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I have two young children (3 and 4.5), who both love Kraft Macaroni And Cheese, or similar variants. As a child, I also loved it, and between the two I've made a few hundred batches, at least.

However, I don't know that I have found the optimal method for making the sauce at the end, despite all of that practice. I've at different times thought that each of the following was correct:

  1. Add the milk, then the powder, combine, then add softened butter
  2. Add the butter, mix thoroughly until melted, then the poweder, combine, then the milk
  3. Add some milk, then the powder, then some more milk, then some more milk, then softened or melted butter
  4. Remove the macaroni, just add butter to the warm pan (but not on the burner) until melted, add the powder, combine thoroughly, then the milk, then the macaroni (This is the "Annie's" box method)

Yet, I don't think ultimately it's ever really made a significant difference. You always end up with a sauce that's so-so at first, a bit grainy and liquidy, and only after it's sat for a while (10-15 minutes) does it end up perfect - which for a 3 or 4 year old is eternity when faced with their favorite dish.

Is there an optimal way to make Macaroni and Cheese box mix? If the ingredients need to be altered slightly, I'm fine with that, though it needs to stay close still to the original - no adding significant amounts of cheese or Velveeta.

  • And - yes, I know, homemade macaroni and cheese is amazing, food-of-the-gods. However, my children don't entirely agree, and while I have children with incredibly broad palates, they're still children, and this one I'm willing to give them... – Joe M Apr 26 '16 at 20:28
  • "Optimal" is largely a matter of opinion. I have my favorite method but that may not be the best for everyone... it may also depend on the brand. I know that Annie's recommends version 4... but that may just be for them. – Catija Apr 26 '16 at 20:28
  • @Catija I meant Amy's not Annie's for version 4, got that one wrong. (Version 4 is Version 2 but with the macaroni removed.) – Joe M Apr 26 '16 at 20:28
  • HA HA HA and I changed mine! You're actually right, though. – Catija Apr 26 '16 at 20:29
  • @Catija Lol. "Annie's" is indeed correct, not "Amy's". Amy's does make good Mac and Cheese though, just in the freezer :) – Joe M Apr 26 '16 at 20:29
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The 4th version you gave is optimal from a chemistry standpoint; the process of using heat to melt a soft fat and dissolve a powder into a liquid by stirring is going to be at it's most efficient when the ingredients can fully interact with each other without all that pasta in the way.

It seems the main issue at hand here is the 10-15 minute wait for perfection that you mentioned. The thickening agents in the cheese powder need a few minutes to do their molecular bonding magic, and there's nothing we can do to speed that up. All 4 methods you mentioned are going to force this wait for creamy goodness because you aren't starting the sauce until after the macaroni is done.

While I don't have impatient kids to cook for, I do have an occasionally 'hangry' wife so I understand the value of efficiency here. What I would highly reccomend you try (and the method I use at home) for Kraft mac & cheese is basically the 4th one in your question, but instead of waiting until the macaroni is done and using the same pan for the sauce, just grab a second pan and prepare the sauce while the macaroni is cooking.

Put the second pan over med-low heat and throw in your butter (hard or soft, doesn't matter). After the butter has melted, add the cheese powder and stir until it's mostly wet clumps instead of dry powder. Then add your milk and stir everything together until the powder is dissolved. Just keep an eye on it and occasionally stir while the macaroni finishes cooking. You'll definitely notice it thickening up after a few minutes. When the macaroni is done, drain it and return it to the pot like normal, and stir in your sauce; by this time it should be the perfect consistency or very close. Voila, mac & cheese "aged to perfection" without actually having to wait.

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    Other than dirtying another pan, this method is ingenious. :) – Marti Apr 27 '16 at 17:10
  • Hmm, that's a very good point. As far as chemistry goes - is dissolving the powder in the milk first vs. dissolving in the butter first different? I assume coating the cheese granules with fat has some impact but I can't figure out what. Roux you do fat plus starch then liquid - but is this the same, or does Kraft etc. do something to make it more easily dissolved In liquid. – Joe M Apr 27 '16 at 17:22
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    @JoeM butter and milk would dissolve the powder pretty much the same way. I just go in the order I gave above because it seems faster; you have to melt the butter either way and an empty pan does it almost instantly whereas heated milk would take longer to do it. The goal is to get the sauce together as quickly as possible so it has as much time to thicken as possible before the macaroni finishes. – Barkode Apr 27 '16 at 17:43
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    You'd be better off adding the macaroni to the sauce in your last step... when you add the sauce to the macaroni, you now have lost some of the sauce... which makes me sad. :( – Catija Apr 27 '16 at 18:43
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My family laughs because I'm adamant about the way Mac n cheese from the box is cooked. Lol Even though I swear the kraft blue box has changed its recipe since the 80's it's still the best out there that isn't homemade. I always have my big bowl ready (I always make 2 boxes) with melted butter and add in the milk, stir, whisk in the powder well - when Mac is done I drain well and add to the bowl and gently fold. Im carefull not to overcook. I want unaltered and bruised unbroken and still firm macaroni..... I get it 100 percent of the time with this method. Nice consistency to the pasta. No ripped pieces. Most mush. Everyone of the pasta is seperate- no cling. Mmmmmmmm

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A friend and I figured out the 2nd method. Never considered the 4th. It was way back when we were on break from school. In the 2nd method you get butter to melt, add the cheese stuff and it all combines so well right away. Then add the milk as desired. Normally use a little more butter and less milk, but do as you desire in this!

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    Your answer would be more helpful if you described the methods you tried instead of giving numbers. With numbers, I have to go back to whatever post you refer and figure out what you meant instead of reading it right here. It would also make your post still valid when the original post gets edited and the order changes. – Robert Apr 14 '17 at 21:10

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