Quick Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

Cheddar cheese can be notoriously stringy when melted. To keep the cheese from getting too stringy, it helps to coat it lightly with some flour or cornstarch. Adding some water to the sauce helps, as well as some lemon juice. Stirring encourages stringiness so keep the stirring to a minimum.

  • Yield: Serves 3-4 adults or 4-6 kids


  • 1/2 lb cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 cups, packed)
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/4 cup milk, heated until steamy, but not simmering
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup ham, chopped into 1/4 inch cubes
  • Freshly grated black pepper


1 In a medium sized bowl, mix cornstarch with the grated cheese, so that the cheese is coated, set aside. The cornstarch will help the cheese from getting too stringy.

2 Cook the macaroni pasta in boiling water: Heat 2 quarts of water with a tablespoon of salt to a rolling boil in thick-bottomed saucepan. Add 2 cups of elbow macaroni and follow the cooking time instructions on the package, minus about 2 minutes. (If your macaroni doesn't come with instructions, start checking at 7 minutes).

Cook until al dente—cooked through, but still slightly firm. Drain the pasta.

3 While the macaroni is cooking, prepare the sauce: Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a large saucepan on medium heat. Whisk in 2 Tbsp flour. Let cook for about a minute.

Slowly dribble in 1 1/4 cups milk, while whisking (to avoid clumping) until the sauce is smooth.

Slowly add the grated cheese, whisking until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice.

4 Add the cooked macaroni and ham to the cheese sauce. Stir to combine. Do not over-mix. Sprinkle with some freshly grated black pepper.

Serve immediately.

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  • Cliff

    Great recipe! My cheese sauce came out velvety smooth. The key is drizzling in the milk, which is steaming; and then being really slow with the cheese! I make a lot of cheese fondue, so it was similar in technique! Kids LOVED it!


  • Janet

    This is the best Macaroni and cheese I’ve made. Great recipe.. Easy, creamy and very tasty. I have a similar recipe that adds peas and Canadian bacon. I think the trick is the lemon juice.

  • Lynn

    My suggestion is for the leftovers. For a second meal, cut the leftover mac and cheese into serving size squares and fry on both sides in melted butter. It gets real brown and crispy and truly tasty. Enjoy.

  • melissa

    can you subsitute all purpose flour instead of cornstarch

    • Elise

      The purpose of the corn starch is to help keep the cheese from getting too stringy when melted. I don’t know if using flour instead of cornstarch would accomplish the same thing. If you try it, please let us know how it turns out for you.

  • Tracie

    Easy and oh so good! It was also easy to cut the recipe in half for two. The sauce did turn gritty once it cooled a bit. Any recommendations on how to avoid that?

  • Rachel

    This was so easy to make! The only thing was my sauce turned out grainy, I’m not sure what the cause was. Maybe cooking too high?

  • Liz

    I just made this and it was super tasty, the best macaroni cheese ever. I made some slight mods and it came out great.

    I didn’t have any lemons or ham in the fridge so i left those out and inserted a decent grating (about the amount i would usually have on a pasta dish as a garnish) of parmesan when the chedder was melted. Rather than grating the cheddar and coating in corn starch i just cubed it and put it straight in the roux. No problems with stringiness at all.

    Can’t wait to make this again. Next time i’ll add a little dash of tabasco/worcestershire sauce or mustard powder for a bit of kick.

    Yummy yummy!

  • Alena

    I have made this recipe a few times and have noticed the following things regarding graininess:

    1) Making a good roux is essential. If your roux is not “cooked” you will not have a smooth sauce. It shouldn’t be brown at all, just a smooth and thick consistency. I usually cook it for one minute or so, whisking the entire time. Also, using room temp or warm milk will greatly benefit your roux.

    2) You must use enough cheese. If you don’t use enough cheese the sauce will taste of flour and it won’t have the same mouth-feel. Two cups PACKED is important.

    3) Adding a quarter cup of fontina to the cheddar mix helps achieve a creamy texture.

    Hope these help!

  • Kara

    I made this last night, and my three year old was very impressed (as were the adults of the house)! Thank you for sharing this recipe. It was perfect.

  • Patrick O'Connell

    I’ve tried a lot of Mac & Cheese recipes and this is the best. Great recipe!

