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Instant Pot Panera Mac and Cheese Recipe

I’m now fully immersed in the world of Instant Pot cooking. I wonder how I ever survived making weeknight dinners without the speed and ease of the pressure cooker.

Instant Pot Panera Mac and Cheese Photo

I’ve been slowly adjusting my dinner and side dish recipes from their stove and crock pot versions to whip up in the Instant Pot. And so enters the Instant Pot Panera mac and cheese recipe. 

After discovering what is now my favorite and new go-to way to make macaroni and cheese, I realized how easily Panera’s take on the classic side dish can be made in the pressure cooker to mimic the taste almost exactly.

Instant Pot Panera Mac and Cheese Picture

With a blend of American and white cheddar cheeses, and a touch of Dijon, this mac and cheese is creamy, delicious, and perfect in every way, especially since it’s ready in less than twenty minutes. 

To make Panera mac and cheese in the Instant Pot, you will boil the pasta first using the pressure cooker. Then, stir in the milk and cheeses, using the residual heat of the pot to melt the cheese.

Instant Pot Panera Mac and Cheese Image

The Instant Pot makes a perfectly-textured pasta, with just a bit of firmness. Adding the cheeses and milk later creates a creamy mac and cheese, just like the Panera version.

An important note when making this recipe: After the pasta cooks and before you add the cheese and milk, drain any water that remains in the Instant Pot, if there is any.

Instant Pot Panera Mac and Cheese Pic

You can do this by simply pouring off the water into a sink (with a colander in the sink to catch any pasta that may fall) without entirely draining the pot and removing the pasta.

If you drain the water, you may want to add a bit more butter and salt to the final mac and cheese, to taste, if needed.

File 1 - Instant Pot Panera Mac and Cheese

An even more important note: The valve!!

To keep the pasta from overcooking, I use the quick release valve to let the steam escape as soon as the pressure cooker timer ends, rather than let the steam release slowly and naturally.

File 2 - Instant Pot Panera Mac and Cheese

However, when cooking pasta, the pasta water can spurt up through the quick release valve. Wearing a potholder or silicone gloves, turn the quick release in short spurts, closing the valve if the pasta water begins to spurt through the valve. 

It may take a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of your Instant Pot, you can whip up dishes in no time. In less than 20 minutes you can have perfect Panera Mac and Cheese.

File 3 - Instant Pot Panera Mac and Cheese

Looking for dinner recipes for your pressure cooker? Check out this roundup of 20 Instant Pot chicken recipes.  

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Instant Pot Panera Mac and Cheese Photo

Instant Pot Panera Mac and Cheese Recipe

Meaghan Mountford
This Instant Pot Panera mac and cheese recipe is even better than the copycat Panera version, and it’s super easy to make in the Instant Pot.
3.70 from 67 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 8
Calories 396 kcal


  • 1 pound Pasta Shells (16 ounce box – large size shell)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Coarse Sea Salt
  • 4 tablespoons Butter
  • 8 ounces White Cheddar Cheese freshly shredded, about 2 rounded cups
  • 4 ounces White American Cheese 4-6 slices
  • 1 cup Milk skim, low fat or whole
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
  • Black Pepper optional
  • dash Hot Sauce optional


  • Place the pasta, 4 cups water, salt, and butter in the Instant Pot. Give it a quick stir. Secure the top and seal the valve. Use the pressure setting and set the clock to 4 minutes. The Pot will take about ten minutes to pressurize before the clock starts counting down. 
  • When the 4 minutes is up, use the quick release valve to release the steam. Protect your hands with a potholder or silicone gloves and turn the valve. If the pasta water starts to spurt, close the valve, wait about 15 seconds, and continue to turn the valve in brief intervals until the spurting stops. Let all of the steam release until the float valve descends and it is safe to remove the lid. 
  • If there is a significant amount of water in the pot, drain the water by gently pouring the water off into the sink. You needn’t drain every last drop. Keep a colander in the sink just in case any pasta falls from the pot. 
  • Stir in the cheeses and milk. Stir in the mustard. If you drained the pasta, you may also add another tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt, to taste. Add pepper and hot sauce if you like. You may put the Instant Pot in warming mode to help melt the cheese.


Calories: 396kcalCarbohydrates: 42gProtein: 15gFat: 19gSaturated Fat: 7gSodium: 736mgSugar: 2g
Keyword Cheese, Comfort Food, Copycat, Easy Dinners, Instant Pot, Macaroni and Cheese, Pasta
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