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As A Boxed Mac 'N' Cheese Fanatic, I Blind Taste-Tested The 9 Most Popular Ones — Turns Out I've Been Buying The Wrong Brand For 28 Years

IDK who needs to hear this, but you're probably buying the wrong box too.

Few foods scream "comfort" like a piping hot bowl of mac 'n' cheese. When it comes to the boxed stuff, let's get one thing very clear: Though homemade versions may be undeniably delicious, boxed mac 'n' cheese will always taste like pure comfort.

Author holding up a bite of mac 'n' cheese on a spoon with text: "heaven"
Ross Yoder

I cook and write about food for a living, so I know, I know — in the flavor department, homemade mac 'n' cheese is basically unmatched...but there's something so satisfying about that classic box o' mac. The tiny, tubular noodles, the radioactively orange cheese powder — it just cannot be beat.

Growing up, I was a Kraft guy, with some Annie's Shells & White Cheddar every now and then (for good measure). Let me tell ya, the instant I taste that stuff as an adult, I'm rocketed back to my childhood. It's ~peak~ nostalgia. I know for a fact that I'm not the only one who feels this way, which is why I decided to figure out which box is the absolute best, once and for all.

Author holding up a variety of boxes of mac 'n' cheese while taking a selfie
Ross Yoder

I'll admit that initially, I had an inkling that boxed mac 'n' cheese varieties wouldn't taste all that different. Now that I've tasted them all, let's just say that I couldn't have been more wrong.

THE MAC 'N' CHEESES:

I've blind taste-tested and ranked a few grocery store staples now (like marinara sauces and frozen pepperoni pizzas), and the specific element that sets boxed mac 'n' cheese apart from the others is the sheer range of flavors and varieties out there. I mean, holy COW, it never ends! As a once-very-young millennial, I remember seeing only a couple of brands in the boxed mac section. Now you can choose from basically every type of "cheese" known to humankind. If you have a gluten or dairy intolerance — or both — you're covered.

All this to say: Defining the parameters of this experiment wasn't easy, but I eventually landed on nine popular varieties that were similar enough in flavor to be comparable, without all being absolute Kraft-wannabes. 

These are the boxed mac 'n' cheeses that I ended up tasting — first, we've got the tried-and-true classics:

Three mac 'n' cheese boxes: Velveeta, Annie's Original, and Kraft
Ross Yoder

Velveeta Shells & Cheese

• Annie's Macaroni & Classic Cheddar

• Kraft Macaroni & Cheese

Next, these were the house brands:

Three mac 'n' cheese boxes: Walmart's, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's
Ross Yoder

• Walmart  — Great Value Macaroni & Cheese (Original Cheddar)

• Whole Foods — 365 Organic Macaroni & Cheese

Trader Joe's — Macaroni & Cheese (Wisconsin Cheddar)

Finally, I landed on these three "fancy" versions of the classics — including one that was gluten-free:

Three mac 'n' cheese boxes: Kraft Deluxe, Annie's Grassfed, and Banza
Ross Yoder

• Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Deluxe

Annie's Organic Grassfed Macaroni & Classic Cheddar

• Banza Mac & Cheese — Shells + Classic Cheddar

THE EXPERIMENT:

Arrow pointing to author's dog with text "a mac n cheese thief" while the author eats a bowl of mac 'n' cheese with a blindfold on
Ross Yoder

Like the rest of my grocery store product rankings, I blind taste-tested each variety thanks to this handy-dandy sleep mask. Have I ever used it for sleeping? Nope. Only taste tests. Neat!

Even neater? Somehow my partner was willing to feed me mac 'n' cheese like a small child so I didn't spill it all over myself. If that's not true love, IDK what is.

Ross Yoder

In order to make the actual taste-testing portion as seamless as possible (aka not waiting 10 minutes between each and every bite), I cooked each box and kept 'em nice and warm in their own cute lil' containers until it was time to eat.

9 different plastic containers of mac 'n' cheese leftovers with the brands on a piece of paper on top of each
Ross Yoder

For those of you with inquiring minds, here are some answers to the questions you probably have:

• In order to prevent soggy, overcooked macaroni (since several sat in their respective cheese sauces for 30–40 minutes), I purposely undercooked the noodles. Most brands' noodles were just shy of al dente after five minutes, and I gotta say, all the macaroni I tasted was cooked to perfection.

