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Smoked Mac and Cheese

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 This can be thrown together in a few easy steps, and clean up is a breeze since it’s made from start to finish in the same pan.

Smoked mac and cheese with a bacon-breadcrumb topping is deliciously rich and creamy. Enjoy some for dinner or serve it at your next cookout!

Silky smooth sauce coats every nook and cranny of tender macaroni noodles, and a crispy topping of bacon and panko breadcrumbs adds just enough interest to every bite.

While the flavors are simple, every inch of this dish is infused with just the right amount of smokiness to keep you coming back for more.

Throw a pan of this smoked mac n cheese in with a brisket, crispy chicken wings, or some baby back ribs for an easy feast. It’s enough to feed plenty of guests, or simply cook once to enjoy leftovers throughout the week!

a bowl of smoked mac and cheese on top of a red bandana on a wooden table.

Why you’re going to love it!

  • Simple ingredients. Everything is fresh and you might have most of it on hand.
  • Can be doubled. Make a big batch of sauce, then smoke everything in aluminum pans.
  • Irresistible flavor. Believe me, you’ll be going back for seconds and thirds.

Smoked Mac and Cheese: behind the recipe

I absolutely love the smokiness that bacon adds to cheesy pasta, but I wondered if smoking the entire dish would transform it into something even more delicious.

Turns out, I was right! There’s just enough smokiness in every bite for it to be interesting without being overwhelming.

Plus, it allows you to skip the oven and keep your kitchen cool in the summer.

ingredients for smoked mac and cheese on a wooden table: pepper jack cheese, sharp cheddar cheese, bacon, dry macaroni, milk.

Key ingredients and substitutions

  • Pasta — Stick with smaller noodles for this recipe so the sauce can really shine. You can’t go wrong with classic elbow macaroni, but medium shells or even radiatore make a great substitute.
  • BBQ Dry Rub — The blend of sweet and spicy really takes this smoked mac n cheese to the next level. It’s entirely optional, though, so you can leave it out if you prefer or replace it with freshly grated Parmesan instead.
  • Cheese — I love the combination of sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack, but feel free to get creative with other varieties. A good rule is to use one aged variety for flavor and one younger variety that’s nice and melty.

tips

  • When preparing meats for the smoker, save a couple tablespoons of sweet BBQ dry rub for this crumb topping. Or, mix up a big batch to keep in your pantry so you always have some on hand.
  • Bagged shreds may be more convenient, but they don’t melt properly due to additives that prevent clumping. Always buy a fresh block and shred it by hand – you won’t regret it!

a bowl of bacon and panko crumb topping for smoked mac and cheese on a wooden table.

Special supplies needed 

  • Smoker — Ours is electric, but any kind will work for this smoked mac and cheese recipe. Be familiar with your model so you can make adjustments if needed.
  • Cast iron skillet — Safe to use from start to finish and helps retain every ounce of flavor.

How to make smoked mac n cheese

process steps for making smoked mac and cheese: 1) make cheese sauce 2) add cooked macaroni 3) make bacon crumb topping 4) spoon toping on top before cooking.

STEP 1 | Prepare the cheese sauce

  • In a cast iron skillet, whisk together melted butter and flour until the color darkens slightly and bubbles start to form. 
  • Add the dairy a little at a time, whisking constantly, until smooth and thickened. Then, add the seasoning.
  • Transfer the pan off of the burner and stir in the cheese, allowing the residual heat to melt it completely.

STEP 2 | Stir in noodles

  • I recommend cooking the macaroni to al dente since it will continue to soften in the smoker.
  • You may want to stir in a few spoonfuls at a time to ensure everything is evenly coated. This also prevents the sauce from spilling over the sides of the pan.

STEP 3 | Add the topping

  • Combine the panko breadcrumbs and bacon crumbles with melted butter until well coated.
  • Sprinkle evenly over the top of the skillet.  

