My Instant Pot Mac ’n’ Cheese Recipe Is Famous (To My Kids)

It takes 10 minutes and never disappoints.

4 min read

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My three daughters often joke about the various cooking projects they endured growing up. As a food writer, I often served the family whatever recipes I was testing for a story — so dinner might’ve been three different fish soups, or nothing but Turkish-style veggies braised in olive oil. They notoriously remember the pressure cooker phase and the neverending soft, gloopy dinners that ensued. They tease me about it to this day. But when they do, I remind them that if it wasn’t for the pressure cooker, I would never have invented the recipe that defined their childhood, which was my glorious mac ’n’ cheese. 


The reason it was so good is that it tasted like a Platonic ideal of boxed mac and took barely any more time to prepare — maybe 10 minutes max. It had that same slick creaminess and that not-exactly-gummy but comfortingly squishable texture as the boxed stuff, but it tasted a thousand percent better. 

The kids are grown, and our mac ’n’ cheese consumption has abated, but every once in a while I pull out my Instant Pot to revisit this dish, which always hits the spot.

Famous Instant Pot Mac ’n’ Cheese



  • 1-pound bag of elbow macaroni

  • 4 ounces cream cheese (about half a block)

  • 2 cups of pre-shredded cheddar (one small bag)

  • 1 cup milk (optional: sub water)

  • 1 teaspoon of salt

  • ¼ teaspoon of hot mustard powder

  • 6-8 shakes of Tabasco


Assemble your Instant Pot and pour a glass of wine

Dump the elbow macaroni into said Instant Pot and cover it with 3 cups of water.

Cook on high pressure for 4 minutes and then quick release the pressure. If it starts spitting water toward the end of the de-pressurization, cover the vent with a kitchen towel and enjoy your wine as it pipes down. 

Open the Instant Pot. Inside will be a congealed, stuck-together something that looks like a brain made of pasta. Immediately dump in the cream cheese and pre-shredded cheddar. The bagged cheddar is actually preferable in this case because the shreds are coated with cellulose that helps make the final sauce creamier and emulsified in just the right way.

Stir like crazy with a wooden spoon to melt the cheese and break up the pasta. A zillion strings will appear. It will look like something from a horror movie about gestating alien spawn. Add your milk (or water, if using), as needed, bit by bit, and the strands will give way to a creamy, lush, texture. Then season as you like. For my taste, that’s the salt, hot mustard powder, and Tabasco combo listed above.

Pour another glass of wine. Dinner is served. You really don’t need anything else, though a salad wouldn’t hurt. 


  • Photography: Paul Quitoriano

  • Food Styling: Lena Abraham

  • Prop Styling: Gerri Williams

  • Art Direction: Sarah Ceniceros Gomez