• For any varieties that soaked up too much sauce while they sat, my partner quickly re-heated them with a splash of milk until they reached a uniformly saucy consistency. This way, none of the varieties I tasted were overly wet or dry, and the ratio of noodles to sauce for each felt completely consistent.

• Other than slightly undercooking the macaroni, I followed the directions on the boxes to a T — most varieties requiring a 1/4 cup of 2% milk and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. In other circumstances, I proooobably would've opted for whole milk, but for this experiment, I didn't break any "rules."

While tasting every box of mac, I jotted down my initial reactions and thoughts on each. To help out my future self, I also assigned each one a rating (based on my super-specific-and-scientific Smiley Method), and I took a stab at guessing which brands they all were — by taste alone.

Author's handwritten notes with various smiley faces as a "ranking," his guesses for what each was, and whether or not the guesses were correct
Ross Yoder

Spoiler alert: I was often very, very wrong.

More of the author's handwritten notes on a piece of paper
Ross Yoder

After the tasting was complete, I ranked them from worst to best based on the order in which I tasted them. The winner was SO much better than all the others — I'm honestly still astounded by it. Case in point: It was also my partner's fave (obviously he tried them too; he's not an animal), and he also thought it blew the others out of the water. 👀

Note on author's phone of "Definitive Mac n Cheese Ranking" with all the numbers ranked
Ross Yoder

When the "tasting order" was finally revealed, I a) was surprised down to my core and b) ran to grab the winning mac 'n' cheese...which I proceeded to joyfully eat for dinner.

This is my definitive ranking of boxed mac 'n' cheeses from worst to best.

9. Banza — "Banza, I'm begging you, ENOUGHHHHHH."

Cost: $3.99;  with the author's handwritten notes on it, including "Banza, I'm begging you, Enoughhhhh"
Ross Yoder

I only correctly guessed three of the nine mac 'n' cheeses I tasted, and this one was the most identifiable of all. Why, you ask? Because the second I put it in my mouth, my mind was instantly flooded with memories of all of the Banza meals I've eaten in my lifetime.

It's not that I think Banza is absolutely awful. OK, most of the time it's not great, but when it's served in a deeply flavorful sauce, that bean-y taste can be more or less masked. Since their cheese sauce was subpar at best, all that chickpea flavor was the first thing to hit my tastebuds...and it stayed there for a truly unpleasant amount of time.

Cooked Banza mac n cheese in a bowl next to the packaging
Ross Yoder

Considering this was the most expensive box I tried, it also contained the least mac of the lot. Most boxes weighed in at 7 ounces while this one was just 5.5 ounces.

Banza box next to Kraft, with arrows pointing to the ounces contained in each - Banza is 5.5 ounces, Kraft is 7.25
Ross Yoder

If you're working around a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, there are MUCH better gluten-free pastas out there. If you're just trying to "eat healthier," guess what?! If you prepare it the same way you'd make Kraft — with 1/4 cup of milk and 2 tablespoons of butter — it's actually more calorically dense than Kraft. Banza just lists the butter as "optional" in the directions, as opposed to brands like Kraft that include it in their overall calorie count.

Banza prepared, sans butter, is 280 calories; Kraft prepared is 350, though that includes butter
Ross Yoder

🧀 OVERALL RATING: 2/10 🧀

I'm not a picky eater, but you won't catch me eating this box of mac again. If you're in it for the "gluten-free," find a better gluten-free pasta — and if you're just trying to eat healthier, I truly think cheese-smothered cauliflower would taste better. I'm dead serious.

8. Whole Foods 365 — The price may be more or less right, especially for an organic option...but the flavor couldn't have been more WRONG.

Cost: $1.49; author's handwritten notes included at the bottom, including "underseasoned AF"
Ross Yoder

As a massive fan of Whole Foods' 365 line — living in NYC, I actually find their products to be far more affordable than most overpriced city grocery stores — this one hurt! In previous taste tests, their marinara sauce scored in the top three, but their "rising crust" pizza was dead-last — and it looks like their puzzling stab at boxed mac 'n' cheese is continuing their unfortunate losing streak.

