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A Definitive Ranking Of The Best Boxed Mac And Cheese On The Market

Calling out the best box of mac and cheese on grocery store shelves is no easy task. So many of us grew up with one brand or another, greatly informing our taste buds in the present day. This is a dish that’s highly dependent on sense memory. Perhaps the most dependent.

Because of that, under normal circumstances, we might just leave you to stick to your tried and true brands. But since the pandemic has created an unprecedented boom time for mac and cheese, we figured you might be experimenting a little further afield. So we decided to rank the boxes that are most commonly found on grocery store shelves.

So what makes a “good” cheesy mac? If we remove nostalgia, we’d have to say a solid noodle, a lack of a cardboard taste, and a creamy cheesy sauce that’s suitably sharp. The good news is this: that combo is relatively easy to find. We’re talking about pasta and cheese — a deeply satisfying experience, even straight out of the box with no frills. Just ask Cliff Booth…

The weird thing with macaroni and cheese these days is that there’s just so much of the stuff. It’s become a bit like food mad-libs — with a mix of words like “organic,” gluten-free,” “vegan,” “white cheddar,” “sharp cheddar,” “low sodium,” and “shells” getting mixed and remixed endlessly. Annie’s alone has seven Deluxe Rich and Creamy boxes, 29 standard powdered cheese sauce boxes, and an additional ten microwaveable versions.

They sell 46 different varieties of macaroni and cheese right now. Seriously.

Don’t worry, we’re not ranking 46 boxes of Annie’s mac and cheese today. Instead, we’re ranking 12 boxes from brands you can generally find coast-to-coast. As for parameters, we’re going on flavor alone. Because of that, the deluxe versions tend to dominate our list (though my editor has made it very clear that the powdered cheese fans out there roll deep). And while you’ll see a lot of standards near the top, a fairly new entry almost stole the #1 slot.

12. Banza Chickpea Pasta Mac & Cheese

Amazon

Average Price: $3.99

The Mac ‘N Cheese:

Banza famously makes gluten-free boxed pasta, largely from chickpea flour. It’s a no-brainer that they’d enter the mac and cheese game with their pasta.

Bottom Line:

The powdered sauce isn’t the problem with this box. The chickpea pasta has a very narrow toothsome-ness. If this stuff is overcooked, even slightly, it’ll crumble. No one wants crumbly pasta in cheese sauce. That being said, you are getting more protein and fiber with this version.

11. 365 Organic Macaroni & Cheese

Amazon

Average Price: $0.79

The Mac ‘N Cheese:

This is Whole Foods proprietary brand. There’s no reinventing the wheel with this box. It’s standard stuff and actually a good price for a Whole Foods product.

Bottom Line:

“Standard” is the keyword. There’s literally nothing to write home about this box of mac and cheese. The pasta keeps that cardboard taste. The powdered cheese sauce needs salt, which is never a good sign when there’s already 550mg of sodium in each box.

10. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese

Target

Average Price: $0.98

The Mac ‘N Cheese:

This is the box of mac and cheese that changed the way generations of Americans ate. It was affordable, delivered nutrients on the cheap, and generally put smiles on hungry faces.

Bottom Line:

History aside, this box now feels like it’s from another era and just so mass-produced. It’s really hard to get past the cardboard essence that lives in the noodles, even when cooked (it’s better with the organic version!). The powdered cheese sauce is fine but, again, you’ll often find yourself shaking a little more salt and pepper over your bowl.

9. Trader Joe’s Macaroni & Cheese

Amazon

Average Price: $10.48 (3-pack)

The Mac ‘N Cheese:

Trader Joe’s signature brand is “okay” mac and cheese. It’s your standard elbow macaroni with a neon orange cheese powder. That’s it.

Bottom Line:

We dare you to tell the difference between this and Kraft in a blind taste test. The noodles have the exact same cardboard nature and the cheese sauce is middling at best.

8. 365 Organic Deluxe Cheddar Shells & Cheese

Amaz

Average Price: $3.99

The Mac ‘N Cheese:

Whole Foods Deluxe mac and cheese does amp up the flavors and value. There’s a decent velvet texture to the cheese sauce and you feel like you’re getting a better product for your dollar with this version.

