Taste test: Packaged macaroni and cheese

Epicurious
The Corrections : Jonathan Franzen (2001)

Who makes the best mac 'n' cheese? (Photo: iStockphoto)

To find the best mac 'n' cheese, our judges tasted 16 varieties—and found three that won Epicurious over.







The saying "Cheddar makes everything better!" is indeed correct. Adding it as a garnish to a veggie or a hot bowl of chili can be dish-changing; adding it to pasta makes the perfect meal: macaroni and cheese. While it's hard to beat homemade macaroni and cheese, on a hard day's night, a box of store-bought mac 'n' cheese can be a real time-saver and family-pleaser.

(See more: Taste test: All-beef hot dogs)

These days, packaged mac 'n' cheeses vary in many ways: They can be made on the stovetop, baked in an oven, or cooked in the microwave. Some are made with three or more cheeses, others even use soy. But we felt that this dish is loved by many because of its simplicity. For that reason, we narrowed our taste test selections into three categories: traditional, whole wheat, and white Cheddar, all packaged in boxed macaroni form and prepared on the stovetop. (We did not test any single-serving, frozen, or microwave-only options.)

The ultimate stovetop mac 'n' cheese should have pasta that is not mushy and does not swim in a pool of watery sauce, but is instead generously coated with Cheddar-cheesy, buttery goodness. The cheese should taste like cheese and shouldn't have overly sharp, sweet, or artificial flavors.

The 16 varieties of mac 'n' cheese we tasted are available nationwide and included the following, listed from highest to lowest score in our taste test: 365 Organic Shells & White Cheddar Cheese, Kraft Whole Grain Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, Kraft Premium White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese, Annie's Creamy Deluxe Whole Wheat Shells & Extra Cheesy Cheddar Sauce, Velveeta Rotini and Cheese Whole Grain, 365 Organic Macaroni & Cheese, Annie's Homegrown Shells & White Cheddar,* Hodgson Mills Whole Wheat Macaroni & Cheese Dinner,* Simply Organic Macaroni & Cheese Dinner,* Annie's Homegrown Macaroni & Cheese,* Velveeta Original Shells and Cheese, Back to Nature Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, Pasta Roni Cheddar Macaroni,* Harvest Wheat Macaroni & Cheese Dinner,* Pasta Roni Shells & White Cheddar. (The brands marked with * received the same score.)

Methodology: In a blind taste test, five judges compared the flavor, consistency, and appearance of 16 boxes of packaged mac 'n' cheese (tubes, shells, or rotini). All options were prepared according to the stovetop directions on the packaging, using 1% milk and unsalted butter. (In several cases butter was not required and therefore not added.) We ranked them according to the Epicurious four-fork rating system (four being best). One winner within each category had us wishing every night was mac 'n' cheese night.



View gallery

.
365 Organic Shells and White Cheddar Cheese
Best Overall and Best White Cheddar

Winner: 365 Organic Shells and White Cheddar Cheese ($1.29 for 6 oz. box)

Pros: The editors noted how nicely the creamy, cheesy sauce clings to the shells. "It smells like buttery melted cheese, and the flavor is that of authentic Cheddar too!" stated one surprised judge. "Even though I was stuffed, I served myself twice!" admitted another.

Cons: Not ideal for those who prefer macaroni pasta rather than shells.




View gallery

.
Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
Best Traditional

Winner: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (1.39 for 6 oz. box)

Pros: Many chose this as their favorite because it was not overly salty. "It was pleasantly buttery, without being too wet and soggy," noted one judge. "Creamy, comforting, and innocuous—exactly what one expects from a boxed mac 'n' cheese," declared another taster.

Cons: A virulent shade of yellow.




