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

    • 'Morbidly obese' woman drops 126 pounds and becomes fitness model

      A woman from Aarhus, Denmark, who was once classified as “morbidly obese” after tipping the scales at 268 pounds, now works as a physical trainer and sportswear model after dropping more than half of the weight in a period of four years. Mathilde Broberg, 22, lost the excess pounds partially by cutting out junk food, exercising avidly and following the “teaspoon diet,” where she measured out her food and ate with a teaspoon to ensure that the portion sizes weren’t larger than the size of a flat-out hand.

      Yahoo Canada Style
    • Trump's Treasury pick just doubled down on a budget trick that would steal from an entire generation

      On Thursday, President-elect Donald Trump's pick for Treasury secretary took the hot seat in...

      Business Insider
    • 'Grand Theft Auto' player builds a $1 million car to get justice against trolls

      The trouble with online video games is that there's always someone out to ruin other players' fun. One Grand Theft Auto V player found out how to get payback — literally. After getting fed up with other players blowing up cars in Grand Theft Auto V's online multiplayer mode, Aaron Reynolds documented on Twitter Tuesday an ingenious way to troll his trolls, Kotaku noticed. Reynolds suped up a car enough to value over $1 million...and then insured it. That forced the car-destroying culprits to pay him as high of an insurance premium as possible, hurting their wallets in retaliation. He named it Operation: One Million Dollar Car (or O1MDC for short). Here's how it went down: Players who blow up

      Mashable q
    • While Drama Swirls, Olivia Munn Stuns in Yellow Gown

      Olivia Munn looked gorgeous in a yellow gown with a plunging neckline. Despite the fact that Olivia Munn‘s relationship with football player Aaron Rodgers is making headlines, the actress doesn’t appear to be fazed by it. The 36-year-old was recently spotted in a glamorous yellow gown with a plunging neckline while out in New York City.

      Yahoo Style
    • Teen Who Was Kidnapped as a Baby Knew About Abduction, Court Records Say

      The South Carolina woman accused of kidnapping a newborn baby from a hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1998 allegedly admitted to the crime over a year ago, according to court documents obtained by ABC News. Gloria Williams, 51, allegedly abducted Alexis Manigo on July 10, 1998, just hours after she was born at a Jacksonville hospital and raised the girl as her own in South Carolina. Williams allegedly posed as a nurse and told the baby’s mother that the newborn had a fever and she needed to take her away, according to Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams.

      Good Morning America
    • Floyd Mayweather Failed Miserably At Trying To Troll Conor McGregor For Being Broke

      Floyd Mayweather is at it again, attempting to antagonize Conor McGregor as they continue their very strange beef and teasing a potential fight between the biggest star in boxing and the biggest star in mixed martial arts. The latest installment in the Mayweather-McGregor saga comes courtesy of Floyd’s Twitter, as he attempted to troll McGregor by comparing the two’s net worths. The reason he did this is because Dana White recently offered both fighters $25 million plus a negotiated pay-per-view revenue split to fight.

      UPROXX
    • EpiPen gets a new rival: Auvi-Q. Its pricing scheme will blow your mind

      Have allergies? This EpiPen rival has a list price of $4,500, but most patients won't pay a cent.

      CNBC
    • Witnesses: Teen girl tosses dog off bridge, then removes pants, swims in ocean in South Florida

      A girl seen throwing a dog off the Blue Heron bridge in Riviera beach later said she did so "cause dogs can fly," witnesses told Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputies. It turns out bit of extra weight may have helped protect the dog, according to Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control. BJ, an eight-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix, is in a lot of pain but stable after a nearly 50 foot fall off the bridge at about 3:40 p.m. Wednesday at Phil Foster Park. "It doesn't appear he has anything broken," Palm Beach Animal Care and Control spokesman Capt. David Walesky said. "It's possible the extra weight helped him out a little bit. It's surprising he doesn't have any more injuries." BJ weighs about

