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Smoked Mac and Cheese w/ Bacon-Crumb Topping

4.62 from 18 votes

Smoking pans of ooey gooey mac and cheese are a rite of passage with smokers, and once you get a taste of this lightly smoked and oh-so creamy Smoked Mac and Cheese, you’ll never want it any other way! There are, however, a few tricks to getting this just right and I’ll tell you all about it below!

smoked mac and cheese with bacon crumb topping in black dishes

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Creamy, cheesey, and topped with an irresistible buttery-bacony-crumbly topping, this Smoked Mac and Cheese is over-the-top delish! It’s not a hard dish to make – the toughest part is being patient while the smoker works its magic!

What You Need to Make Traeger Smoked Mac and Cheese

I use a Traeger pellet smoker/grill for this dish, but any electric smoker will work just fine!

  • Traeger pellet grill/smoker
  • Macaroni noodles
  • Butter – I use salted butter
  • All purpose flour
  • Whole milk
  • Heavy cream
  • Mustard powder
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • White cheddar
  • Gouda
  • Cream cheese

For the crumbly topping:

  • Cooked, crumbled bacon
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Butter

What Kind of Cheese to Make smoked Mac And Cheese?

You can make Velveeta smoked mac and cheese but I don’t like the artificial flavor of Velveeta. It does add a rich creaminess to the dish, but we get that same effect from cream cheese.

In addition to the cream cheese, you need a sharp cheese and an easy melting cheese. Some gouda (pun intended) combinations include:

  • sharp cheddar and gouda
  • extra sharp cheddar and mozzarella
  • cheddar and havarti
  • or add a bit of spice with some pepperjack.

You can mix and match the cheese to get the flavor profile you’re looking for. Other tasty cheese additions can include:

  • Swiss
  • Gruyere
  • Monterey jack
  • Bleu cheese
  • Parmesan
a variety of cheeses
Use a variety of different cheeses to change the flavor.

How To Make Smoked Mac and Cheese Recipe

This is a ridiculously good smoked mac and cheese recipe, and it starts with a fairly standard recipe. However, to account for the time on the smoker, I’ve made a few tweaks. Most notably is the sauce and the pasta. You need extra sauce for the slow cooking time, and the noodles need to be quite al dente before you sauce them or they can overcook into mush.

  1. Boil the macaroni noodles (or pasta of your choice) in salted water until they are very al dente. I shave 2-3 minutes off the cooking time.
  2. Drain the noodles and rinse them under cold water until they are cool to the touch. This stops the noodles from continuing to cook.
  3. Melt the butter in a medium-size pot. Turn off the heat. Using a whisk, slowly add the flour and whisk well until it is all blended in. Turn the heat back to medium, and continue whisking while the butter-flour mixture cooks for a minute.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the milk and cream in a saucepan or in the microwave until it is hot but not scalding.
  5. Pour the hot milk/cream in a thin stream into the butter-flour mixture, all while whisking.
  6. When the milk is all in, continue cooking the sauce over medium heat while whisking until it boils and thickens. Turn off the heat.
  7. Add the mustard powder, onion powder, and garlic powder. Whisk it in well.
  8. Add the cream cheese, cheddar and gouda to the sauce and stir to melt and combine. Turn the heat up for a minute or two if your cheese isn’t melting well, but don’t boil the sauce or it could burn on the bottom of your pot.
  9. Check the sauce for salt and pepper. Add 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper and up to 1/2 teaspoon of salt if necessary.
  10. Combine the cooked pasta with the sauce and load it into a half-sheet size foil pan or a pan large enough to hold all the noodle-y goodness.

To make the topping:

  1. Combine the Panko crumbs with the bacon and Parmesan cheese. Mix well.
  2. Add the melted butter and mix.
  3. Sprinkle the topping over the mac and cheese and you’re good to go!

To cook:

  1. Preheat your Traeger or electric smoker as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Set the temperature to 225-F. Put the pan on the rack and cook it – uncovered – for about an hour.
  3. Turn the heat up to 325-F and cook for another 20-30 minutes or until it is hot and bubbly.
  4. Serve and enjoy your pellet smoker mac and cheese!
one large pan of smoked mac and cheese

How to get More Smoke INto the Mac and Cheese

Most Traeger pellet smokers put out more smoke at a lower temperature. So, if you’re going for a more intense smoke flavor, start your mac and cheese at 180-F. Let it go at that temp for about 30 minutes, then bump up the heat to 225-F for another 30 minutes, and finish at a higher heat to get it cooked through.

Chef Jenn’s Tips

  • Do NOT overcook the pasta when you boil it. Because of the low-and-slow cooking time, this pasta in this smoked gouda mac and cheese will keep absorbing sauce and can overcook. So start with very al dente pasta.
  • If it seems really saucy, that’s because it needs to be! You’ll be surprised how much sauce those noodles will suck up while cooking.
  • Don’t check the sauce for salt until all the cheese is in and melted! You may not need to add any extra salt to the sauce.
  • Add jalapenos, bacon or ham into the sauce, or add a bit of red chili flakes to the topping to add a bit of variety to this Traeger smoked mac and cheese.
  • If you’re splitting this up and smoking it in several pans, you’ll need to cut down on the cooking time AND you’ll need more of the crumb topping. Plan on doubling the bacon topping if you’ve got more than 1 dish going on the Traeger smoker.
  • The colder your sauce is when it goes into the smoker, the longer it’ll take to get cooked through. To cut down on some of the time, slowly warm the sauce and noodles up in a large pot until they’re hot but not boiling. Stir constantly to heat it through quickly. Then proceed with the smoking instructions.
  • This makes a fairly large batch of smoked pasta, but the recipe is easily halved. Just reduce the cooking time.
  • If your grilled pasta starts to get too brown on top, loosely tent some foil over it and that should slow down the browning.

