This smoked mac and cheese will be your new favorite maccaroni ‘n cheese recipe, whether you’re making it on the pellet grill or in the oven! With a blend of three types of cheese and a crispy topping of parmesan and panko breadcrumbs, this pellet grill mac and cheese is hard to beat!
We usually don’t eat all of the food that we cook. When we film four YouTube videos per week, it’s just impossible for our small family to consume that much food. So we usually give lots of leftovers to family and friends.
Not the case with this smoked mac and cheese!
We polished off the entire casserole dish of creamy, smoky, cheesy mac and cheese. And even my wife, who prefers to save her carbs for the biggest desserts she can find, was sneaking in the kitchen for seconds.
Here’s how to make our new favorite mac and cheese on the pellet grill:
What Makes Smoked Mac and Cheese Different?
Some people who make “smoked” mac and cheese simply make their favorite recipe and then cook it on the pellet grill or smoker instead of baking it in the oven… But you know we like to do things a little differently around here!
I believe that you can make amazing, restaurant-quality meals at home if you just put a little extra time and love into the cooking process. And the “love” in this smoked mac and cheese recipe comes from cold smoking your blocks of cheese first!
By smoking the cheese separately before grating it and adding it to the roux (more about that later!), you get just the right amount of smoke flavor without overpowering the more delicate flavors of the cheese.
The result is a truly smoked mac and cheese with an almost-addictive smoky flavor that keeps you coming back for more!
Ingredients for Smoked Mac and Cheese
Want to try this rich and creamy mac and cheese recipe on the grill? Here are the ingredients that you’ll need and some substitution options:
- pasta noodles – Elbow macaroni is typically used in mac and cheese, but I prefer using the medium-sized shells.
- cheeses – I recommend using a mixture of sharp cheddar and gruyere cheeses. The more robust flavor of the sharp cheddar versus mild cheddar holds up to the smoke better, in my opinion.
- cream cheese
- milk or cream – We used a mixture of 2% milk and half & half, but you can use all milk or all cream.
- spices – paprika (or smoked paprika), ground mustard, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper
- panko breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese – For the crispy topping… We also mixed some finely chopped bacon into our topping, but that’s optional.
Notes for Smoked Mac and Cheese
- Pellet Grill Temp – 250 degrees F for 45 minutes, then 325 degrees F for 15 minutes
- Wood Pellets Used – Traeger Signature Blend wood pellets (a mixture of cherry, hickory, and maple wood)
- Pellet Grill Used – Traeger Ironwood XL pellet grill
- Smoking Time – 2 hours to cold smoke the cheese blocks, then a total of 1 hour to smoke the mac and cheese dish
- Other Notes – I loved the smoky flavor of our smoked mac and cheese, because it wasn’t too overpowering but the smoke flavor didn’t get lost either. For less smoke flavor, cold smoke the cheeses for less time.
How to Cold Smoke Cheese on the Pellet Grill for Mac and Cheese
The first step to making this smoked mac and cheese is to cold smoke the cheese. Yes, “cold smoking” sounds fancy and complicated, but it’s actually very simple to do if you have the correct tools.
All you need is a smoke tube, some wood pellets or wood chips, and a grill – your grill doesn’t even have to work, because you won’t actually be turning it on to cold smoke the cheese.
Simply fill your smoke tube with wood pellets, wood chips, or a mixture of both, and light it. I prefer to use a mini propane torch to light my smoke tube, because I find that it’s easier to get the pellets to stay lit.
Then, close the grill lid, and you’ll have a constant stream of smoke without having to power on your smoker.
*Read this post for more detailed instructions on how to use a smoke tube with wood pellets.
To prep the cheese, unwrap the blocks, and set them on a wire rack. To keep my cheese cold for the duration of the smoking time, I set the wire rack on top of a sheet tray of ice cubes. See the photo above.
Then, because I didn’t want my cheese to have too much of a smoky flavor, I set the cheese on the opposite end of the grill as my smoke tube like this:
Close the grill lid and smoke for about 2 hours. If you prefer a smokier flavor, you can smoke for longer (up to 3-4 hours), or for a less smoky flavor, adjust the smoking time down.
After 2 hours, the sharp cheddar and gruyere cheeses were perfectly smoked for our liking. We definitely got the smoke flavor, but it wasn’t too overpowering that our kids wouldn’t eat it. You should notice a slight difference in the color of the outside of the cheeses.
How to Make Smoked Mac and Cheese
Once your cheese blocks are smoked, this smoked mac and cheese recipe is made like most other oven-baked versions. You start out by making the roux, then adding the grated cheeses to make the mac and cheese sauce. Mix in your par-boiled noodles and layer the mac and cheese with extra shredded cheese, and you’re ready to cook!
