There’s nothing better to keep you going through that late night study sesh than a warm bowl of rich and creamy mac and cheese, and luckily it’s incredibly fast and easy to make using a basic rice cooker. So you can skip the blue box with its bright orange cheese flavored powder and make your own Rice Cooker Mac and Cheese from scratch in about the same amount of time. #WIN
Use a Rice Cooker or Instant Pot
Rice cookers are a convenient and inexpensive way to cook food for those confined to small spaces or without access to conventional kitchens, so I’m going to develop a few recipes specifically for rice cookers. Because Instant Pots can also be used as a rice cooker and have a steam setting, these recipes should also translate well for use in an Instant Pot. But because every brand and model of rice cooker or Instant Pot can vary, you may need to make slight adjustments for your equipment.
Jazz Up Your Rice Cooker Mac and Cheese!
The Rice Cooker Mac and Cheese below is the “base model” if you will. It’s a plain mac and cheese that is just flavored with cheddar and the vegetable broth used to cook the pasta. If you want to play around with add-ins, here are some fun things to try: garlic powder, smoked paprika, diced green chiles, Rotel, finely chopped broccoli florets, or diced chicken.
WHAT RICE COOKER AM I USING?
I chose to work with one of the most popular and most basic rice cookers on the market to make sure the recipes I develop have the broadest compatibility. That begin said, every model rice cooker is slightly different, and may yield slightly different results. I’m using the Aroma Housewares 8 cup cooked/4 cup uncooked Digital Rice Cooker (affiliate link).
Substitute with Caution
Each ingredient in this recipe has a distinct purpose, so substitute with caution. I do not suggest substituting a different shape or type of pasta, as that may change the amount of broth needed to cook the pasta correctly, or change the amount of time needed to cook the pasta through. The cream cheese helps emulsify the cheddar into the hot milk, so substituting this with something else may result in your cheese sauce failing. You can, however, substitute chicken broth for the vegetable broth. Keep in mind that the broth provides a lot of the salt and flavor for the sauce, so using water instead will result in a bland dish.
What About Leftovers?
I purposely made this in a small batch because as with most from-scratch cheese sauces (cheese sauces that are not made with “cheese product” like Velveeta), they are smooth and creamy when they’re hot and freshly made, but can get a bit clumpy as they cool. So, make and serve this one fresh for best results! (Not that I’d turn down the leftovers, but they’re definitely not as good as fresh.)
Check out my other Rice Cooker Recipes: Rice Cooker Teriyaki Shrimp and Rice, Rice Cooker Chili, Rice Cooker Spanish Chickpeas and Rice.
Rice Cooker Mac and Cheese
- 1 cup uncooked macaroni noodles ($0.17)
- 1 cup vegetable broth ($0.13)
- 1/3 cup milk ($0.06)
- 2 oz. cream cheese ($0.50)
- 3 oz. medium cheddar, shredded ($0.71)
- Add the macaroni and vegetable broth to the rice cooker. Close the lid and cook on the "steam" setting for 5 minutes. It may take 5-7 minutes to come up to temperature before it begins counting down the 5 minutes of cook time. Stir the pasta twice during cooking, once when the cook time begins to count down, and again when there is about 2 minutes left. Close the lid promptly after stirring each time.
- While the pasta is cooking, cut the cream cheese into chunks. After 5 minutes of cooking, the pasta should have absorbed all of the broth (if not, cook a few minutes longer). Turn the rice cooker to the "keep warm" setting, and add the milk and cream cheese. Stir until the cream cheese has melted.
- Finally, add half of the shredded cheddar and stir until it has melted, then repeat with the second half. If the cheese sauce becomes too thick or dry for your liking, simply stir in an extra splash of milk. Serve hot.
See how we calculate recipe costs here.
How to Make Rice Cooker Mac and Cheese – Step by Step Photos
Start by adding 1 cup uncooked macaroni noodles and 1 cup vegetable broth to the rice cooker.
Close the lid and set the rice cooker to the “steam” setting for five minutes. It may take 5-7 minutes or so for the rice cooker to come up to temperature before it begins counting down the 5 minutes. Stir the macaroni twice during the 5 minute cook time, once when it begins counting down, and again when there is about 2 minutes left.
While the macaroni is cooking, cut 2 oz. cream cheese into chunks and shred about 3 oz. medium cheddar.
