This copycat Panera mac and cheese tastes just like the original, for a fraction of the price! Creamy and cheesy, it’s quick to make on the stovetop for an easy weeknight meal.
My kids love Panera, especially their mac and cheese, but holy smokes is it expensive! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I also love Panera, but making a habit of having meals there can really start to add up! That’s why I came up with this copycat Panera mac and cheese recipe, which lets my family enjoy all that Panera goodness at home without having to shell out so much money!
Easy Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese Recipe
Panera mac and cheese is different from a traditional mac and cheese, which is baked in the oven. This one is stovetop only, which makes it super easy—in fact, it’s not much harder than making mac and cheese from a box! (And if you’re looking for more easy mac and cheese ideas, don’t miss my crockpot mac and cheese and Southern Baked Mac and Cheese either!)
Of course, no trip to Panera is complete without some freshly made bread to soak up the cheese sauce at the bottom of the mac and cheese bowl, so for the complete Panera-at-home experience, I highly recommend making a loaf of homemade French bread and giving everyone a piece to eat with their copycat mac!
See recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
- Dried pipette rigate (Butoni) or medium shell pasta – Traditional elbow noodles or rotini will work, too.
- White cheddar cheese – I use Cracker Barrel.
- White American cheese – If you can’t find this, you can use orange; the taste will still match Panera’s, but the color will be different!
- Unsalted butter
- All-purpose flour
- Ground dry mustard
- Whole milk – Don’t substitute this with skim! You need whole milk for that signature Panera mac and cheese creaminess.
- Heavy cream
How to Make Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese
1. Cook the Pasta
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add two tablespoons of salt, then add the pasta. Cook according to the package directions, until the pasta is al dente. Drain and set aside.
2. Make the Sauce
Melt the butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until the mixture is smooth; cook for 2 minutes, or until fragrant but not browned. Reduce the heat to medium-low and slowly pour in the milk, cream, mustard, and 1 teaspoon salt, whisking the whole time. Continue to whisk until the sauce begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the Cheese
Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheeses. Fold in the pasta, stirring to coat, then serve.
How to Store and Reheat Leftover Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. Reheat them in the microwave until warmed through, or in a saucepan with a splash of milk.
Does Panera have good mac and cheese?
YES! If you haven’t tried it before, it’s so good—it’s super creamy and rich, and just a little bit tangy because it’s made with white cheddar.
How does Panera cook their mac and cheese?
Panera restaurants actually get their mac and cheese frozen! It comes in a bag, which is simmered in a large vat of boiling water.
What brand of cheese does Panera use?
Panera uses Vermont white cheddar in their mac and cheese, although it’s okay if your cheddar comes from a different state! What’s important is that it’s a nice, sharp white cheddar.
More Cheesy Recipes to Try
- The Easiest Baked Cheesy Chicken with Mushrooms
- Cheesy Ham and Potato Casserole
- Easy Cheesy Potatoes
- Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole
Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese
- 12 ounces dried pipette rigate Butoni or medium shells pasta
- 8 ounces white cheddar cheese I like Cracker Barrel
- 8 slices white American cheese 4 1/2 ounces
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground dry mustard
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Season the water with 2 tablespoons salt, and add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente. Drain and set aside (do not rinse pasta).
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to form a thick, smooth paste without lumps. Cook for 2 minutes, or until fragrant but not browned. Reduce heat to medium-low and add milk, cream, mustard, and 1 teaspoon salt. Continue to whisk until the sauce begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes.
- Add the cheeses and stir with a spatula until all the cheese is melted.
- Add the cooked macaroni and stir to mix.