Here are some detailed steps and tips for making the best mac and cheese on the pellet grill:
Shredding the Smoked Cheese
After the cheese is done smoking, shred all 3 of the blocks on the large hole of a cheese grater. Then, mix all of the cheeses together so that you have a nice smoked cheese blend, and divide the cheese into 3 piles.
One pile (or about 2 cups) will be melted into the cheese sauce. Another two cups will be mixed in with the cooked noodles (without the sauce). And the final two cups will go on top of the mac and cheese casserole dish before you put it on the pellet grill.
Making the Roux and Sauce
If you’re not familiar with the culinary term “roux”, it’s basically just a mixture of equal parts fat and flour that is heated to make the base for many types of sauces, gravies, etc. If you’ve ever made homemade sausage gravy, and added flour to the excess sausage grease in the pan, then you’ve made a roux.
Start by melting butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted, add in an equal amount of flour and cook for about 2-3 minutes to cook the flour, whisking pretty much continuously. You want a white roux for this mac and cheese sauce, so the color should be a white-ish color and the texture should be almost sand-like.
Then, slowly pour in the milk and cream while you continue to whisk. I prefer to remove my pan from the heat while I am pouring in the liquid, because I find that it’s easier to get a nice and smooth sauce this way.
Continue to cook the sauce, whisking often, until it thickens and holds on to the back of the spatula. The consistency should look something like this:
Then, it’s time to mix in the cheese. Start by incorporating the softened cream cheese first. Whisk until the cheese is fully melted into the sauce, and then add the spices including the garlic powder, paprika, ground mustard, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
Next, stir in 2 cups of the shredded smoked cheese, whisking until the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is smooth. Your smoked mac and cheese sauce should look something like this:
I know it doesn’t seem like a lot of cheese at this point, you are making macaroni and cheese after all, but we’re going to add more cheese throughout the casserole.
At this point, you do not want to overheat the cheese sauce, because you don’t want the cheeses to separate and curdle. If you need to remove the pan from the heat to cool it down, that’s okay.
Cooking the Noodles
While the cheese is cold smoking, you can go ahead and cook the pasta noodles according to package instructions, just until they’re al dente, or slightly firm. When you taste the cooked pasta, you should think, “Man, that needs to cook a few more minutes” – that’s the texture you’re looking for.
Since the pasta will get cooked again on the smoker, you don’t want to fully cook the noodles at this point, or they will overcook on the grill.
When the noodles are cooked al dente, drain the pasta and allow it to cool down. Then, toss the cooled pasta in a large bowl with about 2 cups of the shredded smoked cheese like this:
I prefer to make my homemade mac and cheese like this, because I like the different textures and “pull” of the cheese. If you add all of the shredded cheese into the mac and cheese sauce, then you don’t get the same consistency with bits of stringy cheese.
Layering the Macaroni and Cheese Sauce
Next, add about 80% of the mac and cheese sauce to the large bowl with the cooked pasta and shredded cheese. Your cheese sauce should be cooled slightly so that it doesn’t immediately melt the other cheeses. Mix together, and get ready to layer your mac and cheese.
Prepare a buttered casserole dish. I used an enameled cast iron baking dish that I didn’t mind putting on the smoker. A large cast iron skillet would work well also.
*PRO TIP – If you have expensive bakeware or casserole dishes that you don’t want to set directly on the grill grates of your pellet smoker, you can wrap the bottom and sides of the pan in aluminum foil to add a layer of protection. I’ve done this before with my nice stainless steel All-Clad roasting pans, and it works great!
That’s why I mention having extra sheet trays or wire racks specifically for using on the grill in this post about my must-have pellet grill accessories!
Spread the mac and cheese mixture into the buttered casserole dish or cast iron skillet like this:
Then, pour the remaining cheese sauce on top of the mac and cheese and sprinkle with the remaining 2 cups of smoked shredded cheeses.
Your baking dish should look something like this:
Making the Crispy Topping
We like to top our homemade macaroni and cheese with a crispy topping, just like you would for a casserole. For this mac and cheese recipe, we decided to compliment the smoke flavor with some leftover bacon that we pulsed in a blender to chop up very finely.
We also added panko breadcrumbs (our favorite ingredient for crispy toppings or coatings!), grated parmesan cheese, and butter. Mix those ingredients together and evenly distribute on top of the mac and cheese before smoking.
Cooking the Smoked Mac and Cheese on the Pellet Grill
Once the macaroni and cheese dish is assembled, it’s time to smoke it on the pellet grill. We used Traeger Signature Blend wood pellets (a mixture of cherry, hickory, and maple wood) for this smoked mac and cheese.
Preheat your Traeger or other pellet grill or smoker to 250 degrees F. Smoke the mac and cheese on the grill for about 45 minutes, and then raise the grill temp to about 325 degrees.
After the first 45 minutes on the grill, your smoked mac and cheese should look something like this:
Then turn the temp up to about 325 degrees F, and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes.