"Puzzling" might be an unexpected word to describe mac 'n' cheese, but it's the only word that makes sense here. After the taste test, my partner described it as a "weirdly sweet blend of some flavors and spices that just don't make sense." My partner was correct! Unlike Banza, I didn't find this one inedible, but I also can't exactly describe the taste as cheesy.

Cooked Whole Foods mac 'n' cheese next to the package; Pros: the cost; Cons: everything else
Ross Yoder

In my notes, I posed the question: "Does this even taste like mac 'n' cheese?!" Even now, I couldn't tell you! The sauce was overwhelmingly nondescript, and I'm not even sure it would've registered as mac 'n' cheese if I didn't know what I was putting in my mouth. At $1.49/box, this was definitely one of the cheaper varieties I tried. That said, there are options ahead that are much cheaper (and MUCH BETTER), so I can't really justify giving this one a go.

🧀 OVERALL RATING: 4/10 🧀

I'm not throwing out the leftovers by any means, but with a questionable "cheese" flavor that can only be described as — puzzling — I won't be purchasing this brand again any time soon.

7. Kraft Original — For nostalgia reason, I'll never quit you, Kraft...but yikes, was your mac 'n' cheese always this basic?

Cost: 1:00; author's handwritten notes included at the bottom, including "the most flavorless so far, TBH" and "it mostly tastes like wet pasta"
Ross Yoder

I've eaten more boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in my life than I could ever possibly count. It practically defined my childhood, and might've been the first food I ever learned to cook?! But alas, only after comparing it to eight other mac 'n' cheese varieties did I realize it was more lackluster than I remembered.

Everything about Kraft's mac 'n' cheese is basic, and I say this as someone who will ALWAYS love it for nostalgia and comfort reasons. The cheese sauce was pretty devoid of flavor, but didn't taste as "off" as the Whole Foods version did. There's the slightest bit of a chemical aftertaste, but it's powdered cheese, people. Come on. The macaroni was just fine too — not awful, like Banza's, but certainly nothing to write home about.

cooked Kraft mac 'n' cheese next to its box
Ross Yoder

If you find yourself preparing a box of Kraft in the not-too-distant future, I'd opt for whole milk (or even half and half) instead of 2%. I noted that this one "mostly tasted like wet pasta," and in looking at all the varieties I tested, Kraft's cheese sauce was definitely the loosest. Subbing in a slightly richer milk or cream would do wonders to help the sauce cling to the macaroni...instead of just settling at the bottom of your bowl like the world's saddest bowl of food.

Close up of cooked Kraft with an image of the author eating it and text: "tasted like...wet pasta."
Ross Yoder

🧀 OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10 🧀

That nostalgically blue box of Kraft mac 'n' cheese will always have a place in my heart, but due to a general lack of anything exciting and the loosest, wateriest sauce of the bunch, this one scored way lower than I wanted it to.

6. Annie's Grassfed — I had high hopes for the "grass-fed" version of a product I've always loved, so I'm sad to report that not a *single* element here was exciting.

Cost: 3.29; author's handwritten notes at the bottom, including "bored to tears....just so basic" and "that's all!"
Ross Yoder

I genuinely thought this would be one of the best boxes outta the bunch. In fact, when tasting my #1 pick, I thought it was Annie's Grassfed! But nope. Your tastebuds (and clever product marketing) can play some fascinating tricks on you.

Apparently, grass-fed cows produce cheese that's overwhelmingly boring! Who knew! All jokes aside, there was nothing "yucky" about this one — no weird textures, no weird aftertastes, and no off-putting flavors — but it didn't taste like much to begin with, TBH. I've always loved Annie's mac 'n' cheeses (shells and white cheddar forever), but I'd consider this flavor an exception.

Cooked Annie's Grassfed mac 'n' cheese next to its packaging
Ross Yoder

Without spoiling the specifics, Annie's Original definitely out-performed the "grass-fed" version, though I should note that this one is certified organic, while the original is only "made with organic pasta." You'll pay an extra $.10 for this one, but if "organic" doesn't mean much to you, just reach for the regular box. You can use that extra 10 cents to buy, I don't know, a single stick of gum or something.