STEP 4 | Smoke

  • Add your wood chips to the loader, then place the cast iron skillet on whichever rack is most convenient.
  • An hour is plenty of time to infuse just enough smoky flavor. Any longer and the noodles will absorb too much smoke, creating an unpleasant aftertaste.
smoked mac and cheese in a cast iron skillet on a wooden table.

tips

  • Use a mild flavored wood for this smoked mac and cheese recipe. Hickory or apple are my favorites, but pecan or maple would work as well.
  • Prepare this dish from start to finish in the same cast iron skillet, or transfer the cheesy noodles to a disposable aluminum pan before adding the topping and placing in the smoker.

Serving suggestions

Enjoy a bowl of this on its own, and add a simple green salad if you want to lighten things up.

It’s also the perfect side for your favorite smoked meat, since you can slide it in the smoker as that finishes.

a spoonful of smoked mac and cheese being lifted out of a cast iron skillet.

Frequently asked questions

Can I make this smoked mac and cheese recipe ahead of time?

While I wouldn’t recommend preparing it entirely in advance, you can get the recipe started beforehand if needed.

Follow the recipe up until adding the topping, then cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. When you are ready to get cooking, make the breadcrumb mixture and sprinkle it over the top before smoking.

It’s also best to let the pan warm on the counter for about 30 minutes first, otherwise the chill will lower the temperature in the smoker.

I don’t have heavy cream. Can I use all milk instead?

Yes, but it will take longer for the liquid to thicken. You would also need to increase the amount of flour so it’s equal to the amount of butter, which will also aid in thickening.

What’s the best cheese for smoked mac n cheese?

This really comes down to preference, but there are a few varieties that seem to be the top choices.

Cheddar, either sharp or white, is a great foundation to build on. Pair that with something that melts nicely, like Gruyere, Havarti, Fontina, and Muenster.

Gouda has a natural smoky flavor with a hint of nuttiness, but it’s also very rich and pungent. A little white cheddar or even cream cheese can help mellow it out while still letting the flavor come through.

close up shot of smoked mac and cheese with bits of bacon.

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Yield: 8 servings

Smoked Mac and Cheese

a spoonful of smoked mac and cheese being lifted out of a cast iron skillet.

Smoked mac and cheese with a bacon-breadcrumb topping is deliciously rich and creamy. Enjoy some for dinner or serve it at your next cookout!

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 (8-oz.) box elbow macaroni
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 5 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons sweet BBQ rub (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat an electric smoker to 225 degrees. 
  2. Cook the macaroni in a large pot of boiling salted water per the package directions.
  3. Meanwhile, in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add the flour and stir with a whisk until no lumps remain. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  4. Gradually add the milk and heavy cream, stirring until the mixture is smooth and slightly thickened. Stir in the dry mustard, salt, and pepper. 
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the shredded cheese until smooth. Drain the macaroni and add to the skillet, stirring until evenly coated.
  6. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. In a small bowl, stir together  the panko breadcrumbs, bacon, and melted butter. Sprinkle this mixture evenly on top of the macaroni and cheese skillet.
  7. Transfer the macaroni to the smoker and add wood chips (hickory or apple)  to the wood chip loader. Cook for 1 hour, until hot through and through.

Notes

You may substitute 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese in place of the BBQ rub in the crumb topping

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 273Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 51mgSodium: 321mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 7g

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sheila thigpen in her kitchen

Sheila @ Life, Love & Good Food

Recipe Developer, Food Photographer, Home Cook, Wife, Mom, Nana

Sheila Thigpen is the publisher of Life, Love, and Good Food — a Southern food blog — and the author of Easy Chicken Cookbook and The 5-Ingredient Fresh and Easy Cookbook. After 20+ years in the publishing industry, she retired in 2018 to focus on her own creative endeavors full time. She and her husband live near the beautiful Smoky Mountains and have a precious little granddaughter who has stolen their hearts. As an influencer, Sheila has collaborated with brands like Kroger, HERSHEY’S, Hamilton Beach, Garafalo Pasta, OXO, Smithfield, Valley Fig Growers, and more.

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