After cooking for five minutes, the pasta should have absorbed all of the broth. Turn the cooker to the “keep warm” setting, then add 1/3 cup milk and the 2 oz. of cream cheese. Stir until the cream cheese has melted into the milk.
Add half of the shredded cheddar to the rice cooker and stir until it has melted into the sauce, then repeat with the second half of the cheese.
And that’s it! Serve this Rice Cooker Mac and Cheese while it’s hot for the smoothest, creamiest sauce.
I sprinkled a little smoked paprika on top for fun. :)
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Can you use Evaporated milk? I don’t think I have cream cheese… Aany ideas?
We haven’t made it that way and can’t give you any guidance. You will def need something fatty and thick to replace the cream cheese with. Unsure if evaporated milk is the way to go, but you could try it and thicken it with flour or cornstarch.
Can u use water instead of broth?
Yes, you can use water. Though you will be missing the depth that a broth provides, it should still be very yummy. XOXO -Monti
Apparently, I am the only person for whom the steaming process took forever. I’ve had this steaming for 20 min and the pasta still hasn’t absorbed all the broth. It’s not like my rice cooker is faulty either… I’m sure the rest of the recipe is great, but I’m just gonna boil this in a pot at this point.
I’ve been looking for different easy rice cooker recipes. Glad I found this. Thank you for sharing this! I’m excited to try it :)
Tried this one out last month when I had extra cream cheese left over from your Beef Burrito Casserole. OH MY. So good. I used a chicken bouillon cube for broth and rotini pasta -same amount – since that’s what I had at the time and it still came out fab.
Has anyone tried making a slightly larger quantity in this same size rice cooker? I’m wondering if I could do 1.5x the amount or a double batch even.
Or have recommendations for making this a “one pot” larger quantity on the stove without needing to strain any liquid?
For the rice cooker question, I think it depends on the size of rice cooker. I think I have one the same size as the one she used, but mine actually had boiling water coming out of the place to let out steam, which I don’t think it great. I still love the recipe and make it regardless, but I think doubling it in the same size rice cooker would be a problem! I think it has something to do with the starch in the pasta causing bubbles.
Followed it exactly and it was amazing! Only bad part was that I ended up eating it all in one sitting.
The noodles were so good cooked in broth I also made just the noodles in broth to go with steamed broccoli, feta and sliced green olives today. I wouldn’t have known how easy it is to cook noodles while working if I hadn’t tried the recipe so thank you again for such a great recipe!
I made a half recipe because I had 1 oz of cream cheese I need to use. I used chickpea protein pasta (2 oz) and boiled it normally instead of using a rice cooker. Followed the rest of the recipe exact and the ratio was perfect! Topped with bacon bits. 🤤 Thanks!
I tried this last night and it turned out perfect! I added some black pepper and garlic powder, and doubled the recipe because I have a ravenous 1.5 year old as well as my husband to feed. My rice cooker is a 14 cup model (7dry) and it worked perfectly. I added an extra 2 tablespoons of water and 1-2 minutes of cook time.
Oh that’s great to hear and know about the size of your rice cooker. Thanks for sharing Brynne!
I didn’t have vegetable broth, so I added water mixed with paprika, oregano, basil, garlic powder, and a lil bit of red pepper flakes. I cooked broccoli with the pasta, and I also split the amount of cheese between white cheddar and parmesan. Had to add a lil bit of milk to make up for the parmesan, but the texture was PERFECT. I also wilted in some spinach in after I had turned off the rice cooker and 👌
Oh that sounds delicious!
Can I replace the milk with almond or soy milk?
This recipe does only use a small amount of milk, so that might be okay, but without testing it I can’t say for sure how it will affect the emulsion.
Great recipe and easy to cook. My kids loved it!
Thanks a lot!
Yea! Great basic recipe. But I never met a recipe I didn’t “doctor”. And for this I added 1/2 head roasted cauliflower, some garlic powder and some black pepper. Substituted sour cream for cream cheese. Great with salad for lunch. I also find that I don’t really have a problem with using brick cheeses for cheese sauce. The sauces really do reheat beautifully if don slowly in microwave, stirring after about a minute each time on medium high (7 on my micro) setting. I do not have a rice cooker–used my aroma grillet and it worked great. Grilled cauliflower, added the rest and voila!