View gallery

.
Kraft Whole Grain Macaroni and Cheese
Best Whole Wheat

Winner: Kraft Whole Grain Macaroni and Cheese ($ 1.49 for 6 oz. box)

Pros: In addition to having an unexpectedly natural flavor (like homemade), the cheese sauce has a balanced, mild, and yet tangy taste. "Not too mushy, and the little pasta logs cling together, creating the perfect bite," noticed one judge.

Cons: Strangely sweet finish.

The Other Contenders: The Bottom Three

Pasta Roni Cheddar Macaroni was one of the least favored due to its un-cheesiness. One editor said it best: "There's no cheese taste at all! But if you like buttery milk, then this might be your choice."

Judges were surprised to find out that Harvest Wheat Macaroni & Cheese is marketed as being artificial flavor- and preservative-free. "Not only does the cheese taste fake and sweet, but the sauce does not coat the pasta like it should," said one tester.

Pasta Roni Shells & White Cheddar received zero forks from four out of the five judges. "Sauce looks like glue!" stated one judge. "A little pasty, and it tastes like chicken," declared another.

Prices and availability subject to change.

More from Epicurious:

Easy Family Dinners

25 Sandwich Makeovers

How to Eat Your Spring Veggies

Sorry you didn't like this comment. Please provide a reason below.

Are you sure?
Rating failed. Try again.
Request failed. Try again.
We will promote constructive and witty comments to the top, so everyone sees them!
Sorry, we can’t load comments right now. Try again.

    Recommended for You

    • Brie Larson, like everyone else, didn't seem thrilled with Casey Affleck's Oscar win

      As 2016's Best Actress winner, Brie Larson was tasked with presenting the award for Best Actor at the 2017 Academy Awards. On Sunday night, that award went to Casey Affleck for his role in Manchester By the Sea , despite the allegations of sexual harassment against him. And like the rest of the internet, Larson did not seem pleased. SEE ALSO: Amid the uproar over Nate Parker, why is no one talking about Casey Affleck? who hates casey affleck more: me or brie larson? it's a close call.. #oscars pic.twitter.com/SoymUAhRex — jamie (@dylanohollands) February 27, 2017 .@brielarson is a precious angel and also we have the same expression when we look at casey affleck who knew https://t.co/x5dsRgnEmH pic.twitter.com/NaVaWHl0Pp — Róisín Lanigan (@rosielanners) February 27, 2017 This is the second award Larson presented to Affleck— she presented his Golden Globe win back in January. My aesthetic: Brie Larson not clapping for literal trash hole casey affleck pic.twitter.com/Ci5LWXLkCr — Tyler Struble (@tyler_struble) February 27, 2017 The allegations against Affleck stem from lawsuits filed by two women who worked on his 2010 film I'm Still Here. The actor settled both cases out of court.  Although similar allegations against Nate Parker became the major talking point surrounding his film The Birth of a Nation , Affleck's Oscar win shows that the lawsuits have left his his career largely unscathed. Larson — who portrayed a sexual assault survivor in 2015's Room and who stood to hug the survivors who performed with Lady Gaga at last year's show — doesn't seem to be here for it.  All award season Brie Larson, who starred in a movie about sexual assault, had to present Casey Affleck all his awards. pic.twitter.com/L2WbQvSJNv — Marnie (@ChrnclsOfMarnia) February 27, 2017 at what time is brie larson scheduled to beat up casey affleck — ASYA (@communistbabe) February 27, 2017 brie larson everytime she sees casey affleck pic.twitter.com/nkQCta9JxZ — chiara (@chapmns) February 27, 2017 BONUS: Despite the most awkward moment in Oscars history, ‘Moonlight’s’ Best Picture award is what matters most.

      Mashable
    • EXCLUSIVE: Matt Damon Blames Oscars Flub on Host Jimmy Kimmel: 'They Got What They Paid For'

      As expected, the men continued to feud at the Academy Awards.

      Entertainment Tonight
    • 7-foot-7 'Game of Thrones' actor Neil Fingleton dies at 36

      LONDON (AP) — Neil Fingleton, a 7-foot 7-inch actor who played the giant Mag the Mighty in "Game of Thrones" has died at 36.

