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The easiest creamy Dutch oven mac and cheese recipe is ready on the stovetop in just 20 minutes! Even the pickiest little eaters will love the simple combination of tender pasta in a smooth cheddar sauce. It makes a great side dish or a satisfying meatless entree.

Close up front shot of Dutch oven mac and cheese on a wooden serving spoon.
Table of Contents
  1. Why You’ll Love this Recipe
  2. Ingredients
  3. Why Use a Cast Iron Dutch Oven
  4. Directions
  5. Serving Suggestions
  6. Preparation and Storage Tips
  7. Recipe Variations
  8. Expert Tips
  9. Dutch Oven Mac and Cheese Recipe
  10. Frequently Asked Questions

If you love macaroni and cheese recipes, be sure to try this cheesy smoked sausage pasta with broccoli, these shells and cheese, Crock Pot mac and cheese, this decadent pumpkin mac and cheese, a great weeknight 3-ingredient taco mac and cheese, and the easiest no-boil overnight mac and cheese, too!

Why You’ll Love this Recipe

  • Easy. A quick stovetop Dutch oven mac and cheese recipe is ready in less than 30 minutes, which means it’s perfect for weeknight dinners. If you can boil water and grate cheese, then you can make this dish!
  • Versatile. There are so many ways to jazz up or adapt this dish. Add smoked sausage or broccoli florets, try leftover chicken, diced ham, or even some extra taco meat. Play around with the seasonings and the types of cheese that you use, too.
  • Affordable. This budget-friendly meal comes together with just a handful of simple ingredients. The meat-free meal is an inexpensive yet satisfying entree that even your carnivorous friends and family will love.

I made your Stove Top Mac and Cheese Recipe and it was fantastic!! We really enjoyed it!!

– Annette
Ingredients for the best mac and cheese recipe.

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for our favorite cast iron dutch oven mac and cheese recipe. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Salted butter: to make the roux for the base of the cheese sauce.
  • All-purpose flour: to thicken the sauce.
  • Whole milk: you need some fat in the milk to create a rich sauce that won’t curdle or separate. You can use half-and-half or heavy cream for a truly decadent dish!
  • Seasoning: kosher salt, garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, ground black pepper, and a little bit of smoked paprika and nutmeg add just a hint of warmth and flavor in the background without standing out or overpowering the dish. The seasonings add depth of flavor to the creamy sauce, but they’re certainly not necessary. You can omit any of those ingredients if you don’t like them or if you don’t have them on hand.
  • Cheese: we love the combination of sharp cheddar cheese and Velveeta cheese (American pasteurized cheese product), which creates a flavorful sauce with a rich, smooth consistency. If you don’t want to use Velveeta, you can sub with an extra cup of cheddar cheese — no problem! Also, instead of sharp cheddar, use just about any good melting cheese that you prefer (or a combination of more than one type of cheese). For instance, mild cheddar, gruyere cheese, gouda, fontina, mozzarella cheese, Monterey Jack, and Pepper Jack cheese would all work well.
  • Pasta: I’ve used elbow macaroni here, but any short pasta shape is fine. Try cavatappi, penne, medium shells, fusilli, ditalini, or rotini in lieu of the elbows if you like.
Melted butter with flour in a Dutch oven.

Why Use a Cast Iron Dutch Oven

A Dutch oven works well for this stovetop mac and cheese for a few different reasons. First, the Dutch oven is large, so it can accommodate a big batch. Next, the cast iron distributes and retains heat evenly and efficiently, keeping the mac and cheese warm and creamy longer — even when it’s off the stove. Finally, the cast iron’s superior heat retention allows you to completely remove the sauce from the flame while stirring in the cheese. The prevents the cheese from separating and becoming grainy in the sauce (a common problem in mac and cheese recipes when the cheese gets too hot).

The Best Dutch Oven for this Recipe

I recommend a 6-quart or 7-quart cast iron Dutch oven, which is an appropriate size for this mac and cheese recipe. If you’re in the market for a new piece of equipment, we rounded up the best Dutch ovens you can buy, including 3 (yes, 3!) that I personally own and love. And if you don’t have a Dutch oven, you can use another similar large, heavy-bottomed pot for this dish.

