Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese

Slow cooker, meet mac and cheese! If you're looking for a hands-off recipe for delicious mac and cheese, you've found it. We have a few tricks to avoid mushy pasta and watery sauce, too!

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Slow cook time: 2 to 2 1/2 hours
  • Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cavatappi pasta (or fusilli)
  • 2 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 3 cups (12 ounces) cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) Monterey jack cheese, shredded
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

DAD ADD: Crispy Bacon Topper

  • 4 strips bacon, chopped
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Special equipment:

Method

1 Combine everything in the slow cooker: Add all the macaroni and cheese ingredients to the slow cooker. Reserve one cup of cheddar cheese to top at the end. Stir ingredients together very well.

How to Make Mac and Cheese in the Crockpot combine all ingredients in the slow cooker

2 Cover and cook on low heat for 90 minutes.

3 Make the Crispy Bacon Topper while the mac and cheese cooks: In a small skillet over low heat, add chopped bacon. Cook until fat is rendered and the bacon is very crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir it occasionally to evenly cook the bacon.

Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside. Add breadcrumbs and red pepper flakes and stir them into the bacon fat. Continue to cook on low heat until the breadcrumbs are toasted, stirring frequently to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. If the breadcrumbs seem dry, add 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Chop bacon finely and stir into toasted breadcrumbs. (This can be refrigerated for up to a week.)

4 Check the pasta: After 90 minutes, lift the lid off the top of the slow cooker. It may look like a solid mass and may trick you into thinking it's done.

Give it a quick stir to incorporate any liquid that may be lingering underneath, making sure the noodles are completely covered or almost completely covered, but not swimming in liquid. Quickly replace the lid, and continue cooking for another 30 minutes on low.

5 Keep cooking the mac and cheese: At the 2-hour mark, check the mac and cheese again by stirring it together. Make sure it's loose and creamy but not soupy. 

If it is loose and creamy, congratulations: it's ready. If it seems dry and the cheese seems like it's clumping together or not integrating, it means you need more liquid. Add another 1/2 cup of milk, stock, or water, and stir together.

Once you stir that in, it should make the sauce creamy again. Depending on your slow cooker, you may need up to two extra cups of liquid if your macaroni seems dry. And you may need an extra half hour to make it perfect. But it's important to stir and taste. You'll know.

Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese

6 Top with the reserved cheese: Once your pasta is cooked and the sauce is the right consistency, stir in the reserved cup of cheddar cheese to make it extra cheesy.

7 Serve: Serve the mac and cheese with crispy bacon topper and steamed veggies or a side salad. If you're omitting the bacon topping, taste and see if it needs salt and/or some freshly cracked black pepper.

Leftover macaroni and cheese reheats well in a pot. Add enough water to the empty pot to cover the bottom and let it heat until steaming. Then add cold macaroni and cheese and stir together until creamy and warmed through.

For the love of good macaroni and cheese, please don’t microwave this. Gummy pasta will be the result. It takes just a few minutes to reheat on the stovetop and is worth every minute. Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese serve the mac and cheese

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Comments

  • Linda

    The cheese “siezed up” looks very grainy. I shaved all the cheese from block form. No idea what happened. Taste is good.

  • julie

    Didn’t like this one. Much prefer making it on the stovetop or in the oven where I have more control over getting the pasta to be al dente. This just seemed like more work. Also, I thought the sauce had a weird stickiness to it.

    xxxxxyyyyy

    • Nick Evans

      That’s fair Julie! Sorry it didn’t work out for you. You are right that the stovetop gives you more control on the doneness of the pasta. Thanks for reporting back!

  • Gillaine

    It’s a sticky mess! Followed the directions exactly, added more milk and stirred! That helped – won’t try again.

    xxxxxyyyyy

    • Nick Evans

      Hey Gillaine,
      Sorry it didn’t work out for you. It can be tricky to nail down based on slow cooker, pasta, and brand of cheese even. We tested the recipe across multiple slow cookers and in different kitchens and tried to address all the concerns. Mostly when we had issues with the sauce, it meant that we needed to add MORE liquid OR that the pasta was way overcooked. Feel free to email me if you want to try it again and I can try to help! Good luck!

  • Stephanie

    Long time fan of Nick & Elise. It was because of that trust that I decided to make any kind of pasta in the crockpot for the first time with this recipe. Things I knew: My crockpot runs hot. So I checked it before 90 minutes and sure enough the noodles were done. The other thing is I sent my husband to the store and I would not have picked the cheese brand he bought. I didn’t love the flavor of this brand of sharp cheddar. (It was oddly too sweet.) Also because the noodles cooked so fast in my hot crock pot, I don’t think they absorbed as much sauce as they were meant to and in turn I had a lot of cheesy sauce that felt like it needed more noodles. What I’m saying is this recipe is really good, but small variables matter. I don’t think I’d make it again (stovetop works best for me), but it was tasty and super easy.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Brenda

    This recipe looks great except I can’t take the taste of evaporated milk. Would this
    work with half and half?

    • Nick Evans

      Hey Brenda, in theory yes. But in practice I have to admit that I haven’t tried it. You’d have to keep an eye on it probably. Report back if you give it a shot!