When the cheese is melted and the casserole just starts to get bubbly, it’s done! If you’re not quite sure, then you can use an instant read probe thermometer – the internal temp of your mac and cheese should be about 155-160 degrees F.
Then, carefully remove your smoked mac and cheese from the grill and allow it to cool for about 8-10 minutes. Then, this easy Traeger mac and cheese is ready to serve!
How long does it take to smoke mac and cheese on a pellet grill?
The cooking time may vary slightly depending on your specific grill model and temperature settings, but on average, smoking mac and cheese takes about 60-90 minutes.
Keep an eye on it and check for that perfect golden-brown crust on top, and be sure not to cook it for too long or at too high of a temperature, because your cheese may separate.
Do I need any special accessories or equipment to make mac and cheese on the pellet grill?
We prefer to make all of our smoked casserole and dip recipes in cast iron or enameled cast iron cookware. Also, if you plan to cold smoke your cheeses like we did for extra flavor, then you’ll need a smoke tube.
What types of wood pellets work best for smoking mac and cheese?
This is really based on personal preference, but if you like a less smoky flavor, then mild and fruitwood pellets like apple or cherry work well for smoked mac and cheese, as they add a subtle smokiness without overpowering the dish.
How can I customize this mac and cheese recipe?
One of the beauties of making mac and cheese on the pellet grill is the versatility it offers. You can easily add chopped crispy bacon, jalapeños, or even a mix of different cheeses to create your unique flavor profile.
However, I wouldn’t add fatty cuts of meat like leftover brisket or smoked sausage, because the extra fat could make your smoked pasta dish too greasy.
Smoked Mac and Cheese
- smoke tube with wood pellets
- 2 8 oz blocks sharp cheddar cheese
- 8 oz block gruyere cheese *We used Boar's Head Gruyere
- 1 pound macaroni or medium shells pasta
- ½ cup butter (equivalent to 1 stick)
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- 2½ cups half and half
- 2½ cups milk
- 4 oz cream cheese softened
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon ground mustard
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika Or substitute regular paprika
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the Crispy Topping:
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- ½ stick butter melted
- 4-6 pieces cooked bacon finely chopped or pulsed in a blender
- Place the unwrapped blocks of cheese on a wire rack. (If the outside temperature is hot, then you can place the wire rack on top of a baking sheet with ice cubes in a single layer to help keep the cheese cooler while it smokes.)
- Fill a smoke tube with wood pellets of your choice. Light the smoke tube and place it on one side of the pellet grill or smoker with the grill turned off. Place the wire rack with cheese on the opposite side of the grill. Close the lid and cold smoke the blocks of cheese for 1.5 – 2.5 hours, based on your desired smokiness. Then, remove the smoked cheese from the grill.
- Shred the smoked cheeses and mix together in a large bowl. Separate the shredded cheese into 3 equally-sized piles (about 2 cups each).
- While the cheese is smoking, boil a pot of water and cook the pasta according to package instructions, just until it is al dente. Drain the pasta and allow it to cool down.
- Make the roux. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt one stick of butter. When the butter is melted, add the flour and whisk continuously for about 2-3 minutes while the flour cooks. Slowly pour in the milk and half & half, whisking constantly, until the mixture is smooth.
- Continue to cook an additional 3-5 minutes, or until the the mixture has thickened. Then, stir in the softened cream cheese and continue to cook until the cheese is fully melted in the sauce.
- Add all of the spices including garlic powder, ground mustard, paprika, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to the sauce. Stir to combine. Then, add 2 cups of the shredded smoked cheeses, reserving the remaining 4 cups for later. Stir to melt the cheeses until the cheese sauce is completely smooth.
- In a large bowl, add the cooled cooked pasta and 2 cups of the shredded cheese. Toss to combine. Then, pour about 80% of the cheese sauce into the bowl with the pasta and cheese. Stir to combine.
- Butter the bottom and sides of a 9×13 baking dish. Spread the pasta and cheese sauce mixture into the prepared baking dish.
- Make the crispy topping. Combine ½ stick melted butter, panko breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, and chopped bacon (optional) in a medium bowl. Stir to combine.
- Pour the remaining cheese sauce on top of the baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 cups of shredded cheese, and lightly mix it into the sauce on top. Evenly distribute the crispy topping on top of the dish.
- Place the mac and cheese on the pellet grill uncovered, and smoke at 250 degrees F for about 45 minutes. Then, increase the grill temperature to 325 degrees F and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden brown and the cheese is bubbly.
- Remove from the grill and allow to cool about 10 minutes before serving.
- Pasta noodles should be cooked al dente, or until they are slightly firm, before adding to the cheese sauce. If you cook the noodles fully, and then cook the mac and cheese on the pellet grill, then the noodles will be overcooked.
- Be careful not to cook your macaroni and cheese for too long of a time period at too high of a temp or the cheeses may separate.