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Transform ordinary macaroni & cheese by baking it in a smoker instead of the oven. Intrigued? We were, too! So, we tried it out. And, kept trying until we created the perfect smoky, cheesy, incredibly comforting side dish. You’ll love this fun twist on an old favorite with our Smoked Mac and Cheese Recipe!
Ever since my husband got his smoker several years ago, smoking various meats has become one of his main hobbies. Turkey, ribs, salmon, pork shoulders and beef briskets – every one has been terrifically tender and delicious with very little effort. Needless to say, I am been a big fan of his passion.
So, when he pitched the idea of smoking my family’s favorite macaroni & cheese, I absolutely was game!
Macaroni and Cheese Made in the Smoker
I have been making my homemade macaroni and cheese for years. Over time I’ve perfected my recipe and it has a permanent spot in our dinner rotation.
We figured the timing would work perfectly to make this beloved side while we already had the smoker going for the evening’s main dish. And we were right!
I did a little research, however, before we started our smoked mac & cheese experiment. One of the things I discovered is that smoking is a longer, slower process of cooking versus traditional oven baking.
Consequently, foods tend to dry out easily. That meant I’d need to create a cheese sauce that was less likely to evaporate during the smoking process. Challenge accepted!
What Ingredients are in this Mac and Cheese Recipe
Evaporated milk is good in this type of situation when you are trying to avoid the sauce from getting dried out. But, fluid dairy products, such as cream, with a higher fat content work also work well.
In an effort to keep the base creamy and keep the fat content down a little, I took the middle ground and used half-and-half.
Did you know that half-and-half is a mixture of whole milk and cream? That’s why it’s called half-and-half!
Here are the ingredients you’ll need:
- elbow macaroni
- dry mustard
- salt and pepper
- optional – bread crumbs for topping
Probably the most important component of any Macaroni and Cheese is the cheese. And, I have my favorite types of cheddar. Read what I like and why here. I almost always use White Sharp Cheddar or Coastal Cheddar in Macaroni & Cheese.
But, since I was a little worried about the cheese sauce drying out during the smoking process, I used Velveeta along with cheddar cheese and cream cheese for the sauce.
Unfortunately, the Velveeta is a bold, sharp cheese and the taste was a little too powerful along with the smoke flavor. So, while our first result looked beautiful, the taste was too strong.
After that, I revised my recipe using a mix of cheddar, cream cheese, and Gruyere, although using all cheddar and cream cheese is fine.
Tips for Making the Best Mac and Cheese Sauce
- When making a roux (a French word pronounced as “roo”), the thickening base of white sauce, you heat equal parts of a melted fat like butter, with a thicken agent like flour. For this new recipe, I used a little less flour than usual to create a thinner sauce so that it wouldn’t evaporate quick so quickly.
- Once you’ve stirred the cheese into the roux, immediately remove the pan from the heat to avoid overcooking the cheese on the hot stove.
- Be sure you thoroughly drain the cooked pasta before adding to the cheese sauce. While you want the mac and cheese to be creamy, you definitely don’t want any water from the pasta cooking process to get in your yummy thick sauce!
How to Make Smoked Macaroni and Cheese
First, fill a large stock pot with water and set it to boil. Gather your ingredients, and grate the cheese, if needed.
Then in a large skillet or 3 quart sauce pan, melt the butter. Once it’s melted and bubbly, whisk in the flour to make the roux. Stir until it is pasty but smooth. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
While working on your roux, add pasta to the boiling water and follow the directions to cook until al-dente (still slightly firm).
After cooking the butter and flour for 1-2 minutes, slowly pour in the half-and-half, whisking constantly until the sauce is smooth. Add dry mustard and continue whisking.
Lower the heat to low or simmer, and stir until the sauce is thickened.
Stir in 2 cups of cheddar and the gruyere cheese, and turn off the heat. Drain the cooked pasta in a colander, shaking vigorously to remove all of the water. Mix the pasta and sauce together. Top with breadcrumbs, if you like.
If you didn’t use a cast iron skillet to make the sauce, pour pasta and sauce into a prepared casserole dish. If you did use a cast iron skillet, you can put this directly into the smoker. I like using either cast iron or a disposable aluminum pan to smoke the macaroni and cheese, since the smoke smell can linger on most baking dishes.
Preheat smoker to 250º. Add the macaroni and cheese casserole to the smoker and cook for 45 minutes.
See Below for the Complete Smoked Mac and Cheese Recipe!
When done, the macaroni & cheese casserole should be a beautiful golden brown.
Here’s how it looks fresh out of the smoker:
And, that’s it! Delicious, smoky, cheesy Smoked Mac and Cheese.
It’s a really fantastic and fun twist on the ultimate of all comfort meals. I hope you enjoy!
Smoked Mac & Cheese Recipe FAQs:
One of the catastrophes of cheese sauce is when the fat separates, creating an oily layer. You might have seen this happen when reheating mac and cheese in the microwave oven.
Heating and reheating cheese sauces call for a more delicate approach. When reheating, take it slow and add a little butter or milk if you want the sauce to remain creamy.
You can use wood chips on a grill (see how here) or substitute Smoked Gouda for the Gruyere cheese for a smoky flavor.
You can bake this mac and cheese casserole in the oven at 300 degrees for 40 minutes or until light golden brown.
Get the Recipe Here:
Smoked Mac and Cheese
- 1 lb elbow macaroni (can substitute penne or rigatoni)
- 1/2 cup butter
- 4 Tbsp all purpose flour
- 2 tsp dry mustard
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 4 oz softened cream cheese, cubed
- 12 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded, divided
- 6 oz Gruyere cheese
- 2 tsp white pepper, ground
- ½ tsp salt
Bread Crumb topping
- 1 cup bread crumbs (I like using sourdough bread crumbs)
- Boil macaroni in salted water until al dente, a little firm. It will finish cooking during smoking. Drain and set aside. Spray aluminum (disposable) casserole or casserole dish with non-stick spray.
- Melt butter over medium heat in a large heavy pan. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in half-n-half, mustards, 2 cups of cheddar (reserving 1 cup), gruyere, and cream cheese, and seasonings. Cook on low-med heat until sauce is smooth and bubbly, stirring frequently. Season to taste.
- Mix cheese sauce with macaroni and pour into prepared pan. Top with remainin cup of cheddar cheese.
- Smoke in smoker at 250º for 45 minutes (depending on the type of smoker you use) until light golden brown.
- Sprinkle bread crumb topping on top before serving.
More dinner recipes you’ll love:
- Lasagna, with low sodium and gluten free options!
- One Pot Marinara Meatballs
- 3 Ingredient, Easy Biscuits
- Baked Rigatoni with Italian Sausage
- Instant Pot Loaded Potato Casserole