Skip to main content

This 3-ingredient mac and cheese is the best (and easiest) Thanksgiving side ever

It doesn't get easier than this 1-2-3 mac and cheese recipe

Macaroni and cheese is a staple dish on many people’s Thanksgiving menus. Often, the mac and cheese recipe has either been passed down for generations like a tradition or is safely guarded by a special family member.

If your family doesn't have a go-to recipe quite yet, don’t worry. You can still have creamy mac and cheese on your Thanksgiving dinner table with this must-have recipe. It's the best mac and cheese recipe we've seen. Plus, this dish is so easy to make that it won’t add any stress to your dinner plans.

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

15 minutes

What You Need

  • Large pot

  • Pasta

  • Evaporated milk

  • Cheese

Mac and cheese in glass bowl.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Only three ingredients?

You may be skeptical that a three-ingredient dish, especially an indulgent one like mac and cheese, can be successful. But, the key to this recipe from Serious Eats is more about the technique than the number of ingredients. A few tips before we get into the process to set the stage for the perfect pot of mac and cheese:

Cooking the pasta in the smallest amount of water possible is essential. The limited volume of water concentrates the starch from the pasta, which turns the cheese into a creamy sauce.

Rather than cooking the pasta in milk like many mac and cheese recipes call for, use evaporated milk instead because it contains protein micelles. Protein micelles help form and maintain an emulsion (which is what you are creating by mixing water and cheese) stable. In other words, the evaporated milk will keep your sauce from separating.

White bowl filled with mac and cheese
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The ingredients

Pasta: When you’re cooking a dish with so few ingredients, especially for a festivity like Thanksgiving dinner, it’s essential to use only the best. Using a short noodle like a shell or elbow works best in a dish like mac and cheese (hence the name). Because the sauce is so thick, it needs a stout noodle to stand up to it.

Evaporated milk: Evaporated milk is a staple, and the kind you use doesn’t matter much here, so whatever you have on hand is fine.

Cheese: The cheese is the star of this dish, so choosing a high-quality melting cheese is important. If you want to keep it traditional, a mild cheddar will do, but if you want to get a bit creative, try Fontina, Jack, Gruyere, or a combination of any of these melting cheeses you like.

Young woman cooking.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The process

This dish works best if you use equal proportions of each ingredient. For two large servings follow a six, six, six rule: six ounces of pasta, six ounces of evaporated milk, and six ounces of shredded cheese.

Step 1: Place the pasta in a large pot and add just enough cold water to cover it. Add a large pinch of salt, stir, and bring to a boil.

Step 2: Be sure to stir frequently while the pasta is cooking so it cooks evenly. Cook until the water is almost entirely absorbed, about 6 minutes.

Step 3: Stir in the evaporated milk and grated cheese and stir until it’s creamy and emulsified.

If you’re not serving this immediately, the sauce will tighten up a bit while it sits. Before serving, thin it out with a tablespoon or two of water and a bit of stirring.

Voila! That’s all you need to prepare a three-ingredient mac and cheese that is decadent and dreamy. Again, it is Thanksgiving, so feel free to dress up this quick dish by following a few of the suggestions below.

  • Spice up the sauce with a few shakes of your favorite hot sauce or a tablespoon of prepared horseradish.

  • If you like casserole-style mac and cheese, place the prepared pasta in a baking dish, top it with your favorite cracker topping or more cheese, and broil for a few minutes.

  • For an extra rich and silky sauce, add a tablespoon or two of butter at the end and stir to combine.

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner is a big undertaking, and it can quickly turn into a stressful event. For this reason, any dish that is simple and quick is a welcome addition to an otherwise packed menu. This recipe is so easy you can even recruit the kids to join in and help, and, because it requires so few ingredients, you can probably pull the whole meal together without running to the grocery store. Whether you jazz it up to suit your tastes or keep it simple, this recipe is sure to have your guests begging for more.

Editors' Recommendations

Kelly Kaliszewski
Kelly's work has appeared in blogs and on websites. When she's not writing, she is playing with her two dogs, cooking, or…
The secret to avocado toast that no one ever talks about
Avocado toast is a tasty choice to start off any day
Avocado toast with eggs on white plate and table

One of the most popular food trends in recent years has to be avocado toast. Whether it’s a quick and easy breakfast at home or a special part of your favorite restaurant brunch outing, avocado toast is everywhere. It’s tasty, it’s healthy, it’s easy to make, and it’s incredibly versatile, so you can add to it with herbs, seasonings, and toppings to make it a little different every time you make it.
What to put on avocado toast? The recipe starts two key ingredients: avocado and toast. From there, the possibilities are endless. From eggs to bacon to tomatoes to shrimp, just about everything goes with avocado toast. If you've gone looking for the perfect avocado toast recipe, the secret to avocado toast really down to what foods you enjoy.

How to make classic avocado toast
In its most basic form, avocado toast can have as little as two ingredients -- avocado and bread -- making it practically foolproof to prepare. Start with a thick slice of toasted bread. Mash a ripe avocado and spread it over the toasted bread. You can stop right there, or you can drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper, or add finely chopped parsley for extra freshness or a sprinkling of red pepper flakes for a spicy kick.

Read more
Wow your holiday guests with the best Easter bread they’ll ever have
Sweet, colorful, festive, and delicious. What more could you want out of an Easter bread?
Mother and child making bread.

If you’re hosting Easter this year — or even just attending as a guest — and you want to wow everyone with your baking skills, try making Easter bread. As pretty to look at as it is tasty to eat, this braided loaf is perfect for a holiday brunch or a sweet treat after dinner.

Read more
Costco shoppers share their best ideas for quick and easy meals
You'll love these secret dinner ideas from Costco experts
Costco rotisserie chicken

We all want a tasty, easy dinner to make for ourselves and our family on weeknights. With activities, homework, bringing work home, and the general lack of time most of us have in the evenings, finding something that's both a value and fills us up is key. If you are a Costco member, you know just how much access to good food there is in that store. It's hard to walk out of there without at least five or six food items (not to mention a new book, some pillowcases, and a comedy-sized package of batteries).

Redditor Level-Swim-1984 posted this question on the subreddit r/Costco (which I never knew existed and am now obsessed with): "What’s a quick food item to eat at home?" adding, "Besides the chicken bake and hot dogs, what items...are [a] good value and tasty to have a quick dinner at home?" There's nothing like polling fellow Costco members to get pointed in the right direction for this week's meal prep.

Read more