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When it comes to universally loved foods, it’s hard to not put mac and cheese at or near the top of the list.
It’s the ultimate comfort food – it’s rich, gooey, cheesy, creamy, and worthy of a whole lot of other superlatives.
One of my absolute favorite ways to make this dish is to combine rich smokey flavor with the pasta to create a delectable smoked mac and cheese.
And the good news is, smoked mac and cheese is incredibly easy to make – it’s just one extra step added on top of a traditional recipe.
The Keys To Perfect Smoked Mac and Cheese
If you’re going to go through the trouble of smoking your mac and cheese, you don’t want to just throw some boxed macaroni willy nilly into the smoker and hope it turns out alright. Here are our top tips for creating an amazing macaroni pasta dish:
Use homemade mac and cheese. For the best smoked mac and cheese, you’ll without a doubt want to homemake your pasta. The out of the box stuff just won’t cut it – homemade means bigger shells, bigger flavor, and better texture.
Grate your own cheese. Grating cheese is probably one of my least favorite tedious tasks to perform in the kitchen but trust me, it’s worth it to grate your own cheese here. Fresh grated cheese doesn’t have preservatives or chemicals in it, and it will naturally taste better and melt smoother for you.
Use a 12″ cast iron skillet. Cast iron skillets are perfect for smoked mac and cheese because they lead to incredible flavor and consistency, but also because they eliminate the need to transfer your pasta between a stovetop safe pan and your smoker. When it’s time to smoke your pasta, all you need to do is move your cast iron from the stove directly onto the smoker grate.
Pick a mild flavor of wood. It’s not that you can’t use stronger smoke flavors that come from charcoal or a wood like mesquite or hickory – it’s just that pasta is more delicate flavor wise than many of your BBQ staples like brisket or ribs. As such we don’t want the intensity of your wood smoke to overpower the deliciousness of the mac and cheese itself. For those reasons we love to use cherry, apple, oak, or maple wood as fuel for our smoked mac and cheese.
Experiment with mix ins. Our smoked mac and cheese recipe is enjoyable on it’s own, but it’s also super easy to elevate with some mix ins. All you need is a cup or two of your favorite add ins to add your own flavor to this dish. Check out our favorite mix in ideas below!
Our Favorite Smoked Mac and Cheese Mix Ins
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of our favorite things to add to add an extra element of flavor to smoked mac and cheese:
- pulled pork
- smoked sausage
Note that you can definitely make any of these fresh, but this is also a great way to utilize leftover BBQ! We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve got a pan full of leftover brisket or pulled pork – and adding some to smoked mac and cheese is the perfect way to use your leftovers instead of letting them go to waste.
Prepping Your Smoker
You don’t need any special type of smoker for this recipe, but it’s important to preheat your smoker to make sure your set up is ready to go when it’s time to transfer your pasta.
Personally I use a pellet smoker (if you do too, you can check out our specific instructions for pellet smoker mac and cheese here) so it’s as easy as setting the cooker’s temperature to 225ºF. I usually preheat first so that the smoker can warm up while I make the mac and cheese inside.
If you’re working with a traditional offset smoker, kamado, or something else, just be sure to get your fire started and rocking on the front end so you don’t have to spend any time waiting around after your pasta has been made.
Remember, the whole point of doing this is to allow smokey flavor to penetrate and absorb into your dish – and you can’t rush that process! That’s why we smoke the mac at a low temperature for an extended period of time. Cranking up the heat too high will defeat the purpose and potentially dry out your meal.
Smoked Mac and Cheese Recipe
- 12" cast iron skillet (or a 9" x 13" disposable aluminum pan)
- 1 lb elbow macaroni noodles or shell pasta noodles
- 1/2 cup butter unsalted
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 4 oz cream cheese softened
- 3 cups cheddar cheese grated
- 1 1/2 cups gouda cheese grated
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup butter melted
- 1 cup cheddar cheese grated
- Preheat your smoker to 225ºF
- Cook your pasta according to the instructions on the box and strain
- Melt your butter in a cast iron skillet over a stovetop on medium heat
- Whisk in flour until smooth
- Whisk in whole milk and heavy whipping cream. Once mixture begins to bubble, reduce heat to simmer
- Stir in softened cream cheese. Then stir in small amounts of shredded cheese at a time while whisking, adding a little more as the cheese in the skillet melts into the mixture
- After all cheese has been added and the mixture is smooth, add cooked and strained pasta to the skillet
- If you're adding a mix in, add a 1.5 cups of your mix in to the skillet here
- Toss pasta, cheese sauce, and mix ins until all everything is evenly combined and coated
- Sprinkle the cup of topping shredded cheese over the top of your skillet
- Combine melted butter and Panko breadcrumbs evenly, then pour on top of the skillet
- Transfer skillet to the smoker and close the lid
- Smoke at 225ºF for an hour
- Remove skillet from the smoker and serve while it's still warm. Enjoy!
We hope this smoked mac and cheese recipe is everything you were hoping for! It’s an all time favorite of ours that makes for an excellent steak side dish, side dish for BBQ, or even a main course if you’re in the mood.
Did you try our recipe? If so, what did you think? We are always looking to improve and welcome your feedback!