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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.

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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.

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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…
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