    Of course like most everyone I modified it to my own preferences. I eliminated the ham, and used penne rigate instead of elbow macaroni (I needed to double the pasta). I replaced about 1/4 of the cheddar with gruyere for extra flavor, and seasoned lightly with fresh nutmeg.

    I put the mac and cheese in bowls, sprinkled each with a little parmesan and buttered breadcrumbs, then put them briefly under the broiler.

    Best Mac & Cheese I’ve ever eaten!

    Next time I will cut the butter in half.

  • Jenny

    This is just like the mac and cheese I learned to make from my mother, except that I saute an onion in the butter before adding the flour and I use just a touch of white wine (about a quarter-cup) in addition to the milk. I love the onion combined with the cheddar. And it bakes up just fine, really.

  • Cheryl S.

    This is pretty similar to the recipe I’ve always used, with the exception of the cornstarch and lemon juice. I hoped it would make a difference, but as always, the cheese sauce came out somewhat grainy (creamy to look at – not separated, but grainy to the taste). I simply can never get a silky-smooth cheese sauce with “real” cheese, but it practically kills me to buy Velveeta.

    I’m a reasonably good cook, and have no problem with any other roux-based sauces. Is it something I do wrong, or is that just the nature of a sauce made with good-quality cheese?

    Good question. I don’t know. I haven’t experienced the graininess people are talking about, but then I don’t really eat the boxed stuff so don’t have anything to compare it to. ~Elise

  • Lori B.

    This is in response to ChefRoy who says he doesn’t use cornstarch because it’s GMO, which he wants to avoid. You can buy Organic cornstarch at your local food coop(I buy it in small quantities from the bulk bins). No Certified Organic food is allowed to contain any GMO ingredients.

  • Katherine

    I made this for my EXTREMELY PICKY boyfriend last night, and he literally devoured it – three helpings (from a skinny guy!). Kudos for the great recipe, Elise. I added a bit more flour to my roux, was a bit more generous with my salt, and omitted the lemon. It was just a tad grainy, but I think it’s due to the quality of the (block, not pre-shredded) cheese. Next time I’d like to experiment with things like Muenster and Parmesan, now that I have a good base recipe.

    This recipe is definitely a keeper!

  • Stephanie

    I have been looking for a homemade mac-n-cheese recipe that doesn’t involve processed American-like cheese, so far the ones I have tried I haven’t liked because they come out grainy in texture. This one is close to what I am looking for, still a tad grainy but I think I can work with it. I agree with what another person said, I probably could cook more macaroni and stretch the sauce with extra milk- the sauce is pretty thick. Perhaps would not be so grainy if it weren’t so thick. Either way, I liked the flavor, and though I didn’t have any ham on hand, the basic recipe definitely lends itself to additions of all types (broccoli, ham, chicken, bacon, red peppers, green peppers, etc.). I love to hear everyone’s twists on it, too!

  • ChefRoy

    Hi everyone, just thought I would put my thoughts in as well. This is very similar to my Mac and Cheese and Chorizo. I don’t use ham, but brown some good low fat chorizo and mix half of it into the sauce and macaroni and then crumble the remainder onto the dishes when I serve it along with some sliced scallions. Of course I also make my own macaroni and mix in lots of chili type seasoning in with the whole wheat flour before I extrude the macaroni. And of course I don’t use corn starch as it is GMO and we here in Austin try to avoid GMO foods. But plain like here, I bet it is plenty good, try it with chorizo and be amazed.

  • Jenny

    The recipe was simple to make but didn’t have much flavor even though I used a sharp cheddar cheese. Any suggestions on how to bring out the cheesy flavor like in boxed macaroni and cheese? Thanks.

    Add more salt. ~Elise

  • Jacquie

    I am a big fan and this recipe is definity quick. However, it left me with ” mehhh”.

    I would also add, “Wash Immediately” or at least put it to soak as soon as possible.

  • Kate

    This is the easiest ever!

    1 lb macaroni, cooked
    1 block sharp cheddar, sliced or shredded
    milk for drizzling
    saltine crackers, crushed

    Mix the macaroni and cheese together in greased casserole dish. Drizzle milk over the top…doesn’t take much, maybe a half cup or so.
    Sprinkle cracker crumbs over top and season with pepper as desired.

