This Instant Pot Panera mac and cheese recipe is even better than the copycat Panera version, and it’s super easy to make in the Instant Pot.
Instant Pot Panera mac and cheese
I’m now fully immersed in the world of Instant Pot cooking. I wonder how I ever survived making weeknight dinners without the speed and ease of the pressure cooker. I’ve been slowly adjusting my dinner and side dish recipes from their stove and crock pot versions to whip up in the Instant Pot. And so enters the Instant Pot Panera mac and cheese recipe.
After discovering what is now my favorite and new go-to way to make macaroni and cheese, I realized how easily Panera’s take on the classic side dish can be made in the pressure cooker to mimic the taste almost exactly.
With a blend of American and white cheddar cheeses, and a touch of Dijon, this mac and cheese is creamy, delicious, and perfect in every way, especially since it’s ready in less than twenty minutes.
(SCROLL TO THE END FOR PRINTABLE MAC AND CHEESE RECIPE)
mac and cheese fan club
Clearly I love mac and cheese. I also have recipes for slow cooker beer mac and cheese, microwave mac and cheese in a mug, homemade Kraft Easy Mac, and even mac and cheese in a muffin tin. You might also like this roundup of 20 crock pot mac and cheese recipes.
tips on making instant pot Panera mac and cheese
- Drain the water. After you make the pasta in the pressure cooker and before you add the milk and cheese, if there is any remaining water in the pot, drain the pasta. I was able to pour most of the liquid from the Instant Pot slowly by tipping over the sink (with a colander beneath, just in case). If you do drain the pasta, you may want to add a pinch more salt and even a bit more butter to the final mac and cheese.
- The valve! To keep the pasta from over-cooking, I use the quick release valve to let the steam escape as soon as the 4 minutes of pressure cooking is complete, rather than let the steam release slowly and naturally. However, when cooking pasta, the pasta water can spurt up through the quick release valve. Wearing a potholder or silicone gloves, turn the quick release in short spurts, closing the valve if the pasta water begins to spurt through the valve.
how to make Instant Pot Panera mac and cheese
- Place a 16 ounce box of large shell pasta, 4 cups of water, 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, and 4 tablespoons butter in the Instant Pot. Give it a quick stir. Secure the top and seal the valve. Use the pressure setting and set the clock to 4 minutes. The Pot will take about ten minutes to pressurize before the clock starts counting down.
- When the 4 minutes is up, use the quick release valve to release the steam. Protect your hands with a potholder or silicone gloves and turn the valve. If the pasta water starts to spurt, close the valve, wait about 15 seconds, and continue to turn the valve in brief intervals until the spurting stops. Let all of the steam release until the float valve descends and it is safe to remove the lid.
- If there is a significant amount of water in the pot, drain the water by gently pouring the water off into the sink. You needn’t drain every last drop. Keep a colander in the sink just in case the pasta falls from the pot.
- Stir in 1 cup of milk, 8 ounces of freshly shredded white cheddar cheese (about 2 rounded cups) and 4 ounces white American cheese (4 to 6 slices). If you had to drain the pasta, you might also want to add a bit of butter and a pinch of salt, to taste. Stir in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. If desired, stir in some black pepper and a dash of hot sauce.
- You may put the Instant Pot in warming mode to help melt the cheese. For less creamy cheese, start with only 1/2 cup of milk and add more as desired.
Print the Panera Mac and Cheese recipe.
This recipe for Instant Pot Panera mac and cheese also appears on Food Fanatic.
PIN FOR LATER:
Is it possible to half the recipe? I want to try it on my picky family but hate to waste so much food if no one likes it.
Hi Susie, Sure! Halving should be no problem at all!
Another question! Where do you find white American cheese and white cheddar? I found extra sharp white cheddar?
Hi Susie, Are you outside the US? American cheese will be hard to find (it’s a very processed cheese that comes in slices, but it melts amazingly). And you can use regular cheddar, it will just make the dish more orange. You can also follow this recipe that uses cheddar and gruyere (or all cheddar) https://thedecoratedcookie.com/instant-pot-mac-and-cheese/
No. I am in Minnesota. I looked at Target and couldn’t find either of the cheeses. Only sharp white cheddar.
Hmm. Sometimes the American is in a different refrigerated section. Sharp white cheddar definitely works though!
