Smoked macaroni and cheese is always great, but this recipe takes it to another level! My Smoked Mac and Cheese recipe involves the judicious use of bacon... and jalapenos!
I mentioned to my - American - husband that I’d recently ready that mac n cheese was considered exclusively a side dish in the USA.
It was something on a list of “ways the USA and Canada are different” posts, and it was the first I’d heard of that - despite having lived there for 12 years.
He confirmed it to be true, then dropped some absolutely WILD statements about the nature and nomenclature of casseroles.
... and was wrong on all of them. Seriously, he claimed that casseroles are exclusively cold, and that tuna casserole is an example of that! WHAT?
That said - if I believed in mac and cheese as a side - this creamy smoked mac and cheese would be the perfect side dish for a BBQ or cookout.
Its delicious smoky flavor comes from not liquid smoke (another thing my husband and I disagree on - I can’t stand the stuff!), but from being hot smoked.
The use of bacon and bacon fat result in a rich macaroni and cheese with a great flavor, even before the smoke flavor is introduced.
An absolute delight for the taste buds!
Main Course vs Side Dish
I just quoted Barenaked Ladies to my husband, in writing this post. He posted out that “Kraft Dinner” isn’t “Macaroni and Cheese” (I agree), and that KD is a main dish.
Ok, see, here’s the thing. I can see far more of a case for “mac and cheese as a side dish” when you’re talking about KD, because it’s quick, from a box, and takes like 5 minutes to make.
If I’m going to the effort of making a cheese sauce from scratch?
That homemade mac and cheese is NOT playing second fiddle to some hot dogs or hamburgers on the dinner table. Of course, your mileage may vary!
That said, I agree with mac and cheese being a side dish in a potluck situation. In that case, EVERYTHING is a side dish, IMHO.
This makes a mac and cheese with complex flavour, but the ingredients are super simple, and should be available in any grocery store. A few thoughts:
We used elbow macaroni noodles this time around, but that’s definitely not a requirement.
We leave this very open to your interpretation, mood, and cheese availability.
While Mozzarella and hard cheeses like Parmesan cheese aren’t necessarily great to base a cheese sauce with, you can use almost any kind of shredded cheese you want, in whatever combo you want.
We used equal amounts of sharp cheddar cheese and Monterey Jack, this time around. Colby cheese, colby jack, even Swiss cheese are all great choices.
Happen to have some cold smoked cheese? That’s a great way to get a jump on incorporating smoked flavour!
We do use a bit of Parmesan in the topping, as well.
You can use skim milk, whole milk, or even unsweetened almond milk (we usually do!).
While there’s not a lot of point in using almond to cut dairy consumption, in this case... it’s just what we tend to have on hand!
Rounding out the recipe, we have:
Butter or bacon drippings
Salt and Black Pepper
Equipment & Tools
For best results, you’re going to want a smoker that allows you to have a lot of control over the heat. For best results, you want to maintain a low temperature: 200 - 225 degrees F.
Low heat allows you the time for the smoke flavour to develop, without overcooking the macaroni the way a higher temperature would. It’s the best way to ensure a good texture!
The creamiest mac and cheese will be achieved with a shorter smoke time, but it’ll also have less smoke flavour.
You’ll want to keep an eye on it - appearance and taste! - to strike the right balance for you and your crowd!
Ours is a Propane Smoker.
All smokers are going to be slightly different in terms of how they operate, so I recommend reading any included directions, if you’re not already familiar with your smoker and setting up the smoke box.
For this recipe, I like to use a mildly flavoured variety of hardwood chips, as those are usually the best wood types to use when you want the flavour of a dish to come through.
Why make such a tasty cheese sauce, only to have it completely overpowered?
Sometimes we’ll use the Jack Daniel's Bourbon Barrel Wood Chips .
That said, you can use any kind of wood chips / wood pellets you like.
See my Crispy Smoked Chicken Wings post for a ton of information on the various varieties of wood types, and the kinds of flavours / intensities of smoke that they impart.
A Large Pan
We used a 9 x 13" glass baking dish for this, as we wanted something that would photograph well this time. (Food blogger concerns!).
Usually when we’re smoking something like this - or our smoked queso, I should post that one soon! - we’ll use disposable aluminum pans.
I usually use a 9 x 13 inch aluminum foil pan that’s 2-3" tall on the sides.
That said, you can also use a large cast iron skillet if you prefer, as long as it’s big enough to hold 1 lb of cooked mac and cheese, plus the sauce.
You’ll want to cook the bacon, jalapenos, and sauce right in the cast iron pan, and add the drained mac and cheese to the sauce.
How to Make Smoked Macaroni & Cheese
This is a pictorial walk through, the full recipe is in the recipe card at the end of this post.
Preheat your smoker to 200 or 225F - no higher! - and set up with your choice of wood chips. (See post for more info!). Spray your baking pan with pan spray, set aside.
Before you get started on the sauce, cook the macaroni according to package directions.
Get a large pot of water boiling, salt it well. Cook the macaroni until it’s al dente - cooked, but just barely. You want a bit of bite to them, not really soft.
Drain well, transfer to the greased pan, set aside.
Make the Cheese Sauce
In a medium saucepan, cook bacon until as crispy as you’d like it. Strain the bacon out - leaving the drippings in the pan. Set the bacon aside.
Add jalapenos to the pan, cook until tender. Strain the jalapenos out and set aside, dispose of any remaining drippings, wipe the pan down if necessary.
Add the flour and whisk flour and butter to combine. Continue cooking - stirring constantly - for 2 minutes.
This is called making a roux - it’ll thicken the sauce, while also cooking the flour taste out.
Slowly add the milk - a little at a time - whisking to combine into a smooth cream sauce. Bring to a simmer.
