This is THE recipe for Panera Mac and Cheese. I got it from their website a while back when they posted it for a short time! You MUST try this easy stovetop recipe.

It costs just $1.09 per serving to make this recipe at home. The recipe makes 6 servings for a total of about $6.55. That’s less than it costs to buy one bowl at Panera!

An overhead picture of the finished Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese recipe.

Why you will love Panera Bread Mac and CheeseWhen I was pregnant with my son, there were only two foods that I could stomach: bagels and Panera’s Mac & Cheese. I would have their mac & cheese weekly. 

I’d get their half and half with an order of mac and cheese and an order of Panera Broccoli Cheese Soup. Okay, okay, if I’m going to be honest, maybe it was more than once a week.

For me, this is the pinnacle of mac & cheese dishes; it’s rich, smooth, creamy, and chock-full of calcium from all that yummy cheese and milk.

Not only is this recipe amazingly delicious, but it’s also quick and easy to make and on the table in 30 minutes or less. This mac and cheese recipe is thick and smooth and so easy to make on the stovetop.

Panera Copycat Mac and Cheese ingredients

Per Serving Cost: $1.09

Recipe Cost: $6.55

  • 1 pound Lumaconi pasta (I found it at Target) – $1.38
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter – $0.40
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour – $0.05
  • 2 ½ cups milk – $0.40
  • 4 ounces white American cheese – $1.52
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp white Vermont cheddar – $2.76
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt –$0.02
  • ¼ teaspoon hot sauce – $0.01

NOTE: The recipe prices are calculated by using grocery store websites. The actual cost of the recipe will vary depending on what ingredients you already have. 

All of the ingredients needed to make this Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese recipe.

Cook’s tools for Panera Mac n Cheese

  • cheese grater 
  • pasta pot
  • medium saucepan
  • whisk

Panera Mac n Cheese variations

  • You can use any type of pasta that you’d like. To make this recipe just like Panera’s, you need to use Lumaconi pasta. In its place, you can use medium shells, elbow macaroni, and Cavatappi.
  • If you’re serving this as a main dish, it serves 4-6. If you’re making this as a side dish, it serves 8-10.
  • I find that to get optimal results; you *must* use extra-sharp white cheddar and sliced white American cheese from the deli, not the fake stuff you find in the box.
  • Add 1 cup of chopped and steamed broccoli florets for broccoli mac and cheese.

How to make Panera Mac and Cheese

  1. Gather all of the ingredients, and shred the cheese.
  2. Cook the pasta as per the package instructions.
  3. Melt butter.
  4. Add flour and milk, and cook until thickened.
  5. Whisk in cheese until melted.
  6. Stir in pasta.
  7. Serve immediately!

***Make sure you watch the recipe video in the recipe card below!

A picture collage of how to make this Panera Mac and Cheese recipe.

How to serve this Panera Mac and Cheese Recipe

Here are some tips for serving this mac and cheese:

  • As a main course: This mac and cheese is hearty and filling enough to be served as a main course. You could serve it with a side salad or some roasted vegetables.
  • As a side dish: This recipe would also make a great side dish for a holiday meal or barbecue. You could serve it with grilled chicken, fish, or pot roast.
  • In a grilled cheese sandwich: This mac and cheese would be delicious in a grilled cheese sandwich. Spread some of the mac and cheese on two slices of bread and grill until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted and bubbly.
  • In a baked potato: Top a baked potato with some of the mac and cheese and then bake for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

How to store Panera Bread Mac and Cheese

SERVE: This is best served immediately after it’s made. With that said, you can keep it out for about an hour before it will need to be refrigerated.

STORE: Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

FREEZE: Because of all of the dairy products in this recipe, I do not recommend freezing it. The cheese sauce will be grainy once it’s defrosted.

REHEAT: Place the Panera Mac and Cheese in a saucepan set over medium-low heat. Add 3-4 tablespoons of milk and heat and stir the mixture until heated through about 3-6 minutes.

Panera Mac and Cheese in a blue bowl.

Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese FAQs

What type of cheese is best for Mac and Cheese?