Cute-looking cheese packet in the author's hand with bunnies on it and "hoppiness starts here", with text "regardless of the flavor, I loved the cuteness here"
Ross Yoder

🧀 OVERALL RATING: 5/10 🧀

There's nothing horrible to report about Annie's Grassfed mac 'n' cheese. On the flip side, there's also nothing all that good to say about it, either. As a result, this one gets a truly middle-of-the-road ranking. If you want some Annie's mac 'n' cheese, just grab the normal box.

5. Trader Joe's — Is it perfect? No. But it's certainly a solid choice, especially at its very budget-friendly price point.

Cost: $0.99; author's handwritten notes at the bottom, including "a pinch of salt would do wonders!! absolute wonders!!"
Ross Yoder

With Trader Joe's entry to the boxed mac game, we're starting to enter the territory of options that I, dare I say, enjoyed. I won't be buying out every box the next time I make a Trader Joe's run, but I thought it was an overall solid choice. This one improved upon some of the weaker parts of a classic box of Kraft, and since it's sold at a very wallet-friendly $.99 per box (thanks, TJ's!), I'm definitely a fan.

My favorite part of this Trader Joe's mac 'n' cheese was the macaroni itself. The TJ's macaroni held up to the sauce surprisingly well, and it had a more or less delightful chew to it, which was a rare occurrence across these nine boxes.

Author holding up the Trader Joe's box in front of a large pot of boiling water
Ross Yoder

When it comes to the sauce, it was fine! I was by no means tricked into thinking I was eating actual Wisconsin cheddar, but it was tasty enough. It left a marginally bitter aftertaste if I'm being totally honest, but if I wasn't looking for faults, I probably wouldn't have tasted it.

Bowl of Trader Joe's macaroni 'n' cheese next to its box
Ross Yoder

🧀 OVERALL RATING: 6/10 🧀

It may not be life-changing, but for less than a dollar, Trader Joe's mac 'n' cheese is a very worthwhile option for a quick meal that won't break the bank.

4. Annie's Original — Their "grass-fed" variety may have been an absolute letdown, but sometimes the classics really do reign supreme.

Cost: $3.19; author's handwritten notes at the bottom, including "not all that seasoned, but also not offensive" and "tastes like the Friendly's mac 'n' cheese"
Ross Yoder

This one was the first mac 'n' cheese I tasted; I think I was unnecessarily harsh on paper...but the fact is, this was a perfectly tasty option. For the record, Annie's Shells & White Cheddar will always be the ultimate in my book, but even this classic flavor fit comfortably into my Top 4.

This one really took me back to my Friendly's mac 'n' cheese-eating days — anyone else remember that stuff?! Well, it was literally just Kraft, and the fact that it elicited such fond memories speaks strongly to my general enjoyment of it. Grass-fed products aside (👀), Annie's tends to nail their mac 'n' cheeses, and this one was no exception. The only reason it's not further down on this list is because the sauce didn't blow me away when it came to its flavor — and every variety in my Top 3 had a seriously delicious (and seriously cheesy) sauce.

Annie's classic mac 'n' cheese next to its box
Ross Yoder

🧀 OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10 🧀

Of the mac 'n' powdered cheese varieties that you can find at pretty much any American grocery store, Annie's Original takes the cake. IMO, it doesn't really compare with my top pick...but it's a tasty, readily available option that you won't have to search too hard to find.

3. Kraft Deluxe — A rich, creamy sauce that packs in a whole lot of flavor makes this "deluxe" version of Kraft's classic mac worth every darn penny.

Cost: $3.59; author's handwritten notes at the bottom, including "I would be my life on this being Kraft deluxe"
Ross Yoder

With Kraft Deluxe, we enter the macs without powdered cheese — this one, like one other on this list, comes with a thick, liquid cheese sauce that's squeezed over the cooked pasta. No milk or butter required. This was actually my first-ever taste of Kraft Deluxe, and ya know what? I thought it was great.

I know that the slightly goopy cheese sauce isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but the overall consistency was SO much better than the vast majority of the powdered macs. Those sauces always felt a bit too thin to me, and they had a hard time sticking to the noodles. Here, the rich sauce adhered to every last piece of macaroni. I actually thought that this box would be outrageously delicious baked in the oven and topped with a generous sprinkling of bread crumbs...but it was also pretty awesome all on its own.

