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Macaroni & Cheese in a crockpot... will this work?

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I'm trying to figure out how to translate this recipe http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/al... into my need to prep something in a crockpot today for an event outside of my house.

I'm aiming for dinner at 5pm, I will be leaving home at around 11am, getting to the event location around 12. I had thought I could maybe assemble it all at home and just let it cook on low for 5 hours but after googling crockpot mac & cheese recipes, I'm getting convinced it's going to be mushy.

Now I'm thinking I could have a bag with the noodles & butter and another bag with the milk, cheese, egg, etc., and keep it all in a cooler. At about 2 pm, I'd warm the noodles up in the microwave, mix the milk/cheese/egg mixture in the bag, swish it all around in the bag, spray the crockpot with cooking spray, add the mixture and then cook on low for 3 hours to get all melty. Maybe I'd stir it up a couple of times.

Your thoughts on how well this would work, or other ideas? I thought about just making it all in advance, keeping it in a cooker in the crock and then just heating in the crockpot for an hour and a half or so. This would be so much easier, but from past experience with this recipe, I've found the cheese mixture separates a bit and becomes oily when I reheat leftovers in the microwave. But maybe the slow gentle crockpot heat would reheat it in a way that would keep the creamy texture?

Looking to do this today, so prompt answers are appreciated.

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  1. My sister just posted this on Facebook, you don't even boil the noodles first. Just an idea......I haven't tried personally.

    Crock Pot Macaroni and Cheese ~

    ***Note: Well, I have to say, I LOVE this version of Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese! Why? You put the noodles in dry, uncooked!!! Yep, you read that correctly! For me, dumping in the ingredients and starting the crock pot is the whole point!!

    Ingredients:
    Cooking oil spray
    2 cups skim milk
    1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
    1 egg
    1 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp. pepper
    1 1/2 cups pre-shredded sharp cheddar cheese
    2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni

    Directions:
    Spray the pot of the slow cooker or if using a liner bag, spray the bag well. In a mixing bowl whisk together milk, evaporated milk, egg, salt and pepper. Pour milk mixture into the crock pot. Add cheese and uncooked macaroni. Stir gently to mix.

    Turn slow cooker on low and cook 3-4 hours, or until the custard is set and the macaroni is tender. (Do not cook more than 4 hours, or the sides will begin to dry out). Serve at once.

    Jans tips: between the 3-4 hour mark on low, the edges start to get that crispy, cheesy edge. My kids love that part, but if yours don't you'll want to make this when you know you can cut it to warm or serve it at about the three hour mark.

    The original recipe called for 1/4 tsp. salt , but I increased it for my own taste preferences. You can cut it back down if you prefer.

    2 Replies
    1. re: coll

      I think I came across this one while searching for ideas and the last time I tried something with uncooked pasta in my crockpot (Crockpot Lasagna) it was a really awful texture at the end.

      Got some offline advice to undercook the macaroni, and make up a bechamel cheese sauce in advance, mix the two and cook for 1-2 hours. I'm going to give that a try unless someone else chimes in with better ideas. Will report back!

      1. re: Chris VR

        I used to undercook my pasta, but they would absorb too much of the liquid (bechamel Mac and cheese, baked). So now I cook them enough, sometimes slightly over.

        Then again, I only broil the whole thing for like 10 minutes now. So not sure how the slow cooker will change things. Maybe cook the pasta completely, then cook/reheat the sauce in the slow cooker, then add the pasta 10-20 min before serving?

    2. I would do as you're thinking w/ two bags and mix when you get there. Just make sure to undercook the pasta first, then rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Mix w/ melted butter.

      1. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to really test this out... I mixed the cheese sauce and pasta together and got it going, thinking we'd eat it about 2 hours later, but about 15 minutes after I started it, people descended on it so I told them just to microwave individual bowls to get the cheese melty. It's all gone, so it couldn't have been too bad.

        But now I'm curious... will try this at home with the family this week.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Chris VR

          I realized I never reported back. I tried this again and found with undercooked macaroni and really runny bechamel sauce, I was able to keep a crockpot of mac and cheese at a decent texture for about 3 hours on "warm" (my slow cooker has high, low and warm options). I think it needed to cook for at least an hour, but after 3 hours the texture really started to degrade.

          I played around a bit with sodium citrate as well but didn't find a satisfactory taste... I have a problem with oversensitivity to bitterness and the sodium citrate has a bitterness most people don't notice but made it way too bitter for me.

