Mac and cheese is one of my go to barbecue sides.
It’s warm, gooey and just so satisfying I think we can agree it’s the ultimate comfort food.
So how do we put our own twist on it, how do we make it better?
This smoked mac and cheese takes it to the next level with added flavor from the smoke, plus a few secret ingredients I’m going to share with you. We’ve also simplified the entire process so literally anyone can pull this off.
I’m confident this will become your new way of making mac and cheese as well.
Origins of the humble Macaroni and Cheese
Let’s get straight to the point, where did the humble macaroni and cheese originate?
Most would straight up say it is integrated into the soul food and greater barbecue community, without thinking about it and I wouldn’t have argued that a few months ago.
Yet this cheesy side dish actually dates back to the 14th century and is recorded in a recipe book.
The origin of this awesome side dish is the king of pasta, Italy. Although it was called “de lasanis“, it is still macaroni and cheese.
Most people believe it is an American dish, mainly due to the popular boxed food produced by Kraft in 1937. Macaroni and cheese produced by Kraft was cheap and accessible and its popularity exploded quickly.
So now that we understand it’s basic beginnings, how do we improve on it? How do we make it better?
Items that will help you cook these are:
- A 22” Weber Smokey Mountain
- Heat proof gloves
- Foil trays
- Lump charcoal
- Ambient temperature thermometer (I used a Thermoworks Smoke X)
Why smoke mac and cheese?
One way to make mac and cheese better is to smoke it. Just don’t over do it.
Use a milder scented wood, like cherry or pecan. These fruit and nut varieties of smoking wood tend to have a milder taste and are not so overbearing.
By all means you can still produce this recipe in an oven, it will still taste great but we are after exceptional today, so we use the smoker.
To melt the cheese we need to have the temp on our smoker up a little, otherwise we will be waiting all day for the amount of cheese that is going into this dish to melt.
By having the temperature turned up and also only adding in one piece of smoking wood, the amount of smoke produced will be minimal but that is what we are after. I find if you smoke mac and cheese too long, the smoky taste is overbearing and doesn’t do anything for the dish. So stick to the milder varieties and only use one chunk and you’ll be fine.
What seasonings to use
When making mac and cheese as a barbecue side dish, I like to use similar flavors that I’m using in the meat. I find using the same rubs adds an extra level of flavor.
So I suggest using a good all rounder rub if you take this path. I used Loot N Bootys Everything Rub for this recipe as it has such a well balanced flavor, some sweetness, a little tang and some nice spice to give your taste buds the wake up call they so needed.
If you want to make your own, by all means try an SPG or Salt, Pepper, Garlic rub. I would suggest 1 part of each and maybe for some color, had a half part of paprika. Try smoked paprika if you are cooking this in an oven.
If cooking this for a younger crowd, sweeten it up with a bit of brown sugar, I’d start with a half part.
When I say parts, that could be teaspoon, tablespoon, you can make as much or as little as you want.
Making up the Mac and Cheese
I’m always looking for tweaks when making recipes and this recipe is no different. Most mac and cheese recipes require you to make a white sauce (also known as a bechamel sauce).
So long as you can follow instructions this isn’t too difficult, but I wanted a way to make this mac and cheese better and simpler to make.
The answer turned out to be to throw it all in a pan and hope for the best.
Well not quite but sort of correct.
You need to start with a large pan, either a baking tray or foil tray. I tend to like using the baking tray as it is more sturdy and when dealing with hot liquids, I don’t want anything bending on me.
Adding a block of Colby cheese, around 17.5 ounces, 24 ounces of uncooked pasta, yes uncooked pasta, 16 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese and 9 ounces of cream cheese.
4.5 ounces of salted butter is next and 12.5 ounces of diced and cooked bacon, because everything is better with bacon.
Next up give everything a liberal coating of your favorite rub of choice. Then add 6 cups of full cream milk and you are ready for the smoker, no need to stir it just yet. We can wait until the heat softens up all of that cheese.
Setting up the BBQ for hot indirect smoking of our mac n cheese
So I used my large 22”
If you’re making this as a side dish, chances are your barbecue will already be hot. You can easily make this recipe while your main protein is resting.
That wasn’t the case for me, so I started by filling up the charcoal ring with lump charcoal, then creating a well in the centre of it, for when we light up our starter charcoal.
Next fill a chimney starter three quarters with lump charcoal and light it up. Once it is all alight and ashed over, we can dump the lit charcoal into the well we created in the unlit charcoal. This is more commonly known as the minion method.
Now place a chunk of cherry wood close to the lit charcoal, this just allows it time to heat up before it starts to smoulder.
Assemble the rest of the
Once the grills temp is 50°F under your target temp, you can start closing down the bowl vents. I generally close one right off and leave the other two open a fraction.
Once you know your temp is stable, you can add the tray off mac and cheese.
I do suggest stabilising your temp above the target temp as it will drop about 30°F to 50°F degrees. It will slowly come back up to temp but allow for this quick drop in temp by allowing for the extra at the start.
Once the mac n cheese is in the
Once that 30 minutes is up, time to check on the mac and cheese and give it a good stir, it should start resembling mac and cheese by now but still a little runny. So another 30 minutes back in the smoker should do it.
After an hour in the smoker, the mac and cheese is ready for one last stir and a bit more seasoning.
Then for the secret ingredient to give our mac and cheese the perfect crunchy coating, pork rinds. That’s correct, broken up pork rinds now go on top and back into the smoker for another half hour.
Once this is finished cooking, you will have the perfect gooey cheesy consistency that you would expect with any mac and cheese but that crunchy pork crackle takes it to a whole other level.
Pork crackle and bacon
I feel the added inclusion of these pork ingredients takes this mac and cheese to the next level.
By all means as it stood without either of these ingredients it was a really good dish but once added, it was like a nuclear explosion of flavor and texture in my mouth.
This is seriously one side dish that moved up the ranks to rival the main course, yes, it seriously is that good.
Bread crumbs and panko crumbs on top of mac and cheese are nice, ground up pork crackle is exceptionally indulgent and a must try dish.
Easy Smoked Mac And Cheese
- 24 oz pasta macaroni style
- 17.5 oz Colby cheese shredded
- 16 oz Cheddar cheese shredded
- 9 oz cream cheese cubed
- 4.5 oz salted butter cubed
- 6 cups full fat milk
- 12.5 oz bacon diced and fried
- 2 – 3 tbsp BBQ rub I used Loot N Booty's Everything Rub
- 7 oz pork crackle crushed
- Add all ingredients except pork crackle to a tray with high sides.
- Get your BBQ up to temp of 300°F to 320°F
- Put the tray of mac and cheese into the smoker for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, stir mac and cheese and smoke for a further 30 minutes.
- After an hour, remove from the smoker, stir again and sprinkle more of your chosen rub over it.
- Cover with pork crackle and return to the smoker for another 30 minutes.
- With your favorite BBQ meats.
- On its own.
- In a bread roll is my kids favorite way of eating it.