Smoked Mac ‘n Cheese

After arriving home from work, I decided to make a large portion of Mac n Cheese for no apparent reason. It wasn’t on my meal plan, purely spontaneous. I felt the urge to create an excellent side dish for my shrimp tacos.

Disclaimer – this is not a healthy dish! I do not eat Mac ‘n Cheese but I enjoy making my kids’ favorite dishes instead of buying the premade stuff.

As you would have discovered by now, while I make many dishes, I adjust them to suit our new dietary regime and substitute certain ingredients to make the meal a little more healthy. E.g., no salt and reduced fats.

However, it is impossible, at least in my kitchen, to use alternative cheeses. Therefore, it would help if you had good quality cheese and not some obscure plant-based item cheese imitation.

A little pasta history

We can all agree that it is highly likely that Mac ‘n Cheese originates from Italy, the land of pasta, parmesan cheese, and other delicious meals. In some ancient collection of recipes from the late 13th century, a person discussed making pasta squares stuffed with cheese.

Founding Fathers digging into a large tray of Mac ‘n Cheese

The American version of Mac ‘n Cheese dates back to Thomas Jefferson. Not fully confirmed, but he brought home a pasta machine from his trip to Italy. An excellent gift to his wife. After his wife passed away, his daughter “invented” the pasta dish with parmesan cheese, later replaced by cheddar cheese. I’m pretty sure Mr. Jefferson brought back the recipe when he gifted the machine.

However, Mac ‘n Cheese is part of American culinary history; one served as a church meal in New England, and another served as a pudding in Connecticut. My apology, I do not have the actual timeline for the American Mac ‘n Cheese introduction but suspect it is after 1776/

Either way, Mac ‘n Cheese has become a regular part of the American kitchen and is often served as a side to a proper BBQ feast. Everybody knows the dish, and most people have made it at home during high school or college – damn easy to make on a student budget.

The short version – Mac ‘n Cheese was likely invented due to a lack of funds to buy ingredients. An Italian family only had some pasta, cheese, milk (and a little flour) and mixed the stuff. Voila! Mac ‘n Cheese. It’s amazing what we invent when we have limited resources.

The dish has not evolved much over time. A bit like dinosaurs, except the dish did not go extinct. It is still only a few ingredients and takes less than 20 minutes to make; unless you decide to smoke in on the Traeger as I do.

Mac ‘n Cheese in the making

  • 1 box/bag of elbow pasta
  • 1/2 a cup unsalted (of course) butter
  • 1/2 a cup of regular flour
  • 4 cups of oat or almond milk (the healthier choice)
  • 6 cups of grated cheese of your choice
    • I prefer half cheddar (orange stuff) and half hard mozerella
    • For extra creamy consistency, I add one cup of soft white mozerella
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1/2 tablespoon of Cajun spice
  • 1/2 tablespoon of garlic granulates
  • A few sprinkles of panco (fancy name for breadcrumbs)

Let’s melt & smoke some cheese

Ok, it is time to make the best Mac ‘n Cheese in a cast-iron skillet on the Traeger.

  1. Ignite your Traeger and set the temeprature to 225 Fahrenheit
  2. Place your cast-iron skillet on the grate while the grill is heating up
  3. Boil the pasta according to the instructions
  4. Melt butter in a large saucepan over
  5. Add the flour when the butter has melted, and combine with a large wooden spoon until smooth. Do not let it burn!
  6. Add the milk slowly to the pan, and let it mix to a thick paste.
  7. Add the cheese to the milk/flour. Mix until all the cheese has melted
  8. Add the spices; nutmeg, pepper, Cajun, and garlic
  9. Get your hot cast-iron skillet and gently spray it with some oil such as Pam. Just enough to cover bottom and sides.
  10. Strain the pasta
  11. Pour the pasta into the cast-iron skillet
  12. GENTLY pour the cheese sauce of over the pasta. Move the pasta around making sure that all pasta is covered by the delicious cheese sauce
  13. Sprinkel panco on top of the Mac ‘n Cheese creation
  14. Place the Mac ‘n cast-iron skillet back on the Traeger
  15. Smoke it for about 35 minutes

Please be careful. The skillet is super hot and so is the Mac ‘n Cheese. Do not grab it with your bare hands. That would be unwise!

You have now made a delicious homemade Mac ‘n Cheese for the family. I can almost guarantee you that it will be a huge success at your next BBQ party as a side, or quick movie night dinner, or even as lunch for school. Kids will love you any way you serve it.

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