The Single Tastiest Boxed Mac-and-Cheese at the Store
Macaroni and cheese is a quintessential comfort food. And as much as we love the homemade kinds, there's something special and nostalgic about whipping up a box of macaroni and cheese, complete with the alarmingly neon-orange cheese powder. Your parents likely bought the classic Kraft or perhaps the generic variety, but nowadays, there are many varieties of classic cheddar macaroni and cheese to choose from, including options with protein-packed noodles or vegan cheese.
The next time you want a little taste of childhood, you can follow our advice to find the tastiest boxed macaroni and cheese that money can buy. We tried seven kinds of boxed mac and cheese to see which one was the best of all.
The brands we tested included Annie's, Banza, Kraft, Kroger, Modern Table, Trader Joe's, and 365 Everyday Value. For each box, we cooked the noodles for the maximum recommended time (typically eight minutes) and used the specified measurements of butter and milk. We then based our rankings on the overall texture of both the noodles and the cheese sauce, and the actual cheesiness from the powder.
Here's how the options fared, ranked from worst to best. The next time you need a big, comforting bowl of cheesy pasta, here's what to buy and what to avoid.
The Trader Joe's macaroni and cheese is the only brand that did not call for butter. While the macaroni did have milk, the lack of butter made a huge difference in the final result, which was incredibly dry. The cheese powder also deeply lacked in flavor, so much so that this bowl of macaroni and cheese tasted like a bowl of plain macaroni.
Although this is a cheap box of macaroni and cheese, you'd be better off buying pasta and cheese and making a homemade version if you do your grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. This boxed stuff just doesn't cut it.
365 Everyday Value
The 365 Everyday Value macaroni and cheese from Whole Foods was okay, but the sauce turned out quite dry and clumpy. It almost felt filmy in the mouth. It featured larger elbow noodles, which had a bit more bite than the classic smaller noodles, even after they were cooked for the recommended 10 minutes.
We were quite disappointed with the dry texture of this macaroni and cheese. The cheese flavor was a tad bland, and we were a bit shocked by just how bright orange the powder was.
The Banza macaroni and cheese had a very chewy noodle and thick cheese sauce, although the cheese sauce was not as prevalent as the earthy flavor of the chickpea-based noodles. These noodles are the larger elbow noodles, and the resulting sauce was very thick but still creamy.
To be frank, the Banza pasta tasted far from the classic boxed macaroni and cheese you might expect. But it wasn't bad—it was just different. The chickpea flavor of the noodles overpowers the cheese, so you don't quite get that comforting bowl of cheesy pasta you might be looking for.
Although this boxed macaroni and cheese is actually vegan, it is a strong contender for the best macaroni and cheese. It features large elbow noodles made from lentils, rice, and peas. This gives the pasta a very grainy or lentil-like flavor that is a bit hard to describe other than it is quite earthy like the Banza noodles. Be sure to use a vegan buttery spread and non-dairy milk per instructions.
This macaroni and "cheese" was pretty tasty. The cheese sauce was thick, but not dry or clumpy. It wasn't the classic cheese flavor, but it was still yummy in a different way. It is still a comforting bowl of pasta that is great for enjoying at the end of a long day.
With a whopping quarter cup of butter, the Kraft macaroni and cheese was very silky and creamy. This amount of butter definitely impacted the final flavor, making it a bit more buttery than cheesy.
Kraft is a classic, and it hits a lot of right notes. The small noodles had just the slightest bite to them, and the cheese sauce was thick but still creamy and without any clumps. We just recommend using a bit less butter than the directions called for, because it did mask some of the cheesiness.
The small, thin elbow noodles in Annie's macaroni and cheese were well-coated in a smooth, creamy cheese sauce. There were no clumps, and the cheese flavor was good, although it could be stronger.
This macaroni and cheese was just shy of perfection. The noodles were soft, and the cheese sauce was a bit thinner than the others with not a clump in sight. We enjoyed the cheesy flavor, although it could have been a little cheesier.
Like the Kraft macaroni and cheese, the Kroger variety called for a quarter cup of butter. But the powdered cheese packet must be slightly different; the end result was more forward in cheese flavor.
Again, we think these noodles could go with a tad less butter, but we did love the incredibly creamy cheese sauce. The noodles were soft and perfectly coated in the cheese sauce, which was buttery enough to even make them slippery (a spoon is recommended here!). If you live near Kroger, you can't go wrong with the store's mac and cheese.