Whisking cheese sauce in a white Dutch oven.

Directions

When you’ve got a few extra minutes to spare, a pot of stovetop dutch oven mac and cheese comes together with very little effort. As a vegetarian main course or as a hearty side, everyone at the table will love this simple, comforting dish! You’ll find detailed directions in the recipe card below, but here’s the quick version:

  • Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente; drain well. Salting the water before adding the pasta is important because this is your chance to season the noodles for a flavorful dish.
  • Whisk together the creamy, cheesy sauce in a large cast iron Dutch oven.
  • Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir gently with a wooden spoon to combine.
Square side shot of Dutch oven mac and cheese with a wooden spoon on a white table.

Serving Suggestions

Serve this macaroni and cheese as a main dish with a side of garlic roasted broccoli or with a simple house salad with candied pecans. You can garnish with a bit of cooked, crumbled bacon, or even sprinkle toasted buttered breadcrumbs, cracker crumbs, or crushed potato chips over top.

If you’re serving the simple Dutch oven mac and cheese as a side dish, it’s great alongside Dutch oven pork chops, Southern meatloaf, Crock Pot pot roast with cream of mushroom soup, grilled bbq chicken breast, Crock Pot pulled pork, and crispy Southern fried catfish.

Close up side shot of the best mac and cheese recipe.

Preparation and Storage Tips

  • This mac and cheese is best when served immediately, so I do not recommend preparing the dish in advance.
  • Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
  • I do not recommend freezing Dutch oven mac and cheese since the dairy-based sauce may “break” or separate when thawed.
  • How to Reheat: Place the mac and cheese in a saucepan. The pasta and sauce will dry out a bit as it sits, so it’s helpful to add a splash of milk or cream and a little bit of butter to the pan. Then warm over low heat, just until it reaches the desired temperature. Stir regularly and the sauce should become smooth and creamy again! Alternatively, you can reheat individual portions in the microwave until warm, about 30-60 seconds.
Side shot of a white dutch oven full of the best mac and cheese recipe.

Recipe Variations

  • Cooking for a smaller family? Scale the recipe down to serve just 2 or 4 people. For instance, cut the recipe in half for 4 people, or cut the ingredients in fourths for 2 people.
  • Optional mix-ins: Use this base recipe and add any of your favorite proteins, vegetables, or seasonings. For instance, try chicken, shrimp, bacon, sausage, or ground beef. Stir in peas or steamed broccoli, or season the macaroni with Italian seasoning, Cajun seasoning, or my all-purpose “house” seasoning. A dollop of Dijon mustard adds zesty tang, too.
  • If you like a crunchy topping on your mac and cheese, sprinkle the finished dish with buttered panko bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, or crushed potato chips. You can even put the Dutch oven under the broiler for a minute or two to toast the topping. Just keep a close eye on it so that it doesn’t burn!
Horizontal side shot of Dutch oven mac and cheese on a white table.

Expert Tips

  • To cut down on the prep time, get the pasta boiling while you prepare the rest of the ingredients (such as grating the cheese). Then, as the pasta finishes cooking, you can whisk together the cheese sauce simultaneously. This way the pasta isn’t sitting around getting cold while you prepare the sauce.
  • Use a block of cheddar cheese that you grate by hand, rather than the pre-shredded cheese in a packet. Those packaged shredded cheeses include a powdery coating with stabilizers that prevent the cheese from melting as smoothly.
  • Remove the pot from the heat before adding the cheese (or keep the flame very low) so that the sauce stays creamy and smooth. When cheese gets too hot, it separates and gives the sauce a grainy texture.
Close overhead image of Dutch oven mac and cheese on a white table.

More Easy Mac and Cheese Recipes to Try

Square close up side shot of creamy Dutch oven mac and cheese on a wooden spoon.

Dutch Oven Mac and Cheese

5 from 2 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Servings 8 people
Calories 478 kcal
A quick, creamy, easy Dutch oven mac and cheese that's ready on the stovetop in just 20 minutes!