Kraft deluxe cooked in a bowl, next to its original packaging
Ross Yoder

🧀 OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10 🧀

The noodles were substantial, the sauce was seriously thick and creamy, and each and every bite was packed with cheesy goodness. It's almost identical to my #2 pick, but the other outperformed this one in the flavor department.

2. Velveeta — There will always be Velveeta haters, but IMO, this stuff is just indescribably delicious. What else can I say?

Cost: $3.59; Author's handwritten notes at the bottom, including "I'm 99% sure this is Velveeta, and it's great"
Ross Yoder

The second I put this one in my mouth, I knew it was Velveeta. If you've ever tried the stuff, you know that it packs a pretty unique flavor — and honestly, I find it to be obscenely delicious. Look, I know that we, as a society, seem to be moving away from processed cheeses and such...but the absolute magic of Velveeta cannot be denied, especially when it's used for mac 'n' cheese.

If you've never tried Velveeta, I want you to imagine the richest cheese sauce you could ever imagine. Like, so rich you probably won't even be able to finish your bowl, but still perfectly creamy and full of cheesy flavor. Some people are really turned off by the stuff, and I get it. Nothing about it feels "natural," but just to play devil's advocate, you could say the same thing about powdered cheese 😬. Regardless, if you ask me, Velveeta's sauce was the most flavor-packed of the bunch. There wasn't a single thing I'd change about their recipe, and I will happily die on this hill.

Cooked Velveeta mac 'n' cheese in a bowl, next to its packaging
Ross Yoder

🧀 OVERALL RATING: 8/10 🧀

The flavor of this stuff was truly next-level. The only reason it's not scoring higher is because, well, there are lots of people who would probably never touch Velveeta (for reasons I ~simply~ will never understand), and I think my true #1 pick is a true crowd-pleaser.

1. Walmart Great Value — It's my hands-down winner, regardless of price point...but add in the fact that a box costs mere cents, and I'll have a hard time ever buying anything else.

cost: $0.34, not a typo! Author's handwritten notes at the bottom, including "ok WOWEE" and "I didn't know boxed mac could taste this good"
Ross Yoder

"Great" value?! More like UNBEATABLE. Never in a million years did I think I'd put Walmart's $.34 generic box of mac 'n' cheese in the top spot. I studied the ingredients in this box for what felt like hours, and I still don't know exactly why it tastes so good. All I know is that it wasn't just wildly delicious, it was considerably better than my #2 and #3 picks — both of which didn't even use powdered cheese. Based on his unofficial, non-blind taste test, my partner also thought this one way outperformed every single one of the others, so I know I'm not alone in my feelings.

The cheese sauce here was an 11/10. When making it, I did notice that it thickened far quicker than any of the other varieties. In the moment, it worried me! But after tasting it, I realized that its thickness helped it to adhere to each and every noodle. Boxed mac 'n' cheese sauces tend to be pretty loose, but Great Value's sauce coated every piece of macaroni evenly, which made for an unparalleled eating experience.

Walmart's mac on the left, and Kraft on the right; the left is "thick as hell," and right is "watery AF"
Ross Yoder

I'll also add that the sauce was on the sweeter side, but I swear it was also one of the ONLY sauces that tasted properly-seasoned to begin with. The results? An inexplicably lick-the-bowl-delicious sauce that is borderline difficult to stop eating. Also, ONCE AGAIN, this box was $.34 — I thought it was a mistake on my receipt, but nope, it's real!

Here I am, days after my initial taste test, and I'm happy to report that the leftovers are STILL absolutely delicious. It's as saucy as it was on day one, the macaroni is still delightfully chewy, and I mean, I'm just really enjoying myself.

Ross Yoder

🧀 OVERALL RATING: 10/10 🧀

Next time I'm at Walmart, I WILL be buying as many $.34 boxes of Great Value mac 'n' cheese as I can fit in my cart...and I will do my best to not eat one every day — even if I really, reaaaaally want to.

If you're a fan of grocery store taste tests and reviews, I'll be curious to hear what you thought of my marinara sauce and frozen pizza rankings — and if there are any grocery store staples you'd like to see me review in the future, drop 'em in the comments! 👇 I'll read them all while I eat leftover mac 'n' cheese for the next month.

Arrow pointing to the author's fridge full of mac 'n' cheese in individual plastic containers
Ross Yoder