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

    • Judge Napolitano: The Obama Administration's Takes a Parting Shot at Personal Freedom

      Published January 19, 2017 | FoxNews.com   On Jan. 3, outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch secretly signed an order directing the National Security Agency -- America’s 60,000-person-strong domestic spying apparatus -- to make available raw spying data to all other federal intelligence agencies, which then can pass it on to their counterparts in foreign countries and in the 50 states upon request. She did so, she claimed, for administrative convenience. Yet in doing this, she violated basic constitutional principles that were erected centuries ago to prevent just what she did. Here is the back story. In the aftermath of former President Richard Nixon’s abusive utilization of the FBI and CIA

      Fox Nation q
    • The Rock Brings 15-Year-Old Daughter to the People’s Choice Awards – Then Jokingly Drops the F-Bomb During Acceptance Speech

      When Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson won the 2017 People’s Choice Award for favorite premium series actor on Wednesday, his mini-me was on hand to celebrate. Johnson, who was PEOPLE’s 2016 Sexiest Man Alive, shares Simone with ex Dany Garcia. Simone and Johnson also posed with girl group Fifth Harmony, who are performing for the first time as a foursome at the show.

      People
    • Woman Who Lost 80 Lbs. Body Shamed by Lululemon Employees: ‘I Felt Less Than’

      After losing 80 lbs., Heather Albert was thrilled to finally fit into Lululemon clothing.

      People
    • Alibaba founder Jack Ma has a brutal theory of how America went wrong over the past 30 years

      DAVOS, Switzerland — Alibaba founder Jack Ma thinks America went wrong over the past 30...

      Business Insider
    • Race, privilege and a bad attitude: Why are Nate Parker and Casey Affleck being treated differently?

      On the night of the Golden Globes — as he had for many of the awards season trophy ceremonies —  actor Casey Affleck bounded onto the stage to accept his award as best lead actor in a drama for his turn in “Manchester by the Sea.” Meanwhile, Nate Parker, the multi-hyphenate lead of the Nat Turner slave revolt flick, “The Birth of a Nation,” wasn’t anywhere to be seen on the show that, 12 months prior, he was considered all but a lock to be a fixture of. The 2017 awards season was supposed to belong to both Parker and Affleck, as both of their films had stormed out of Sundance a year ago this week to positive reception with glory in their sights.  But the experiences of these two men have been

      Los Angeles Times q
    • Mark Zuckerberg suing hundreds, seeking privacy at his Hawaii estate

      Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent $100 million on 700 acres of beachfront land on Kauai’s North Shore to create a secluded sanctuary for his family. Now, says CBS Honolulu affiliate KGMB-TV, he’s trying to ensure that privacy by suing families who might stake some claim to that land. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports that Zuckerberg is filing lawsuits against a few hundred people – many living and some dead -- who inherited or once owned “kuleana lands,” which are lands passed down to the heirs of the first landowner without a will or a deed. “Close to a dozen small parcels within Zuckerberg’s Kauai estate are owned by kamaaina families who have rights to traverse the billionaire’s otherwise private domain,” the newspaper says.

      CBS News q
    • Dodge’s next muscle car will be faster, lighter, and more powerful than the Hellcat

      Dodge has announced it will introduce a new variant of the Challenger named Demon at the New York Auto Show. The model will be faster, lighter, and more powerful than the 707-horsepower Hellcat.

      Digital Trends
    • The internet roasts a photo of Donald Trump writing his inauguration speech

      When times get tough, at least you can still meme. President-elect Donald Trump is slated to deliver his inauguration address on Friday, so he teased his Twitter followers with a little behind-the-scenes photo of himself writing a speech at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. SEE ALSO: Don's Johns: Port-a-potties get censored for Trump’s inauguration Writing my inaugural address at the Winter White House, Mar-a-Lago, three weeks ago. Looking forward to Friday. #Inauguration pic.twitter.com/S701FdTCQu — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2017 The staged photo and Trump's cold, dead gaze sent the internet straight into "meme mode alpha," where it was pointed out that Trump was actually holding Sharpie marker, which may or may not actually be closed. @realDonaldTrump that is a blank piece of paper and you're holding a closed sharpie pic.twitter.com/ekCcH8eTXe — Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) January 18, 2017 @cajunmonkey439 @realDonaldTrump It is *obviously* a sharpie. pic.twitter.com/gdD2AUhBKX — Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) January 18, 2017 .@realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/8CSroNshBR — XpeK (@peKofX) January 18, 2017 Surprised that you didn't just use this photo as your epic, bigly speech pic.twitter.com/SezwzToFg4 — Roland Scahill (@rolandscahill) January 18, 2017 good job @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/Ioj869Tfy3 — uhhh (@_uhhhhhhh) January 18, 2017 pic.twitter.com/pAKcXAEAkD — Sam Grittner (@SamGrittner) January 18, 2017 @realDonaldTrump #NotMyPresident #TheResistance #conflict #Putin #Inauguration In house security cam Mar a Lago pic.twitter.com/diwnpjAS3F — Beo Bachter (@kaysintBB) January 18, 2017 Early draft of Donald Trump’s inauguration speech. #TrumpSpeech #MyFirstWordsAsPresident #MAGA pic.twitter.com/qgo1glv5cG — Tom ❄️ (@TommieWho) January 18, 2017 Exclusive sneak peek at Trump's inauguration speech! pic.twitter.com/6W6ex0Ks3z — Kara Calavera (@KaraCalavera) January 18, 2017 Trump's Inaugural address leaked... pic.twitter.com/J8soJQ4Ira — Jordan Uhl (@JordanUhl) January 18, 2017 Exclusive: #Trump's Inauguration speech leaked! #TrumpInaugural #trumpgrammar pic.twitter.com/XzrXXpnjxD — Gerry Stergiopoulos (@GerryGreek) January 18, 2017 According to CNN, Trump did write his inauguration speech himself. BONUS: NBD, just a massive alligator out for a stroll