Bottom Line:

We’re still dealing with mac and cheese that needs a lot of work. A little salt goes a long way. Overall, this feels like mac and cheese you’re supposed to bake with by adding in… we don’t know… broccoli or ham or even hot dogs … something.

7. Kraft Deluxe

Amazon

Average Price: $6.48 (3-pack)

The Mac ‘N Cheese:

Kraft Deluxe is a big step up from a standard box of Kraft Mac and Cheese. The noodles are hefty and able to carry a heftier sauce with them. This is also splittable (technically, one 14-oz. box is meant to serve four people). However you split it, this feels like a full meal in a bowl.

Bottom Line:

This only really ranks this low because the noodles can’t seem to escape the cardboard taste. The cheese sauce is a step up though — with a much deeper sense of smoothness and savoriness.

6. Cracker Barrel Oven Baked Macaroni & Cheese Dinner

Amazon

Average Price: $9.71 (3-pack)

The Mac ‘N Cheese:

Cracker Barrel has a wide selection of mac and cheese dinners. They’re generally big enough to serve as a side during dinner and they’re designed to be baked. You need to fire up the oven to finish this one off and it really makes a difference.

Bottom Line:

This is better than it has any business being. It’s savory, cheesy, and doesn’t need a shake of salt to round out the seasoning of the sauce.

5. Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese

Amazon

Average Price: $1.00

The Mac ‘N Cheese:

Annie’s has corned the market on bespoke, seemingly high-end mac and cheese. While this isn’t intrinsically any different than Kraft or Trader Joe’s above, it does have an edge thanks to the taste.

Bottom Line:

Annie’s edges out based on the pasta alone. There’s still a cardboard essence but it’s almost gone and gets covered up nicely by a cheesy sauce that doesn’t need another hit of salt to be well-rounded.

4. Velveeta Shells and Cheese

Amazon

Average Price: $14.01 (3-pack)

The Mac ‘N Cheese:

Getting back to the cheese sauce packets, Velveeta Shells and Cheese hits a very specific mark in both texture and flavor with an intense Velveeta cheese sauce and hefty pasta shells that help deliver all that gooey cheese.

Bottom Line:

This is a solid pasta and cheese experience that needs no fussing. You can boil up the pasta, toss it in the sauce, and serve. It’s just fine the way it is, on its own or on the side. It also works wonders with a nice hot sauce drizzled over the top.

3. Cheetos Mac ‘N Cheese

Amazon

Average Price: $11.00 (3-pack)

The Mac ‘N Cheese:

This new-ish line from Cheetos asked, “what if we dusted your mac and cheese with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos dust?” The mac ‘n cheese are spirals, cheesy, and truly reminiscent of Cheetos in every bite.

Bottom Line:

I was super dismissive of this bowl of mac and cheese. The color is an unholy bright red and it sort of smelled like wet Cheetos at first whiff. Then I tasted it. It really delivers with a creamy, cheesy sauce that has a legitimate heat and didn’t overpower.

I thought I was going to eat a few bites as a tester but ended up eating the whole bowl.

2. Amy’s Macaroni & Cheese

Amazon

Average Price: $3.99

The Mac ‘N Cheese:

Amy’s might be the easiest to make on the list. Crank up an oven, drop in the tray, bake, enjoy. Of course, you can also cook these off in the microwave, but then you’ll lose out on crisping up the edges, giving this mac and cheese a textural edge.

Bottom Line:

You don’t have to make a sauce and you get baked mac and cheese. That’s a big plus for this box. Plus, the seasoning is dialed. Look, you’re not going to trick anyone into thinking you made mac and cheese from scratch with this, but it’s perfectly good for what it is. It’s also a good single serving size.

1. Annie’s Creamy Deluxe Macaroni Dinner

Amazon

Average Price: $3.99

The Mac ‘N Cheese:

This mac and cheese utilizes cheesy sauce packets and shells for delivery. The cheese packets mean you don’t have to fuss with milk and butter to find that perfect creamy spot. It’s well-seasoned, while still being very cheesy — both of which are wins.

Bottom Line:

While this is a winner on its own and easy to jazz up. Straight out of the box, it won’t have you reaching for the salt and pepper.

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