If you read my recent post about Thanksgiving Essential Tools, you know that Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the entire year. I love hosting every year, and this year I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite Turkey Day recipes as well as tips and tricks for making the day as smooth and stress-free as possible! The first recipe I want to share is my recipe for perfect, yes perfect, Macaroni and Cheese.
This recipe yields the creamiest, cheesiest, and most delicious Mac and Cheese you will ever taste. Most importantly, it is probably the easiest recipe you will ever find because it’s done entirely in a slow cooker! I talked about my obsession with slow cookers in this post and shared that I actually have five, yes FIVE, of them. Whether you are hosting or bringing food to your friend or family gathering, a slow cooker can be your best friend on Thanksgiving.
I have been making this macaroni and cheese for many years, even before I started hosting Thanksgiving. This dish was always one that I was in charge of bringing to my mom’s house every year when she hosted because everyone loved it so much. Over the years I’ve refined the recipe a lot and I have it down it a science. It’s honestly so easy that I put Max in charge of it day-of!
A printable recipe is included at the bottom of the post as well as links to shop all of my kitchen tools and décor you see in this post! My step-by-step recipe is below!
STEP 1 – SHRED CHEESES
The first step is shredding all of your cheeses. I use about 20oz total of 3 different cheeses. It is not important to be exact with the number of ounces. I use an 8oz brick of Cabot Vermont Extra Sharp yellow cheddar and then make up the remaining amount with gruyere and aged white cheddar cheeses. I use the Cave Aged Gruyere cheese and Black Creek Vintage 3 Year white cheddar cheese from Whole Foods.
The reason I say the exact ounces are not important is because the gruyere and white cheddar are cut by hand at Whole Foods, so every piece is different. I am sure I’ve never made this macaroni and cheese with the exact same amount of cheese twice and it is always fine! It’s also not important what exact cheeses you choose to use, I’ve used gouda before and it worked just fine. The only thing is you should never ever use pre-shredded cheese from a bag. That cheese is too dry and is not good to use with macaroni and cheese!
Shredding all of this cheese used to be a significant step because it would take forever to do by hand. However, a few years ago my sister bought me the cheese grater attachment for my KitchenAid mixer and it was a total game changer. This attachment can grate all of this cheese perfectly in under 5 minutes. It is also one of my most used kitchen items throughout the year as well! You can see photos of it in action below and I highly suggest doing yourself a major favor this holiday and investing in one of these! Note: I’ve linked the updated version because as I said mine is a few years old!
Pro tip: you can grate these cheeses the day before! This is always one of the tasks I do ahead of time so I don’t have to worry about it day-of. I just grate all of the cheese into a mixing bowl with a lid and store it in the fridge over night!
STEP 2 – PREPARE PASTA
For this recipe I use 1 box (16oz) of cavatappi pasta. Before putting all of your ingredients in the Crock Pot, you need to first cook the pasta until it is very al dente. I say very al dente because the noodles will continue to cook in the slow cooker, so you do not want them to be fully cooked in the beginning or they will be overcooked and falling apart by the end.
I usually cook my noodles for about 5 minutes before draining them. The most important thing about this step is DO NOT RINSE your noodles. In this post I talked about how important the starch from the pasta is in making a creamy, well incorporated cheese sauce, and this macaroni and cheese is no exception!
Note, you can cook the pasta the day before and store it overnight, but it does slightly take away from the sauce. It will not ruin the recipe and I have definitely cooked it the day before when I knew I would be strapped for time and stovetop space day-of, but if possible, it is best to cook it right before you are ready for the next step!
STEP 3 – COMBINE ALL INGREDIENTS IN SLOW COOKER
Spray your Crock Pot liberally with cooking spray and add noodles, 1 12oz can of evaporated milk, 1 ½ cups whole milk, 2 eggs (beaten), and ½ stick of melted butter. Stir all of these ingredients until well combined. Add ground mustard, salt, and pepper and stir to combine.
Start to slowly add in the grated cheese a little bit at a time. It is important to stir thoroughly as you add the cheese so that it combines evenly with the wet ingredients and there are no clumps.
STEP 4 – COOK
Once you’ve combined all of your ingredients in the slow cooker, cover and turn on low. It is important the cook on low so all of the ingredients melt and combine evenly. After 1 hour, open the slow cooker and stir thoroughly. You will probably notice that a lot of your liquids are at the bottom and you need to re-mix everything. Once you’ve reincorporated all of your ingredients, replace the lid and cook for 1 more hour. After one hour, turn your slow cooker to the “keep warm” setting until ready to serve!
(after 1 hour; still liquid and not dry, but needs to be stirred)
Note: if after the first hour of cooking you notice that your mixture has dried out, add in 4-6 ounces of evaporated milk and stir thoroughly until the mixture takes on a creamier texture.
The cooking time above is based on my exact slow cooker, which can be found here. If you use a different slow cooker, your cooking time may vary, so it is important to check back frequently to ensure that your mixture does not dry out. Stirring frequently to ensure all ingredients incorporate and cook evenly is more important than the actual cooking time! Don’t be afraid to add more evaporated milk or whole milk if you notice that your mac and cheese is a little dry – just add slowly and combine until you achieve a creamier texture.
(after 2 hours; fully cooked and creamy)
This recipe will make 5-7 full servings of macaroni and cheese. I have had years where I made two batches of this because we had a really large crowd for Thanksgiving. If you choose to double the recipe, do so in two separate slow cookers with the same ingredient quantities and procedures I outlined. Do not double all of the ingredients and combine into one slow cooker – I’ve done this before and it did not turn out the same.
It is also important to remember that on Thanksgiving there is A LOT of food. So while this recipe makes 5-7 full portions, not everyone eats a FULL portion on Thanksgiving because there is so much else on their plate. So, before you feel like you need to make two batches, consider how many people you are having and how many other dishes you are making!
If you make this recipe I would love to hear! I hope you’ll give it a try and hopefully it will become a holiday tradition in your home! Stay tuned for more recipes to come over the next two weeks!
As always, thank you so much for reading and sharing! XOXO
- 16 oz cavatappi pasta
- 8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese (approximate)
- 6 oz cave aged gruyere cheese (approximate)
- 6 oz aged white cheddar cheese (approximate)
- 12 oz can evaporated milk (get two of these)
- 2 eggs (beaten)
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 stick butter (melted)
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- salt and pepper (to taste)
Grate all cheeses together and set aside*
Cook pasta until very al dente (approximately 4-5 minutes). Drain but DO NOT RINSE
Spray slow cooker liberally with cooking spray
Add al dente pasta, 1 12oz can evaporated milk**, 1 1/2 cups whole milk, 1/2 stick melted butter, and 2 beaten eggs
Stir to combine thoroughly
Slowly add cheese, stirring frequently and ensuring all ingredients combine evenly with no cheese clumps
Cover and cook on low for 1 hour
After 1 hour, stir to recombine all ingredients. If necessary, add 4-6 ounces of evaporated milk if mixture is too dry.
Recover and cook for 1 additional hour
Place on 'keep warm' setting until ready to serve. Enjoy!
*You can grate cheeses 1 day in advance. I highly suggest using the KitchenAid cheese grater attachment as detailed in the post!
**The recipe calls for 2 12oz cans of evaporated milk but you may not need the second one! Only add one can initially and only use the second can if your mixture is very dry after 1 hour.