Out of milk? See how to make mac and cheese without milk! This easy no milk mac and cheese are ultra-creamy and incredibly aromatic. The simple one-pot recipe uses pantry staples and comes together on the stovetop in less than 30 minutes. The post also includes a helpful list of milk substitutes for mac and cheese.
Can you make mac and cheese without milk?
Can I make mac and cheese without milk? YES, you can most definitely make the best mac and cheese without milk!
Whether you’ve just run out of milk or want to try a new way to cook this dish, my no milk mac and cheese is for you!
Homemade mac and cheese is the best meal ever! My family can’t get enough and didn’t even notice that it’s milk-free. I’m sure you’ll love this simple one-pot recipe too. It’s so quick and easy to make on the stove!
So, what’s the secret? My version uses a combination of broth and whipping cream as a substitute for milk.
I know cream isn’t an ingredient you’ll often find in mac and cheese recipes, but it yields the absolute best, ultra-creamy macaroni and cheese. And did I mention the ooey-gooey cheese sauce that coats every bite? It’s so good!
I’ve put together many useful tips and tricks for making mac-n-cheese without milk below. But if you just want to see the recipe instructions, scroll down to the recipe card below.
What does milk in mac and cheese do anyway?
Milk is a key ingredient in mac and cheese. Cooking noodles in milk makes the pasta itself creamier. Milk also acts as an emulsifier and helps melt the cheese and cook the sauce.
Without milk, mac and cheese won’t have a very creamy consistency.
Why can I just add more cheese? If you add more shredded cheese, the sauce will turn out clumpy, and the cheese will form a sticky ball – not ideal!
No worries though. You can still enjoy delicious pasta with cheese sauce! All you need is a cup or two of cream.
And if cream isn’t an option either, scroll to the bottom of this post, where you’ll find a list of all possible milk substitutes for mac and cheese.
Without further ado, let’s get cookin’ so you can be on your way to some amazing no milk mac and cheese!
Ingredients & substitutions
My version of mac and cheese without milk is on the traditional side, with classic elbow noodles and cheddar. Here’s your shopping list! This is just an overview. For the full ingredient quantities, scroll to the recipe box near the end of the post.
- Elbow macaroni pasta delivers consistent results and holds the sauce well. You can use any short noodles you have available, such as penne, farfalle, or pasta shells. Just be sure to stay away from long and thin pasta such as spaghetti or linguine.
- Cheese: We love sharp white cheddar for a strong aroma. Use mild or medium cheddar if you prefer a milder flavor. See the FAQ section for more ideas.
- Whipping cream is the milk substitute in my recipe. Cream combines perfectly with the cheese and creates the creamiest cheese sauce. 1 cup heavy cream is also fine.
- Vegetable broth: I like to use vegetable broth for extra flavor. Chicken broth can be substituted as well. Alternatively, use water if you don’t have broth available.
- Butter + flour: Cooking flour and fat together is called a roux and helps to thicken the no milk cheese sauce.
- Salt + pepper to taste. Keep in mind that aged cheddar and broth are often salty, so don’t overdo it.
- Other seasonings (optional): We like adding a little garlic powder and mustard powder. You can also swap in 1 minced garlic glove and 1 tsp prepared mustard, or skip the extra seasonings.
How to make mac and cheese without milk
Let’s take a closer look at how to make mac n cheese without milk. Once you try my easy stovetop recipe, you’ll probably want to make it again and again. Be sure to check out the video instructions, too!
#1: Create roux
- Start by melting the butter in a Dutch oven or large stockpot over medium-high heat.
- Once the butter is melted, scatter the flour on top and whisk until combined.
- Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, whisking occasionally, until the mixture looks slightly browned and smells toasty.
#2: Add liquids
- While whisking, pour in 1 cup broth (or water). Stir until completely smooth and thickened.
- Then add the reaming broth (or water) and cream, whisking well until evenly combined.
#3: Add pasta and seasonings
- Next, stir in the elbow noodles, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and mustard powder.
- Gently press the pasta down until fully submerged in liquid using a cooking spoon.
- Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook covered, occasionally stirring, for 5 minutes.
- Take off the lid and simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes or until the pasta is al dente.
#5: Melt cheese
- Remove from the stove and stir in the cheese until smooth and velvety. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.
- Serve right away and enjoy!
Tips for success
And there you have it! Perfectly creamy macaroni and cheese without milk that is as easy as it is delicious. Want to know more? Have a look at my easy tips for cooking the best mac-n-cheese.
- Don’t rinse the pasta. Rinsing removes starches from the pasta, which are needed to thicken the sauce and help the sauce cling to the pasta.
- Watch the cooking time for the perfect non-soggy texture. Elbow macaroni need to cook for 8 to 11 minutes, and you want the pasta just al dente, not soft or mushy.
- Use boldly flavored cheese so the taste isn’t bland.
- Shred the cheese yourself for a smooth and super creamy cheese sauce. Pre-shredded cheese might make the sauce gritty and grainy.
- Stir in the cheese without heat on to ensure it melts smoothly and doesn’t separate.
Did you know that mac and cheese without milk is a flexible recipe you can easily customize? Here are a couple of my favorite variation ideas!
