We Asked 3 Chefs to Name the Best Boxed Mac and Cheese, and They All Picked the Same One (It’s Not Kraft!)

published Feb 28, 2024
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Macaroni and cheese. Just reading that combination of words makes your eyes light up, right? Right. As the wise Antoni Porowski once said, “A mac and cheese is something that can actually be so personal.” And while everyone thinks that they (or their mom, grandpa, or second cousin twice removed) have the best recipe ever, we can all likely agree on one thing: Boxed mac and cheese is, at the end of the day, kind of the best

As it turns out, chefs wholeheartedly agree it’s pretty hard to beat one particular box. 

Credit: Mara Weinraub

Point blank, Chef Greg Pawlowski of iL Modo in Fort Worth, Texas, confirmed what, likely many of us adults, kids, and kids-at-heart have noticed is the best boxed mac on the shelf: “Velveeta Shells & Cheese.” The creamy consistency, he explains, is key to this top-notch boxed mac and cheese, as Velveeta’s smooth cheese sauce makes sure every noodle is evenly coated (no pockets of dry cheese powder allowed!). “Out of the many to choose from … it can’t be beaten.”

Pawlowski isn’t alone, either. “For me it’s all about the Velveeta Shells & Cheese,” says James Beard Award-winner and executive chef of Kindling, Jonathan Sawyer. “It is undeniably the best sauce on the market and it was a ‘luxury’ for me when I was growing up. It was 50 cents more expensive than other brands, [so] it felt like we were celebrating every time it was in the pantry.”

That’s also the case for Chef Amber Williams of Le Rouge Cuisine catering company. “I only grew up on boxed mac and cheese,” she says, noting she lived in an area of Dallas called Oak Cliff, where Velveeta was a staple in her house. “It’s considered a food desert, so we only had so many options to choose from.” 

Now as an adult, Williams opts for keeping Velveeta’s blocks of cheese on hand to make the dish she serves for her catering clients. To Williams, the signature cheese sauce perfectly coats each noodle and doubles as a base for all kinds of flavorful upgrades, especially if you fold it in it with a freshly grated cheese, like Gruyère, Gouda, or Parmesan. “We do a smoked Gouda mac and cheese [at Le Rouge],” she says. “Sometimes we add truffle on top, toasted breadcrumbs, and I still use Velveeta cheese.”

If you, too, want to max out all the surface area in your boxed mac and cheese, while also avoiding gummy noodles, take a cue from Williams and, my other favorite person to quote, (the unfortunately only fictional) Moira Rose of Schitt’s Creek: Fold in more cheese … and not in the order you’d expect.

“Before you add your Velveeta sauce to your noodles, take any type of shredded cheese. Let’s just say you have shaved Parmesan. Mix your drained, cooked noodles into the cheese,” says Williams. “Then, as you add the hot sauce over [the noodles], it starts to melt that [shredded] cheese, and that’s what gives the cheese that pull … and you’ll have little pockets of cheese. So good.” 

This article originally published on The Kitchn. See it there: We Asked 3 Chefs to Name the Best Boxed Mac and Cheese, and They All Picked the Same One