      Associated Press
    • Costco may hike its membership fees — here's how much more you'd pay

      Costco is expected to raise its membership fees by nearly 10% in the next couple of months. The...

      Business Insider
    • Pro-Trump town riled up after immigration officials arrest popular restaurant manager

      WEST FRANKFORT, Ill. –  A southern Illinois community that solidly backed President Donald Trump has rallied behind a Mexican restaurant manager who doesn't have legal permission to live in the U.S. and has been detained by immigration officials. Letters of support for Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco have poured in from West Frankfort's mayor, police chief, high school athletic director and the county prosecutor. They describe Hernandez as a role model and praise his robust civil involvement, including funding school scholarships, benefit dinners for families in need and hosting a law enforcement appreciation event. Hernandez, 38, came to the U.S. in the 1990s but didn't obtain legal status, according

      Fox News q
    • Former President Bush breaks his silence, defends Trump

      Reaction from Fox News contributor and former White House speechwriter Marc Thiessen

      FOX News Videos
    • Star Shock! The Moment the A-List Oscar Crowd Realized La La Land Was Not the Best Picture Winner

      The stars inside the Dolby Theatre at the 89th Academy Awards last night were just as shocked as anyone. Every jaw hit the floor in the house seemed to hit the floor when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly called La La Land as the winner of the 2017 Academy Award for Best Picture Sunday night — the honor actually belonged to Moonlight. La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz stepped to the microphone and said, “There’s been a mistake.

      People
    • The Best Celeb Quotes from the Oscars Red Carpet (6 photos)

      See what the stars are saying, unfiltered

      People
    • Every Parent Should Use This Dad's "X-Plan" to Give Their Teens a Way Out of Pressure Situations

      Being a teen can be difficult; you're learning to navigate a more adult world full of sometimes uncomfortable social situations, which may or may not include peer pressure, while also trying to "be cool." To alleviate some of the stress that comes with these instances, one dad is sharing an invaluable code he uses with his own kids, which acts as an out for them during any awkward social situation — and it's something you and your kids should adopt ASAP. "As a teen, forcing down alcohol seemed a whole lot easier than offering myself up for punishment, endless nagging and interrogation, and the potential end of freedom as I knew it," Bert Fulks, a father and youth minister, shared on his blog. "For these reasons, we now have something called the 'X-plan' in our family. "Let's say that my youngest, Danny, gets dropped off at a party.

      PopSugar q
    • Chrissy Teigen looked like she was sleeping during Casey Affleck’s Oscar win, and the internet has theories

      The 2017 Academy Awards were an extremely long affair, with patient east coasters staying up way past midnight to catch La La…

      Hello Giggles
    • Lily Collins Parties All Night After Oscars — and Wears Last Night’s Makeup to Work on Monday

      Lily Collins glammed it up at the Vanity Fair Oscars party on Feb. 26. For Lily Collins, life is fabulous. The Rules Don’t Apply actress, 27, channeled old Hollywood on Sunday as she walked the red carpet at the Vanity Fair party.

      Yahoo Celebrity
    • Great white shark caught from pier is under investigation; disturbing video

      A disturbing video of a juvenile great white shark being hauled up onto the Huntington Beach Pier and an equally disturbing photo of the fishermen posing with the catch has created an uproar on social media. The video posted on Facebook by Mike Hefner and the photo posted on Facebook by Diego Gamboa Fishing not only sparked outrage but could help enforcement agents with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in identifying the offending anglers. Great white sharks are protected. It is illegal to catch a great white shark and when one is hooked, it is supposed to be released as soon as possible, not landed so photos can be taken, as what happened in this case. And you certainly don’t gaff

      GrindTV.com q
    • Game Of Thrones actor and UK's tallest man Neil Fingleton dies aged 36

      Game of Thrones actor and former UK's tallest man Neil Fingleton has died at the age of 36. The successful actor also appeared in Doctor Who and X-Men: First Class, Avengers: Age of Ultron, after a basketball career that saw him play professionally in Spain, China, Italy, Greece and England. Raised in County Durham, he starred in HBO's iconic Game Of Thrones series as the giant Mag The Mighty in 2014.

