Smoked Mac and Cheese

Smoked Mac and Cheese with cheddar, pepper jack and cream cheese is elevated with pecan smoke and sourdough breadcrumbs! Mac and Cheese is welcomed anytime and on any menu! It can pair perfectly with traditional barbecue fare like a couple slabs of ribs or could grace a holiday table next to a holiday roast beast or this other holly, jolly protein. In other words, you can never go wrong serving Mac and Cheese, and now we’ve made it tastier than ever by adding some amazing smoke flavor. Stay tuned to see it top a burger, yeah, it’s as good as it sounds.

What Pasta is Best for Mac and Cheese

When choosing a pasta we prefer these varieties: Elbow, Cavatappi, Conchiglie, Farfalle, Fusilli, and Penne, We have a detailed write up about each of these below:

ELBOW macaroni is the most traditional and popular pasta used in this classic dish. Kids love this style of pasta because it is familiar and it is easy to take a bite of. Elbow macaroni comes in 2 shapes: the standard elbow macaroni or straight macaroni.

CAVATAPPI ( \ ˌkä-və-ˈtä-pē \ ) a larger form of elbow macaroni. This pasta is known for having more chew than elbow macaroni. Cavatappi will have to cook 2-3 minutes longer than elbow but this is an advantage when folded in cheese sauce and smoked on the grill. Another feature of Cavatappi is that it is super filling so a skillet of Smoked Cavatappi Mac and Cheese will end up giving you about 2 more servings than elbow!

CONCHIGLIE ( \ kəntʃˈɪɡli \ ) the perfect shell pasta when a lighter pasta is desired more than the stronger Cavatappi pasta. Conchiglie has a large hole at one end and is pinched at the other. The large hole will act as a bucket to assure creamy cheese sauce in each bite! Think of a fatter elbow macaroni with one end pinched shut. I love Conchiglie pasta because it looks fancy, is light, children love the squiggles, and the large pockets hold plenty of yummy cheese sauce. In addition, Conchiglie holds up well when cooked on a grill.

FARFALLE ( \ fär-ˈfä-lē \ ) that cute bow-tie pasta that kids love. It is fine for Smoked Mac and Cheese, especially when served at a family gathering with children. Why it is not my number one pick is the mouth feel. It holds a firm shape and does not have a hole to hold the cheese sauce.

FUSILLI ( \ fyü-ˈsi-lē \ ) a fun spiral shape that holds the cheese sauce on the outside. Because Fusilli has a firm shape it can hold up in the skillet, on a grill under additional smoke and heat. Children love the corkscrew shape.

PENNE ( \ ˈpe(n)-nā \ )easy to find in the store, and probably has the largest reservoirs for holding cheese sauce. Penne is thick and filling which makes it a great shape for Mac and Cheese on the grill.

Smoked Mac and Cheese Ingredients

  • 1 pound conchiglie or pasta of choice
  • 1/3 cup salted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 4 ounces cream cheese or Boursin Herb Cheese Spread
  • 3 cups cheddar cheese cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups pepper jack cheese cubes, or Monterey Jack
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

Smoked Breadcrumb Topping

  • 1 cup sourdough bread crumbs, (4 slices sourdough bread)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil /chives or 1 teaspoon thyme or rosemary
  • Salt or seasoning to taste

