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. (See for yourself with our best mac and cheese recipes.) 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. Let’s see how they stacked up!
Best Natural Brand: Back to Nature
Just because macaroni and cheese is a comfort food, doesn’t mean it can’t be (a little) better for you! Enter Back to Nature’s mac option. This GMO-free, organic boxed mac and cheese is made without artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Let’s just say that’s a big switch up from the classic neon orange that you might expect to come out of a box!
Organic ingredients aside, testers really enjoyed this boxed macaroni and cheese. We found the sauce to be buttery and smooth, perfect for coating the traditional macaroni-shaped noodles. Tasting, we really appreciated the silky texture of the sauce, but we definitely wanted more of it! Outside of that, our biggest critique was that this mac and cheese didn’t have enough cheese flavor to satisfy our palates (maybe that’s just the Wisconsin in us!). This is not to say this mac was bad by any means! We loved its buttery taste but we might add just an extra sprinkle of cheddar on top next time!
$1.49 for a 6-oz. box; available nationwide at stores like Target.
Best Almost Homemade: Cracker Barrel
Coming up next in our rankings was Cracker Barrel’s sharp cheddar macaroni and cheese. Peeking at the package post-testing, 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. Caught you craving Cracker Barrel? Check out these copycat recipes.
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 was 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.
$3.09 for a 14-oz. box; available nationwide.
Best in Show: Kraft
In the end, the classic macaroni and cheese brand took the crown. That’s right, your standard box of Kraft is really the best packaged 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 it’s perfect ratio of cheese sauce to noodles. Our other favorite brands were 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 (pssst… cheese-lovers, check out these great cheesy apps). 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.
$0.99 for a 7.25-oz. box; available nationwide.
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.