Serves a Crowd

Ridiculously Easy Macaroni and Cheese

June 14, 2021
19 Ratings
Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • Serves 4 or more
Author Notes

On nights when we have 20 minutes to fix dinner, this is invariably what I make. Am I embarrassed to say I use individually-wrapped American cheese? Not really. This dish is so easy your kids can help you -- or even make it themselves if they're old enough. —mrslarkin

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: How do we love thee, mrslarkin? Let us count the ways.
WHAT: A no-fuss, comforting pasta that’s true to its name.
HOW: Cook pasta; melt cheese in hot cream; toss; destroy.
WHY WE LOVE IT: This pasta doesn’t pussyfoot around. And why should it? It’s mac and cheese, straight up -- just like we ate as kids, and just what we want to eat for dinner, or lunch, or midnight snacks well into the future. Don’t you dare try to fancy this up. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1 pound elbows, mini shells, mini ziti, or your favorite macaroni shape
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 8 to 10 slices individually-wrapped yellow American cheese (yup, the plastic-wrapped kind -- a better quality brand if you can find it, like Cabot's)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup full-fat grated cheddar or cheddar blend
  • 8 slices crispy bacon, roughly chopped (optional)
  1. Cook pasta to al dente. Drain. Set aside.
  2. Heat cream in same pasta pot over medium low heat. Remove plastic wrap from cheese and add to pot. Stir. Add remaining cheese and stir until melted.
  3. Taste for desired cheesiness. If not cheesy enough, add another slice or two of American cheese. If too thick, add another splash of cream.
  4. Return cooked pasta to pot and mix well with a gentle hand. Scoop into pasta bowls and serve with bacon sprinkled on top, if desired.
Contest Entries

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Liza Posas
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  • Sweetteach
  • Martin
  • jaxcat

102 Reviews

Liza P. January 2, 2023
This was really easy and delicious. Was a hit w/ the kids especially. Next time we make it though, we will up the cheeses and cream to make it more cheesy.
KyleKerr June 14, 2021
This recipe brings back a lot of memories! The simpler and more affordable times when this is all we had to make. I added in some spicy Monterey Jack cheese along with some leftover Brie that I had in the fridge to add some more flavour to it. Super easy and keeps people happy. Thanks for sharing, Kyle Kerr
GritHippie February 4, 2021
I haven't eaten American cheese since college (um, late 90s). I tend to not eat processed food, save for the occasional indulgence of doritos on a road trip. This recipe is now the very top of the list for "I don't give a crap day". SO GOOD. My post-cancer, super picky, vegetarian mother ate it. My ultra-runner husband who lives on quinoa and beets ate it. My toddler who eats nothing ate it. And I inhaled it. Perfect for a weeknight meal that please everyone. Double the recipe.

(Those that are scoffing at the American cheese...come on y'all, live a little. :) Everything in moderation.)
Janice C. January 31, 2021
We made this mac n cheese in our dorm room in the early seventies using our popcorn popper. Boiled pasta and added the American cheese slices when the water had reduced. Of course we had no $$ to buy heavy cream. This recipe sounds a bit richer, but glad to see a comeback of a great idea.
Taffydog1427 January 23, 2021
This is seriously not good mac and cheese, the fact that this is what people consider good makes me want to start a food blog. You poor souls.
Meghan U. January 30, 2021
She lost me lost me at 'American Cheese out of the wrapper...' 😳
Sanibelle January 1, 2021
Love this quick and easy recipe for creamy Mac and cheese. I used 2% milk but added a tablespoon of butter and a little extra milk.
Sweetteach October 27, 2020
After a challenging day at work - this is pure comfort! Very easy and excellent results!
Martin October 21, 2018
It sorta tastes nice, but now I've made it thrice and it always comes out grainy. Am I stirring too much? Should I be using a whisk? Is it too hot?
mrslarkin October 21, 2018
Hi Martin, graininess happens to me sometimes when I use more cheddar than yellow American. And make sure cream is hot, in step 2, before adding the cheese. I use a wooden spoon to stir. Good luck!
nutcakes October 15, 2016
I woke in the middle of the night, starving after a long sleep. I do keep American cheese slices on hand, now that I've been making Fast Food Burger clones. And I had a carton of heavy cream from ice cream making. So nice not to have to make a roux, I really liked this texture with the cream base. I always have sharp cheddar and Parm. No bacon or I would have been making carbonara. Well it couldn't have been faster or easier. Like a box mix on steroids from the sharper cheddar and parm. That was fun. I am going to make this for a mac n' cheese box addict nephew. And I can't wait to see what my housemate thinks of it. Her ultimate easy dish is cooked elbows or shells in individual glass dishes mixed with sharp cheddar and splash of milk, then in the toaster oven until heated and browned. Not my fav, but it does work. Next I will try the dish I set out to make which was a Parm cream sauce pasta with a runny egg on top. Much more grown up. Final note: a pound of pasta seemed too much for the small amount of sauce so I just used 2 dry cups of elbows. It's a bit gloppy, maybe 3 cups would be better.
Sharon G. August 8, 2016
Please help me understand how the plastic-wrapped cheese slices are different from plain old cheese slices?!?!?!!?
jaxcat August 8, 2016
No difference really. Some are wrapped some aren't. American cheese is the real point.
kim August 8, 2016
Yes, there is a difference! The plastic wrapped slices are labeled "processed cheese food" --which means they are not considered real cheese by whomever governs that. The unwrapped slices are generally "real American cheese," though they are also "processed." I rarely use processed cheese, but I love American cheese for a basic grilled cheese sandwich on occasion. The plastic-wrapped stuff is weird and doesn't melt properly (in my opinion), so I buy the unwrapped.
mrslarkin August 8, 2016
Hi Sharon, for my recipe, I use whatever I have in the cheese drawer. Lately, it's been the American cheese from Costco (the kind that looks like a big brick of unwrapped cheese slices.)