- Different cheese: We love sharp white cheddar for our mac and cheese. Mild or medium cheddar is a good option if you prefer a lighter flavor. A combination of cheddar + Gruyere, Monterey Jack, Colby, or parmesan works too. Just keep the total amount the same. See the FAQ section for more tips.
- Other seasonings: I’ve used the seasonings my family enjoys, but feel free to add your favorites or omit some. Italian seasoning, Cajun seasoning, hot sauce, … the sky is the limit here.
- Veggies: The no milk cheese sauce pairs perfectly with vegetables. We like to add roasted carrots or broccoli from time to time. Spinach or sundried tomatoes are delish as well.
- Protein: Diced ham, shredded chicken, pulled pork, cooked shrimp, or bacon are great additions to mac and cheese.
Baked mac and cheese without milk
To make baked mac and cheese without milk, follow these steps:
- Cook mac and cheese. Prepare the dish as outlined in the recipe instructions.
- Pour into baking dish. Then transfer the mac and cheese into an oven-safe casserole or baking dish.
- Add topping. Sprinkle a little extra cheese and breadcrumbs (optional) on top.
- Bake. Bake in a 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4 oven for 20 minutes, until the top is browned and bubbling.
What to serve with mac and cheese
Mac and cheese is a filling meal all by itself. You can also serve it with a simple green salad or as a side to main dishes like roasted vegetables, fried/baked chicken, or pulled pork.
Can I make mac and cheese without butter and flour?
Sure! If you don’t butter and/or flour, simply skip the first step and follow the rest of the instructions.
What is the best cheese for mac and cheese?
Everyone seems to have their favorite cheese (or combination of cheeses) when it comes to mac-n-cheese. If you have a strong preference, go for it! This mac and cheese recipe without milk is totally flexible.
- Cheddar is the go-to choice for classic mac and cheese. I like sharp or extra sharp cheddar for a strong flavor. Mild and medium cheddar create a subtler taste and melt well.
- Colby has a nutty aroma and creamy texture, making it an excellent choice for homemade mac and cheese without milk.
- Monterey Jack has a similar taste to cheddar and Colby and melts into a delicious, gooey texture.
- Gruyere melts to a velvety texture and creates a complex aroma that pairs perfectly with pasta. Consider combining cheddar and Gruyere for the best aroma.
- Parmesan is a salty cheese with lots of tasty flavor. I like a combination of 3/4 cheddar + 1/4 parmesan. Aged parmesan is pretty salty, so be sure to adjust the amount of salt accordingly.
- Fontina is very versatile and a great melting cheese if you like extra creamy, buttery mac and cheese.
- Gouda is another creamy cheese. Young gouda provides a mild flavor, whereas aged and smoked goudas give a more robust flavor.
How do you grate cheese?
Grating cheese is simple and quick! First, you’ll need a cheese grater. I prefer a box grater, but a handheld grater will also work.
- Place the box grater on a chopping board or large plate.
- Hold the handle firmly with one hand move the block of cheese up and down the grater until it’s all shredded.
- Watch your fingertips when you get to the last bit of cheese.
- You can also use a food processor to shred the cheese.
Can I use pre-grated cheese for mac and cheese?
No, freshly grated cheese is the way to go! Pre-grated cheese shreds are coated in starch to prevent them from sticking together, resulting in a weird, grainy texture.
How to store mac and cheese
Keep completely cooled leftover mac and cheese in an airtight container. Store refrigerated and eat within 2 to 3 days.
Can you freeze mac and cheese?
Yes, mac and cheese freezes well. Place your mac and cheese in a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag. Make sure the pasta has fully cooled off to room temperature. Freeze for up to 3 months.
How to thaw frozen mac and cheese
Let thaw in the fridge overnight. I don’t recommend thawing in the microwave as this tends to dry it out.
How to reheat mac and cheese
Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop. Use medium to low heat, so the cheese doesn’t separate. You may have to add a splash of cream or water to thin the sauce out and prevent the noodles from drying out.
Making mac and cheese ahead of time
Macaroni and cheese without milk tastes best fresh. I don’t recommend making this dish ahead of time because you will lose some of the creaminess.
However, you can shred the cheese in advance and store it covered in the fridge for 24 hours.
- 1 lb / 450 g / 16 oz uncooked elbow pasta (can sub for penne, farfalle, or pasta shells)
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 5 cups / 1200 ml / 40 fl oz broth (or water)
- 1 1/2 cups / 350 ml / 12 fl oz whipping cream (or 1 cup / 240 ml / 8.4 fl oz heavy cream)
- 12 oz / 3 cups / 340 g freshly grated sharp white cheddar (measured after grating)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder (optional)
- 1/2 tsp mustard powder (optional)
- Create roux. Start by melting the butter in a Dutch oven or large stockpot over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted, scatter the flour on top and whisk until combined. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, whisking occasionally, until the mixture looks slightly browned and smells toasty. Cooking flour and fat together is called a roux and helps to thicken the no milk cheese sauce.
- Add liquids. While whisking, pour in 1 cup broth (or water). Stir until completely smooth and thickened. Then add the reaming broth (or water) and cream, whisking well until evenly combined.