    Bake in 350 degree oven for about 20 mins until cheese is melted.

    No mess, no fuss, no sloppy sauce!

  • Dara

    How great is it when kids try something out of their comfort zones and absolutely love it? What a great, easy mac & cheese that comes together as quickly as the boxed version (and tastes so much better). I like to add some spicy or Dijon mustard to mine for an extra kick of flavor.

  • Carol

    This is a good recipe. However, my favorite is from my Grandma. Instead of the ham–she cooked a several strips of bacon crisp and crumbled it up in the mixture. Good ol comfy food!!

  • Ruth

    I don’t know about you; but,yes,I DO need some comfort food just now………..since YOUR Giants defeated MY Phillies and took the National League Championship away from them.
    Pardon me while I go drown my unhappiness in mac and cheese……….and choke Ryan Howard with whatever leftovers I have.

  • rayna

    I came on your site tonight looking for some recipes for apples, after coming home from apple picking today, and saw this first. I’ve always loved this recipe; it’s the only way I make mac-n-cheese anymore! I dress it up many ways, scallions, bacon, heavy cream, whatever I have on hand. Unless it’s a special occasion and I go to the traditional “baked” style, this is the best recipe for macaroni I make in our house.

  • Rebecca

    I found this recipe a few months ago. It is now part of my recipe repertoire. Quick and easy enough to make during the week when you get home from work beat, and our two year old loves it. Thanks for this and many other great recipes!

  • G

    Cheddar is not really findable here in Berlin, so we are eating the Annie’s that we bring over with us. Is there any German or Dutch cheese that you think might be a good substitute? It’s hard for me to tell, because I spend a lot of time missing Vermont extra sharp.

    I think it would be pretty darn good with Gruyure. ~Elise

  • doodles

    My husband is a purist when it comes to mac & cheese……….no additions. Sometimes he doesn’t mind left over rotisserie chicken added.
    This is so easy, simple AND good………thanks!! And yes I grate my cheese most of the time and coat w/flour or cornstarch.

  • David Sandford

    My recipe doesn’t use as much cheese and starts with a roux. (Basically it’s just a weak chicken gravy with cheese added) I started making it this way many years ago after I’d been run over by a hit and run driver, was still healing, and didn’t have enough money to buy much produce.

    My cheese sauce recipe:

    (I’ve never measured the amounts that I use when making this dish, so my measurements are just a guess).

    1/4 cup of Crisco (you can use butter or oil, I now often use olive oil as a healthier alternative)
    1/4 flour
    2 cups water
    1 to 2 tsp chicken bouillon
    1/4 cup of milk
    1/2 cup of cheese
    Pepper to taste

    Melt the Crisco. Whisk in the flour. Cook for a short amount of time (If you like the nutty taste you can brown the flour). Add water, stirring constantly to break up clumps. Add bouillon. Add milk. Add Cheese.

    Add cooked macaroni and anything else you might want (I like broccoli and chicken)

    Cheddar is traditional, but I occasionally use other flavors of cheese – when I was laid up I got a small block of Havarti on sale, and used it. The flavor was so strong it took less than a 1/4 cup for a large batch.

  • Bronwyn

    Never had boxed mac & cheese. Grew up with Macaroni Cheese NZ style which is made with lots of cheesy roux based sauce & baked with breadcrumbs on top for a crunchy topping.

    A wee hint for all roux sauces from a top chef I know. Warm the milk a little before adding to the butter/flour mix. (30 seconds in the microwave is just about right for 1 Cup milk)
    Haven’t had a lumpy sauce since I started using this method :)

    Hope you’re enjoying Autumn. We’re having a super-dooper Spring.

  • David

    If stringiness is a problem, it helps to shred your own cheese from a block rather than using pre-shredded cheese. It seems that the stuff they used to prevent clumping in the bags also makes it “stringy”, in my opinion.

    This recipe is awesome, but I usually use about half cheddar and half block American cheese (the kind you get from a deli). and ham does not belong in macaroni and cheese!