As with all mac and cheese recipes, it’s best to use cheese that is NOT pre-shredded because of the extra additives that prevents the cheese from clumping.
For this recipe it’s best to use extra-sharp white cheddar and white American cheese from the deli.

Is hot sauce needed in this recipe?

I think so, it’s strictly used to enhance the flavor of the dish. It’s such a tiny amount that it will not make the dish spicy.

Cheese being grated on top of the finished Panera Mac and Cheese recipe.

More Copycat recipes:

A close up picture of the Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese.
4.18 from 103 votes

Panera Copycat Mac and Cheese

Recipe Cost $ $6.55
Serving Cost $ $1.09
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
6 people
Copycat Panera’s Mac and Cheese Recipe: this is their recipe for their famous rich and creamy Mac and Cheese. So good, you’ll love it.

Equipment

  • Cheese grater
  • pasta pot
  • medium saucepan
  • whisk

Ingredients
 
 

  • 1 pound Lumaconi pasta or medium shells
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ cups milk anything but skim milk
  • 4 ounces (about 6 slices) sliced white American cheese from the deli counter, cut into thin strips
  • 8 ozs extra-sharp white cheddar shredded
  • ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard optional
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon hot sauce optional

Instructions

  • Prepare pasta according to package directions.
  • In large saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute, whisking constantly.
  • Gradually whisk in milk; cook over medium heat, whisking until mixture thickens and bubbles. Remove from heat.
  • Add cheeses, mustard, salt, and hot sauce, stirring until cheese melts and sauce is smooth.
  • Stir in pasta and cook over medium heat for 1 minute (or until thoroughly heated). Serve immediately.

Video

Notes

  • Some people find the Dijon mustard in the recipe to be a bit overwhelming, so feel free to cut back on it or omit it altogether.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cup | Calories: 455kcal | Carbohydrates: 31g | Protein: 21g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 16g | Cholesterol: 81mg | Sodium: 1060mg | Potassium: 232mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 859IU | Calcium: 612mg | Iron: 2mg

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This post first appeared on FFF in 2014. I recently updated the recipe photos and video.

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Recipe Rating




184 Comments

  1. I tried the recipe and it turned out delicious but not like Panera. Not creamy enough. It’s just off. Still delicious though.

  2. Tried the recipe. Definitely doesnt taste like Panera’s. But since I love mac n cheese so much in general it’s not a total bust.

    1. Bob Jones says:

      Omg best Mac and cheese ever!! It’s so creamy and delicious!! I would recommend adding a little more salt though but it’s near perfection!!
      -fellow cheese lover

      1. Bob, so glad you liked the recipe! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Very, very good! I had to use regular American cheese, but it really didn’t change the color. Yummy!

    1. Next time try using imported American cheese and not the domestic.

  4. Where do you buy your extra sharp white cheddar? Do you buy the 32 oz big block? That is the only way i’ve seen it so far. I really wanna try this recipe but not sure if I want to commit to that big of a block for $14 ‍♀️

    1. I usually get it at Target or Safeway. If you get the 32 oz blog I suggest shredding it all at once and freezing by 2-cup portions.

  5. What brand or kind of hot sauce should I use?

    1. Any will do. I used Tabasco.

  6. Linda Mitchell says:

    Hi Jillian !
    I’m planning to double the recipe as a side for a large family gathering next Sunday. Should I simply double all the ingredients? Also, your recipe says serve immediately. Any chance I can make this in advance, place in a baking dish and warm it in the microwave?

    1. Yes, double all of the ingredients.
      Because all of the cheese used in this recipe, the sauce seizes up rather quickly. When you intend to reheat this mac and cheese, I would increase the milk in this recipe by 1/2. So if you’re doubling the recipe then increase the milk by 1 cup.
      I hope this helps! 🙂

      1. Megan Wagner says:

        If I double the recipe and make it a day in advance, can I reheat it in the oven?

        1. If you do, you’ll want to add a bit more milk to the recipe.

    2. Delicious! We got the Panera flavor, but the texture was off. I think I’ll halve the roux next time. I put some bacon crumbles on top and it was really yummy. 4 stars because of the texture and it’s not quite Panera. 5 stars on its own merit. Maybe change the name to Panera-esque?