      Orlando Sentinel q
    • Sofia Vergara Mentored Ariel Winter Through Body Changes

      "Modern Family" star Ariel Winter has been very open about the physical struggles with her body, which eventually led to breast reduction surgery in 2015. The 18-year-old said that after she went public with the procedure, the reaction from fans and co-stars was mostly supportive. Winter had battled neck and spine problems and said she wanted to reduce her breast size from an F cup to a D cup for her physical and mental health. In a new interview with Self magazine, Winter talks about being so young in the public eye. She was 10 years old when the show started in 2009. "I had a hard time finding confidence within myself. When I started, I had a completely different body than what happened overnight

      ABC News q
    • These Are The Weird Foods U.S. Presidents Love (14 photos)

      Running a country sounds like it'd work up quite an appetite, and with the White House chef at their disposal, U.S. presidents are free to eat just about anything they'd like. Here's what some of our noble leaders chowed down on after a long day in the Oval Office. From Delish

      Delish
    • Executive actions ready to go as Trump prepares to take office

      By Ayesha Rascoe and Julia Edwards Ainsley WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump is preparing to sign executive actions on his first day in the White House on Friday to take the opening steps to crack down on immigration, build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and roll back outgoing President Barack Obama's policies. Trump, a Republican elected on Nov. 8 to succeed Democrat Obama, arrived in Washington on a military plane with his family a day before he will be sworn in during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. ...

      Reuters
    • I tried Whataburger, In-N-Out, and Shake Shack — and the winner is clear

      The INSIDER Summary: • There's always been competition between the east and west coasts when it comes to burgers.  • In-N-Out takes the title as the best burger, but Whataburger's honey chicken biscuits are a solid bet too. Ah, the great debate of burger joints. If you're on the Eastern side of the USA, you may be more of a Shake Shack fan. However, for those of you on the West Coast, you may be more partial to some In-N-Out or Whataburger. Unfortunately for me, I am smack dab in the middle with many other flyover states, and close to none of these amazing burger joints. However, I do travel a lot and have had the opportunity to try all three varieties, time and time again (I just love burgers,

      Business Insider q
    • Entertainment Tonight
    • Tiny House Living: How Much Money Can You Really Save?

      Saving money is a goal for many Americans, and in some cases you can do it by living in a tiny house. Here's the trend by the numbers.

      The Cheat Sheet q 8 min ago
    • Mark Zuckerberg is suing hundreds of Hawaiians to protect his 700-acre Kauai estate

      Mark Zuckerberg paid close to $100 million for 700 acres of beachfront property on the island of...

      Business Insider
    • VIDEO: Driver Licenses From Nine States Won’t Be Valid IDs for Domestic Flights in 2018

      Beginning Jan. 22, 2018, travelers from nine states will no longer be able to travel with only their driver’s licenses.

      Travel & Leisure Video
    • Western Union admits to aiding wire fraud, to pay $586 million

      Western Union Co , the world's biggest money-transfer company, agreed to pay $586 million and admitted to turning a blind eye as criminals used its service for money laundering and fraud, U.S. authorities said on Thursday. Western Union, which has over half a million locations in more than 200 countries, admitted "to aiding and abetting wire fraud" by allowing scammers to process transactions, even when the company realized its agents were helping scammers avoid detection, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission said in statements. With the help of Western Union agents, Chinese immigrants used the service to send hundreds of millions of dollars to pay human smugglers, wiring the money in smaller increments to avoid federal reporting requirements, U.S. authorities said.

      Reuters
    • People are talking about the confusing Photoshop fail in Selena Gomez’s Instagram selfie

      We all know that Selena Gomez is beyond beautiful and is no need of Photoshop. But one picture floating around the internet…

      Hello Giggles
    • Bella Hadid issues a warning for her ex The Weeknd

      Bella Hadid has allegedly made several phone calls with her ex The Weeknd to warn the star about Selena Gomez who she believes is using the singer to promote herself.

      Zoomin TV