Ooey, gooey, creamy and cheesy, there’s no other comfort food quite like macaroni and cheese. And making that best mac and cheese from scratch? Well, that’s an art. If you’re like me, though, you don’t always have the time to whip up a macaroni masterpiece. That’s when I turn to a regular, old box of mac and cheese to satisfy my craving for comfort food fast

Now, I have my go-to brand (the one in the blue box), but I was curious how all these other box macs stacked up. Was there really a better option out there?

So along with a panel of macaroni and cheese experts, I put these brands to the test: Annie’s, Back to Nature, Cracker Barrel, Horizon, Kraft, Kraft Deluxe and ShurFine.

What We Looked for in the Best Boxed Mac and Cheese

Because we wanted this blind test to be as scientific as possible (while still being deliciously cheesy), we kept a few criteria in mind as we enjoyed our elbows and cheese:

Cheese sauce: We’re serious about cheese here (Taste of Home HQ is in Wisconsin). The gang of testers and myself wanted a cheese sauce that was smooth and cheesy. Artificial-tasting, bland or gritty sauces need not apply!
Noodle shape and texture: While elbows are the classic shape in this dish, there’s still some variation to be had. Our testers had to consider the size of the noodles, the texture and any other qualities. Maybe some would be better at holding more cheese sauce, maybe others would be too small.
Appearance: We eat with our eyes, so appearance is crucial. No one wants to dive into a bowl that looks unappetizingly neon or pale.

Our Favorites

While we tasted seven different brands, only two really stood out to us macaroni fanatics.

Best Almost Homemade: Cracker Barrel

Score: 8.2/10

Cracker Barrel Sharp Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese was a standout in our test. Peeking at the package post-sampling, this brand sets itself apart from the others with its box. The black box made this brand seem more sophisticated like this mac and cheese was designed for grown-ups.

When it came to taste, we definitely agreed that this macaroni was just a bit more refined than the other brands we tested. The sauce was paler and less artificial-looking (not that bright orange we associate with classic boxed mac). The flavor was also more distinctively cheddar rather than just being some sort of generic cheese flavor.

However, what we loved most about Cracker Barrel were the noodles. The large, ridged macaroni noodles were just right for holding onto the cheesy sauce.

Due to its more authentic flavors, we thought that this brand would be a good homemade substitute—especially if you dressed it up with some bacon, onions or even crispy breadcrumbs on top.

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Best in Show: Kraft

Score: 8.8/10

In the end, the classic macaroni and cheese brand took the crown. That’s right, your standard box of Kraft is really the best boxed mac and cheese out there! Costing less than a dollar a box, we’re not complaining!

What set this macaroni apart from the crowd was really its perfect ratio of cheese sauce to noodles. Our other favorite was tasty, but we just didn’t get quite enough cheese! Kraft, on the other hand, gave us a wonderfully smooth cream sauce that coated every single noodle.

Testers also found that of all seven brands, this sauce offered more cheese flavor per bite. Of course, there was the great debate of what kind of Kraft is best: classic macaroni or shaped pasta, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day.

If you want to level up your box, try this TikTok macaroni and cheese trend.

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The Takeaways

Real Cheese Tastes Best

This one is pretty obvious, but it bears stating in this test! A handful of the brands we tried just didn’t live up to our cheesy expectations. Some tasted too buttery, others too artificial—it was pretty shocking to us how some options lacked that authentic cheese flavor. In the end, the cheesiest reigned supreme.

There’s No Replacing Homemade

This should surprise no one, but there’s absolutely no way that these boxed macs can replace the real deal. Sure, these were great tasty options to have as a quick meal or to serve to hungry kiddos, but they really don’t hold a candle to our favorite from-scratch recipes made with our Test Kitchen’s favorite macaroni brands.

Got a box on hand? Jazz it up with these ideas.

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The post We Tried 7 Brands to Find the Best Boxed Mac and Cheese appeared first on Taste of Home.