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Creamy Smoked Mac and Cheese has a twist on the familiar favorite. Everyone loves this ridiculously good smoked mac and cheese! And guess what, you do not need a smoker to make this smoky mac and cheese, although I’ve included smoker directions. Plus you can easily adapt this to be gluten-free, yes, gluten-free smoked mac and cheese!
Fall’s crisp chill in the air says comfort food for my family. Smoked macaroni and cheese has everything you want in a dish— pasta and cheese in a creamy, smoky sauce. For this recipe, I focused on updating it with different cheeses to give it a new flavor.
It is the perfect potluck or holiday side dish, like this one of my favorites this creamy Corn Pudding Casserole, or the every so popular Cheesy Funeral Potatoes; check out all of my holiday side dishes!
This recipe is perfect for family dinners, potlucks, and you can even freeze it for later! You’re going to love how flexible this recipe is and I will give you some fun spins you can try!
For more delicious home cooking, check out my Ham, Mac and Cheese Soup. And if you’re loving soup this season, try this Easy Chicken Noodle Soup, it’s sure to make you smile. Another one of my favorite go-to recipes is Beef Pot Pie, offering a great way to use leftover stew or pot roast.
These are the basics, be sure to print the recipe card at the end of the post for all of the creamy details.
- Cavatappi Pasta | Use your favorite short pasta, like elbow, ziti or penne. You can even use gluten-free pasta!
- Butter | I browned my butter for an even richer, nuttier flavor.
- Flour | I use organic unbleached all-purpose flour for thickening the sauce, you can swap out GF All-Purpose flour if making gluten-free.
- Milk and Half and Half | Using half and half makes the sauce creamier, paired with whole milk this is the creamiest!
- Smoked Cheddar and Gruyere Cheese | This is so yummy and adds a smoky element to the dish! You can try lots of different melting cheeses also (see below).
- Spices | I used smoked paprika and ground mustard along with kosher salt and pepper in this dish, because well, the more smoke flavor the better!
- Liquid Smoke | If you love a smoky flavor, this option will enhance the creamy mac and cheese’s flavor. Liquid smoke it typically found near the barbecue sauces, use whatever flavor you like!
DID YOU KNOW? For the creamiest mac and cheese, shred your own cheese! It is cheaper and doesn’t have anti-caking agents.
An 8 ounce block of cheese, yields a little over 2 cups of shredded cheese.
Preheat your oven and grease a 9×13 baking dish (<== my favorite casserole pan) setting them aside, you may also split into two smaller pans.
Boil the pasta and before it’s completely cooked, drain, and return it to the pan with a drizzle of olive oil.
Grate your cheeses into a large bowl, then gently toss all cheeses to combine. Set aside.
Melt the butter and brown* it on a low heat if desired. Whisk the flour into the butter, then whisk in the milk and half and half.
Add in kosher salt and pepper, ground mustard, smoked paprika and liquid smoke if using.
Remove from heat and add approximately 3 cups of shredded cheese, stirring in and melting a little at a time until all is incorporated.
Stir the cheese sauce into the pasta.
Layer the pasta and shredded cheese in the baking dish. Bake ridiculously good smoked mac and cheese for 15 minutes, ready, set, EAT!
Mexican Mac and Cheese | Stir the following into the cheese sauce; 4 oz can green chilies (undrained), 1 taco seasoning, 2-3 tablespoons salsa.
BACON Mac & Cheese | Everything is better with bacon right? Cook up 3-4 pieces of your favorite bacon until not quite super crisp; place on top of smoked mac and cheese prior to baking.
Barbecue Mac and Cheese | Swirl your favorite barbecue sauce (or make your own) between the layers and drizzle a little on top! Oh my!
Cheeseburger Mac & Cheese | Brown up 1 lb of ground beef (turkey or chicken too) with ½ a small chopped onion, set aside and add to macaroni and cheese mixture when mixing.
Cheese Combination | Bottom line, use any cheese that you love and have access to! Stop at your local grocery store’s cheese shop if you have one and ask for recommendations. The key is to use a melting cheese!