Ingredients
  

  • ¼ cup (½ of a stick) salted butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of smoked paprika optional
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) diced or shredded Velveeta cheese (or sub with an additional 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese)
  • 1 (16 ounce) package elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions

Instructions

  • In a 6- or 7-quart cast iron Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute.
    Melted butter with flour in a Dutch oven.
  • Whisk in milk, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, black pepper, and smoked paprika. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Continue whisking until thickened, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese until melted and completely smooth.
    Whisking cheese sauce in a white Dutch oven.
  • Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and stir until just heated through. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve!
    Square overhead shot of a simple Dutch oven mac and cheese recipe on a white table.

Notes

  • To cut down on the prep time, I like to get the pasta boiling while I prepare the rest of the ingredients (such as grating the cheese). Then, as the pasta finishes cooking, you can whisk together the cheese sauce simultaneously. This way the pasta isn’t sitting around getting cold while you prepare the sauce, and everything comes together quickly at the end.
  • Use a block of cheddar cheese that you grate by hand, rather than the pre-shredded cheese in a packet. Those packaged shredded cheeses include a powdery coating with stabilizers that prevent the cheese from melting as smoothly.
  • The seasonings add depth of flavor to the creamy sauce, but they’re certainly not necessary. You can omit any of those ingredients if you don’t like them or if you don’t have them on hand.
  • Salt the water before boiling your pasta. This is your chance to season the noodles for a flavorful dish!
  • Remove the pot from the heat before adding the cheese (or keep the flame very low) so that the sauce stays creamy and smooth. When cheese gets too hot, it separates and gives the sauce a grainy texture.
  • If you like a crunchy topping on your mac and cheese, sprinkle the finished dish with buttered panko bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, or crushed potato chips. You can even put the Dutch oven under the broiler for a minute or two to toast the topping. Just keep a close eye on it so that it doesn’t burn!

Nutrition

Serving: 1/8 of the dishCalories: 478kcalCarbohydrates: 52gProtein: 20gFat: 21gSaturated Fat: 12gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 61mgSodium: 785mgPotassium: 343mgFiber: 2gSugar: 7gVitamin A: 749IUVitamin C: 0.04mgCalcium: 409mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: cast iron dutch oven mac and cheese recipe, creamy stovetop mac and cheese, Dutch oven mac and cheese, easy mac and cheese, stovetop mac and cheese
Course: Dinner, Lunch, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do you need to bake mac and cheese? Creamy mac and cheese recipes that start with a roux-based sauce (like this one), do not need to be baked before serving. Stovetop mac and cheese is designed to go straight from the pot to the plate — no oven necessary. By contrast, Southern-style mac and cheese recipes must be baked in order to cook the egg and help the dish set.
  • How do I keep the mac and cheese creamy? First do not add eggs. While eggs help a baked mac and cheese set, the end result is less creamy. Make sure there’s plenty of sauce to coat the noodles, and use some Velveeta cheese for the richest, creamiest texture.
  • What are the best cheeses for mac and cheese? As I mentioned above, the secret to creamy baked mac and cheese is Velveeta cheese! This American cheese just melts smoother than other cheeses and gives the sauce that creamy mouthfeel that we’re all looking for. I’ve found that a combination of sharp cheddar cheese and Velveeta cheese yields the best of both worlds — a smooth, creamy texture with plenty of rich, sharp cheddar flavor.

This recipe was originally published in May, 2020. It was updated in May, 2024.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. Annette says:

    5 stars
    Hi Blair,
    I made your Stove Top Mac and Cheese Recipe and it was fantastic!! We really enjoyed it!! I made it with cavatappi because I didn’t have any elbow macaroni at the time of making it. It is finally starting to get warm here and this was the perfect dish to make on a warm day. I didn’t want to turn on the oven and make it really hot in the kitchen. I did grate the cheese instead of buying it already shredded. There is definitely a difference has you mentioned, it is so much better to grate it yourself. Next time I make it I will add someone of your optional mix ins suggestions.
    Thanks for a great Stove Top Mac and Cheese Recipe!!

    1. Blair says:

      Yay! Thanks for letting me know, Annette! It’s so simple, which means that it’s been a regular on our table recently too. Love when I don’t have to turn on the oven! 🙂

  2. Adrienne says:

    5 stars
    I do this and we just love it. Thank you. The nutmeg really is a wonderful addition.

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Thanks, Adrienne!