  • Shelly

    This sounds like the recipe my mother-in-law gave me! I use a whole block of extra sharp white cheddar cheese cut into chunks, and it melts just fine for me in the white sauce without being stringy-and saves me time from grating it. I make my white sauce with 1 1/4 cups 1% milk to reduce fat and calories, and it always turns out great served either creamy or baked. Love the idea of adding ham and even veggies to it for a one dish meal.

  • Stephen

    Made macaroni cheese tonight after reading your recipe but only had fusili in the store cupboard. I used less cheese (about 2/3 of a cup) but it was a extra mature one with lots of calcium lactate crystals in it. Some of the cheese I mixed with breadcrumbs from crushed french toasts and scattered on top of the macaroni cheese then grilled it. Finally, I stirred in a tablespoon of fruit chutney before serving. Wow, beats Welsh Rarebit any day!

    Wow, some great ideas there, thank you! ~Elise

  • DessertForTwo

    I make an even quicker mac and cheese that doesn’t require you to make the white sauce on the stove. It’s an old Southern Living recipe:

    Easy Mac and Cheese
    8 oz elbow macaroni (2 cups)
    2 cups milk
    1/4 cup flour
    1 tsp. onion salt
    2 10-oz blocks of shard chedddar (4 1/2 cups), shredded
    1 cup breadcrumbs
    1/4 cup butter, melted

    Place milk, flour, and onion salt in a blender and blend well. Cook macaroni al dente and drain well. Stir together the milk mixture, macaroni and 3 1/2 cups of the cheese. Pour into a lightly greased 13×9 pan. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, remaining cheese and melted butter. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes (or until golden brown).

  • Penny

    We loved this! Easy and satisfying and I had no idea that the ham would impart such a nice flavor to the dish. The boy asked for the leftovers for breakfast this morning. Thanks!

  • Blanca

    This was kinda..mmm..not the best. I tried it and it made me feel sick. We should’ve stuck to the Annies mac n’ cheese. But for you people who thought it would be good, I am not liking it but try adding bread crums it made it some what better.

  • Leng

    yummmm! just made this! and i must say this is the mac and cheese that i have been looking for ;) thanks thanks so much!

  • Patti

    I had some whole-wheat fusilli and some cheddar cheese and I needed a quick lunch for my kids. So I decided to try this recipe. Homemade mac n cheese has always been a problem for me to make. It either didn’t turn out right or took a lot of time and work. This recipe was super simple, fast, and turned out well. I thought it was yummy and my picky two year old ate it. I did leave out the lemon juice and substituted a little flour for cornstarch cause I didn’t have any. I will definitely make this again.

  • Jen

    I just made this today for my 2yr old. Changed it up just a bit, added a bit of garlic powder when I mixed th echeese & cornstarch and about 1-2 Tbsp of cream cheese after I added the butter and omitted the lemon juice (I was not quite sure what it was for and was afraid it might curdle the milk, will try it next time as cheddar was a tad stringy). After everything was mixed in an oven safe container, I popped it in the oven on broil (hi – make sure to watch it, so it doesn’t burn) with some extra shredded cheese on top for a few min. – came out with a nicely browned crispy topping :)

  • Bella

    Hi, I’d like to try this recipe for the upcoming holidays. The “serve immediately” note has me nervous. Does something gross happens if it sits? Also, can this recipe transfer well to the oven, or must adjustments be made? Thanks!

    Well, it is a quick recipe, designed to be eaten right away. If it cools and you reheat it, the cheese may seize up. This isn’t an oven recipe, I may try to put one together for the site soon though, as it’s the time of year for it. ~Elise

  • Brigitte

    I just made this for an early dinner. I made it exactly as stated but used Mild Cheddar and deli sliced ham since it’s what I had on hand. What is the sour taste? Is it the lemon juice or the cheddar? I want to remove that taste so please help!

    Possibly lemon juice, which you can omit. The lemon juice will help keep the melted cheese from getting too stringy though, and it would surprise me if 1/2 a teaspoon would give the whole dish a sour taste. Taste the cheddar too, and see if it’s coming from that. ~Elise

  • Tracy

    I’ve been using this recipe for months and I absolutely LOVE it. Occasionally (when I’m feeling particularly indulgent!) I’ll use cream instead of milk and find it useful to add a little extra splash since cream is so much thicker. It’s my boyfriend’s favorite dish and he especially likes it mixed with chicken and broccoli. An extremely simple meal that always ends up completely delicious!