Tips for Making the Best Mac and Cheese

  1. Salt the Water! The general rule for salting pasta water is no less than 1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt for every pound of pasta. That may sound like a lot of salt but if you ignore this step you will keep salting the cheese sauce and throw the balance of the sauce off. Simply add the salt when the water comes to a boil.
  2. Don’t Overcook the Pasta! Remember that the pasta will finish cooking in the cheese sauce on the grill. The pasta has to be almost what you would consider undercooked; it’s called al dente.
  3. Blend the Cheese! A variation of cheeses creates a delicious well rounded balanced flavor! (1) Choose a creamy cheese like cream cheese, goat cheese, mascarpone, or a cheese spread for creaminess. (2) Select a mild cheese (MIld Cheddar, Muenster, Monterey Jack) for flavor and to balance the stronger flavor cheese. The mild cheese allows the stronger cheese to shine without being too dominant. (3) When selecting a strong cheese go for a (Gruyere, Sharp Cheddar, Gouda, Fontina, Brie).
  4. Add Sourdough Breadcrumbs! Breadcrumbs have three purposes on Mac and cheese.(1) Breadcrumbs add a crunchy topping for a variation of flavor. (2) Breadcrumbs will keep more moisture in the pasta dish.. (3) My sourdough herb crumbs are absolutely delicious on smoked Mac and Cheese; FLAVOR!
  5. Add Smoke! Don’t forget the smoking chips or chunks! Smoke adds depth and character to a skillet of creamy Mac and Cheese. Pasta and cheese sauce both absorb smoke like a sponge so don’t double up on the smoking chips. My favorite smoking chips for Mac and Cheese are: Pecan, Maple, Cherry and Apple!

How to Make Ridiculously Good Smoked Mac and Cheese

Preheat your gas grill for two zone or indirect grilling with a target temp of 350°F. Indirect grilling means to turn on the burners on one side and not turn on the burners on the other side. The cooking happens on the side with no direct heat.

Fill a smoker box with smoking chips, and place it above a hot burner:

Why you shouldn’t soak your wood chips

Don’t bother soaking the chip. Soaking the chips doesn’t make them smoke longer. It makes the chips take longer to smoke. The chips will simply steam until the water is all gone and then smoke. It’s better to add more chips to start, or reload with more chips, than to soak the chips. 

Next, shred the sourdough bread with a large grater or food processor:

Melt butter with oil in a grill safe skillet:

Add breadcrumbs and toss and begin to toast:

Then add parmesan cheese, salt and herbs and mix well:

Transfer seasoned breadcrumbs to a grill safe rimmed pan and toast, on grill, for about 10 minutes or until golden brown in color.

Time to cook the pasta

Boil the pasta as directed on the instruction package then transfer the pasta immediately into a strainer:


Do not leave the pasta in the hot water or it will overcook. If I precook my pasta ahead of time I toss in a touch of garlic oil and place in a sealed container and set in the fridge right away. I also like to add ice cubes to pasta to prevent overcooking

Now we need to bring the magical glue that holds this dish together, the cheese sauce

Melt butter in a grill safe skillet over medium heat. As soon as the butter foams, whisk in flour for 2 minutes, until a thin paste forms:

Add 1/4 of half and half, and whisk over medium low heat. Continue to slowly add the cream until fully incorporated:

Gently cook the white sauce for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the sauce from sticking.

Whisk the cheese spread into the white sauce:

Then add the remaining cheeses and stir until melted:

Then add the paprika, dried mustard and lemon juice:

Mix everything together well:

It’s time to combine the cheese sauce and pasta

Carefully fold the pasta into the cheese sauce one cup at a time:

Smoked Mac and Cheese

Place the skillet back on the grill. Sprinkle the toasted sourdough breadcrumbs on top:

Smoked Mac and Cheese

Smoked Mac and Cheese

Smoke the Mac and Cheese over indirect heat in a 300° to 350°F grill for 30 minutes or until cheese has melted into the pasta:

Smoked Mac and Cheese

Smoked Mac and Cheese

And a close up, just because

Smoked Mac and Cheese

Smoked Mac and Cheese Summary

Creamy, smokey, cheesy, rich, warming, soothing, comforting, hearty and just plain heaven on a plate. The sauce, just like BBQ sauce, sucked in the smoke and just adds another amazing level to an already epic mac and cheese recipe. 

