You’ve not had mac and cheese until you’ve tried smoked mac and cheese. It’s rich, creamy, chock-full of flavor, and super easy to make.
We must warn you, though. Once you taste it, you’ll never want to have it any other way. That rich, smoky flavor is borderline addictive.
Now that it’s grilling season again, this is the perfect side dish to have, along with smoked brisket or a slow-cooked pork shoulder.
After months of experimenting with different cheeses, toppings, and cream, we’ve finally hit the sweet spot. This smoked mac and cheese recipe delivers the perfect balance of texture and mouth-watering flavor. You’ll love it as much as we do.
Smoked Mac and Cheese Recipe
|20 minutes||60 minutes||
- 1 lb. elbow macaroni pasta
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ cup butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 tbsp. mustard powder
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 cup smoked Gouda cheese, shredded
- 1 cup parmesan, shredded
For the Topping
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- ½ cup finely crumbled cooked bacon (optional)
- 1 cup cheese, shredded (optional)
- In a large pot, add water and salt, and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente – they should still have some bite to them.
- Preheat your smoker to 225°F for 20 minutes using mildly-flavored hardwood pellets such as apple, cherry, pecan, or maple wood. Meanwhile, you can start preparing the cheese sauce.
- Heat a large (12-inch) cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter and wait until it starts to bubble before adding in the flour gradually. Whisk until you have a smooth, runny paste, and then add the mustard powder. Whisk continuously for 30 seconds.
- Slowly pour in the milk and half-and-half as you whisk and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat and stir in the cream cheese.
- Once it’s fully integrated into the milk mixture, add the grated cheddar cheese, smoked Gouda, and parmesan in small handfuls while whisking. Keep stirring until you have a thick, smooth, creamy sauce. Next, add the macaroni noodles to the sauce and toss until it coats all the pasta.
- To prepare the topping, combine the Panko breadcrumbs and butter in a small bowl. You can add crumbled bacon and shredded cheese if you like. Spread the mixture evenly over the mac and cheese.
- Place the skillet in the smoker and shut the lid. Allow it to smoke for an hour at a steady 225°F temperature. If you want a more intense smoky flavor, you can leave it for up to 2 hours. If you’re using a grill, add a few hardwood pellets to the charcoal and make sure you keep a close eye on the temperature. If the grill gets too hot, it will dry out the mac and cheese.
- Serve hot with pulled pork, lobster, smoked brisket, or any other main of your choice.
Making This Smoked Mac and Cheese Recipe Ahead of Time
One of the great things about this recipe is how versatile it is. You can make it well ahead of time, cover it with aluminum foil, and pop it in the refrigerator. Then, when you’re ready to eat, take out an hour ahead of time and leave it out in the open to come to room temperature. Then, reheat it in a 300°F oven for 25 minutes or until it starts to bubble. You’ll still be able to savor that rich, smoky flavor.
If you’re part of the batch-cooking battalion, you can freeze and store this smoked mac and cheese dish for up to three months. You have the option to freeze the entire thing in disposable aluminum pans or portion it into smaller airtight containers before tossing them in the freezer.
When you want to have some, take it out of the freezer, and pop it straight into a 350°F preheated oven for about 45 minutes, or until it begins to bubble.
Pro Tips for the Best Outcome
It took quite a bit of trial and error before we finally cracked the code for this smoked mac and cheese recipe. Here are a couple of tips you might find helpful to avoid making the same mistakes we did.
- Use mild-flavored smoking pellets. We cannot emphasize how important this is. While using mesquite and hickory pellets might sound like a good idea, it’s not. Instead, go for lighter hardwoods like apple, cherry, peach, maple, grapevine, or pecan pellets. These render a more subtle flavor.
- Don’t use pre-shredded cheese. It might be more convenient, but it doesn’t deliver the same results. The grated cheese you buy at the store has cellulose to keep it from clumping up. Cellulose coats cheese to prevent moisture from getting in, which is precisely what you don’t want when you’re smoking something.
- Don’t rush the process. Smoked mac and cheese is a labor of love. You need to keep things low and slow if you want the rich smoky flavor to penetrate the pasta. 225°F is the sweet spot. Any higher, and you’ll end up with an overcooked, dried-out mess.
- Don’t use any of your swanky cookware. Instead, we recommend using a disposable aluminum pan or cast-iron skillet. That way, you don’t have to worry about them getting discolored. Unfortunately, we learned this the hard way.
- Don’t skimp on the topping. It not only infuses flavor and texture to the dish but also adds a layer of insulation to prevent your mac and cheese from drying out. Butter, breadcrumbs, and shredded cheese work perfectly. If you’re feeling creative, you can add finely crushed butter crackers, potato chips, or cooked bacon.
Simple, Delicious, Creamy
There you have it – our all-time favorite smoked mac and cheese recipe. Try it out and let us know what you think. Have fun with it and make it your own. Enjoy!
Have you worked up an appetite yet? Check out these 51 grill recipes you need to try out.