The 11 Best Boxed Mac and Cheeses Aren’t Just for Kids

If you regularly read Sporked, you might know that I’m a big fan of stovetop mac and cheese. Its creamy and delicious texture is unrivaled; microwaveable and oven-baked macs simply can’t touch it. The little packet of powder (or sauce) that comes with a stovetop mac is basically gold dust (or liquid gold), bursting with richness and flavor. Few foods comfort and satisfy like stovetop mac and cheese. 

Our guest for this taste test was comedian (and mac and cheese lover) Kendahl Landreth.  I prepared each mac and cheese in a pot and cooked them according to their package directions. Every mac is different: some use butter and milk, while others come with a little packet of cheese goo. But they all got cooked to order and served hot by me, resident mac and cheese chef, Danny Palumbo. There were a lot of dissenting opinions among the Sporked staff about boxed mac (mainly people were divided on cheese dust vs. cheese goo), but overall this test was just a raucous delight. Overall, I learned that there’s a ton of great mac and cheese for sale, and a few new products that are giving the classics a run for their money. Peep this extensive list.

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kraft deluxe

Best of the Best

Kraft Deluxe White Cheddar & Cracked Black Peppercorn

This is how you update a classic. Kraft Deluxe brings the signature cheesy, salty, slightly sweet Kraft flavor and amplifies it to an S-tier mac and cheese. It’s sharp, peppery, creamy, and downright sublime. Sporked social media manager Mark Catangui commented, “Wow, it’s so gooey, but that might be because it was prepped well.” You’re damn right, Mark. I cooked every mac on this list, and made sure every single one was served up hot and creamy. Even as I made this Kraft Deluxe in the pot, I could tell it was special. (Kraft makes a bunch of different deluxe flavors, too.)

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

10/10

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velveeta shells & cheese

Best Texture

Velveeta Shells & Cheese

Simply put, Velveeta Shells & Cheese is so good that the brand is synonymous with mac and cheese. Personally, it’s my favorite. As previously stated, Velveeta adheres to the Italian principles of pasta very well. It is creamy, smooth, buttery, delicious, and somehow every molecule of shell feels drenched in thick, delicious cheese goo. In this way it’s like cacio e pepe. The texture of Velveeta Shells & Cheese is very much like the mac and cheese I make from scratch. Sure, it’s overly processed cheese goo, but it’s America’s overly processed cheese goo. And you can’t debate the gloriously smooth and velvety texture. Nothing comforts like Velveeta Shells & Cheese.

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

10/10

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cheetos mac n cheese

Best New Mac

Cheetos Bold & Cheesy Mac ‘N Cheese

Cheetos has absolutely nailed it with their new mac and cheese:. It’s salty, cheesy, and dense with Cheetos flavor, just like their snacks. The packet of cheese dust that comes with this box is absolute gold. This mac is the perfect mash-up of junk food and comfort food. Hell, if a guy like Matty Matheson loves it, then it’s gotta be good. Like all of these mac and cheeses, if you want more flavor in your bowl, you can adjust the cooking ratios accordingly. Personally, I leave a tablespoon or two of pasta out of the package to get a higher ratio of dust-to-pasta. Cheetos Bold & Cheesy carries intense flavor. This is a big win for humanity.

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

9.5/10

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kraft macaroni & cheese

Best Classic

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese

Kraft is a classic, but I would argue the taste has been outdone several times over by other companies. Still, there is a delightful buttery, salty, and sweet taste that keeps Kraft in our top five. After our initial taste test, editor-in-chief Justine Sterling and I went back in to taste all the macs one more time and we found that Kraft is noticeably sweeter, especially when compared to its competitors. You think it’s just standard, but there’s really nothing quite like it. Plus, there’s something comforting about its simplicity and stability. And hey, kids love it, too

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

9/10

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cheetos mac n cheese flamin hot

Best Spicy

Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Mac ‘N Cheese

Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Mac ‘N Cheese brings all the wonderful flavor of the Bold & Cheesy but with some extra heat. It’s bright red, like the color of an exit sign hanging above a stairwell, but don’t let that deter you. Cheetos’ strength is that they’ve miraculously been able to distill the flavor of their snacks into mac and cheese powder. It’s delectable. Again, they deserve a Nobel prize. Note: Make sure to buy the stovetop Cheetos Mac and not the microwavable one. The taste of the stovetop version is incomparable.

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

8.5/10

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annie's shells and cheese

Best Cheddar

Annie’s Shells & Real Aged Cheddar

Personally, I feel that shells are the best pasta for mac and cheese. The little cups just hold sauce well. It’s much easier to spoon together a big flavorful serving of shells compared to forking a few tiny elbows. Annie’s also scores big points for being the only mac and cheese on this list that correctly tells you to add salted butter. The other brands either don’t specify or specifically instruct you to add unsalted. That feels wrong. Most mac and cheese, if you don’t salt it yourself, lacks proper seasoning. While you should probably be salting and peppering all of these yourself, it doesn’t hurt to cut out the middleman and add salted butter. Upon taking a bite of Annie’s, Kendahl said, “It’s flawless. It tastes like the better version of Kraft.” I agree.