Also, may I suggest adding this to a burger, maybe this burger? Yeah, it’s a thing:

If you want to find more of Merry’s R\recipes you can find the ones she’s done for us here and the ones she’s done on her own website can be found here

Also, you can follow us on our GrillinFools Facebook pageInstagram, and YouTube feeds

Smoked Mac and Cheese

Smoke toasted bread crumbs spread over a three cheese mac and cheese in a cast iron pan on a gas grill. Smoked Mac and Cheese makes an excellent burger topper
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Course: Side, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, American Fare, Barbecue, BBQ, Mac and Cheese, Macaroni, North American, Pasta
Keyword: #Grilled, #Smoke, #Smoked, Barbecue, BBQ, cast iron, Grill, Grilling, Mac and Cheese, Macaroni, Pasta
Servings: 8 people

Ingredients

Smoked Mac and Cheese

  • 1 pound conchiglie or pasta ofchoice
  • cup salted butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 4 ounces Boursin herb cheese spread substitute cream cheese
  • 3 cups cheddar cheese cubes
  • 1.5 cups pepper jack cheese cubes substitute monterrey jack
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • ½ teaspoon smoked papriika
  • salt to taste

SmokedBreadcrumb Topping

  • ½ tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup sourdough bread crumbs (4 slices of sourdough bread)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup salted butter
  • cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil/chives substitute 1 teaspoon thyme or rosemary
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  • Preheat your gas grill for two zone or indirect grilling with a target temp of 350°F
  • Fill a smoker box with smoking chips, and place it above a hot burner
  • Next, shred the sourdough bread with a large grater or food processor
  • Melt butter with oil in a grill safe skillet
  • Add breadcrumbs and toss and begin to toast
  • Then add parmesan cheese, salt and herbs and mix well
  • Transfer seasoned breadcrumbs to a grill safe rimmed pan and toast, on grill, for about 10 minutes or until golden brown in color
  • Boil the pasta as directed on the instruction package then transfer the pasta immediately into a strainer
  • Melt butter in a grill safe skillet over medium heat. As soon as the butter foams, whisk in flour for 2 minutes, until a thin paste forms
  • Add 1/4 of half and half, and whisk over medium low heat. Continue to slowly add the cream until fully incorporated
  • Gently cook the white sauce for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the sauce from sticking
  • Whisk the cheese spread into the white sauce
  • Then add the remaining cheeses and stir until melted
  • Then add the paprika, dried mustard and lemon juice
  • Mix everything together well
  • Carefully fold the pasta into the cheese sauce one cup at a time:
  • Place the skillet back on the grill. Sprinkle the toasted sourdough breadcrumbs on top:
  • Smoke the Mac and Cheese over indirect heat in a300° to 350°F grill for 30 minutes or until cheese has melted into the pasta
  • Spoon over a burger for an incredibly satisfying meal

 

Merry Graham

Merry Graham is a Southern California award-winning competitive cook, home cook, recipe developer, food photographer, and brand ambassador. She is a mother of 4, grandma to 5 and an all-around foodie; named the Healthiest Cook In America by Bobby Flay in 2012! She is well respected in the cooking competition world, winning more contests than she can count while cashing in on over $150,000 in checks and prizes.

Merry has appeared on Food Network's Clash of the Grandmas and as a top 3 finalist on The Rachael Ray Show Great American Cookbook Competition. She has consecutively competed and placed in the top ten in the sandwich category in the nation's elite cooking competition, World Food Championships. As a competitor, her culinary trips have taken her to Scotland, the Philippines, Cancun, Panama, and several US states.

“A Merry Recipe” has been her main outlet of social media where her tasty and eye-appealing dishes are enjoyed by thousands. What ignites her now is “Grilling Grandma”, her latest adventure on social media where she shows off creative and unique smoke and grill recipes. Have you seen her Grill Baked Sourdough Boule with Smoked Garlic Herb Butter?

Merry shows no signs of slowing down. She swims regularly, and travels with her husband of 44-years. She loves connecting with other Foodies through social media and has become a member of a team of live-fire cooking called Social Feasts. As part of the Social Feasts live-fire influencers, she has plenty of opportunities to develop recipes for smoke and grill meats along with photographing social media content. Anyone who knows Merry will tell you SHE brings the FLAVOR that gives life to a party!

Merry Graham

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