          1. re: Chris VR

            So it may be best to warm, mix and serve as opposed to mix and let it sit -- mushy noodles are no bueno.

        2. I've never gotten good results when trying to make mac and cheese in a slow cooker. It's usually one or all of these problems - the pasta gets overcooked and starts to disintegrate, the whole thing dries out and turns into a brick, the cheese gets badly scorched on the sides, the cheese separates into a greasy mess.

          If you are looking to make mac and cheese but don't have much time, consider pre-cooking the pasta and give it a light toss in oil then toss it in the fridge. When you get home, all you need to do is place some shredded cheese and cream in a double boiler (with a few dashes of hot sauce) and slowly melt it together, just until it's all incorporated. In the mean time, warm the pasta in the microwave then toss it with the sauce.

          If you want, place the whole thing in a casserole dish with some more cheese and/or some buttered bread crumbs and pop it under the broiler for a bit.

          It only takes a few minutes to warm the pasta and melt the cheese, and it's pretty fool proof.

          Muenster & Colby are good to add to the Sharp Cheddar when making mac and cheese since they melt better. Sharp Cheddar on its own has a tendency to separate.

          1. Next time why not consider bringing a pasta salad?

            That six hour time span is too much for safe hot food without refrigeration.

            1 Reply
            1. re: iamafoodie

              Sorry I was unclear, I had access to a refrigerator, but not a stove or oven, which is why the crockpot was what I was looking for. It was a potluck of sorts, and I was looking for a main hot dish.

            2. My apologies in advance but, you're going to end up with a mushy blob. With all that time in advance just make it in the oven and re-heat when you arrive.

              5 Replies
              1. re: treb

                Why not a pasta salad? Because it's mac and cheese. :D

                And considering we're pretty much tailgating, reheating in an oven is pretty much out of the question. Let's say I cook noodles and bechamel separately, refrigerate overnight and toss them and some cheese in the cooler in the morning. Then, when lunchtime comes, reheat the noodles with hot water, heat up the bechamel on a campstove, melt the cheese in the sauce and treat the whole thing like a stove-top mac and cheese? Seems like a lot of work to do but I think it'll work.

                1. re: Dashmahn

                  Interesting idea, to add the cheese to the warmed bechamel on site. That should avoid the possibility of breaking, and then stirring in the warmed pasta... I can't see why this wouldn't work! Give it a try and report back! I'd add some dry mustard and/or a bit of hot sauce to the bechamel as well. It gives it an undefinable "oomph" that makes the mac & cheese go from good to great.

                  1. re: Chris VR

                    Will do Chris, thanks for the reality check and the dry mustard reminder! I'll chime in tomorrow night!

                    1. re: Chris VR

                      Tried it and it worked fantastically! Putting it all together on-site was a piece of cake as well -- the bechamel heated up quickly (5k BTU propane camp stove) and the cheese melted even faster. With the first batch, I poured hot water over the noodles to reheat them before tossing them in the cheese sauce but, with the second batch, I simply added them cold to the sauce over medium heat and let the cheese heat up the noodles -- that was the better batch. I wasn't however, pleased with my bechamel. I used the same recipe that I use when I bake the mac and cheese and it probably wasn't the best idea. It seemed that the ratio of sauce to cheese was a little too bechamel heavy so, next time I make it (it was requested by several players and parents for next Saturday's tourney), I'll ease up on the bechamel and add a touch more cheese. Interestingly, my mom made the same recipe tonight and baked it. I had a taste when I picked up my younger daughter and it was simply amazing, much better flavor than the stove top version that I had made earlier in the day. As is typically the case, more tweaking is required to get it to my liking -- a great start, but it's not there yet. Thanks again!

                      1. re: Dashmahn

                        Sounds fantastic, thanks for reporting back! Isn't it gratifying when you make the effort and everyone likes it and wants to you make it again?!

                2. I have done macaroni and cheese in a slow cooker successfully many times. I make the macaroni and cheese (it is a b├ęchamel recipe, with 4 cheeses and a breadcrumb topping) I plug the slow cooker (on low) in between 8:30 and 9am at work, and the macaroni and cheese is always fine by lunch time (noon), the texture is fine, it doesn't glob up and it is always all gone by the end
                  of the pot luck. Good luck with yours:)

                  1. There is a Trisha Yearwood recipe for Mac & Cheese in a slow cooker on the Food Network site - avoid it at all costs. I tried it and followed it to a tee, and it came out awful. These cheese all separated and curdled, the pasta was burnt in spots, a total mess and a waste of all that cheese.