What To Serve With Smoked Mac and Cheese with Bacon

If you need something else with the best Smoked Mac and Cheese with Bacon on the planet, then I’ve got some ideas for you! Bright green veggies go well with this dish, like these Green Beans & Tomatoes. Or, opt for other smoker-cooked goodies like smoked chicken thighs, smoked turkey, or a good ol’ grilled steak. Ham and mac & cheese also go terrifically together, and this Instant Pot ham is a winner!

smoked mac and cheese in black serving dishes

Can You Freeze Smoked Cheddar Mac and Cheese?

Yes, you can freeze this smoked mac & cheese recipe, but you need to make sure it is thoroughly chilled first. Freeze portions in air-tight containers or a zipper-top bag for up to three months.

How to reheat frozen mac and cheese? I let it thaw naturally in the fridge when I have time, or I’ll pop it into the microwave to thaw. Then, add a few tablespoons of milk to the dish to help the mac and cheese get creamy again. Warm it covered in a low oven (about 300-325-F) or on half power in the microwave.

You’ll find after freezing and reheating that the creamy smoked mac and cheese isn’t quite so creamy any more. That’s because the noodles have sucked up more liquid. Adding a touch of milk, or cream, will help avoid this.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best pellets for smoked mac & cheese?

Anything works well with this easy smoked mac and cheese recipe, because it’s smoking for such a short time. Use your favorite blend, hardwood, or go for appplewood. The choice is yours!

How to make smoked mac and cheese ahead of time?

When I want to make this ahead of time, I boil and chill the noodles and set those aside. Then, I make the sauce and chill it, too. Mix the cold noodles and cold sauce and keep it in the fridge for a few hours. If you need to make this days ahead of time, keep the pasta and sauce separate and they’ll keep for several days in the fridge.

What are the best cheeses for mac and cheese on the smoker?

You need creamy, easy melting cheeses and something a bit sharper. I like extra sharp cheddar paired with gouda for a flavorful mac and cheese. Mix and match to find your favorites!

Like This? Also Try:

Step By Step Process

smoked mac and cheese in black serving dishes
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4.62 from 18 votes

Smoked Mac & Cheese with Bacon-Crumb Topping

Creamy, slightly smoky, and oh-so good mac and cheese gets an upgrade with this family-friendly version that cooks low and slow on your electric smoker!
Course Pasta
Cuisine American
Keyword baked pasta, broccoli cheese soup, mac and cheese, smoked mac and cheese, smoker, traeger
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 20 minutes
Servings 10 servings
Calories 663kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 pound macaroni pasta
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese shredded
  • 1 cup gouda cheese shredded
  • 6 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

For bacon crumb topping

  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup cooked crumbled bacon about 4 slices
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Instructions

  • Boil the macaroni noodles (or pasta of your choice) in lots of salted water until they are very al dente. I shave 2-3 minutes off the cooking time.
  • Drain the noodles and rinse them under cold water until they are cool to the touch. This stops the noodles from continuing to cook.
  • Melt the butter in a medium-size pot. Turn off the heat. Using a whisk, slowly add the flour and whisk well until it is all blended in. Turn the heat back to medium, and continue whisking while the butter-flour mixture cooks for a minute.
  • Meanwhile, heat the milk and cream in a saucepan or in the microwave until it is hot but not scalding.
  • Pour the hot milk/cream in a thin stream into the butter-flour mixture, all while whisking.
  • When the milk is all in, continue cooking the sauce over medium heat while whisking until it boils and thickens. Turn off the heat.
  • Add the mustard powder, onion powder, and garlic powder. Whisk it in well.
  • Add the cream cheese, cheddar and gouda to the sauce and stir to melt and combine. Turn the heat up for a minute or two if your cheese isn't melting well, but don't boil the sauce or it could burn on the bottom of your pot.
  • Check the sauce for salt and pepper. Add 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper and up to 1/2 teaspoon of salt if necessary.
  • Combine the cooked pasta with the sauce and load it into a half-sheet size foil pan or a pan large enough to hold all the noodle-y goodness.

To make the topping:

  • Combine the Panko crumbs with the bacon and Parmesan cheese. Mix well.
  • Add the melted butter and mix.
  • Sprinkle the topping over the mac and cheese and you're good to go!

To assemble and cook:

  • Preheat your Traeger or electric smoker as per the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Set the temperature to 225-F. Put the pan on the rack and cook it – uncovered – for about an hour.
  • Turn the heat up to 325-F and cook for another 20-30 minutes or until it is hot and bubbly.
  • Serve and enjoy your pellet smoker mac and cheese!

Nutrition

Serving: 1cup | Calories: 663kcal | Carbohydrates: 47g | Protein: 25g | Fat: 42g | Saturated Fat: 25g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 135mg | Sodium: 790mg | Potassium: 342mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 1290IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 498mg | Iron: 1mg

A Note on Nutritional Information

Nutritional information for this recipe is provided as a courtesy and is calculated based on available online ingredient information. It is only an approximate value. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site cannot be guaranteed.

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By Chef Jenn