Smoked mac and cheese is a delicious twist on classic comfort food that incorporates the rich and savory flavor of added smokiness.
This dish typically involves cooking macaroni pasta until al dente and mixing it with a creamy cheese sauce made from butter, milk, and cheeses like cheddar, Parmesan, and Gouda.
The dish is traditionally cooked on a smoker or grill using hardwood chips like hickory or applewood to add a smoky flavor. The smoke infuses the cheese sauce and pasta with a distinct, bold flavor that’s hard to resist.
Smoked mac and cheese can be served as a main course or as a side dish. Serve it hot or cold. It’s an excellent dish for BBQs, potlucks, or any occasion where you want to please your guests with a unique and flavorful twist on a classic dish.
Have you ever heard of smoked mac and cheese? Well, if not, we’re here to tell you about one of our all-time favorite guilty pleasures.
Why make it?
- Unique and delicious flavor: The smoky flavor adds a distinctive and delightful taste to the classic mac and cheese dish. It’s a great way to impress your family and friends with a new and exciting twist on an old favorite.
- Perfect for BBQs and gatherings: Smoked mac and cheese is a great dish to bring to BBQs, potlucks, or any get-togethers where you want to share a tasty and hearty dish. It’s sure to be a hit with your guests.
- Easy to customize: You can customize smoked mac and cheese to your liking by using different types of cheeses, adding bacon or other meats, or incorporating different spices or seasonings.
- Comfort food: Mac and cheese is a classic comfort food, and adding the smoky flavor takes it to the next level. It’s a perfect dish for a quiet night in or when you need a little extra comfort.
Overall, smoked mac and cheese is an excellent dish for any occasion. It’s easy to prepare, delicious, can be made ahead, and will surely be a crowd-pleaser.
What you need
- Pasta – choose your favorite. Elbow macaroni, farafella, rotini, ziti, wagon wheels, whatever you like or have on hand.
- Cheeses – a combination of cheeses works best. Use sharp cheddar cheese, mild cheddar cheese, gouda cheese, gruyere, or cream cheese. Again, whatever you have on hand will work.
- Velveeta- We hardly ever use Velveeta, but we find this processed cheese indispensable for this mac and cheese recipe. It melts beautifully and makes a thick, creamy sauce.
- Milk- use whole milk or a combination of whole milk and cream.
- Butter – we always use unsalted butter for the best flavor.
- Flour – use any all-purpose flour.
- Salt – use coarse kosher salt or sea salt
- White pepper – white pepper is just prettier in a white sauce than black pepper.
- Nutmeg – just a pinch is delicious in a bechamel.
Ingredients for optional topping
- Panko bread crumbs
How to make it
Note: We heat the milk first in a saucepan over low heat. This greatly speeds up the stirring time.
Cut Velveeta into chunks
Melt butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan.
Add flour and whisk until very smooth and all lumps are removed.
Let the flour and butter bubble for 2-3 minutes to remove the floury taste.
Slowly add milk all at once. Whisk or stir until smooth again. Let the sauce heat and thicken.
When the sauce has thickened, add parmesan cheese first. That will take the longest to melt.
Next, add the cheddar cheese. Let it melt in the sauce.
Add the chunks of Velveeta.
Lastly, add the pepper and nutmeg.
Taste the sauce for salt now. Different cheeses have different salt content, so you want to adjust the salt after the cheeses have melted.
Cook pasta according to package directions in a large pot. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and pasta. Stir occasionally. Take the pasta out just shy of al dente. It will continue to cook while smoking.
Reserve a mug of pasta cooking water.
Add some of the pasta water to the pasta in the dish. Smother with the cheese sauce.
For the topping
Melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave.
Mix butter and panko. Sprinkle the mixture on top of the macaroni and cheese.
Set up your grill or smoker to smoke (see below for how to set up your grill). Add wood chips and water. Bring the temperature up to 225°F / 110°C. Place mac and cheese directly on the smoker’s rack. Smoke for one hour.
We don’t let it go longer than an hour. The macaroni can quickly become too smoky. If it isn’t hot enough. Finish heating in the oven or on your grill on the opposite side where the flames are lit. (This is referred to as indirect grilling)
Why you’ll love this recipe
- It is incredibly easy to make.
- Serve it as a main or side dish for your main course.
- Smoke it at the same time that you are smoking something else. We smoked our NY Strip Loin to go with the mac and cheese.
- Even the pickiest of eaters will love it.
- Totally kid friendly.
- Make a small batch or make a huge batch enough for a crowd.
- Totally customizable. Change the cheeses, spices, and meats like bacon, ham, and pasta. We even make lobster mac and cheese, which would be awesome smoked.
- Make it ahead. Make it up to three days ahead of time. You can smoke it one day and then reheat it in the oven or on a very low grill (indirect heat) the next day.
What if I don’t own a smoker?
You can still enjoy smoked meats if you don’t own a smoker. You can use your grill to smoke. Set up your grill so that the fire is only on one side. You will place the meat or vegetable on the side of the grill without a direct flame (indirect heat). This is called indirect cooking.
Add soaked wood to a metal tray (we use a disposable foil pie plate or bread pan). Add another metal tray with water. Place water and wood chips on the side of the grill with the fire. Remember to fill the water if it runs out.
