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Smoked Mac and Cheese: Minimal Effort, Maximum Flavor

Sometimes this Smoked Mac and Cheese recipe is simply a side, sometimes it’s the main event. But regardless, it’s the basic tried and true dish done oh so well! There’s nothing overcomplicating it and it’s always a hit with the kids and adults alike.

MAKES

1 large skillet

SERVES

6 to 10

PREP

20 minutes

COOK

15 minutes

Smoked mac and cheese in cast iron skillet on pellet grill

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It’s called comfort food for a reason. And, it’s a staple in the barbecue world because it’s undeniably one of the most delicious things to pair with a freshly smoked brisket, rack of ribs or helping of pulled pork.

When you’re smoking the rest of the meat, mac and cheese is a perfect side to do right there on the smoker itself!

No need to waste more electricity by running your regular oven. Baking it in your smoker will next level the flavor and keep all the cooking close together.

This smoked mac and cheese can be made on any type of barbecue. We’ve done it on pellet smokers, kamados, charcoal smokers, offsets and electrics. You can work with what you’ve got although the smokiness of this smoked mac and cheese will be a little different on different types of smokers and with different types of woods. But, we’ll talk about that later.

We do, however, recommend smoking this mac and cheese in a cast iron skillet. This Lodge 15″ Original is our go-to.

Any old tray or pan will do. But, just be aware that any bakeware you put in your smoker will get discolored!

You can scrub the smokiness off. But, cast iron is already black so those marks won’t show up. And, the thick, heat retaining sides cooks your smoked mac and cheese that much better too.

Because basic is great, we’ve shared the most plain version of this smoked mac and cheese recipe. But, it’s also amazing with smoked brisket added, bacon, jalapenos, or literally anything you think sounds delicious thrown in. You can get as creative as you want with this recipe because the basis is done right.

Table of Contents

Smoked Mac and Cheese Ingredients

  • 1 pound any pasta of choice
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) butter
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/2 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp paprika (regular or smoked for a stronger flavor)
  • 6 cups shredded cheese

How to Make Incredible Smoked Mac and Cheese

  1. Cook dry pasta as per the directions on the packet. Drain and set aside.
  2. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a large pot of pan over medium heat (save your large 15″ cast iron skillet for serving the dish at the end).
  3. Add 1/2 cup of flour, stirring to combine, cooking for 2 minutes.
  4. Pour in a total of 4 cups of milk, 1/2 a cup at a time. Stir after each addition until flour is well mixed and not lumpy.
  5. Once all milk has been added, continue to cook over medium heat until the mixture is reasonably thick, stirring regularly to prevent sticking.
  6. Remove milk mixture from heat, add 1/2 Tbsp of salt and 1 Tbsp of paprika, stirring until well combined.
  7. Stir in 3 cups of shredded cheese until cheese has melted.
  8. Add cooked pasta to cheese mixture, stirring until combined.
  9. Pour half of mac into your serving dish (this is when you use that skillet). Sprinkle 1 and a 1/2 cups shredded cheese over the top. Then, top with remaining pasta and final 1 and a 1/2 cups of cheese.
  10. Place skillet in smoker and leave to cook until the cheese on the top is melted and browned to your liking. How long this takes will depend on how hot your smoker is. But, at 225°F it should take approximately 15 minutes.
Burning Brisket Smoked Mac and Cheese in Lodge Cast Iron Skillet

Can You Cook Smoked Mac and Cheese Without a Smoker?

Yes, you totally can cook smoked mac and cheese without a smoker.

To use this recipe without a smoker, sub out the paprika for smoked paprika and use at least 2 cups of smoked cheese instead of regular to get that smoky flavor without needing a smoker.

Then, you’ll bake your smoked mac and cheese in your regular oven and have your guests wondering how you did it.

Choosing the Right Cheese for Smoked Mac & Cheese

When it comes to any macaroni and cheese recipe there’s a whole heap of different types of cheeses recommended by various people. But, you don’t need to worry if you don’t have the “right” cheese in the fridge.

