This Unexpected Ingredient Makes The Creamiest Mac And Cheese Ever

This underdog finally gets its day in the sun.
Top view of white dish full of macaroni and cheese over checked tablecloth
Top view of white dish full of macaroni and cheese over checked tablecloth

There’s a lot to love about mac and cheese, but the work that it takes to prepare this seemingly simple dish is not one of them. Sure, mac and cheese is not one of the most complicated dishes to cook, but any meal that requires béchamel sauce is more involved than we’d like.

Luckily, there’s now an easier way to make the creamy, smooth homemade mac and cheese you love. It was discovered by the very capable chefs at Cook’s Illustrated. So, step away from the boxed-stuff and listen up.

Béchamel sauce is required for most homemade mac and cheese recipes because it prevents the cheese from separating into fatty oil and clumpy solids.

Here comes the good news. There’s an ingredient found at basically any grocery store that takes the place of béchamel. It’s an ingredient that doesn’t get much respect. And that is none other than your everyday American cheese.

American cheese is made with emulsifying salts, which help keep the cheese cohesive and creamy when melted. When American cheese is melted in milk with other cheeses, its emulsifying salts help ensure that all the cheeses melt into a smooth sauce. Bonus: it’s inexpensive to buy AND makes the work of whipping up mac and cheese significantly quicker.

But don’t think you can unwrap a couple of cheese slices to make this sauce. For a good mac and cheese you need to buy a block of American cheese, which is available at the deli section of the supermarket. The wrapped slices contain whey, which makes the cheese sauce too thick.

Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe cooks the macaroni noodles in just enough water and milk to make the noodles al dente. They leave the remaining liquid in the pot to make the sauce, and then stir in a 1:1 ratio of shredded American cheese to shredded cheddar (1 cup of each). You can get that recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.

And read the full report on how Cook’s Illustrated discovered this easy, creamy mac and cheese solution in the first place.