      Mashable
    • 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
    • Fake news author is fired; apologizes to those who are ‘disappointed’ by his actions

      A recent Davidson College graduate at the center of a fake news storm involving the presidential election has been fired from his job as a Maryland legislative aide and apologized for his actions late Wednesday. “I apologize to those disappointed by my actions, and my wish is that I will be allowed to contribute my informed experience to a larger dialogue about how Americans approach the media, tough issues, and the manner in which we, collectively, will inform our decisions going forward,” Cam Harris said on Twitter. Maryland lawmaker David Vogt III, R-Frederick, told The Washington Post he terminated Harris “on the spot” after learning he was the mastermind behind the fake news. Harris, who graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina in May, had worked for the Republican delegate since June.

      The Charlotte Observer q
    • Entertainment Tonight
    • Michelle Obama Calls Being First Lady ‘The Honor of a Lifetime’ in Touching White House Goodbye

      Michelle Obama has spent the past eight years inspiring many in the country with her graceful leadership and poise. In a touching message posted on her social media accounts Wednesday evening, Obama bid adieu to the White House by opening up about what the role of first lady has meant to her. The message came attached with a photo of her and President Barack Obama, shot from behind as they stood on the White House balcony — arms around one another — looking toward the Washington Monument.

      People
    • Foreclosed mall once valued at $190M is auctioned for $100

      TARENTUM, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania mall that was foreclosed on after its owners failed to repay $143 million has been auctioned off for $100.

      Associated Press
    • We Simulated The NFL Conference Championship Games, And There Was One Giant Upset

      The 2016-17 NFL Playoffs has found its final four with just the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, and Atlanta Falcons remaining after a highly entertaining Divisional Round. If you take Madden 17’s Wild Card predictions from our simulation of the entire NFL Playoffs, coupled with our simulation of the Divisional Round individually, Madden 17 is sitting at a cool 6-2 heading into what should be a very interesting Championship Round.

      UPROXX
    • Deadly snow avalanche hits hotel in earthquake-stricken central Italy (15 photos)

      Rescue workers were met with an eerie silence Thursday when they reached a four-star spa hotel struck by an avalanche in a mountainous earthquake-stricken region of central Italy. At least 30 people were missing, including at least two children, authorities said. Guests at the three-story Hotel Rigopiano in the central Abruzzo region alerted emergency workers of the disaster on Wednesday, following a series of quakes in the region. “Help, we’re dying of cold,” one couple wrote rescuers, according to the ANSA news agency. Another man, identified by news reports as Fabio Salzetta, sent a SMS message saying he had escaped with a maintenance worker, but that others were trapped inside. Corriere della Sera quoted the text message as saying: “Some walls were knocked down.” And: “I’m outside with a maintenance worker but you can’t see anything of the hotel, there’s only a wall of snow in front of me.” When rescuers on skis arrived in the early morning hours of Thursday, they found just two people alive, according to news reports. Civil protection authorities said that 30 people were missing. The ANSA news agency quoted a rescuer as saying that there were fatalities, but details weren’t immediately available. Just one body was reported removed from the hotel by late morning Thursday. (AP) See more news-related photo galleries and follow us on Yahoo News Photo Tumblr .

      Yahoo News Photo Staff
    • Bill Belichick rips Dion Lewis at practice

      Patriots' radio analyst Scott Zolak discusses why Bill Belichick gave a negative answer about home field advantage, Dion Lewis getting crushed in practice and why the defense must focus on Le'Veon Bell.

      NBC Sports
    • Tucker Carlson, Huffington Post Writer Clash Over Trump: ‘Your Point Is Stupid’ (Video)

      It’s safe to say Carlson doesn’t agree with that theory. “How does this work exactly?” Carlson said on his Fox News show Wednesday, kicking off a combative interview with Mohajer. Mohajer pointed to Clinton winning the popular vote, Russian interference and the infamous letter FBI director James Comey sent to lawmakers prior the election regarding Clinton’s email scandal.

      The Wrap
    • Candace Cameron Bure wore a white, bejeweled gown to the People’s Choice Awards, and it lit up the red carpet

      Fuller House star Candace Cameron Bure tends to rock stunning looks both on and off screen. That’s why it comes as absolutely…

      Hello Giggles
    • A dietitian put 2 daily meal plans side-by-side to show the shortcomings of counting calories for weight loss

      If I told you that a ham sandwich with potato chips and a can of soda had the same amount of...

      Business Insider