This decadent Smoked Mac and Cheese is the creamy classic side dish you know and love, but with an extra layer of smoky flavor infused into each bite. Use a smoker to make it for your next backyard barbecue, potluck, or family gathering.
Speaking of smoking… if you are short on time this smoked side dish only takes an hour to smoke. Throw some Best Smoked Meatballs on and whip up a Cherry Tomato Caprese Salad and dinner is done. Best of all, you don’t even have to heat up the kitchen. That is the beauty of smoker recipes.
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Smoked Mac and Cheese
Smoked Macaroni and Cheese takes your ordinary pasta dish to a WHOLE NEW level! The smoky flavour imbued into every cheesy bite is a game-changer, trust me! Embrace the ultimate comfort food – a fusion of Gouda and sharp Cheddar cheese, or as I like to call them… the cheesy dream team!
Friends, once you make this smoked mac and cheese recipe you’ll be known as the mac and cheese whiz. More great news… you’ll never have to suffer through dry tasteless mac and cheese again. This is the creamiest, dreamiest, most comforting side dish you’ll ever make. Guaranteed.
Now, I know those are big words because baked Mac and Cheese is regarded as a ‘Southern classic’. Then again, everyone thinks their mac and cheese is the best, including us Canadians!
One look at the photos will tell you that my recipe for this classic comfort side includes both a creamy sauce and golden crumb topping. It just doesn’t get any better… or does it?
Just add some smoke flavor. Instead of baking the mac and cheese in an oven, bake it in the smoker, Traeger, or pellet grill. The layer of flavor that hardwood smoke brings to this special side dish is extraordinary.
Macaroni and Cheese History
If you find the history of food fascinating like I do, here’s a little historical rundown of everyone’s favourite comfort food. From the medieval kitchens of two authors of French and Italian heritage comes the Liber de Coquina. In it, rustic squares of pasta were cooked in water and tossed with grated cheese, likely parmesan.
Once it was discovered that the marriage of pasta and cheese was a successful one, more recipes began to appear in kitchens throughout England and across Europe.
The first mention of béchamel mixed with cheese came from Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper but it contained Parmesan, not cheddar cheese. The first instance of macaroni and cheese in the Americas came a few decades later in The Virginia Housewife, an 1824 cookbook by Mary Randolph.
But the story of how mac cheese came to America is incomplete. It is most likely that this popular dish arrived with Thomas Jefferson, and more specifically Jefferson’s enslaved chef, James Hemings.
While Thomas Jefferson is commonly credited with the introduction of macaroni and cheese, ice cream, whipped cream, and French fries in America, these interpretations of French cuisine actually belonged to Chef Hemings.
What is Béchamel Sauce?
Béchamel sauce is the basis for any credible mac and cheese. It makes the dish extra creamy and serves as a vehicle for carrying the cheese and pasta.
Béchamel sauce is one of the essential mother sauces of French cuisine. It begins with cooking a 1:1 ratio of flour and butter together. This butter flour mixture is called a roux and it serves as a thickener once cream or milk is added. Finally, a small amount of nutmeg is added as a flavour enhancer.
In this smoked mac and cheese recipe, the béchamel also contains yellow mustard, onion powder, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cream cheese, along with the shredded cheese.
Smoked Mac and Cheese Ingredients
The two main components of this dish are pasta and Béchamel sauce although it wouldn’t be mac and cheese without the cheese! Finally, a layer of crispy buttery breadcrumbs adds a bit of texture to this creamy pasta dish.
- Elbow Macaroni
- Ground Mustard
- Dried Onion Powder
- Cream Cheese
I do not recommend using other pasta shapes in place of the elbow macaroni. However, if you do, be sure to use similar sized pasta to keep the same sauce to pasta ratio.
You can use either salted or unsalted butter. However, if you do use salted butter, keep in mind that the pasta is cooked in salted boiling water and the cheese is fairly salty. You may not need to add extra salt for seasoning.
Use all purpose flour to make the béchamel sauce and whole milk. If you want to be decadent, you could replace some of the milk with heavy cream.
Feel free to omit the ground mustard if you find the flavour too strong or add in some smoked paprika, chili powder, or cayenne pepper to kick things up a notch.
Use full fat cream cheese for this recipe but feel free to use your favourite shredded cheese combination including Colby Jack, Mozzarella, Monterey, Parmesan, or Pepper Jack. My favourite cheese duo is Gouda and sharp Cheddar!
Finally, use Italian breadcrumbs or add herbs to regular bread crumbs (see recipe card for ideas). Panko style breadcrumbs will give this golden brown topping even more crunch. Other fun finishing options include a layer of Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley or chives.
How to Make Smoked Mac and Cheese
The first step in this recipe is to cook the elbow macaroni in boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain it then set it aside. If you like, you can mix in a little olive oil or butter to prevent the cooked macaroni noodles from sticking together.
Next, prepare your grill/smoker for indirect cooking at a temperature of 225 F.
Make the Béchamel Sauce
Note: You will need a skillet big enough so all the pasta and sauce will fit. If you don’t have one, make the sauce in a saucepan and transfer your pasta into a disposable aluminum pan before topping with cheese and breadcrumbs.
