After surviving a torturously long summer, your reward has arrived. It is now officially time to get cozy, so bust out the sweaters, put on a movie, and plug in the Instant Pot. First on my list for autumnal Instant Pot comfort food is macaroni and cheese, a dish that’s just as welcome on the weeknight dinner table as it is featured in a lavish Thanksgiving spread. In fact, making a Thanksgiving mac and cheese in the Instant Pot frees up space in the oven (in other words, there’s more room for pies).

Now, you could make a half batch of my Instant Pot queso and fold in a pound of cooked elbow macaroni for a Tex-Mex riff on the classic. But I figured you could use another mac and cheese variation in your arsenal, so I turned to another beloved cheese concoction: pimento cheese. The combination of cream cheese, pimentos, and seasonings makes this mac and cheese deliciously unexpected, without scandalizing your grandmother or spicing it up too much for the kids. 

This comes together ridiculously quickly—just four minutes at high pressure. It’s also incredibly versatile. You can leave the mac and cheese in the Instant Pot on the “keep warm” setting for folks to serve themselves as they please, or you can pour it into a casserole dish, top it with bread crumbs, and bake it for a more old-fashioned texture. 

No need to fuss with a roux; the cream cheese stabilizes the sauce. That means this mac and cheese can be made up to two days in advance and reheated, without worrying about the sauce breaking. And really, what more can you ask of a macaroni and cheese but that it’s there for you when you need it.

instant pot pimento mac and cheese

Photograph by Jenn Hair

Pimento Mac and Cheese

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
1 7-ounce jar diced pimentos, drained
½ teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound elbow macaroni
3 cups half and half, at room temperature
1 8-ounce block cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into chunks
3 cups sharp cheddar, grated
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
2 cups bread crumbs (optional)
¼ cup (½ stick) melted butter (optional)

  1. Add the stock or water to the Instant Pot and stir in pimentos, cayenne, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and salt, then add the macaroni.
  2. Set the Instant Pot to high pressure for 4 minutes, with the Keep Warm setting on. Release the pressure manually.
  3. Add the half and half, followed by the cream cheese. Stir, breaking up the clumps of noodles, until melted. A handful at a time, add the grated cheese, stirring to melt. (It will melt slowly; if you need to speed it up, you can switch to the sauté function. Just keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t scorch.) Add salt and pepper to taste. If you plan on serving it from the Instant Pot, you’re good to go.
  4. If you prefer a bread crumb topping, use a rubber spatula to pour the macaroni and cheese into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and butter, stirring until the butter is evenly distributed. (If the bread crumbs are unseasoned, add salt and pepper to taste.) Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the macaroni and cheese; if you prefer a lighter touch, don’t use all of the mixture. Broil until golden, about 2-3 minutes; watch closely because it broils quickly. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Note: If you’d like to make the mac and cheese in advance, reduced Instant Pot pressure-cook time to 3 minutes. Add to a greased baking dish and cover, refrigerating for up to two days. When ready to serve, heat an oven to 375 and bake, uncovered, until golden and bubbling, 25-30 minutes.