You can also create a similar setup for your oven in a pinch or in the winter.
There are countless variations of smoked mac and cheese that you can try, depending on your personal preferences and tastes. Here are a few ideas:
- Add meat: Add smoked meats such as pulled pork, brisket, ham, or smoked sausage to the mac and cheese for a heartier dish. You can even add seafood like lobster for a different spin.
- Spice it up: Add some heat to the dish with cayenne pepper, chili powder, or jalapenos.
- Experiment with different cheeses: Mix and match different types of cheese for a unique flavor. Try using smoked gouda, gruyere, or blue cheese for an extra smokiness.
- Add veggies: Add some vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, peas, or roasted red peppers to make it a bit healthier and add color.
- Try different types of pasta: Experiment with different kinds of pasta, such as penne, fusilli, or elbow macaroni, to change the texture of the dish.
- Make it creamy: Use heavy cream instead of milk for a more decadent, creamier sauce.
- Add a crust: Top the mac and cheese with a crispy breadcrumb or cornbread crust for added texture.
Pro tips for your success
- Use high-quality ingredients: The quality of your ingredients directly affects the flavor. Use high-quality cheeses and pasta to get the best results.
- Cook the pasta to al dente: The pasta is cooked al dente, which means cook it through, but is still has a firm texture to the bite. Overcooked pasta will become mushy and won’t hold up well in the dish.
- Don’t over-smoke the dish: Don’t over-smoke the mac and cheese, as the smoke can become overwhelming and mask the other flavors.
- Use a blend of cheeses: A blend of cheeses such as cheddar, Parmesan, and gouda will give the dish a more complex flavor.
- Use a cast-iron skillet or disposable aluminum pan: A cast-iron skillet or disposable aluminum pan will help evenly distribute the heat and smoke, ensuring the dish has a delicious smoky flavor and a nice crust on top.
- Add a breadcrumb topping: A breadcrumb topping adds texture and flavor to the dish. Mix breadcrumbs with melted butter and sprinkle on top of the mac and cheese before cooking.
- Let it rest before serving: Allow the dish to rest, loosely covered with aluminum foil, for five to ten minutes before serving to let the cheese sauce thicken and the flavors meld together.
You can cook this in a variety of pans. Use a cast iron skillet. Use a disposable foil pan. You can use a Pyrex baking dish. Any baking pan that can go in the oven can go into the smoker.
We always use mild wood for smoking macaroni and cheese. Apple and cherry are our favorites.
Store leftovers in the fridge for 3-4 days. For longer storage, freeze in single-serve portions for a quick addition to a busy day’s dinner.
More smoked treats
Smoked mac and cheese is a delicious and unique twist on classic comfort food that incorporates the rich and savory flavor of smoky barbecue. With a few pro tips, you can ensure that your dish is a success and a hit with everyone who tries it.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different variations and ingredients to make it your own. Whether you’re serving it as a side dish or as a main course, smoked mac and cheese is sure to be a crowd-pleaser at any gathering or meal.
This smoked macaroni and cheese is one of our favorite things to smoke. Every time we make it, we get rave reviews from friends and family.
If you have any questions or comments, please ask in the comment section below. We’d love to hear from you!
I hope you enjoyed the recipe today!
Enjoy. And have fun cooking!
Smoked Mac and Cheese
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 4 tablespoons butter
- Start pasta water boiling in a large pot. Once boiling add salt and noodles. Cook according to package directions, stirring occasionally. Remove the pasta just shy of al dente. Reserve a large mug of pasta water then drain. Add to baking dish with some of the water and stir so that the pasta doesn't stick together.1 pound elbow macaroni, 1 tablespoon salt
- In a medium saucepan, start milk heating over low heat. Do not boil!2 cups milk
- In another medium saucepan, melt butter.4 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Cut Velveeta into cubes.½ pound Velveeta
- Add flour and whisk or stir to remove all of the clumps of flour.
- Let the butter and flour mixture bubble for a couple minutes to lose the flour taste.
- Slowly pour in warm milk, stirring constantly. Let it cook until thickened. About 5 minutes.
- Add parmesan cheese next. That will take the longest to melt.½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
- Then add the shredded cheese.2 cups grated cheddar cheese
- Add the pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Taste the cheese sauce for salt now. Different cheeses have different salt content, so you want to wait until all of the cheese is melted.1½ teaspoons white pepper, pinch nutmeg, 1 tablespoon salt
- Pour cheese sauce over the noodles and mix well.
For optional topping
- Melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl.4 tablespoons butter
- Add bread crumbs. Mix well.1 cup panko bread crumbs
- Sprinkle on top of the macaroni and cheese.
- Start your grill or smoker. Add pellets or wood chips. Heat to 225°F / 110°C.
- Place macaroni and cheese on grate of smoker.
- Smoke for one hour. We don't let it smoke longer than that because the macaroni will quickly become too smoky.
- If the mac and cheese isn't hot enough, finish cooking it in the oven or on a grill on the opposite side of the grill that the burner is lit (indirect heat.)
Originally published June 5, 2022. Updated May 3, 2023.
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