  7. If I made just the cheese sauce ahead of time and reheated it the next day.. do you think it would still turn out okay??

    Thanks!

    1. It should. Just make sure you reheat it slowly so the sauce doesn’t break and become grainy. Also, a little bit of milk might be needed to thin the sauce out a little.

  8. I made this once and my husband demanded it be added into our regular rotation–it was delicious! It has turned out better each time I’ve made it, and it’s one of those dishes that’s just as good (if not better) the next day.
    Now to find a copycat baguette recipe to serve on the side 🙂

    1. Sara, I am SO thrilled that you loved this recipe! And I so wish I had their baguette recipe…yum!

  9. I tried this recipie at Christmas and it was THE best! My family and other guests were impressed by how delicious it was and how close it was to the real deal at Panera’s! I will no longer have to slave and kill my hands stirring for what feels like forever making it the way I always have.
    Thanks for such an easy, and delicious recipie!

    1. Jill! I’m SO glad you and your family loved the recipe. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

    2. Great recipe! Next time I think I will reduce or leave out the hot sauce. It was a little over powering.

  10. I made this for my family. The flavor was really close but wasn’t as creamy, has a little bit of a gritty texture. Any advice? Use less flour or something? Thank you!

    1. Hi Dave, next time try adding a bit more milk to make the sauce creamier. Also, the gritty texture can come from heating dairy over heat that is too hot. Low and slow is best instead of cranking the heat. I hope this helps!

  11. I made some minor changes, used a finer grader and cooked the chesse mix at a lower temperature, used a little Grey Poupon — i made a full bach of 64oz and it didnt last 3 days!!

    1. Dan, So glad you loved this recipe! Thanks for stopping by, cheers!

  12. My kids LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this! So glad I can make it at home!

  13. Veena Azmanov says:

    Perfect and a Happy family meal. I love it too.

  14. Mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. I will have to try this recipe.

  15. I retract my comment about the “too much roux” and the “gritty texture.” That was 100% my fault. I did some research and it turns out I was melting the cheese at too high a temperature and it “broke” the sauce. Through research, I learned that white cheddar melts at 150 degrees, so I waited 5 minutes before adding my cheeses to the roux. Great recipe!

  16. Going to try to make this for a get together tomorrow. Can I make it an hour ahead of time and keep warm in a crock pot?

    1. Yes, just add 3 tablespoons more of milk to the recipe.

  17. I came across this recipe because my 3 year old really loves Panera mac n cheese and she has not cared for any of my traditional homemade recipes. I wanted to find something I could make at home, that she would actually eat. We found this recipe to be a very close match to Panera’s version both flavor and texture wise (my daughter gobbled up every last bite so it passed the picky preschooler test). I only had penne noodles, so that is what I used. If I had used shells I’m not sure anyone would have known it was homemade (it was that close to the real deal). I cooked my noodles for one minute less then the al dente recommended time, increased the milk to 3 cups (because I knew I would be reheating), let the sauce base cool for 5 minutes before adding the cheese (I used Boar’s head American white cheddar from the deli section, grated my own white cheddar) and then cooked for 1 minute after adding in the noodles. It was delicious and we will definitely be making it again!

    1. Amanda, I am SO glad that your daughter loved the recipe. It’a favorite at my house, too!

  18. Thanks so much for the recipe. I plan to make this for my kids who are toddlers since they love the Panera one. I noticed hot sauce goes into it. Is this necessary? I’m afraid it’ll be too hot for my kids.

    1. You can definitely leave it out. It doesn’t add heat to the dish since it’s such a small amount, just a little bit of flavor.

  19. About how long does this mac stay “gooey”? I’m planning on making it for Thanksgiving, but hours ahead of time in a Crock.

    1. Only for about 20 minutes. If you’re going to make it ahead of time and keep it in the crockpot, then increase the milk by 1/2 cup.

  20. Cannot wait to try this – do you think it would do well if I froze half of it after it’s made and cooled – it’s only the two of us and this makes quite a bit

    1. I do not recommend freezing the recipe. The cheese sauce may turn grainy when you defrost it.