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Transform ordinary macaroni and cheese by baking it in a smoker instead of the oven. Intrigued? We were, too, so we tried it out. And, kept at it until we created the perfect cheesy comfort food, a smoky mac n cheese side dish. You’ll love this fun twist on an old favorite with our smoked mac and cheese recipe!
WHAT’S COVERED IN THIS POST
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 of them has been totally tender and delicious with very little effort.
Needless to say, I am a big fan of his passion.
So, when he pitched the idea of smoking my family’s favorite macaroni and cheese dish, I absolutely was game! How can you go wrong with trying out smoked mac n cheese?
Making Macaroni and Cheese 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, before we started our smoked mac n cheese experiment. One of the things I discovered is that smoking is a longer, slower process of cooking versus traditional oven baking.
So, foods can dry out easier. That meant I’d need to create a cheese sauce that was less likely to evaporate during the smoking process. Challenge accepted!
Ingredients For Smoked Mac N Cheese Recipe
Evaporated milk is good in this type of situation to keep the sauce from drying 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 or crumbled bacon 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 in my original Mac and and cheese recipe. I almost always use White Sharp Cheddar or Coastal Cheddar in Macaroni & Cheese.
As I mentioned, I was a little worried about the cheese sauce drying out during the smoking process.
So, in our first attempt, I used Velveeta along with the cheddar and cream cheeses for the sauce.
Unfortunately, Velveeta has a bold, sharp flavor and the taste was too powerful 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 different types of cheese like 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 stockpot with water and set it to a boil. Gather your ingredients, and grate the cheese, if needed.
Then in a large skillet or 3-quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. 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 macaroni noodles 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(or pre shredded 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. If you like, you can add your smoked mac and cheese with bacon and breadcrumbs on top.
If you didn’t use a cast-iron skillet to make the sauce, pour pasta and sauce into a prepared casserole dish.
You can put this directly into the smoker If you did use a cast-iron skillet.
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 250ºF. Add the macaroni and cheese casserole to the smoker over indirect heat 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 foods. I hope you enjoy it!
Frequently Asked Questions
You can use wood chips on a grill (see how in this Weber grill post) or substitute Smoked Gouda for the Gruyere cheese for a smoky flavor.
You can bake this mac and cheese casserole in the oven at 300ºF for 35-40 minutes or until light golden brown.
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.
Smoked Mac & Cheese Recipe
Smoked Mac and Cheese
- smoker (or grill with smoker chips)
- large cast iron skillet or aluminum casserole trays
- stockpot (to cook the macaroni)
- large saucepan (to prepare the cheese sauce)
- 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)
- Spray aluminum (disposable) casserole or casserole dish with non-stick spray. Prepare and preheat the smoker to 250ºF.
- Boil macaroni in salted water until al dente, a little firm, following the directions for your pasta. It will finish cooking during smoking. Drain and set aside.
- Melt butter over medium heat in a large heavy saucepan. 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.
- Add the cooked macaroni to the cheese sauce, and stir until mixed. Then pour it into the prepared pan. Top with remaining 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.
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