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The Best Smoked Mac N Cheese Recipe

smoked mac n cheese in a cast iron skillet

The Best Smoked Mac N Cheese Recipe

This post is sponsored by Cutting Edge Firewood. Sponsored posts, along with affiliate links, are what enable bloggers like me to maintain and operate sites that are free to the public. That said, I only work with products and brands that I personally use and would feel proud to give as a gift.

Mac n Cheese was a staple for me, and certainly every kid I knew growing up in the Midwest. Generally, ok always, this was the stuff from a box that used that sort of orangish powdered cheese. While this stuff was delicious back in the day, I’ve sort of outgrown it. I’m really loving the homemade smoked mac n cheese that I’m making now but truth be told, this is a recipe I can’t take full credit for.

My daughter actually started down this path, trying different cheeses, etc. until we dialed in this incredible and mildly spicy mac n cheese that is to die for. It’s not overpoweringly spicy by any stretch, there’s just a little hint of heat on the end. That heat balances well with the ever so slight hint of sweetness from the maple smoke which makes this dish next level.

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This smoked mac n cheese is definitely going to have you and your guests asking for seconds. It makes an excellent addition to my smoked meatloaf, or the perfect topper for my meatloaf comfort burger or BBQ platter sandwich as well. 

What Is the Best Cheese for Mac N Cheese?

The best “type” of cheese is subjective, of course. I personally love this combination of extra sharp cheddar and Gruyère. What’s not subjective is the practice of shredding your own cheese. If you’ve seen some of my other recipes that use shredded cheese, I always recommend shredding your own as opposed to buying the pre-shredded stuff.

The stuff in the bags is more convenient of course, but it’s coated with a wax to prevent it from sticking together. That coating also prevents it from melting as well as the cheese you shred yourself. Not to mention, it’s more expensive; so do yourself a favor and shred your own cheese. It only takes a few minutes. 

Tips for Making Smoked Mac N Cheese

The sauce: You’ll notice the cheese sauce looks almost too thin when you make it⁠—don’t worry. This mac n cheese is going to spend an hour in the smoker and will thicken over time. The thin sauce you made will be thick creamy perfection when it comes out of the grill or smoker.

The smoke: Porous meat like ground beef and moist sauces take smoke reeeeally well, so this only needs about an hour in the smoke. That said, all smoke isn’t created equal. You’ll want a very clean smoke for this, I recommend the chunks from Cutting Edge Firewood because of how clean and long they burn. It’s more pricey than other wood chunks you’ll find at the box stores, but it produces a much cleaner smoke and lasts much longer, so it’s actually less expensive in the long run.

The pasta: Mac n cheese is traditionally made with elbow macaroni, but I prefer cavatappi pasta for its shape and ridges. It gives a better pasta to cheese ratio per bite than standard elbow macaroni and you can find it at most grocery stores or on Amazon.

cavatappi pasta with melted cheese in cast iron skillet

The Pan: The idea is to get as much of the mac n cheese exposed to the smoke as possible. That requires a large shallow pan. I use this lodge cast iron pan, but use what you have. I don’t recommend a fancy enameled dish though, those are hard to clean after being in the smoker.

Own it: This is what I call a foundational recipe. It’s perfect as is, but is also a foundation to build on. Trying adding bacon for a smoky bacon mac n cheese. Throw in some grilled lobster for a smoky sweet lobster mac n cheese. Roast some hatch chilies for a hatch chili mac n cheese. You get the point, the possibilities are endless. 

The Best Smoked Mac N Cheese Recipe

Serves 6-8 | Prep Time – 20 minutes | Cook time – 1 hour

Ingredients
16 oz cavatappi pasta (or elbow macaroni)
8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
8 oz Gruyère cheese, shredded
1/2 tsp chicken bouillon powder
5 tbsp salted butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cup milk
2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste 
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

How To Make The Best Smoked Mac N Cheese

Step 1:   Light grill or smoker and set up for indirect heat, establish temperature at 225° F.

ingredients for mac and cheese including cavatappi pasta, cheddar and Gruyère cheeses, and whipping cream

Step 2:   Cook pasta according to box instructions, but for only half of the time recommended in order for the pasta to be al dente. Drain pasta through a colander, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Rinse pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process and set aside.