Here are some great combos to try:
- Smoked Gouda and Smoked Cheddar
- Regular Gouda and Sharp Cheddar
- Regular Gruyere and Sharp Cheddar
- Colby Cheddar and Sharp Cheddar
- Smoked Swiss and Provolone
- Mexican Cheeses | Cotija, Jack, Colby Jack, Pepper Jack
Gluten-Free Smoked Mac and Cheese
You can use your favorite small gluten-free pasta. You can also swap out the all-purpose flour for a grain free flour. I have made macaroni and cheese gluten-free and it tastes delicious!
TFC Pro Tips
- Browning Butter | It’s easy to brown butter, but you need to watch it carefully. Melt your butter on the stovetop. Then turn the heat down to a med-low heat. Swirl the pan, watching for the butter to pop and foam. Flecks of brown will bloom in the middle. Continue to swirl the butter in the pan until it smells nutty.
- Skip the pre-shredded cheese | Buying shredded cheese might save you time, but when melting is required, it’s best to shred it yourself off the block, it will melt much easier. Plus pre-shredded cheeses often have binders and anti-caking agents in them.
- Using Fresh Spices | Smoked Paprika is ground from a smoked pepper. It’s best to use fresh spices in any recipe, but if you want to have a smoky flavor be sure to use smoked paprika.
Frequently Asked Questions
Add a generous amount of salt to the boiling water. (The water should be salty like the ocean according to one of my Italian friends.) Now, the timing is everything! If it’s undercooked, it will be hard and unsatisfying. Overcooked turns pasta to mush because it’s absorbed too much water. Test the pasta after 8-12 minutes depending on the type. When it’s chewable but still retains its form, it’s done! Drain it immediately!
You need to have enough milk for the sauce. Some will get absorbed by the pasta. If milk and half and half isn’t making it creamy enough for your taste, add full fat cream instead!
If you don’t want to use milk, you can substitute soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, or rice milk. Other milk products like yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese also work. Tho I have not tried these, let me know what you think!
YES! Maybe your planning a camping trip and want to bring along smoky mac and cheese and cook over the fire, or you just don’t want to turn on the oven, hey I get it!
Firepit | Cover loosely with foil so that some of the smoke will seep into the macaroni and cheese, cook until melty and bubbly.
Smoker | Add your favorite mild wood chips to the smoker, then place the creamy mac and cheese in an aluminum pan or cast iron skillet on the easiest rack.
Smoke for about an hour or less; just long enough to infuse a little smoky flavor. If you smoke it longer, it might give it an off-putting taste.
Make Ahead | Don’t you love potluck or holiday recipes you can make ahead of time and just pop in the oven when ready? I do and this is one of them!
Make as directed, but do not bake. Once in baking dish, cool completely, then cover tightly with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate 1-2 days ahead of time. Before baking, remove the dish from fridge for at least 30 minutes before baking. Bake slightly longer, 25-35 minutes until hot and bubbly, covering with foil if getting too brown.
Freezing Smoked Macaroni and Cheese | Here are three tricks to freezing this dish:
- Undercook your pasta slightly, that way when you thaw and bake the mac and cheese, the pasta won’t get mushy.
- Let the pasta cool completely before freezing.
- Wrap the mac and cheese tightly in several layers of plastic wrap, then foil, it will last 6 months in the freezer.
If you love smoky mac and cheese you will love these recipes:
- Beer Cheese Soup; all-natural (of course) with amazing flavors, loaded with veggies and taste!
- Oven Baked Barbecue Beef Brisket; a fall-apart tender brisket recipe!
- Black Bean and Sausage Soup; full of veggies, black beans and amazing smoky flavor!
- Slow Cooker Barbecue Pulled Pork; toss it all into the crockpot and you have one amazing dinner!
I would love to hear what you think of this ridiculously good smoked mac and cheese! Pop below the recipe card to leave a comment and don’t forget the 5 STAR rating!
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Ridiculously Good Smoked Mac and Cheese
- 1 pound dried Cavatappi, try elbow, penne, ziti or your favorite GF pasta
- ½ cup butter, browned if desired (salted or unsalted, if using salted, reduce salt by ¼-½ a teaspoon)
- ½ cup all-purpose flour, substitute with Gluten-Free AP Flour
- 1 ½ cups whole milk, best to use whole milk here
- 2 ½ cups half and half, not fat-free
- 4 cups smoked cheddar cheese, grated
- 2 cups smoked Gruyere cheese, grated (see notes for other cheese options)
- ½ tablespoon kosher salt, if using table salt, use less, and taste
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard, ground
- ½ teaspoon liquid smoke
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4-½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and spray or grease a 9×13 inch baking dish, set aside.
