Easy, cheesy, and ready in just 30 minutes? Yes, please! This Creamy One-Pot Dutch Oven Mac and Cheese recipe is made right on the stovetop for a quick, no-fuss weeknight meal that everyone is sure to love.
Stovetop mac and cheese is one of those meals that just about everyone loves. And it’s not hard to see why. Hearty, al dente pasta coated in a rich and creamy cheese sauce? I mean, come on.
Mac and cheese is great any time of year, but it’s basically a necessity during the cooler weather months. There’s nothing better than snuggling up on the couch with a warm, cozy bowl of this ultimate comfort food classic. Plus, this recipe makes a fantastic side dish for all of your holiday gatherings. I love having mac and cheese with my meal on Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter.
Using a cast iron Dutch oven makes this recipe so simple and easy. Since Dutch ovens hold heat really well and disperse it more evenly, it’s the perfect cooking vessel for one-pot pasta recipes.
So, if you’re ready to get cooking and dig into a big bowl of creamy, cheesy pasta, keep reading to learn how to make my favorite Dutch oven mac and cheese recipe.
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Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Easy Weeknight Dinner- It can be hard to come up with simple and delicious meals that everyone will love week after week. However, with this Dutch oven mac and cheese recipe in your back pocket, you’ll be prepared every time. Not only is it ready in less than 30 minutes, but it’s also easy to clean up and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
- Rich and Creamy- Made with whole milk, butter, and lots and lots of freshly grated cheese, this Dutch oven macaroni and cheese recipe is ultra-rich, creamy, and decadent. Cooking the pasta in whole milk creates the perfect creamy sauce base to fold all of that cheesy goodness into.
- Made in One-Pot- Did I mention this recipe is easy to clean up? That’s because it’s made entirely in one pot. That’s right! No need to dirty a separate pot and colander just for the pasta.
Here are some notes on key ingredients. For a full list of ingredients, check out the recipe card below.
- Cavatappi Pasta- This spiral, tubular pasta with lots of ridges is perfect for holding onto all of the melty, cheesy sauce. Plus, there’s just something about the shape of cavatappi pasta that makes this dish feel more fancy and fun.
- Cheddar Cheese- I like to use a combination of mild and sharp cheddar cheese when I make macaroni and cheese. Sharp cheddar is more flavorful and tangy than mild cheddar. But, mild cheddar cheese melts more easily than sharp cheddar cheese does. I find a combination of the two is the perfect balance of flavor and creaminess.
- Parmesan Cheese- A bit of parmesan cheese adds a depth of flavor to macaroni and cheese that’s hard to beat. Nutty, salty, and a little sweet, parmesan cheese compliments the cheddar cheese well.
- Whole Milk- Macaroni and cheese is all about the creaminess factor. I find that whole milk adds the perfect amount of milk fat to the cheese sauce without being overwhelming.
- Roux- Made of butter and flour, the roux helps thicken the cheese sauce and adds another layer of flavor.
- Dijon Mustard- Just a bit of dijon mustard is all that is needed to add a touch of acidit
- y to the rich cheese sauce.
- Garlic- I love garlic and put it in just about every savory dish I make. Grated is best so that it blends well in the sauce, but finely minced works too.
Step by Step Instructions
Here is how to make Dutch oven mac and cheese.
Step 1: Make the roux. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Once melted, add in the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring frequently, until the roux begins to turn golden-brown, about 3 minutes.
Step 2: Cook the pasta. Slowly pour in 3 cups of water, whisking continuously to break up any lumps that form. Then, pour in the milk and whisk until smooth. Add the salt and allow the liquid to come to a gentle simmer. When the liquid starts simmering, reduce the heat to low and stir in the pasta. Cover the Dutch oven with the lid and cook pasta for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the pasta reaches al dente texture. Add more water, ¼ cup at a time, if the pasta begins to dry out too quickly. There should still be about ¼-⅓ of the liquid remaining in the pot when the pasta finishes cooking.
Step 3: Fold in the cheese. When the pasta is cooked, turn off the heat. Stir in the dijon mustard and black pepper. Then, once the liquid is no longer simmering, fold in the cheese. Mix well until all of the cheese is melted and the pasta is well coated in the sauce. Enjoy!
Tips and Tricks
- Shred your own cheese. While it’s convenient and tempting to buy pre-shredded cheese, I highly recommend buying a block of cheese to shred yourself instead. Pre-shredded cheese is often coated in anti-caking agents, meaning it doesn’t melt as smoothly or as easily as freshly shredded cheese.