Step 3:   Add 1/2 tsp chicken bouillon powder to reserved pasta water and stir until dissolved.

Step 4:   Shred both cheddar and Gruyère cheeses and set aside.

Shreded cheddar and Gruyère cheeses

Step 5: In a large cast iron skillet over medium heat, add butter and let it melt. Once melted, whisk in flour to make a roux, cook over medium heat for 3 minutes stirring constantly.

Step 6:  To the roux, whisk in milk, cream, chicken stock, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and garlic powder. Continue whisking for an additional 5 minutes, until steam is rising off the mixture.

Step 7:  Remove from heat and add in shredded cheeses, continue to stir until they are melted thoroughly.

adding shredded cheeses to roux
whisking roux and shredded cheeses until melted

Step 8:   Pour strained macaroni into cheese sauce and fold together.

adding pasta to melted cheese sauce

Step 9:   Place in cast iron skillet in preheated grill or smoker over indirect heat. Add maple wood chunk to hot coals and allow pasta to smoke for one hour, stirring about every 15 minutes. You’ll notice the top of the mac n cheese taking smoke, and the sauce thickening every time you stir.

stirring pasta and cheese sauce in cast iron skillet on grill

Step 10: Remove from smoker, garnish with parsley and serve hot.

smoked mac n cheese in bowl and ready to serve from skillet

The Best Smoked Mac N Cheese Recipe

If you tried this recipe and enjoyed it, please click the stars below to leave a rating.

smoked mac n cheese in a cast iron skillet

The Best Smoked Mac N Cheese Recipe

4.67 from 48 votes
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American

Ingredients

  • 16 oz cavatappi pasta  (or elbow macaroni)
  • 8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese shredded
  • 8 oz Gruyère cheese shredded
  • ½ tsp chicken bouillon powder
  • 5 tbsp salted butter
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cup milk
  • 2 tsp salt or to taste
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
  • ½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp parsley finely chopped

Instructions

  • Light grill or smoker and set up for indirect heat, establish temperature at 225° F.
  • Cook pasta according to box instructions, but for only half of the time recommended in order for the pasta to be al dente. Drain pasta through a colander, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Rinse pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process and set aside.
  • Add 1/2 tsp chicken bouillon powder to reserved pasta water and stir until dissolved.
  • Shred both cheddar and Gruyère cheeses and set aside.
  • In a large cast iron skillet over medium heat, add butter and let it melt. Once melted, whisk in flour to make a roux, cook over medium heat for 3 minutes stirring constantly.
  • To the roux, whisk in milk, cream, chicken stock, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and garlic powder. Continue whisking for an additional 5 minutes, until steam is rising off the mixture.
  • Remove from heat and add in shredded cheeses, continue to stir until they are melted thoroughly.
  •  Pour strained macaroni into cheese sauce and fold together.
  • Place in cast iron skillet in preheated grill or smoker over indirect heat. Add maple wood chunk to hot coals and allow pasta to smoke for one hour, stirring about every 15 minutes. You’ll notice the top of the mac n cheese taking smoke, and the sauce thickening every time you stir.
  • Remove from smoker, garnish with parsley and serve hot.

Notes

Mac n Cheese was a staple for me, and certainly every kid I knew growing up in the Midwest. Generally, ok always, this was the stuff from a box that used that sort of orangish powdered cheese. While this stuff was delicious back in the day, I’ve sort of outgrown it. I’m really loving the homemade smoked mac n cheese that I’m making now but truth be told, this is a recipe I can’t take full credit for.
My daughter actually started down this path, trying different cheeses, etc. until we dialed in this incredible and mildly spicy mac n cheese that is to die for. It’s not overpoweringly spicy by any stretch, there’s just a little hint of heat on the end. That heat balances well with the ever so slight hint of sweetness from the maple smoke which makes this dish next level.

Tried This Recipe?

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