Your best bet is to go to a deli that slices the cheese for you. There you will be able to find white American cheese.
Loved how easy and tasty this was. I forgot to buy American cheese, so I subbed with Monterey jack, and the result was great. Even the picky kid loved it.
That’s wonderful Michelle! Monterey Jack is a great idea.
Kari r says
This was the best !
Thank you Kari!
I’m receiving my instant pot today in the mail and I’m so excited! I would love to try this but I want to add chicken. How does that work? Do I put it in raw or pre cooked?
Hi Sydney! Yay for the new Instant Pot! I would cook the chicken first (you can season chicken with salt, pepper, garlic, paprika, whatever) and use the saute feature. Then, remove the chicken, prepare the mac and cheese, and add the chicken along with the milk and cheese. You can also just use rotisserie chicken to make life even easier!
Is it possible to double this recipe? Will it all fit?
Great question Cassie! I have NOT tried doubling, so I can’t give you a definitive answer, but I think it would fit!
So my husband added a request to this weeks menu (surprise) AFTER my weekly grocery store trip. Thinking about subbing regular cheddar for the white cheddar and regular American for the white American cheese… will it fail? Not concerned about color as much as taste/smoothness.
Hi Tracy, not at all! That should absolutely be fine and taste exactly the same!
This is hands down one of the best recipes I’ve come across. Surprisingly my husband loved it, he even asked me to make it a regular in the menu. Thank you.
Ohmygosh, that’s so wonderful to hear!! Thank you Amy!!!
I have been searching for a homemade mac and cheese recipe for a long time and I am so happy that I finally found one that is AMAZING. I don’t use my instant pot that often because it’s a little intimidating, but this couldn’t of been easier or faster! This will definitely be my go-to recipe. It was so delicious!
That just made my Danielle, I’m so glad!! Thank you thank you!
What temp do I set it to?
Hi Danielle! Great questions! There isn’t a temperature setting on the Instant Pot, but you’ll want to use the “pressure” button. Thanks!
I want to make this for thanksgiving tomorrow.. if u want to make twice the amount to serve a larger group of people, should I just double on everything when I make it? Or would it be easier to make it at two separate times and then combine it?
Hi Jessica, Apologies! I took off Thanksgiving day and did not check messages. I think I would’ve made two batches and combined to not risk undercooking the pasta. I hope whatever you did worked!!
Loved this recipe! We added 2 cloves of fresh garlic (pressed) to the water/pasta at the beginning which added amazing flavor! Personally we felt like it came out a bit more liquidy than we wanted, so next time (we will definitely be making this again) we are going to scale down the milk. Thanks for this amazing recipe!
Thank you Corey! The garlic idea is so smart. I’m trying that next time! I also drain the water not absorbed so it’s less liquid-y, but good idea to start with less milk, too. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away!
Asma Sheikh says
Looks like got an interesting recipe to try with my new instant pot.
If you double the recipe, do you double the cook time?
Apologies for the delay Annie! Just seeing your comment. I’ve never doubled the recipe. I was worried that would be too much for the IP to hold. That said, if you try it, I would start with 1 and 1/2 the time, not doubling.
Laura W says
The first time I made this I made it in the Instant Pot, it was so delicious!!!!
Can I make this in the stove top? I just want to make sure the texture is the same. I was gonna just boil the noodles then put all the milk and cheeses in after I drain the pasta .
Hi Laura, I use the stove-top all the time and it works well for me!
Hi, did you use salted or unsalted butter in this recipe? Thanks, Christy
Hi Christy, I tend to use salted butter (I’m sure much to many cooks’ dismay) because I like salt. But if you use unsalted, you can better control the salt you add.
Hi can you use any kind of Noodle, like elbow instead of shells
Hi Ashley, Yes! You can. Times may need to be adjusted for doneness (for example, penne takes longer than shells to cook), but elbows and shells are comparably-sized.
This was really good and really easy! My family loved it!!
I’m so glad, thank you Audrey!
Jennifer McA says
I’m still not in love with my instant pot but would keep it for this recipe alone. It is as delicious as it is easy. Thank you, thank you!!
Thank you Jennifer! I’m so glad it worked!
Thank you, Great recipe!
You should join this Instant Pot Tips & Recipes Facebook group. I got a lot of new ideas and recipes. highly recommended! Here is a link to the group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/434020724110015/