- Add pasta and seasonings. Next, stir in the elbow noodles, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and mustard powder. Gently press the pasta down until fully submerged in liquid using a cooking spoon.
- Cook. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook covered, occasionally stirring, for 5 minutes. Take off the lid and simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes or until the pasta is al dente.
- Melt cheese. Remove from the stove and stir in the cheese until smooth and velvety. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.
- Serve. Serve right away and enjoy!
- Fridge: Keep completely cooled leftover mac and cheese in an airtight container. Store refrigerated and eat within 2 to 3 days.
Freezer: Place your mac and cheese in a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag. Make sure the pasta has fully cooled off to room temperature. Freeze for up to 3 months.
Thaw: Let thaw in the fridge overnight. I don't recommend thawing in the microwave as this tends to dry it out.
Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop. Use medium to low heat, so the cheese doesn't separate. You may have to add a splash of cream or water to thin the sauce out and prevent the noodles from drying out.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 542Total Fat: 37gSaturated Fat: 22gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 109mgSodium: 685mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 1gSugar: 4gProtein: 19g
More mac and cheese recipes
Homemade mac and cheese is the best, amirite? If you love it as much as we do, you’ll have to try some of our other mac and cheese recipes too. They are easy, delicious and be a huge hit with your family!
- Evaporated Milk Mac and Cheese
- Simple Mac and Cheese without Flour
- Popeyes Mac and Cheese (Easy Copycat Recipe)
- Chick Fil A Mac and Cheese
- Velveeta Mac and Cheese
- 4-Ingredient Mac and Cheese
Milk substitutes for mac and cheese
What can you substitute for milk in mac and cheese? Before signing off, I want to talk a little more about substitutes for milk in mac and cheese. You have lots of options. Have a look!
We already talked about cream, which in my opinion, is the best stand-in for milk. Cream makes the texture full and rich and blends beautifully with the cheese.
You can use heavy cream and whipping cream interchangeably and probably won’t even notice that milk was substituted.
Because cream is richer than milk, you need less cream than milk. Just be sure to increase the water content to keep the amount of liquid the same.
Cream cheese is an excellent substitute for milk in mac and cheese! The tick texture provides fantastic creaminess and goes well with the other cheese. For tasty variations, use herb- or chili-flavored cream cheese.
To use it, substitute 1/2 cup cream cheese for each cup of milk. Before adding the cream cheese to the pot, soften it or thin it out with hot cooking water.
You can’t go wrong with half-and-half as a 1-to-1 replacement for milk in mac and cheese. As the name implies, the product consists of half milk and half cream.
If you love super creamy mac and cheese, you’ll love it. In fact, some recipes use half-and-half instead of regular milk from the get-go, such as this mac and cheese with half and half.
Evaporated milk has less water content than regular milk. To use it, combine equal parts of water and evaporated milk and then use the same quantities required by your mac and cheese recipe. Try our evaporated milk mac and cheese – it’s a reader favorite!!
By the way, evaporated milk and condensed milk are 2 different things. Condensed milk has a sweet toffee-like flavor and thicky, syrupy consistency. I think condensed milk is way too sweet for savory dishes and best reserved for desserts.
Next on our list is sour cream. Sour cream works well and produces a nice creamy texture but introduces a tangy note. I liked the slightly sour taste, but my husband didn’t care much for it.
Since sour cream is thicker than milk, use less, approximately 1/2 cup sour cream for every cup of milk.
Plain yogurt is probably my least favorite milk replacement for mac and cheese. While the flavor is fine, yogurt doesn’t deliver the same creamy results as the other ideas. If you can, use Greek yogurt.
If making mac and cheese with yogurt, heat the dish slowly. Yogurt tends to split and curdle if heated too quickly.
If you happen to have a pack of milk powder lying around, you’re golden. Reconstitute the milk following the manufacturer’s instructions and use it to prepare your cheese sauce.
Milk from milk powder tends to be a bit thicker than regular milk. If that’s the case, think it out with extra water or broth.
Dairy-free milks are another alternative to regular (dairy) milk. For the best results, use unsweetened, unflavored milk.
Keep in mind that each non-dairy milk has a characteristic flavor that will be noticeable in the finished meal.
The following plant milks can be used as a 1-to-1 milk substitute, except for coconut milk. Coconut milk is thicker and richer than the other options, and you’ll need less.
- Cashew milk comes close to dairy milk in terms of texture and flavor.
- Almond milk is another good non-dairy substitute, albeit sweeter than cashew milk.
- Soy milk will result in creamy mac and cheese, but you’ll definitely notice the aroma.
- Rice milk is thinner than the other options and produces a lighter sauce. I think the flavor pairs well with cheese and pasta.
- Oat milk tastes neutral and makes for an excellent milk substitute in mac and cheese.
- Coconut milk works surprisingly well. You’ll notice a slight change in flavor, but it isn’t overpowering.
- Hemp seed milk has a pronounced nutty flavor. We found it a bit strong, but you may like it.
This post was first publish in December 2021 and has been updated with new content in May 2023.