Creamy, cheesy, and loaded with flavor, Smoked Mac and Cheese is an easy side dish that everyone goes crazy for! Add a lot of smoked flavor or just a little, but don’t miss this amazing recipe.
Six years ago this summer, I bought myself a smoker. As a huge lover of St. Louis-style ribs, I decided to take on this new cooking hobby. It’s been great fun and I’ve smoked more meats and sides on my smoker than I can count. Smoked Mac and Cheese is one of my absolute favorites.
- dry macaroni noodles
- mustard powder
- whole milk
- half & half
- cream cheese
- sharp cheddar cheese
- gouda cheese
- parmesan cheese
How to Make Smoked Mac and Cheese
The recipe I’ve provided makes a damn fine mac n cheese and I highly suggest you give it a try. Having said that, I’ll tell you a secret: if you already have a favorite, tried & true recipe, feel free to use it! Any recipe you use can easily be smoked using these instructions. You’ll just want to be sure it’s creamy enough that the pasta doesn’t dry out while it’s smoking. You can also try making Instant Pot Mac and Cheese. And although I don’t suggest smoking it, this Seafood Mac and Cheese is incredible, too.
There are just a few steps to making this mac and cheese recipe:
- Cook the pasta to al dente. The mac and cheese will be sitting on the smoker for at least an hour which will give the cooked pasta plenty of time to soften further. If you start the process with pasta that’s already been cooked all the way it could end up mushy. And no one wants that.
- Make the cheese sauce: You can make the sauce in a saucepan (easiest but one more dish to clean) or right in a large cast iron skillet that can go straight from stove to smoker. Melt the butter then whisk in the flour until it’s smooth. Add some mustard powder for a little flavor. Whisk in the milk and half & half, bring it just to a boil, turn off the heat and stir in the softened cream cheese. Add the shredded cheese in small handfuls and whisk it until the sauce is smooth and creamy.
- Toss the pasta and sauce together until all of the elbow macaroni noodles are coated.
- Add a topping, whether that’s more shredded cheese or breadcrumbs. See all of our ideas and suggestions below. There are also some tasty suggestions for mix-ins.
You have two options to “bake” Smoked Macaroni and Cheese: the smoker or the grill. The smoker will give you the most smoke flavor and is the easiest, especially if you’ve already got something smoking. It takes about an hour to infuse a decent amount of smokiness into the dish, so be sure to plan ahead. If you have brisket or another large piece of meat that you need to let rest, slide the mac and cheese into the smoker in its place and it will all be done at the same time.
There is a third option. Although it’s not a true Smoked Mac and Cheese, it is a nifty cheat: If you don’t have a smoker or a grill but still want to try smoked Mac and Cheese, use already smoked cheeses! Smoked Gouda is widely available and would be wonderful paired with this smoked cheddar.
Can this be made ahead of time?
You can easily make it ahead of time. Make the entire dish, cover and refrigerate, then gently reheat it in the oven at 300F for 30 minutes or until it’s hot and bubbling. If you have time to let it come to room temperature first, it will reheat more evenly and also much faster.
Can this be frozen?
Yes, it can be tightly covered and frozen for up to 3 months. It can be frozen in one entire pan (disposable aluminum pans are perfect for this) or in individual portions (these smaller pans work really well). The best part is that it can be baked/reheated right from the freezer! Bake it in a preheated 350F oven for 45 minutes or until it’s hot and bubbling.
Tips to Make the BEST Smoked Mac and Cheese
- Cook your pasta just to al dente
- Use mild-flavored wood chips, such as applewood, cherry or pecan
- Take it easy, go low and slow – it takes a bit of time to infuse the smoke flavor into the dish. Cooking it at too high a temperature could dry it out before it’s ready. Keep the temperature at a steady 225F.
- Use a large cast iron pan or disposable aluminum pan. This way there’s no chance you’ll discolor any of your nice cookware
- Grate the cheese yourself. Pre-shredded cheese has cellulose added to prevent it from clumping. But this also blocks moisture which is exactly what you don’t want when you’re putting something on the smoker.
You should definitely add some kind of a topping to help insulate the pasta and keep it from drying out. Any of these choices are great:
- Buttered Panko breadcrumbs: Mix melted butter with panko breadcrumbs at a 4:1 ratio (so about 1/4 cup melted butter for every 1 cup of breadcrumbs). Sprinkle this on the top before putting it in the smoker. I usually do 2 cups of breadcrumbs and mix in 1/2 cup of butter because I like a lot of topping. Cut that in half if you’d like less. Or add even more, you crazy kid.
- Buttered Bacon Breadcrumbs: Same ratios as above except you add finely crumbled bacon to the mix. Yes, it’s as delicious as it sounds.
- More shredded cheese! This one is a no-brainer plus who doesn’t love more cheese? Sprinkle on just enough to cover everything in a thin layer.
- If you want something really creative and different, try finely crushed potato chips or butter crackers.
- Cooked and crumbled bacon
- Chopped or minced jalapeños
- Cooked and chopped or shredded chicken
- Chopped or diced ham
- Frozen peas
- Sauteed onion and garlic
- Pulled pork
- Chopped or diced chorizo
- 1 lb elbow macaroni noodles or small seashell pasta
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 tbsp mustard powder
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup half & half
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened and cut into 10-12 pieces
- 3 cups grated cheddar
- 1 cup grated gouda
- 1 cup shredded parmesan
- Choose one of these (see the post for more suggestions):
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs mixed with 1/4 cup melted butter
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs mixed with 1/4 cup melted butter + 1/2 cup cooked and finely crumbled bacon
- 1-2 cups shredded cheese
Cook the pasta to al dente according to the package directions.
Meanwhile, make the cheese sauce: You can make the sauce in a saucepan (easiest but one more dish to clean) or right in a large cast iron skillet that can go straight from stove to smoker.
Melt the butter then whisk in the flour until it's smooth. Whisk in the mustard powder. Whisk in the milk and half & half, bring it just to a boil, turn off the heat and stir in the softened cream cheese. Add the shredded cheese in small handfuls and whisk it until the sauce is smooth and creamy.
Toss the pasta and sauce together until all of the elbow macaroni noodles are coated. If you're using any mix-ins, add them now (see the post for suggestions). Pour the mixture into the pan you're using to go on the smoker.
Prepare your chosen topping and sprinkle it evenly over the top of the mac and cheese mixture.
For the smoker: Place the pan into the smoker and keep it at a steady 225F temperature for an hour. You can leave it up to 2 hours if you prefer a stronger smoke flavor.
For the grill: Add a few pieces of smoking wood to the charcoal. Keep the temperature as close to 225F as you can and cook over indirect heat for an hour. If you have trouble keeping the temperature that low, check it often to be sure the mac and cheese isn't drying out.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 787Total Fat: 56gSaturated Fat: 33gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 18gCholesterol: 159mgSodium: 950mgCarbohydrates: 43gFiber: 2gSugar: 7gProtein: 29g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix. It was calculated using the panko breadcrumb topping mixed with 1/4 cup butter.