We recently tested five of the most popular smoked mac and cheese recipes from all over the internet in our first ever Smoker Showdown video. This recipe is our “ultimate” version, combining our favorite things from each to create the best smoked macaroni and cheese we’ve ever tasted.
You’ll have to let us know if we’re on the money or if there are other recipes we need to test!
What Makes This the Ultimate Smoked Mac and Cheese?
Our mac and cheese cook-off gave us a pretty clear vision for the must-have ingredients and methods. Here are our top five components of an “ultimate” mac and cheese on a pellet grill (in order of importance):
- Topping – Panko breadcrumbs > Traditional Breadcrumbs (both are better pre-toasted in a skillet with butter and olive oil before adding to the mac and cheese)
- Cook Method – We found cooking the macaroni on its own was an unnecessary step, and that cooking low and slow at 225ºF edged out cooking at a higher temperature like 350ºF.
- Cheese Selection – Cream Cheese, Colby Jack or Sharp Cheddar, and Gouda or Gruyere
- Liquid Ingredients – Using both whole milk and half and half provides enough liquid to cook the pasta and keep the sauce creamy. Most of the popular recipes we tested were a bit too thick, resembling more macaroni casserole than mac and cheese.
- Cheese Sauce Seasoning – A tablespoon of your favorite BBQ rub likely provides more flavor than dry mustard, pepper, and other commonly used seasonings for mac and cheese.
We felt these things made a creamy and flavorful mac and cheese with minimal effort (making a roux and cheese sauce is for the birds).
While it’s possible to get a crispy topping for macaroni and cheese on a smoker at higher temperatures, toasting bread crumbs in a skillet takes things to another level. This was probably the most impactful takeaway from our cook-off. You can also add a bit of seasoning to your topping, if you’d like.
Cheese selection is important, but we had great smoked mac n cheese with all kinds of cheese. As long as you’re using freshly grated cheese, you should be fine.
One of the popular recipes we tested called for Velveeta and cream of mushroom, similar to the queso blanco and cream of poblano in our smoked hash brown casserole. I’ll say, it’s hard to beat the creaminess of melted processed cheese!
We smoked this mac and cheese on a Traeger Ironwood with Traeger Signature Pellets (a blend of hickory, maple, and cherry).
Smoking mac and cheese at a lower temperature like 225ºF gives you a bit of flexibility on cook time. If you need to stretch the cook to match the cook on a protein or main dish, you can add a bit of milk or half and half to keep the sauce from thickening too much.
Just taste as you go and either turn off Super Smoke on the Traeger or cover if the macaroni and cheese is picking up too much smoke.
And speaking of other dishes…
What to Serve with Traeger Smoked Mac and Cheese
Here’s a handful of ideas for proteins that cook in the same low 200-degree ballpark.
- Traeger Brisket
- Poor Man’s Brisket (Chuck Roast)
- Texas Style Smoked Tri Tip
- Smoked Chicken Salad
- Pulled Pork (great for pulled pork mac and cheese)
- Pork Tenderloin
All right, that’s our best shot at making the best Traeger mac and cheese out there. You’ll have to try it and let us know what things you might change to make it your own ultimate version. Recipes are just a starting point, after all!
If you do enjoy the recipe, we always appreciate recipe reviews. And if you’re interested in more best-of style recipes, check out our ultimate smoked queso next.
- 1 pound Elbow Macaroni
- 4 cups Half and Half
- 2 cups Whole Milk
- 8 oz Cream Cheese
- 4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- 4 oz Colby Jack or Sharp Cheddar, freshly grated
- 4 oz Gouda or Gruyere, freshly grated
- 1 Tablespoon BBQ Rub (I used Killer Hogs AP Rub)
For the Topping
- 4 oz Diced Pancetta or Bacon
- 4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 cup Panko Bread Crumbs
- Preheat your Traeger grill or pellet smoker to 225ºF with Super Smoke, if your grill has the capability. (We used Traeger Signature pellets.)
- Combine all the mac and cheese ingredients in a 9x13 grill pan or baking dish.
- Cook for 90-120 minutes until the macaroni is tender, stirring about halfway through.
- In the final 20 minutes, prepare the topping by cooking the pancetta or diced bacon in a large skillet over medium heat. Once cooked, transfer to a paper towel, draining most of the grease.
- Add the olive oil and butter to the same skillet. Once the butter is melted, add the panko breadcrumbs and stir everything together. Cook for 2-3 minutes until golden brown, stirring often. Toss the toasted bread crumbs and cooked pancetta together before adding to the top of the smoked mac and cheese.
- Cook the topped mac and cheese for an additional 30 minutes and serve warm.
For an easy topping alternative, you can grate parmigiano reggiano over the top in the final 30-60 minutes.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1 serving
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 408Total Fat: 31gSaturated Fat: 17gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 85mgSodium: 350mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 1gSugar: 6gProtein: 14g