Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese (one pan!) Recipe - Rachel Cooks® (2024)

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By: Rachel GurkPosted: 02/24/2014

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

This copycat Panera Mac and Cheese tastes just like the stuff you buy in the famous bakery but is easy to make at home and only requires one pan!

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  • 1 Get the Recipe: Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese (one pan!)

So, let’s just start this by saying that our Panera Bread has a drive-thru.

It’s bad for my wallet. I don’t like fast-food, but I like food to be fast. Especially with two kids and there is NO way I’m getting out of the car with both kids to grab food. Forget that, I’d rather go home.

So Panera’s drive-thru is both the answer to my prayers and a huge nightmare. But it’s mostly a good thing.

And their mac and cheese! Oh my, their mac and cheese. It is soooo good. Ultra creamy and so amazingly delicious. I usually order it for E but I always snag a bite or two before giving it to her. Don’t tell!

What makes this recipe great is not only the fact that it is creamy and amazing just like the stuff you get at Panera, but this mac and cheese is made in one pan and one pan only. It cooks in the milk for a super creamy and thick texture.

You’ll want to use a really good, high quality white cheddar for this macaroni and cheese. And in my opinion, the sharper the better. And keep stirring. The whole time. It’s important to keep the pasta from sticking together.

Save yourself some money and enjoy this copycat Panera mac and cheese at home!

Did you make this? Be sure to leave a review below and tag me @rachelcooksblog on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest!

Prep Time: 5 minutes mins

Cook Time: 25 minutes mins

Total Time: 30 minutes mins

4 servings

Print Rate Recipe

This copycat Panera Mac and Cheese tastes just like the stuff you buy in the famous bakery but is easy to make at home and only requires one pan!


  • 2 cups uncooked medium shell pasta
  • 2 and 1/2 cups whole milk (MUST be WHOLE milk for this recipe to work)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup freshly grated extra sharp white cheddar (4 ounces) – do not use pre-grated


  • Rinse uncooked pasta under cold water.

  • In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine milk, pasta, salt, mustard and butter. Stir frequently and bring to a simmer. Reduce to low. Stir frequently (almost continually) for 15-20 minutes while pasta cooks and milk is absorbed. Remove from heat, stir in cheese and cover for 5 minutes. Enjoy immediately (not good reheated — gets grainy).


  • Using store-bought grated cheese instead of freshly grated cheese could cause this recipe to fail because of the additives (anti-clumping agents) in grated cheese.
  • Using milk that has a lower fat percentage than whole milk will also likely cause this recipe to fail and the milk to curdle.

Nutrition Information

Serving: 1g, Calories: 302kcal, Carbohydrates: 24g, Protein: 13g, Fat: 17g, Saturated Fat: 9g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g, Cholesterol: 47mg, Sodium: 536mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 5g

This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.

© Author: Rachel Gurk

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Reader Interactions

Leave a Review

  1. Terri says

    Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese (one pan!) Recipe - Rachel Cooks® (13)
    Love it! Thank you so much for developing this. It’s become my go to mac and cheese recipe


    • Rachel Gurk says

      I’m so glad to hear it! Thank you for leaving a review!


  2. Kori says

    Hello!! Tried your Mac & cheese. Flavor was delish but the texture got a little grainy. I served it right away. What did I do wrong?? I used whole milk & Cracker Barrel extra sharp white cheddar cheese made w 2% milk. Think that’s the problem? Should it have been a full fat cheese?


    • Rachel Gurk says

      That is most likely the problem! Was it pre-shredded as well?


  3. Holly says

    I followed the recipe perfectly and the results were terrible, not edible.


    • Rachel Gurk says

      I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this recipe! Did you use whole milk and keep the heat pretty low?


    • Milly says

      Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese (one pan!) Recipe - Rachel Cooks® (14)
      I followed recipe as instructed but it was not as yummy as cracker barrel and it had a rough texture not creamy like cracker barrel’s at all. I am not sure what happened. I’m going to keep looking for the perfect recipe because it’s one of my favorites from there.


      • Rachel Gurk says

        It could be you had your heat too high and the cheese/milk curdled.


  4. Terri says

    Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese (one pan!) Recipe - Rachel Cooks® (15)
    Love this! This recipe is my go to place to deal with mac and cheese cravings. I made it for my neighbour and his comment was, “You could sell this.” I laughed as I doubt he has ever heard of Panera.
    Thank you for a wonderful recipe.


    • Rachel Gurk says

      I love that story, thanks for sharing!


  5. Brianna says

    Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese (one pan!) Recipe - Rachel Cooks® (16)
    This came out awful. It is a disgusting soupy mess with huge clumps of cheese. I followed the instructions and bought super expensive aged cheddar and hand grated it. Not happy.


    • Rachel Gurk says

      So sorry to hear that! Did you use whole milk?


  6. Donna Oliphint says

    I always thought Panera’s had some cream cheese in it, too.


    • Rachel Gurk says

      I don’t think so, but I’m sure it would yummy! There are the ingredients according to their website:

      Mac & Cheese (Cooked Enriched Macaroni Product (Water, Semolina [Wheat], Egg Whites, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Bacterial Culture, Salt, Microbial And Animal Enzymes], Milk, Cream, Soybean Oil, Salted Butter [Cream, Salt], Concentrated Skim Milk, Whey, Whey Protein Concentrate, Milkfat, Sodium Citrate, Salt, Skim Milk, Milk Protein Concentrate, Modified Corn Starch, Sea Salt, Dry Cream [Cream, Nonfat Milk], Enriched Wheat Flour [Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Sodium Citrate, Lactic Acid, Calcium Lactate, Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Alginate, Microbial And Animal Enzymes).


  7. Barbara says

    Haven’t tried this yet, but look forward to it. Found it interesting that some commentators did not have success with cooking the pasta in the milk. I do it all the time when I am making MAC n CHEESE, even cook rigatoni or egg noodles in leftover spaghetti sauce, and throw in some cheese. It is amazing! Besides, you don’t dirty an extra pot.


    • Rachel Gurk says

      I do too! I love one pan pasta recipes!


  8. Sam says

    Suffering from a desperate Panera mac & cheese craving tonight. Instead of driving to Panera and spending the money I thought, “there must be a good copycat recipe online!” Selected this one based on the large number of high ratings. Clearly other people are able to figure something out that I can’t, because this came out as a soupy mess with over-cooked pasta and no cheese flavor (I used Cabot seriously sharp). Over-cooked pasta in warm milk soup did *not* satisfy the craving I had.


    • Rachel Gurk says

      I love Cabot seriously sharp! What type of pasta did you use?


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