Macaroni and cheese is the undisputed champ of stoner food. Not only does it fulfill the basic requirements of being gooey, cheesy, inexpensive and easy to eat out of a bowl, but the preparation requires very little effort beyond boiling water and mixing just a few ingredients.
What's complicated is the dizzying array of varieties available, which can lead to some serious mental gridlock in the pasta aisle. We've done you a favor by sampling 16 of the most commonly available varieties so you don't have to.
The methodology was straightforward. We opted for the most basic products we could find. Variants with bacon, broccoli or exotic cheese blends were disregarded, because that's cheating. Darigold whole milk and Fred Meyer unsalted butter were used when the recipe called for it. IKEA bowls purchased from the Irvington Goodwill were used for mixing and consumption.
Two pipe hits of Guava Gelato, an indica-dominant hybrid recommended to us by Farma as an appetite stimulant, were consumed every half-hour to maintain the level of highness required to consume this much mac. A loose bottle of Coors Banquet left in my Subaru by a very stoned Reed student while I was driving for Lyft was quaffed between tastings as a palate cleanser.
1. Velveeta Shells & Cheese
Score: 93 out of 100
Besides being the smoothest, creamiest and tastiest of the lot, the fact that the cheese product is premixed and easily dispensed from a foil bag makes this a no-brainer. It's pricier than your basic Kraft variant, but converting to that Velveeta life means you'll never forget to leave the store with needed milk and butter.
2. Cracker Barrel Sharp Cheddar
Admittedly a wild indulgence for your average mac connoisseur, this high-end offering from Kraft has the sharpest cheddar taste by a wide margin. It packs a pungent nitrate finish that may ward off the kind of person who still likes to talk shit about nitrates on the internet, but they do go a long way in giving the cheddar flavor an extra kick.
3. Kraft SpongeBob SquarePants Macaroni & Cheese
The peculiar shape of this cult-favorite Kraft variety creates an unfair advantage over the regular stuff, but SpongeBob rules, and everyone knows this is totally worth the extra 30 cents. That distinct Kraft flavor we know and love is there, and it happens to be presented in weird little squares that are perfect vehicles for cheese delivery.
4. Kraft Deluxe
In the mac-and-cheese world, the word "deluxe" is synonymous with the velvety and luxurious cheese spread that slides out of a foil bag and into your mouth via tiny little elbow pastas. Though it's outclassed by Cracker Barrel, the original deserves credit for making a meal your body knows can't possibly be real taste so damn tasty. You've probably paid $10 for a salty pile of goodness like this at a mediocre brewpub, but now you know you can skip that whole scene and buy it directly from the source.
5. Back to Nature Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese
The only knock on this powdered variety is the below-average sauce coverage, but the divinely saucy bites from the bottom of the bowl make this your best choice if you insist on braving the organic elements at Whole Foods or New Seasons.
6. Kraft Original
The brilliant, creamy classic that started it all, Kraft's original recipe is classic for a reason. If you're content eating this for the rest of life, by all means go for it. That being said, a trip outside your comfort zone might be rewarding.
7. 365 Deluxe Elbows & Creamy Cheddar Sauce
The paradox of Whole Foods' "deluxe" offering is bizarre: The cheese from the packet tastes more like real cheese than any other variety, and for that reason it suffers for being deficient in the processed salt flavor we know and love.
8. Annie's Shells and Real Aged Cheddar
Props to Annie's, the Tom's of Maine for pseudo-hippy foodstuffs, for trying its hand at pairing powdered cheese mix with shells. The sauce was a bit too milky up front, but there's a nice tangy finish, and it has the most consistently cooked shells of the whole lot.
9. Market Pantry Macaroni & Cheese
If Target is not yet known for generic foods that could easily fool your kid into thinking you bought the real stuff, let this be the shining example of store-brand knockoffs done right. The tangy, almost citrusy finish is unique enough to clue in a real connoisseur, but your average joe off the street would be none the wiser that this wasn't the real deal.
10. Annie's Creamy Deluxe Macaroni Dinner
While the pasta in this box was outstanding, the flavor is just a brief flash of sharp cheddar flavor that lacks the salt needed to carry the entire bite.
11. 365 Macaroni & Cheese
It sometimes feels like Whole Foods sells products like this because it has to, kind of like how General Motors can't give Buick the ax because the elderly and the aspiring middle class in China would lose their minds.
12. Daiya Deluxe Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac
It's actually quite disturbing how free this product is of dairy, soy and gluten, yet manages to taste almost identical to the Kraft Deluxe variety. That being said, this is the only mac that has the noodles sealed in an airtight bag that requires scissors to open, which is a huge buzzkill that should be approached with a great deal of care. Very unchill.
13. Kroger Deluxe Macaroni & Cheese
The cheese sauce of this generic Fred Meyer brand was damn near impossible to mix with the noodles and tasted more like orange salt than actual cheese, while the macaroni was either overcooked and mushy or stuck together and still rock hard. This is the epitome of newly divorced dad food.
14. Kroger Macaroni & Cheese
I know what you're thinking when you see the price: "If I buy 10 of these instead of the Kraft, I can use the savings to buy some M&M's!" Your frugality is admirable, but unless you ration the candy to last you until the mac stash is spent, you're doing it all wrong.
15. Annie's Original Mild Cheddar
There's no mistaking the quality of the noodles here, but abject blandness of the final product makes people's obsession with this brand of mac utterly baffling. The only discernible flavor is butter, and if I wanted to eat noodles and butter I'd stock up at Grocery Outlet.
16. P$$t…Big Savings…Pass It On
I count my blessings daily for having never been to prison or an emergency relief shelter, but I know I'll have to get used to the chalky finish and mealy texture of this bargain-basement mac as soon as Trump successfully runs our economy into the ground. Even at 39 cents a box, it's a rip-off.