Once cheese sauce is smooth and cheese is completely melted, add the bacon and jalapenos, season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Pour or spoon mixture over the cooked macaroni and stir to combine.
(Alternately, you can mix the macaroni and cheese mixture in a large bowl, and transfer the already mixed mac and cheese to the prepared pan - it’s less messy that way, you just have an extra dish to wash. We’re lazy!)
Smoke the Mac and Cheese
Place pan in preheated smoker, smoke for 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes, stirring every 20-30 minutes or so..
Combine corn chip crumbs, and shredded Parmesan. Sprinkle top of the mac and cheese with this mixture.
Remaining smoked mac and cheese can be cooled to room temperature and stored in the fridge.
Just be sure to cover the cooled pasta with plastic wrap, or transfer to an airtight container, so it doesn’t dry out!
Smoked Mac & Cheese Variations
This recipe is extremely customizable to your tastes, and we rarely make it the same way twice. Here are a few ways you can switch it up:
We used elbow macaroni this time, as it’s the more traditional - it’s what people expect from mac and cheese.
That said, swapping it out for a different type of pasta can make for a fun alternative.
Farfalle (Bow tie pasta), rotini (corkscrew pasta), and mini shells are some of my favourites to use for mac and cheese.
You can leave the peppers out entirely, go lighter on the peppers, go heavier on the peppers, or even swap the type of pepper out.
(For reference, the amount of jalapeno we use - and the cooking technique - doesn’t add a ton of heat, just flavour!)
Sometimes - when we have time - we’ll smoke slices of jalapenos and poblanos until they’re soft, chop them up, and add them to the sauce. (Skipping the fried jalapenos step).
You can also introduce more pepper flavour by using Jalapeno Jack cheese for some or all of the cheese.
Personally, I love the way the crushed corn chips work with the smoke, bacon, jalapeno, and cheese flavours of this recipe.
If you want to go more traditional, you can use panko bread crumbs instead. Just be sure to toss the panko crumbs with a little bit of melted butter or olive oil, before spreading them on the mac and cheese!
You can flavour the cheese sauce any way you like. I’ve picked a fairly basic seasoning for this, to really let the primary flavours (bacon, cheese, jalapeno, smoke) really come through.
Creamier Mac and Cheese
Remember how I said there’s a bit of a trade off for flavour / texture, and the longer you smoke it, the less creamy it’ll be?
You can cheat a little - use smoked cheese in your cheese sauce!
If you start out with a smoked cheese (NOT “smoke flavoured”, ideally!), you’ll bring smoke flavour throughout it, before you even get to smoking.
This results in a super creamy macaroni and cheese, with a ton of smoke flavour!
You can dramatically reduce your smoking time, this way. We like to cold smoke cheese from time to time - remember our Smoked Cheese Balls?
More Grilling & Smoker Recipes!
Looking for an excuse to fire up the grill? I've got some delicious recipes for you...
Apple Chicken Burgers with Basil & Gouda
Cold Smoked Mayo
Cold Smoked Potato Salad
Crispy Smoked Chicken Wings
Crunchy Smoked Bacon
Greek Chicken Souvlaki
Grilled Jambalaya Skewers
Hop Marinated Chicken & Vegetable Skewers
Hoppy IPA BBQ Sauce
How to Cook Corn on the Cob
Montreal Smoked Meat
Montreal Steak Spice & Marinade
Moroccan Spiced Lamb Burgers
Replica Diana Sauce
Smoked Chicken Breast
Sensational Smoked Chicken Salad
Smoked French Fries
Smoked Jalapeno Poppers
Spinach Feta Salmon Burgers
Tandoori Spiced Chicken Burgers with Mango
Vegetarian Chorizo Burgers with Grilled Poblano & Cilantro Pesto
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The BEST Smoked Mac And Cheese
Mac and Cheese:
- 2-4 Jalapenos chopped
- ½ lb Bacon chopped
- 1 lb Elbow Macaroni
- ¼ cup Butter or bacon drippings
- ¼ cup All-purpose flour
- 8 oz Cream cheese softened
- 2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 3 Garlic cloves
- 3 cups milk
- 24 oz Cheese of choice - we used half Sharp cheddar half Monterey Jack.
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 cup Crushed corn chips
- ½ cup Shredded Parmesan
- Crumbled bacon optional
- Preheat your smoker to 200 or 225F - no higher! - and set up with your choice of wood chips. (See post for more info!). Spray your baking pan with pan spray, set aside.
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni until it’s al dente - cooked, but just barely. You want a bit of bite to them, not really soft.
- Drain well, transfer to greased pan, set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, cook bacon until as crispy as you’d like it. Strain the bacon out - leaving the drippings in the pan. Set the bacon aside.
- Add jalapenos to the pan, cook until tender. Strain the jalapenos out and set aside, dispose of any remaining drippings, wipe the pan down if necessary.
- In the same pan - over medium heat - melt the butter or bacon drippings.
- Add the flour and stir well to combine. Continue cooking - stirring constantly - for 2 minutes.
- Add softened cream cheese, mustard, and garlic, whisk until well incorporated..
- Slowly add the milk - a little at a time - whisking to combine into a smooth sauce. Bring to a simmer.
- Turn heat down to low, add shredded cheese a handful or so at a time, stirring to melt and combine.
- Once cheese sauce is smooth and cheese is completely melted, season with salt and pepper- to taste. Pour over the macaroni and stir to combine.
- Place pan in preheated smoker, smoke for 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes, stirring every 20-30 minutes or so..
- Combine corn chip crumbs and shredded Parmesan. Scatter topping over the surface of the smoked mac and cheese.
- Return pan to the smoker, smoke for another 15 minutes or so, or broil under high heat for a few minutes.
- Serve hot!