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Tasting Elbow Macaroni

By Emily Phares Published

One brand of macaroni elbowed its way to the top.

Like Bert, Garfunkel, and Thelma, elbow macaroni is best known as half of a beloved duo. While these curved tubes can be eaten in pasta salads and casseroles, their claim to fame is their use in macaroni and cheese.

It had been more than a decade since we last reviewed elbow macaroni, so it was time to retest. We selected five widely available products and tasted each one plain (tossed with canola oil) and in our Classic Macaroni and Cheese. At the end of the tastings, a clear winner had emerged, thanks to its outstanding flavor and larger size.

Larger elbows were easier to spear with a fork, while smaller elbows required a little more effort.

Longer Noodles Were “Spearable”

It quickly became apparent that not all elbow macaroni are created equal. Once cooked, the macaroni ranged in length from roughly 0.5 inches to almost a full inch long. As it turned out, these size differences affected how easy the tubes were to eat, both plain and in macaroni and cheese. In the plain tasting, one taster reported having to “chase them around a bit” in an attempt to spear them with a fork. In the macaroni and cheese tasting, another taster noted that the smallest elbows were overwhelmed by the cheese sauce. Our favorite macaroni, which were deemed the easiest to spear with a fork and held their own in the macaroni and cheese, were the longest, averaging 0.88 inches long once cooked.

Our favorite macaroni were the longest, averaging 0.88 inches long once cooked.

Our Favorite Had a Springy, Slightly Firm Texture

There were two textural matters at hand in this tasting. Most of the products were smooth in appearance, but one had faint ridges. However, that small textural difference didn’t give those elbows a leg up on the competition. In the plain tasting, their texture was on par with those of other elbows; tasters described the pasta as “tender” with a “great bouncy chew.” Some tasters said that the ridged pasta seemed to hold the cheese sauce well, but not significantly better than any of the other pastas.

While the elbows’ surface texture wasn’t a big deal overall, the texture of the cooked pasta certainly was. Most of the elbows in our lineup had a satisfactory springy quality, but our favorite was notable for its “slightly firmer” cooked texture that was tender but not overly so; it had a nice chewiness that tasters liked.

A Buttery Flavor Wowed Us

Some of the elbows we sampled lacked a pronounced flavor, with tasters describing them as average, plain, or bland. We sometimes detected “nutty” or wheaty flavors, but our favorite macaroni was on another level. It had a “classic,” “buttery” flavor, noticeable when tasted both plain and in macaroni and cheese. Our science editor explained that there are buttery-tasting compounds naturally found in wheat flour, primarily diacetyl (also called 2,3-butanedione), the same chemical used to flavor some microwave popcorns. It’s possible that our winning elbow macaroni has a greater concentration of diacetyl in either the semolina or the durum flour or in both.

Our Favorite Elbow Macaroni: Creamette Elbow Macaroni

It was no contest. Our winner, Creamette Elbow Macaroni, had nice, long tubes that were pleasantly firm and easy to spear, but its delightful buttery flavor was the real standout factor. It was “delicious” plain, and its “great flavor” was evident even when the macaroni was mixed with other ingredients in macaroni and cheese. One more thing to note: Though Creamette Elbow Macaroni is found primarily in the Midwest, we were able to easily purchase it online. If you’d prefer to pick up another product in your supermarket, we suggest De Cecco No. 81 Elbows or Barilla Elbows, which also scored well and are more widely available than our winner.

Taste Test Elbow Macaroni

One brand of macaroni elbowed iIts way to the top.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.