- Cook the pasta to al dente. Since the pasta will continue cooking in the cheese sauce for a bit after the heat is turned off, cook the pasta until it just reaches al dente texture. Cooking the pasta to al dente helps to ensure you don’t end up with overcooked pasta.
- Stir the pasta frequently. Pasta is starchy. We also add flour to this recipe, which is starchy too. Both of these can cause the pasta to stick to the bottom of the pot if we’re not careful. To prevent this, stir the pasta every 3-4 minutes while it cooks.
- Pasta shape matters. Tubular-shaped pasta with ridges is best for creamy, cheesy sauces like in this stovetop mac and cheese recipe. The ridges allow the cheese sauce to cling to the pasta, coating it to perfection. For more info about choosing the best pasta shape for your recipes, check out this article.
Substitutions and Variations
Here are a few ways you can customize this dutch oven mac and cheese recipe to fit your diet and taste preferences.
- Pasta- Any small, tube-like pasta will work well in this dish. Try elbow macaroni, small shells, cellentani, or penne pasta. You may have to adjust the amount of water up or down a little depending on how long it takes the pasta to cook.
- Cheddar Cheese- Mix it up and try using gruyère, fontina, havarti, gouda, muenster, monterey jack, brie cheese without the rind, or even cream cheese.
- Parmesan Cheese- Pecorino Romano or Asiago cheese could be swapped for the parmesan.
- Whole Milk- Many recipes call for heavy cream, which would make this Dutch oven mac and cheese even creamier. To lighten things up a bit, opt for skim milk or reduced-fat milk instead.
- Water- Chicken broth or vegetable broth can be used in place of the water.
- Butter- Try using margarine, olive oil, or ghee as a butter substitute.
- Dijon Mustard- An equal amount of yellow mustard or mustard powder can be used in place of the dijon mustard.
- Garlic- Use ½ teaspoon of garlic powder instead of fresh garlic, if preferred.
- Gluten-Free- You can swap the pasta for your favorite gluten-free variety. Just make sure you’re extra careful about stirring the pasta as it cooks and take care not to over-cook it. Gluten-free pasta tends to be more delicate than wheat-based pasta. Additionally, use a gluten-free flour blend to make the roux.
- Dairy-Free- While I haven’t tried this myself, you can try swapping the butter for a dairy-free alternative and the whole milk for your favorite plant-based milk. Finally, use shredded dairy-free cheese in place of the shredded cheddar and parmesan.
- Reduced Fat- Use skim milk or chicken broth in place of the whole milk to reduce the amount of fat in the recipe. I don’t recommend using reduced-fat cheese since it doesn’t melt as well. However, you can reduce the amount of cheese you add by ⅓ without significantly affecting the end result.
- Lower Carb- Try replacing half of the pasta with cauliflower or other vegetables to reduce the overall carbohydrates per serving.
Mix-ins and Additions
Use this Dutch oven mac and cheese recipe as a blank canvas and get creative. Customizing a recipe is half the fun!
- Vegetables- Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini, summer squash, butternut squash, kale, and spinach would all be delicious mixed into this Dutch oven mac and cheese. Try roasting the vegetables first to add another layer of flavor to the dish.
- Bacon- Crumbled bacon makes everything better, doesn’t it? Stir some crispy, salty bacon into this stovetop macaroni and cheese to take it to the next level.
- Cooked Meat- Roasted chicken, steamed lobster, barbecue pulled pork, or seasoned ground beef all taste amazing mixed into macaroni and cheese. Plus, adding some meat would give this dish an extra boost of protein.
- Fresh Herbs- Parsley, chives, scallions, thyme, oregano, basil, and sage would all taste delicious mixed into a rich, creamy cheese sauce. Tougher herbs like thyme, oregano, and sage can be softened in the butter along with the garlic. More delicate herbs like parsley, chives, and basil taste better when mixed in at the end.
- Breadcrumbs- Crunchy and buttery, give this Dutch oven mac and cheese a little texture by sprinkling some toasted breadcrumbs on top.
- Hot Sauce- Love all things spicy? Try adding a few dashes of hot sauce or even some red pepper chili flakes to spice things up.
What to Serve with Dutch Oven Mac and Cheese
Dutch oven macaroni and cheese can be served as a main or side dish. Here are a few suggestions for what to serve with stovetop macaroni and cheese.