    Thanks so much for sharing this with everyone and I love the site!

  • ROZ

    I found the recipe years ago, and its one of my
    kids favorite that I make in the Microwave:
    New Wave Macaroni & Cheese
    4 green onions,sliced>>1 carrot,sliced>>1/2 cup
    chopped broccoli>>8 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni>>1tsp dry mustard>>1/2 tsp salt>>1/4 tsp
    pepper>>8 oz pkg shredded cheddar cheese.
    spray a 2qt casserole dish with non stick cooking spray. In casserole dish combine green onions, and the next 6 ingredients and 2 cups of
    water. Cook covered on high for 14 to 16 minutes or until macaroni is tender, stirring twice during
    cooking. when the macaroni and the vegetables are
    tender, stir in the cheese and mix well. Let stand
    2 minutes. makes 4 servings
    when I make this I use different shapes of macaroni to be a little different. You can also
    use more veggies and eliminate the green onions if you don’t like onions, but add more carrots and broccoli or any other veggie of your choice.
    This is a healthier Mac & Cheese with a little veggies thrown in for good measure!

  • Erica

    I made this last night for my six year old and my three year old and they absolutely loved it! If only I could I added a little more milk… 1/3 cup because we like our macaroni a little creamier. Also, I did not add the ham because we are vegetarians.

  • steff

    This was great and sooo simple, thank you!

  • Leslye

    This recipe was easy to make and tastes great. Just what I needed for a night when I didn’t plan ahead! I didn’t make any changes other than that I didn’t have the ham. I’m sure that would be great too.

  • Lindsay

    While I (and my 2 year) enjoyed this, I think I’ll try it again next time with sharper, more pungent cheddar. I was using up a brick of some that I’d gotten on sale, and which ended up being mostly flavorless. Loved how easy it was to throw together, though, and I’ll surely make again.

  • Amanda

    Just made it. It’s good. It turned out a bit stringy though, my own fault there, I forgot to use the water and the lemon juice. :( I also think I should have used the 2 cups of cheddar (I used the shredded kind) instead of the one cup blended one cup cheddar. Still, it’s good for my first time ever making homemade mac and cheese. Thank you so much for the recipe!

  • can'tboilwater

    Followed directions and thought it was pretty good. Unfortunately, my 2yr. old didn’t like it.

  • Rachel

    This is delicious! I like it much better than most of the baked macaroni and cheese recipes I have tried. Thanks.

  • Kelly

    This recipe is great! I tried it tonight, and my 2 year old triplets LOVED it. Thank you for the quick alternative to boxed Mac and Cheese. I added extra pasta, and easily stretched the sauce to accommodate with a few extra splashes of milk. Next time I’m going to try it with cooked shredded chicken and broccoli.

  • Charis

    For the corn starch, is water added together with it? Or is just mixing the cheese with the dry corn starch? :)

    Just mix the cheese with the dry corn starch. ~Elise

  • R.Gonzalez

    This came out great. I personalized it with my own four cheese blend and I substituted heavy cream for the milk. It was so easy and my family loved it. Very easy to personalize and jazz up too. Thanks for another great recipe!

  • Billie

    I was looking through your archives for something easy to make for lunch and found this. I’m so glad I did! It was easy and delicious! I didn’t have any ham so I added some frozen peas and baby spinach. Well done elise, so yummy.

  • Tom

    This looks like a tremendous macaroni cheese. Ideal student food – quick, filling and tastes good. I think a nice sprinkle of paprika on the top and some crusty white rolls will go nicely.

  • leigh

    Just have to tell we made this a few nights ago and it was perfect, we added a little powdered mustard for a bit of heat. We have eaten it twice in the last three days!!

    Great recipe, love your site

  • lorielin

    I made this last night and my Kraft-addicted kids really liked it. Thanks!

  • Kerry

    This is very close to what I make when the urge strikes. The main difference in my recipe is that I add about a quarter-cup of freshly grated parmesan and a couple dashes of cayenne along with the cheddar. These add a nice touch of tang to the dish.