Credit: Merc / Instacart

Rating:

8.5/10

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great value macaroni & cheese

Best Budget

Great Value Original Macaroni & Cheese

What I like about Great Value is their mac and cheese powder to butter and milk ratio. They tell you to add twice as much butter and milk as most other stovetop macs on this list. Great Value understands flavor. The more butter and milk you add, the better your mac and cheese will be. Outside of that, the flavor from the cheese dust is pretty standard in this one, but it gets bonus points for caring more about taste than your health. Also, dawg, get this: It costs just 43 cents. Forty-three! An amazing budget buy.

Credit: Merc / Walmart

Rating:

8/10

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cracker barrel havarti

Best Havarti

Cracker Barrel Cheddar Havarti Macaroni & Cheese Dinner

This mac and cheese dinner from cheddar brand Cracker Barrel is very much like Velveeta Shells & Cheese. It’s got the same smooth aesthetic, and it’s super salty, creamy, and sharp. It’s a packet-of-good type of mac and cheese, which I have a strong proclivity towards, and it brings the flavor regardless of where you fall on the stovetop mac spectrum. If you like Velveeta’s style but want something with a different flavor, Cracker Barrel Cheddar Havarti won’t disappoint.

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

8/10

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signature select macaroni and cheese

Best Surprise

Signature Select Macaroni & Cheese

“I’ve never heard of this brand before, and I’m so obsessed with it,” said Kendahl. “It’s so good and so creamy and so cheesy. Ten out of ten.” Managing editor Gwynedd Stuart loved it, too, adding, “It almost tastes like Cheetos. There’s a surprising amount of flavor here, and it doesn’t instantly dry out like other macs.” Whatever is in Signature Select’s cheese powder, it’s good. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the other macs on this list, and it didn’t stand out that much among Justine, myself, or staff-writer Jordan Myrick. But I will admit, I’m a pretty good cook, so there’s no doubt in my mind that my preparation helped. In the canon of mac and cheese, though, there are more exciting options.

Credit: Merc / Instacart

Rating:

7.5/10

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sprouts hatch chili mac and cheese

Best Unique Flavor

Sprouts Hatch Green Chile Mac & Cheese

The Hatch chile flavor here is really nice and smooth. Hatch chiles, which are making their way into a lot of our favorite products these days, have a light spice and mellow fruitiness that kept Justine coming back to this mac and cheese. .  This seasonal pepper from New Mexico is gaining mass appeal, being infused into grocery store almonds, beef jerky, chips, mozzarella, and now, mac and cheese. And that’s for good reason: hatch chiles have a delicious flavor and I think you’ll appreciate it here. Just a note: This mac and cheese needs salt.

Credit: Merc / Instacart

Rating:

7/10

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upton's ch'eesy mac

Best Vegan

Upton’s Naturals Deluxe Ch’eesy Mac

Nobody else really liked this one, but I’ve eaten Upton’s before and enjoyed it. To me, the vegan Ch’eesy Bacon Mac (which we also tried) was way better, but this ch’eesy mac still has value. The noodles come pre-cooked, and there’s a packet of “cheese” sauce goo, so all you have to do is heat the two together in a pan. I like Upton’s for what it is: A vegan mac and cheese option that won’t leave you feeling gross afterwards. Great if you’re on a plant-based diet or just watching your cholesterol. Plus, it’s warm, cheese-like, and filling. Add your own seasonings if you want. Some smoked paprika certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

6.5/10

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Other Products We Tried: Cheese Club Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, Muscle Mac High Protein Macaroni & Cheese, Simple Truth Organic Macaroni & Cheese Deluxe Cheddar, Kroger White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese, First Street Mac and Cheese, Upton’s Naturals Ch’eesy Bacon Mac, Trader Joe’s Mac N’ Cheese.

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About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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  • Unpopular opinion, but I’m not a big fan of the Velveeta flavor. Maybe it’s improved lately, or maybe more people just like the Velveeta-y flavor. I would love to add Kraft and Great Value 3-cheese for consideration! It’s so much more flavorful on the cheese-front, and Great Value is just as good as the Kraft and gives you more per box.

    Haven’t tried the Cheetos ones but keep meaning to, they sound so intriguing 👀 Definitely need to try the #1 and really want to try the Sprouts Hatch one!! Trader Joe’s makes a good frozen hatch mac n cheese, but that’s a different category lol

    Thanks for this list! Big stovetop mac n cheese fan. I am inspired to go back and try Velveeta again 🤔

    Reply
    • It’s divisive! I think Kraft does the Velveeta goo better, though.

      Reply
  • Intrigued by the praise for Great Value’s recommended butter amount. Tbh when I follow the box, it ends up way TOO buttery, overwhelming the cheese. In my opinion, at least!

    Reply
  • I’m sorry but anybody that likes gas station eggs and canned sardines has absolutely no business telling anybody which Boxed mac & cheese is the best.

    Reply
    • oh no I’m so sad to lose you as a reader.

      People contain multitudes. I don’t shame other people’s preferences, and quite frankly there’s no room for that on this website.

      Buzz off.

      Reply
      • The amount of gas station perishables I’ve eaten (eggs, cheese, hot dogs etc.) proves to me that these staples are unmatched, and better at times than going to get drive thru on a long trip. It’s incredibly rude considering they aren’t part of a person’s regular diet. That said, the cracked black peppercorn and white cheddar from Kraft can be substituted for its cheaper counterpart at Aldi’s called “White Cheddar and Pepper” from their “Specially Selected” line of Mac & Cheeses. There’s a smoked gouda and Cheddar + Havarti as well 😉

  • Chetto Mac and cheese? How dare you, as a member of the mac and cheese society this hurts

    Reply