- Boil pasta | Bring a large pot of water to a boil, adding 1-2 teaspoons of kosher salt to boiling water. Once boiling, add pasta and cook for about a minute less than the package directions suggest. Drain pasta, then return to pan and toss with a little olive oil to keep from sticking.
- Meanwhile, grate and measure the cheese; tossing into a large bowl mixing to combine.
- Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Browning butter: once butter is melted, reduce heat to medium-low and watch closely, butter will pop and crackle, then will get quiet and foam up, swirl the pan on occasion while it’s in the quiet stage and you should start to see some brown flecks blooming in the middle, swirl until butter smells nutty and is nicely browned, remove from heat.
- Return butter to medium-low heat and stir in flour (or GF flour), whisking to combine, it might get a little grainy. Cook stirring for about a 1 minute. Slowly pour in 2 cups of half and half, whisking constantly, until combined and smooth. Slowly pour remaining milk and cream into mixture, whisking until smooth.
- Continue to whisk over medium heat, whisking often, until very thick. Remove from heat and stir in 1 ½ cups of cheese, stirring until melted and combined. Stir in spices and liquid smoke, then add another 1 ½ cups of cheese, stirring until melted and combined. If mixture is too thick, thin with a bit of milk.
- Using the same large pot you cooked the pasta in, combine drained pasta with cheese sauce, stirring gently, until fully combined. Pour half the mac and cheese into the prepared baking dish, topping with 1 ½ cups of grated cheese, then pour and smooth on the remaining mac and cheese.
- Sprinkle with the remaining 1 ½ cups of cheese, and place in oven for 15 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown. Serve immediately.
- *8 oz block of cheese yields slightly over 2 cups of shredded cheese.
✱ Kathleen’s Tips
Make AheadMake as directed, without baking. Once completely cooled, cover tightly with foil, refrigerating it for up to 2 days. When ready to bake, remove dish from fridge, 30 minutes before baking. Bake as directed, but for 25-30 minutes until bubbly and golden.
Freezing Mac and CheeseCool completely before freezing and if desired, place into individual portion sized containers for easier reheating. Wrap tightly in two layers of plastic wrap, then foil and I usually place in a freezer baggie. Be sure to only cook your pasta to al dente, then you will avoid some of the mushiness. To thaw, place in fridge overnight. Remove from fridge for 30 minutes before popping in a 325 degree oven for 20-35 minutes. If it looks like it’s drying out, add a tablespoon of water sprinkled over the top and cover with foil. Will last for 6 months in freeze when properly stored.
VariationsMexican Mac and Cheese | Stir the following into the cheese sauce; 4 oz can green chilies (undrained), 1 taco seasoning, 2-3 tablespoons salsa. BACON Mac & Cheese | Everything is better with bacon right? Cook up 3-4 pieces of your favorite bacon until not quite super crisp; place on top of smoked mac and cheese prior to baking. Barbecue Mac and Cheese | Swirl your favorite barbecue sauce (or make your own) between the layers and drizzle a little on top! Oh my! Cheeseburger Mac & Cheese | Brown up 1 lb of ground beef (turkey or chicken too), ½ a small onion, set aside and add to macaroni and cheese mixture when mixing. Other cheeses may be used! Try these combos:
- Smoked Gouda and Smoked Cheddar
- Regular Gouda and Sharp Cheddar
- Regular Gruyere and Sharp Cheddar
- Colby Cheddar and Sharp Cheddar
Gluten-Free Smoked Mac and CheeseUse your favorite smaller gluten-free pasta. Swap out all-purpose flour for a good GF AP flour Make sure if you are purchasing pre-shredded cheeses that they do not have any flour/anti-caking agents in them, besides, the cheeses melt better when shredded from the block.
The Fresh Cooky is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is only an estimate. We recommend running the ingredients through an online nutritional calculator if you need to verify any information.
About Kathleen Pope
Recipe Innovator | Food Photographer | Food Writer
Hi, I’m Kathleen Pope. Here at The Fresh Cooky you will find easy, mostly from-scratch, trusted recipes for all occasions. From speedy dinners to tasty desserts, with easy step-by-step instructions. I am here to help teach you how to make mouthwatering recipes without spending hours in the kitchen. Read more about Kathleen here.