The individual plastic wrapped slices melt really well, as does most varieties of Amrican cheese. Just make sure not to buy the fat free kind - it doesn't melt well.
dunham September 18, 2016
A lot of the "american cheese" slices and logs have sodium citrate in them, which helps emulsify the sauce (it helps keeps the cheese from separating and becoming oily when heated). I've read that some people throw in a slice of such cheese along with a fancier cheese, and others (like the folks at modernist cusine) will buy sodium citrate in powder form and add that to their cheese sauce.
mrslarkin September 18, 2016
Interesting!! No wonder it works so well. Thank you for sharing!
Sanibelle January 1, 2021
Wrapped has more water I think.
jaxcat April 18, 2016
I just made this tonight. It was just what we neede! Total comfort food.
We are living in Italy for seven months and were craving American food. I found cheese slices online at the grocer and decided to try this. The only thing I added was fresh sweet peas and a little Dijon mustard. Fabulous! This recipe will go home with me!
Mary February 28, 2016
Been doing this for years! I just add whatever other cheeses I have besides the american cheese singles I have in the fridge on that day. Comes out wonderful every time! Also to note, if you look for the Deluxe American Cheese singles you'll be buying actual cheese and not the cheese food types for slices. I usually buy the store brand and the quality has been good with all I've tried.
Courtney C. February 16, 2016
Love this - truly lives up to its title. I totally admit to being a food snob sometimes, but I really don't think you should change this recipe. I used organic American cheese, but it was still American and nothing melts quite like it. Thank you for this recipe!
mrslarkin February 16, 2016
You're welcome! So glad you like it, Courtney.
Sidney H. February 13, 2016
This food sounds ridiculously easy and seems very good.
Thanks for posting this on "Food 52"
Frankie August 27, 2015
I can't fathom why there would even be one negative comment, never mind the many I read here. It's really quite simple.....if you don't like the ingredients, don't make it! The site isn't called "Gourmet Food 52". I happen to love, love, love Velveeta and it has a crazy multitude of uses in cooking and is easy for people on a budget or who are not necessarily food savy. Keep your negativity to yourself or find a site that caters to your opinion. Hey, here's an idea......create your own food site and then you can just flatter yourself all day long!
fearlessem June 22, 2015
Made this a few nights ago and I thought it was really very good considering how easy and fast it is (one pot! no bechamel and potential for graininess). I particularly appreciated that this wasn't one of those one-pound-of-cheese-for-one-pound-of-pasta recipes that I just can't bring myself to make once I realize what goes into it. I replaced the heavy cream with evaporated milk and it worked great. Next time I will:
1) Increase the evaporated milk to 1 cup
2) Only use 8 slices of American cheese (I used 10 and it was a little too heavy on that flavor profile for me)
2) Replace the parmesan with more cheddar, and make sure the cheddar is extra sharp to make that flavor more prominent.
upinatum May 10, 2015
This recipe sounds amazing. What I have been using on pasta lately is "Pub Cheese" which I buy at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. Super easy and tasty. Add vegetables and "done". Pub cheese is also super on hot spiralized zucchini, which I eat for lunch every day during the week.
Madelaine L. April 14, 2015
Yep, Kraft American cheese and Velveeta were staples in my house when my kids were little. They are all grown and out of the house and I don't use American slices anymore but when making Mac N Cheese, along with La Ti Da cheeses, I add some Velveeta as it melts beautifully. Don't go all gourmet cheese-snob on Mrslarkin. This is family fare. Sure, I would add some stuff like ground mustard, a pinch of cayenne, salt and pepper. But overall, kids will scoop it in their mouths with shovels.
DARLENE September 29, 2014
Yep, I didn't have any cream or even 1/2 and 1/2 on hand and tried 2% milk as that was all I had. it does work, but you have to increase the cheese slices in order to get it to thicken up. In a way, it ends up even cheesier!
NWB September 29, 2014
Would whole milk (what I have in the fridge) work in place if cream?
mrslarkin September 29, 2014
Hi NWB. I've never tried it with whole milk, but it might work. Let us know if you try it!
GritHippie February 4, 2021
I made it with whole milk and it was fine (though I did use the full 12 slices of cheese).