This Smoked Mac and Cheese is loaded with cheese and incredibly creamy, but with a signature smoked flavor that makes it absolutely irresistible.
» You might like this Creamy Chicken & Potato Pasta.
I don’t often claim a recipe to be the best, unless I’m so over the moon about it that it truly warrants it. My nephew is a mac and cheese connoisseur and he has given it his seal of approval, so that’s double the proof I need. This mac and cheese is the creamiest, dreamiest mac and cheese we’ve ever made.
When we got our smoker, we started trying everything we could think of in there. When we ran out of meats to smoke, we started looking to side dishes, and of course mac and cheese is a no-brainer. The smoky aroma and taste is so decadent.
Ingredients You Need
- Shell pasta – We like to use dried small shell pasta in this recipe because it holds a lot of sauce and allows the smoke to really penetrate the dish. You can use the more typical elbow macaroni, if you want.
- Butter – I always use salted butter in savory dishes to add an extra boost of flavor.
- Flour – All purpose flour is what we use.
- Milk or half and half – This will give the sauce a nice creamy texture and a bit of added fat. Use whole milk or half and half for a creamier outcome.
- Evaporated milk – In order to add a bit more creaminess without adding a lot of extra fat, we also add evaporated milk to the mix. I like to think of this as the secret ingredient.
- Mustard powder – You need something to balance the richness in this dish and we find that mustard powder or a little bit of prepared mustard does the trick.
- Salt & pepper – This is what really brings the flavor out in this dish, so be sure to add the salt and pepper. You might also taste the dish once it’s done cooking and add more to suit your taste.
- Cheeses – I prefer to use a blend of Gouda, monterey jack, and gruyere cheese for this dish, because these are all super melty and super flavorful cheeses. You can use cheddar or another melty cheese if you must, but
- Bacon – Bacon is optional, but it adds another bit of texture and even more smokiness to the dish.
- Smoker – I use a Z Grills 700 series smoker for most of my smoking, though I also have a Traeger grill. You can use whatever smoker you have – they all work the same.
- Wood pellets – There are many types of pellets available. If you’ve already got pellets in your smoker, use whatever you have. We recommend using apple, cherry, or pecan pellets.
- Meat thermometer – Many smokers have a thermometer built in, but if you don’t have one you’ll want to get an instant-read thermometer like the Thermopen.
How to Make Smoked Mac and Cheese
Cook pasta to al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside. Also cook the bacon, then chop or crumble it into bite-sized pieces and set that aside as well.
Preheat your smoker on the smoke setting. As the smoker is heating, proceed with the rest of the steps.
Add butter to a large pot over medium heat. Allow it to melt, but not sizzle. Add the flour and whisk it together. Cook for 2 minutes, whisking occasionally to keep the flour from burning.
Add the milk (or half and half), evaporated milk, dry mustard powder, salt, and black pepper and whisk it all together. Stir while the mixture starts to thicken. It’ll take 1-2 minutes to form a creamy sauce.
Mix the three grated cheeses together in a bowl. Add 3/4 of the cheese mixture to the pot, stirring constantly until it’s all melted. Reserve the rest of the cheese for later.
Once the cheese is melted and fully combined, add the pasta back to the pot and stir well to incorporate.
Pour half the macaroni mixture into a smoker safe baking dish or disposable tin baking dish. Layer the remaining cheese evenly over the top then add the rest of the macaroni. If you like a breadcrumb crumble on your mac and cheese, you can add it here. We don’t usually add it because it inhibits the creaminess. To each his own!
When the smoker is ready, place the mac and cheese on the grill. Smoke it for 1 hour on the smoke setting. Since the pasta is already cooked, you don’t want to smoke this on a heat setting, because it will become overcooked and soggy. All we’re really doing here is imparting smoke flavor and aroma.
Remove from the smoker and top with the crumbled bacon you have on reserve. Serve it immediately for the creamiest, smoothest side dish.
How to Make a Breadcrumb Topping
If you like a breadcrumb topping on your mac and cheese, you’ll just have to mix up some breadcrumbs with butter and seasoning. It’s very simple. Just melt the butter, mix it into the breadcrumbs, sprinkle on some seasoned salt or even yummy bacon salt. Then sprinkle this mixture on top of the mac and cheese before you put it in the smoker.
Additions & Suggested Upgrades
There are so many ways you can make this mac and cheese unique. Some additions you can add are below, just to give you a few ideas. While my favorite will always be traditional mac and cheese, there are some really great ways to mix it up and upgrade it.
- Add green chilis or chopped jalapenos
- Use different types of cheese, like aged gouda, smoked cheddar or mozzarella, or swiss.
- Add sautéed onions and garlic
- Top it with pulled pork or smoked brisket.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if I don’t have a smoker setting?
Most electric smokers have a smoke setting which is the lowest temperature setting. This is the best way to smoke your mac and cheese, because you don’t need to cook it, you just need to impart flavor and aroma. If you don’t have a smoke setting, you’ll just need to make sure your smoker isn’t burning really hot. If you can, monitor the temperature to keep it below 200 degrees, if possible.
Can I use pre-shredded cheese for this recipe?
I always recommend that you buy a block of cheese and grate it yourself, rather than using pre-shredded cheese. Those cheeses have an anti-clumping agent on them that makes them difficult to melt properly. You might find that your cheese won’t integrate well into the sauce and that would be a huge shame.
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The Best Smoked Mac and Cheese
- 1 16 ounce box of small shell pasta
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk or half and half
- 1 1/2 cup evaporated milk
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 8 ounces gouda grated
- 8 ounces monterey jack grated
- 6 ounces gruyere grated
- 8 slices bacon cooked and crumbled
- Cook pasta to al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside.
- Cook the bacon, then chop or crumble into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
- Preheat your smoker on the smoke setting.
- Add butter to a large pot over medium heat. Allow it to melt, but not sizzle. Add the flour and whisk together. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the milk, evaporated milk, dry mustard powder, salt, and black pepper and whisk together. Stir while the mixture starts to thicken, 1-2 minutes.
- Mix the three grated cheeses together in a bowl. Add 3/4 of the cheese mixture to the pot, stirring constantly until melted. Reserve the rest of the cheese (about 1 cup).
- Once the cheese is melted and fully combined, add the pasta and stir well to incorporate.
- Pour half the macaroni mixture into a smoker safe baking dish or disposable tin baking dish. Layer the remaining cheese evenly over the top then add the rest of the macaroni.
- When the smoker is ready, place the mac and cheese on the grill. Smoke for 1 hour on the smoke setting.
- Remove from the smoker and top with bacon. Serve immediately.
- Pellet Smoker Grill
- We recommend using apple, cherry, or pecan pellets.
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Laura is a home cook who loves making new recipes and finding new favorite things to eat, whether at home or abroad. She also runs a popular travel blog and spends a lot of her time traveling for food.