There is no single “best” cheese for the dish. Instead, different cheeses bring distinct flavors and textures to the table, and your top choice for cheese might be totally different to someone else’s.

Some popular cheese options for mac and cheese include:

  • Cheddar for a sharper flavor
  • Gruyère with a unique nuttiness
  • Mozzarella is a milder flavor popular with the kids
  • Goulda for a slight sweetness
  • Parmesan to give a bolder tang.

But, the sky is your limit. Use what you’ve got, try something new or combine a few to find your family’s favorite flavor.

If you like a more intense smoky flavor, incorporating smoked cheese into your mix is a brilliant move.

Smoked cheddar, gouda, or even smoked paprika-infused cheeses can really give your mac and cheese that next-level profound smokiness that you won’t get from your smoker alone. This creates a layered, robust flavor profile that is really exceptional. But, it’s not for the faint hearted. You’ll probably be serving smaller portions because the flavor is that much more intense.

On the other hand, if you prefer a cleaner, subtler smoky taste, stick with your unsmoked cheeses. Doing this allows the smokiness from the actual cooking to shine without overpowering the dish.

Or, you can use a mix of smoked and unsmoked cheese for a mac and cheese that’s rich, yet not overwhelming.

My personal favorite choice of cheese for this smoked mac and cheese recipe is 3 cups of Edam cheese, 2 cups of cheddar cheese, and 1 cup of smoked gouda.

The Best Pasta for Smoked Mac and Cheese

Just like the cheese, when it comes to picking the best pasta for smoked mac and cheese, it’s a matter of personal preference.

You’ve got the classic elbow macaroni, which kind of hugs the cheese sauce in those little bends, creating a cozy combo.

Then there’s cavatappi, the one with the cool spiral shape, offering a mix of soft and slightly chewy bites.

My kids love anything that’s either colorful or animal shaped.

And, don’t forget about shell pasta like conchiglie; it’s like tiny cheese sauce scoops.

So, go with what makes you happiest, because smoked mac and cheese is all about indulging in your own cheesy paradise! There’s no wrong answers although a long pasta like fettuccine might be quite messy…

What's the Best Smoker for Mac and Cheese?

You can smoke mac and cheese in any type of smoker.

From a pellet-burning Traeger, Z Grills or Pit Boss, to a traditional ceramic Kamado, an old-school offset smoker, a standard charcoal, or even your run of the mill electric Masterbuilt, if there’s heat and smoke, it will do.

Smoking mac and cheese on a kamado like our favorite Kamado Joe or the great value for money Pit Boss K22, is particularly nice because the heat retaining lid means it melts that top layer of cheese from the bottom down for an incredible finish.

Just like when you’re smoking meat, the type of smoker you use to smoke mac and cheese will influence it’s flavor.

A pellet or electric smoker will give off a lighter smoked flavor. A charocal or kamado will give that distinct charcoally flavor. And, running an offset on wood only will give you a stronger woody profile.

What Is the Best Wood for Smoking Mac and Cheese?

The choice of wood for smoking mac and cheese largely depends on your flavor preferences. But, some woods work particularly well for giving your mac a subtle, smokiness that compliments it without overpowering the dish.

These are some of your options:

  • Fruitwoods (Apple, Cherry, or Peach): These will give a milder, sweet, and fruity flavor that pairs really well with mac and cheese. They add a gentle smoky essence that adds to the dish without dominating it.
  • Alder: Using alder wood to smoke your mac and cheese will give a light and slightly sweet smokiness, making it an excellent choice for those who want a delicate smoky flavor in their mac and cheese.
  • Maple: Maple wood gives a mellow and slightly sweet smoke, complementing the creaminess of mac and cheese. It’s a popular choice for adding a subtle smoky touch.
  • Pecan: Pecan wood imparts a mild, nutty smokiness that works well with mac and cheese, giving it a balanced and enjoyable flavor profile.
  • Hickory (use with caution): Hickory is known for its robust, intense smoke flavor. While it can be used to smoke mac and cheese, it should be used sparingly to avoid overpowering the mac and cheese. Go light at first and mix it with a milder wood like apple if you want to balance the smokiness.

