We Tried 10 Kinds of Store-Brand Mac and Cheese and the Winner Is...

a close up of pasta in a bowl

Quest for the Best

Kraft introduced its iconic macaroni and cheese boxed dinner 85 years ago, but these days, Kraft faces plenty of competition from grocery store versions of this family favorite. And not just traditional yellow mac and cheese, either. Shells and cheese, white cheddar, organic, extra creamy, and whole grain are just a few of the varieties we found during a recent trip to six grocery stores, including Walmart and Aldi, in Austin, Texas. After purchasing a baker’s dozen of boxed mac and cheese dinners, we rounded up some friends to taste them all and find out which — if any — are as good as Kraft.

Note: Prices and availability are subject to change.

a bowl of food on a table

13. Simply Nature Organic Shells and White Cheddar (Aldi)

Price: Available in store

It didn’t matter one bit that the ingredients in this Aldi mac and cheese dinner were organic — our panelists agreed that this was the worst of the bunch. The white cheddar sauce, smooth and glossy, sure looked tasty. But one taste was all it took for one of our volunteers to put her fork down, push away her plate, and declare simply, “No!” The sauce was notably oversalted and slightly gritty on the palate, with decidedly artificial notes that lacked any true cheese flavor.

a bowl of food on a table

12. Signature Kitchens Original Macaroni & Cheese Dinner (Randall’s)

Price: 99 cents

We didn’t have high hopes for this brand of mac and cheese (also sold at Kroger, Jewel, and Albertsons stores) as we cooked it on the stove. The cheese sauce was soupy and thin, requiring extra time on the stove to reduce. That resulted in mushy macaroni that tasted almost like paste, while the sauce had an oddly sweet, buttery flavor that reminded us of the cheese powder you’d find on potato chips or popcorn.

a bowl of rice on a plate

11. Cheese Club Macaroni and Cheese (Aldi)

Price: Available in store

“Cheese Club? Sounds fun!” one of our panelists quipped as we tucked into Aldi’s other answer to Kraft. But Cheese Club was not fun. The powdered sauce resembled Tang crystals before slowly blending with the milk and butter into a bright yellow sauce. Like the Signature Kitchens mac and cheese, Aldi’s version required extra stove time to reduce the sauce from its soupy start. The result: another buttery, bland, slightly mushy also-ran.

a bowl of food on a table

10. Macaroni and Cheese (H-E-B)

Price: 1.52 cents

As we mixed the ingredients together, a notably cheesy aroma rose from the pot, giving us hope that this might just be a winner. It was not to be. The ingredients never mixed evenly, resulting in noodles with clumps of bright yellow sauce. The flavor was bland, with a gummy mouthfeel that clung to the palate. “This is just gross,” one of our panelists declared after taking her first — and only — taste. But another panelist, while not exactly disagreeing, noted that this mac and cheese just might be a hit with those finicky kids who’ll only eat bland foods.

a plate of food with rice and vegetables in a cup

9. Great Value Thick and Creamy Mac and Cheese (Walmart)

Price: 43 cents

The pinkish cheese powder didn’t look promising, but once it cooked down, the sauce did indeed become thick and creamy. It tasted mellow and buttery, with slight cheesy flavor. Very slight. All of our panelists wanted to reach for the seasoning after a forkful or two. “It needs salt,” one of our tasters remarked.

a plate of food with rice and broccoli

8. Whole Grain Macaroni and Cheese (H-E-B)

Price: $1.94 cents

This was the only whole-grain option among our samples, and all of our panelists agreed that the macaroni tasted more pasta-like than some of the others. Though the sauce powder was bright yellow out of the package, once combined with the other ingredients it had an odd greenish cast to it (probably because of the brown noodles) that made it appear less than mouthwatering to our panelists. The resulting buttery sauce had a noticeable sour cream-like tang, but still needed salt.

a bowl of food with rice and vegetables

6. Market Pantry Macaroni and Cheese Dinner (Target)

Price: 69 cents

When we poured the cheese powder into the pot, all of us were at a loss trying to describe the color. Pinkish? Coral? Salmon? Whatever it was, we had our doubts about its cheesy provenance. But once prepared and plated, Target’s Market Pantry looked just about as we expected classic boxed mac and cheese to appear: a buttery orangey yellow. None of our tasters disliked it — but they couldn’t agree on whether it was passably pleasing or just kind of meh, so it ends mid-pack in our final ranking.

a bowl of food on a table

5. Macaroni and Cheese Wisconsin Cheddar (Trader Joe’s)

Price: 99 cents

The Trader Joe’s devotees on our tasting panel salivated at the prospect of tasting mac and cheese from their favorite grocer. But when notes were compared, they agreed this isn’t TJ’s best effort. Like a few of the other store-brand macaroni and cheese dinners we tested, this one required extra time on the stovetop for the sauce to thicken. Trader Joe’s did have a mild, cheddar-like cheesy flavor, and the pasta, while bland, didn’t go all mushy despite overcooking.

a plate of food on a table

1 – Tie. Organic Shells and White Cheddar (Trader Joe’s)

Price: $1.39

When it comes to genuine cheese flavor, this TJ’s mac and cheese had it in spoonfuls. Our panel agreed it had to most natural dairy flavor, more Parmesan-like than cheddar perhaps but cheesy all the same. The pasta was toothsome, not gummy, and the sauce was smooth, silky, and just thick enough. Even after it had been sitting in the pot for awhile, all of us kept sneaking extra bites. “It tastes like Annie’s,” one panelist said approvingly.

a plate of food with rice

1 – Tie. Great Value Original Mac and Cheese (Walmart)

Price: 43 cents

In terms of appearance before and after cooking, and the all-important taste test, our review panel said Walmart’s Great Value Original was by far the closest to classic Kraft mac and cheese. The sauce was buttery, with a subtle tang that gave all of our volunteer tasters pleasant childhood flashbacks and just enough salt to give it that familiar processed-cheese flavor we love. As with the Trader Joe’s variety, everyone went back for more.

See how more of your favorite foods stack up in our other taste tests.

food, we tried 10 kinds of store-brand mac and cheese and the winner is...

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