
- 8 oz / 225 g short pasta (e.g., conchiglie, penne, fusilli, rigatoni, or medium shells)
- 2 3/4 cups / 650 ml / 22 fl oz milk (I recommend whole milk for the creamiest results)
- 1 cup / 120 g / 4.2 oz sharp cheddar
- 1/2 cup / 45 g / 1.6 oz parmesan cheese
- Bring to a boil. Add the pasta and milk to a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. This will take approximately 5 minutes. Stir frequently, so the milk doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pot.
- Cook pasta. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium. Stirring regularly, continue to simmer the pasta for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the noodles are al dente and cooked through. The exact cooking time will depend on your chosen type of pasta.
- Add cheese. Take the pot off the heat and put the cheese on top. Let sit for a minute or so, then stir the cheese into the pasta until the cheese melts and everything is well combined. Taste and, optionally, season with salt and pepper.
- Serve. Serve immediately and sprinkle with cracker crumbs, parsley, and a few cracks of black pepper. Enjoy
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 342Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 53mgSodium: 476mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 1gSugar: 9gProtein: 19g
More hearty pasta dishes
Pasta is so flavorful and versatile! I have put together a few more of our favorite pasta recipes that you will love for lunch and dinner. Enjoy!