Macaroni and Cheese

Instant Pot Mac & Cheese Is the Last-Minute Side Your Thanksgiving Needs

Oh, did we mention there's lots of crispy bacon involved?

November 21, 2018

I am an al dente–obsessive. Accordingly, I was as skeptical as the next person about making pasta in an Instant Pot. Wouldn't a pressure cooker completely obliterate the noodles beyond the point of chewiness, to complete mush?

But, I'm also a sucker for convenience. And when I come down with a craving for cheesy pasta, it's not one to be shaken off lightly. It's the kind of craving that grips you by the shoulders and shakes you until it's been addressed. In other words, the sooner, the better.

With this in mind, I took note as Instant Pot pasta recipe after Instant Pot pasta recipe cropped up on blogs and within cookbooks alike.

It's no surprise that so many people have conceived of such dishes. Pressure cookers are, after all, just a (very clever, high-tech) way to make warm, soft victuals—the type of meals Laurie Colwin called "nursery food" in Family Happiness—in a fraction of the time. And there's nothing more comforting or heartening than a big bowl of noodles. So, a few weeks back, when a mac and cheese craving struck, I decided to give it a shot.

But if this was going to be truly convenient, that meant I didn't want to deal with the whole rigmarole of draining noodles, or making a roux. I wanted to dump everything into the pot, press start, open the lid, and commence my nursery food–enjoyment. So I did, for the first time around: I added milk, cream, broth, Pecorino, salt, pepper, and the uncooked pasta, and let it rip. Then, I stirred in big handfuls of grated cheddar, and got to sampling. To my delight, not only were my noodles far from mushy after a five-minute jaunt in the pressurized pot—they were infused with a subtle, irresistible cheesiness from the cooking liquid that I'd never before encountered in cooked pasta.

I was hooked. From there, potential embellishments poured forth like the liquid from my dishwasher the one time I forgot to fully shut its door. I experimented with different types of cheese. I added bacon and alliums. I omitted broth and tried it with water in broth's stead. I added a stovetop-crisped panko topping that came together in minutes, while the pasta was cooking.

The version I've included here is by far my favorite, but you should feel free to skip the pancetta if you'd like to keep it vegetarian, or swap out the cheddar for another medium-soft grater-friendly cheese like Gruyère. If you're not up for the panko topping, save it for next time you make this. (And oh, how I hope for your sake that there's a next time.)

For me, "next time" will be tomorrow, because this dish is nothing if not the perfect last-minute side to add to a Thanksgiving menu. It comes together in about 20 minutes, is cheesy-as-heck, and best of all, won't take up any valuable oven space.

The only foreseeable issue is that you'll have to share. But the holiday is technically all about giving, so maybe just this once.

What's on your menu for Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments.

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Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a a writer at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.


Eric K. November 21, 2018
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Ella Q. November 21, 2018
Thanks Eric!