Variations of This Smoked Mac and Cheese Recipe

Following this recipe for smoked mac and cheese will give you a delicious side or meal on it’s own. But, it’s equally as good with some extras thrown in.

Here are some of our favorite add-ins to consider. Just add what seems like a reasonable amount to this recipe. It won’t muck with the cheese sauce or quantities we give you above.

  • Bacon: You can’t go wrong with crispy bacon bits. They bring an extra bit of smoky, savory punch that complements the mac and cheese perfectly.
  • Pulled Pork: Use those leftovers to add a hearty, smokier dimension to your dish.
  • Brisket: Brisket is our go-to meat when we want to turn mac and cheese into a more complete meal. Slice or dice it up and toss it through for added flavor.
  • Chopped Jalapeños: For a little kick, toss in some jalapeño slices with or without some extra meat.
  • Chopped Tomatoes: Fresh tomatoes bring a burst of acidity and color, balancing the creamy richness. Plus, they give mac and cheese it’s vegetable status right?
  • Sauteed Mushrooms: Sautéed mushrooms offer an earthy depth that pairs perfectly with the cheese. The kids will eat them because it’s still mac and you’re adding a bit more nutrition for yourself too.
  • Green Onions: A sprinkle of chopped green onions adds a crisp, fresh flavor and a pop of color.
  • Crunchy Bread Crumbs: Top your mac and cheese with buttery, golden breadcrumbs for an irresistible crunch.
  • Lobster or Crab: Feeling fancy? Try adding some tender lobster or crab meat for a touch of luxury. It really takes this staple up a notch or three.
  • Truffle Oil: Elevate the mac and cheese to gourmet status with a drizzle of truffle oil. It’s really really good on it’s own or with that lobster.

Feel free to mix and match these ingredients to create your own unique mac and cheese masterpiece. It’s a recipe you can have a bit of fun with and let your creativity shine.

Just remember to make sure to cook any meat you’re adding to your mac and cheese before you toss it through the cheesy pasta mixture. Although you’re cooking the whole thing on the smoker, it won’t be in there long enough to cook raw meat and make it safe to eat.

Adaption for Specific Dietary Requirements

Dairy-Free or Vegan

To make this smoked mac and cheese dairy free you can use a dairy free butter and cheese with almond milk.

We have done it before. You can keep all the portions the same.

It won’t taste nearly as good as the rich, dairy option. But, the cows milk isn’t an option for you, it’s better than never having mac and cheese again.

Gluten-Free

For a gluten-free smoked mac and cheese use your favorite gluten free pasta with any gluten free flour of your choice.

Vegetarian

This smoked mac and cheese recipe is vegetarian! Just don’t add any smoked meat to it and don’t serve it up alongside those ribs you’re also cooking.

But, it’s a great thing to make when you’re inviting some vegetarians around to your barbecue so they can eat more than just the salad.

Kate Brown, the founder and voice behind Burning Brisket, is not your typical pitmaster or restaurateur. Her expertise in barbecue grew from a humble desire to cook exceptional meals for her family. From overcoming burnt brisket mishaps to establishing her boutique cattle ranch, Kate shares her passion to help 'ordinary' individuals cook extraordinary barbecue, believing that simplicity often yields the best flavors. Kate is commited to making great barbecue accessible to all with the right resources and some tasty practice.

About Burning Brisket

Burning Brisket is one of the leading, independent authorities on all things barbecue. Family-owned and run, it's our mission uncomplicate the art of smoking to help you enjoy making incredible food at home for your family and friends to create memories over.

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