      International Business Times UK q
    • White House responds to father of Navy SEAL killed in Yemen raid

      White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday responded to the father of US Navy SEAL Chief...

      Business Insider
    • Steve Harvey Weighs in On the Oscar Best Picture Snafu, Tells Warren Beatty to Call Him

      Other than those directly involved with director Barry Jenkins’s acclaimed drama "Moonlight," no one, it seemed, was happier about the Best Picture error than Steve Harvey.

      Yahoo Movies
    • Oscars 2017: Jimmy Kimmel tries - but fails - to bury the hatchet with Matt Damon

      Jimmy Kimmel and Matt Damon continued their "feud" as the 89th Academy Awards host took aim at the actor in his opening monologue. The host claimed he would "bury the hatchet" with Damon, whose Manchester by the Sea was up for six Oscars, before ripping into the actor. "I would like to bury the hatchet with someone I've had issues with -- Matt Damon.

      The Telegraph
    • Dana White reveals Conor McGregor's next UFC opponent, Mayweather talks going 'nowhere'

      Both McGregor and Mayweather insist they are keen on meeting in the boxing ring in a fight that could become the richest in combat sport history. White has previously insisted his promotion will not sit back and allow the McGregor vs Mayweather fight to happen without their involvement, adding such a move would be "the stupidest in history".

      International Business Times
    • This one tweet explains that truly bizarre Oscars Best Picture mixup perfectly

      In what is certainly the weirdest moment in Oscars history, the incorrect Best Picture winner was announced on stage to finish off the 89th Academy Awards. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway first announced La La Land as the big winner of the night. The cast and crew walked onstage and began to make their speeches, only to be stopped halfway through — the correct winner was actually Moonlight. Comedian Jackie Jennings quickly pointed out a perfect explanation for the bizarre mistake. WAIT BUT THIS IS ACTUALLY THE REAL END OF LA LA LAND AND ITS GREAT #Oscars — Jackie Jennings (@ohhijackie) February 27, 2017 La La Land' s depressing dream sequence finale was oddly similar to the ending of the Oscars. The Oscars ended exactly like La La Land did. La La Land is the Oscars. The Oscars are La La Land . SEE ALSO: Your guide to the 2017 Oscars, in highly accurate charts As the dust settles on the weirdest Academy Awards thing of all time, more dazed viewers have begun to realize the connection. Hey "La La Land" remember when you gave us that fake happy ending and then took it awayHow's it feel — Daniel "Kibblesmith" (@kibblesmith) February 27, 2017 This was super meta for La La Land- the movie about following your dreams with the most crushing ending. — Tiffany Mink (@minkus) February 27, 2017 I hope they put that alternate ending on the La La Land blu ray — pat tobin (@tastefactory) February 27, 2017 So that was actually just like La La Land, where they imagine the joy and glory they would have had, only to accept a different ending. — Joshuah Bearman (@joshbearman) February 27, 2017 Remember at the end of La La Land where it shows the happy ending but then it's snatched away? And it's nighttime? And there's MOONLIGHT?! — Corey Vidal (@CoreyVidal) February 27, 2017 Insane the Oscars would have the same dream sequence ending as La La Land. — Peter Sherer (@psherz) February 27, 2017 BONUS: Oscars contender 'La La Land' gets an old school video game treatment

      Mashable
    • 6 Arrested in Connection With Death of College Student Run Over by Campus Vehicle

      Six people were arrested in connection with the death of a UConn student last October who was run over and killed by a campus fire department vehicle.

      Tribune