Side Dishes to Serve with Mac and Cheese
- Crispy Brussels Sprouts
- Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
- Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
- Oven-Roasted Green Beans and Carrots
- Leafy Green Salad
- Steamed, Roasted, or Grilled Vegetables
Main Dishes to Serve with Mac and Cheese
- Lemon-Garlic Whole Roasted Chicken
- Honey Lemon Pepper Chicken Wings
- Turkey Burgers
- Pulled Pork Sandwiches
- Barbecue Ribs
Storage and Reheating
- Refrigerator- Store macaroni and cheese in an airtight container for 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
- Freezer- Dutch oven mac and cheese freezes quite well as long as the pasta was cooked al dente. Freeze individual portions of macaroni and cheese in freezer-safe containers or bags. Macaroni and cheese will retain optimum quality for up to 6 months in the freezer.
If frozen, ideally thaw the macaroni and cheese over 1-2 days in the refrigerator. However, if you’re in a hurry, you can thaw it more quickly by placing it in a warm water bath in its storage container. Another option for defrosting is to pop the macaroni and cheese out of the storage container and thaw it either in the microwave or on the stovetop.
Avoid thawing anything in a plastic container in the microwave to avoid harmful chemicals from the plastic leaching into your food.
- Microwave- In a microwave-safe container, heat leftovers on half power for 2 minutes. Stir. Then, heat for an additional 1-2 minutes on high power. Add a bit of milk or water if the sauce seems dry.
- Stovetop- Add a splash of milk or water to a saucepan and warm over medium-low heat. Add the leftover mac and cheese to the saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until hot.
- Oven- If you want to reheat a larger quantity of macaroni and cheese, spread it evenly in a baking dish and cover the dish loosely with aluminum foil. Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese sauce is hot and bubbly. Add a bit of milk or water if the sauce seems dry.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can use all water or all milk in this recipe. Using all water will result in a less creamy cheese sauce, but it should still work fairly well. On the other hand, using all milk will lead to a richer, creamier macaroni and cheese. You can also replace some of the milk or water with broth.
Overheating or overcooking is the primary reason why a cheese sauce splits. This is why I recommend turning off the heat and waiting for the liquids to stop simmering before folding in the cheese. The residual heat from the pasta and cooking liquid should be enough to melt everything together.
Since pre-shredded cheese is mixed with anti-caking agents, like potato starch or natamycin, it does not melt as well as freshly shredded cheese. However, pre-shredded cheese will work in a pinch. Keep in mind that the sauce may not turn out as smooth and creamy.
Both the pasta and the roux are starchy (a.k.a. sticky), which is why I recommend stirring the pasta every few minutes while it cooks. Not only will this help prevent the pasta from sticking, but it will also help it cook more evenly.
More Recipes You May Enjoy
- Chicken Broccoli Alfredo Lasagna
- Creamy Cajun Salmon Pasta
- Dutch Oven Chicken Noodle Soup
- Dutch Oven Meatballs
- Hearty Dutch Oven Chili
Dutch Oven Mac and Cheese
- 3 tablespoons butter unsalted
- 2 cloves garlic grated or finely minced
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3-4 cups water start with 3 cups and add more, if needed
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 pound cavatappi or cellentani pasta or any other pasta with a similar cook time
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
- 3 cups mild cheddar cheese shredded
- 3 cups sharp cheddar cheese shredded
- ½ cup parmesan cheese grated
- Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Once melted, add in the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring frequently, until the roux begins to turn golden-brown, about 3 minutes.3 tablespoons butter, 2 cloves garlic, 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Slowly pour in 3 cups of water, whisking continuously to break up any lumps that form. Then, pour in the milk and whisk until smooth. Add the salt and allow the liquid to come to a gentle simmer. When the liquid starts simmering, reduce the heat to low and stir in the pasta. Cover the Dutch oven with the lid and cook pasta for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the pasta reaches al dente texture. Add more water, ¼ cup at a time, if the pasta begins to dry out too quickly. There should still be about ¼-⅓ of the liquid remaining in the pot when the pasta finishes cooking.3-4 cups water, 3 cups whole milk, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 pound cavatappi or cellentani pasta
- When the pasta is cooked, turn off the heat. Stir in the dijon mustard and black pepper. Then, once the liquid is no longer simmering, fold in the cheese. Mix well until all of the cheese is melted and the pasta is well coated in the sauce. Enjoy!1 teaspoon dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 3 cups mild cheddar cheese, 3 cups sharp cheddar cheese, ½ cup parmesan cheese
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days or freeze for up to 6 months.
Did you try this recipe?
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