To make Béchamel sauce, melt 1/2 cup butter in a large (5 Quart) braiser or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Do not allow the butter to brown.
Next, whisk 4 Tablespoons flour into the melted butter, forming a paste. Slowly add 2 1/3 cups whole milk, whisking continuously as you pour so that the flour paste becomes incorporated into the milk and no lumps remain. Add the ground mustard and onion powder.
Once the smooth milk mixture begins to thicken, reduce heat to low and add the cream cheese. Stir and allow it to melt completely. Next, stir 3 cups shredded cheese into the milk mixture. Stir gently until cheese is completely melted.
Assemble the mac and cheese by adding the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce. Give it a good mix in order to distribute cheese sauce. Next, spread the pasta evenly in the braiser then sprinkle the last cup of cheese on top.
Melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a small bowl. Add one cup panko bread crumbs and mix well. Sprinkle buttered bread crumbs evenly over the cheese layer.
How to Smoke Mac and Cheese
Place the skillet on the pre-heated smoker grill and add a few chunks of maple wood to the smoker.
Smoke mac and cheese at 225 F for 60 minutes cook time. Remove and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs. Serve immediately with a side salad, raw veggies and dip or your favourite crunchy vegetables.
Storage and Leftovers
Store in a container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Because of the high content of dairy products, I wouldn’t recommend freezing this recipe.
To rewarm this dish, place the mac and cheese in a saucepan and mix in ⅓ to ½ cup milk into the pasta, depending on how much is leftover. Warm gradually over low heat as you stir. This method ‘remakes’ the sauce so the dish remains creamy. If you want to heat the leftovers in a hurry, feel free to use a microwave or air fryer.
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- 1 lb (500 g) Elbow Macaroni; cooked according to package directions
- 3/4 cup salted Butter; divided
- 4 Tablespoons all purpose Flour
- 2 1/3 cups Milk
- 2 teaspoons ground Mustard
- 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
- 1/2 teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
- 4 oz Cream Cheese; room temperature
- 4 cups shredded Cheese*; divided
- 1 cup Italian Bread Crumbs**
- Cook elbow macaroni in boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Prepare the grill/smoker for indirect cooking at a temperature of 225 F.
- Melt 1/2 cup butter stovetop in a large (5 Quart) braiser or skillet over medium heat. Do not allow to brown.
- Melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a small bowl. Add the breadcrumbs and mix well. Set aside.
- Whisk 4 Tablespoons flour into the melted butter, forming a paste.
- Slowly add milk, whisking continuously as you pour so that the flour paste becomes incorporated into the milk and no lumps remain. Add the ground mustard and onion powder.
- Once the milk mixture begins to thicken, reduce heat to low and add the cream cheese. Stir and allow it to melt completely.
- Next, stir 3 cups shredded cheese into the milk mixture. Stir gently until cheese is completely melted.
- Add cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and stir well to distribute cheese sauce.
- Spread the pasta evenly then sprinkle the last cup of cheese on top of the pasta
- Sprinkle buttered breadcrumbs evenly over the cheese layer.
- Place the skillet on the pre-heated smoker grill and add a few chunks of maple wood to the smoker.
- Smoke mac and cheese at 225 F for 1 hour. Remove and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs. Serve immediately.
*Use 4 cups of the same shredded cheese (Gouda, Colby Jack, Cheddar, Mozzarella, Monterey, or Pepper Jack) or any mixture of cheeses that equals 4 cups.
**To make your own Italian breadcrumbs add 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning (1 teaspoon dried basil plus 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon thyme, 1/4 teaspoon rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram, 1/4 teaspoon dried sage) to 1 cup find breadcrumbs.
INGREDIENTS SUBSTITUTION TIPS AND TRICKS
● I like to buy my cheese in a block and shred it at home. I have found out that it melts better and gives a great smoothness
to the sauce. However, a package of cheese already shredded of your favorite blend will work great.
● Side dish: serve with a side of asparagus, green bean, a green salad, or a tray of raw veggies with your favorite dips.
Keep the sides on the lighter side and crispy
● Storage: Store in a container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Because of the high content of dairy products, I wouldn’t
recommend freezing this recipe.
● Re-warm: If re-warming on the stove, add some milk to recreate the sauce when it was first made. (Over time I have
experienced when making cheese/sauce pasta and storing it, when I want to rewarm it I add some of the liquid from the original recipe, in this case, some milk, ⅓ to ½ cup, and mix while warming on the stove. )
● Have fun with the recipe:
Make it spicy: In the spices, substitute the dry mustard with chili powder and/or paprika
Make it kid-friendly: Omit the ground mustard and add a Colby Jack or Cheddar as cheese.
Make it Deluxe: Grate some fresh Parmigiano or chopped fresh herbs when serving. Substitute some of
the milk with heavy cream.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 565Total Fat: 44gSaturated Fat: 26gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 122mgSodium: 917mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 1gSugar: 5gProtein: 20g
Nutritional calculation was provided by Nutritionix and is an estimation only. For special diets or medical issues please use your preferred calculator.