Practically everyone loves macaroni and cheese. That being said, there are a number of things that you can do to elevate something that is normally thought of as incredibly simple to the next level in a major way. A perfect example is smoked mac and cheese.
If you’ve never tried it before, you really have no idea what you’re missing out on. Practically everyone knows that macaroni and cheese is an almost perfect comfort food. However, this is like having an opportunity to enjoy that perfect comfort food that’s all grown up. It’s definitely not your standard macaroni and cheese straight out of the box.
As a matter of fact, it’s not even your standard macaroni and cheese that’s been prepared lovingly from scratch. At its core, it is an entirely different dish that is very much worth tasting. Fortunately, it’s not terribly difficult to make, even for those who consider themselves somewhat challenged in the kitchen.
The Basics of Making Smoked Mac and Cheese
The very first thing that you need to know about smoked macaroni and cheese is that it should always, always be prepared in a cast iron skillet. There are other things about it that you have to do in order to make proper smoked macaroni and cheese, but if you’re not making it in a cast iron skillet, you’re missing out on the very thing that allows you to marry all of those beautiful flavors together and cook them properly in the first place.
This is not something that can be prepared in a casserole dish. By the same token, it’s not something that you can boil on your stove top. Therefore, you need to get yourself a decent sized cast iron skillet so you can make enough of this for the whole family to enjoy. In addition to using a good homemade macaroni and cheese recipe, of which there are many, you also want to include just the right amount of smoky flavor along with some panko bread crumbs on the top.
This will offset the creaminess of macaroni and cheese and give you not only the perfect flavor, but also the perfect texture.
Now that you know a little bit about the background of making a good smoked mac and cheese, it’s time to get down to the process of actually doing it. First and foremost, get your cast iron skillet out and get ready to use it. As previously mentioned, you want to be sure that it’s the right size. 12 inches is a good place to start.
It would be remiss to use anything smaller because everyone is going to want to come back for seconds on this particular dish. As previously discussed, you’ll want to use your favorite homemade macaroni and cheese recipe that includes the use of the pasta and cheeses that you like best. There are loads of these recipes out there and they all tend to have their own take on what works best so it’s a good idea to stick with the things that you and your family love.
You don’t have to change the recipe for the macaroni and cheese itself. You’re only kicking things up a notch or two by smoking it as opposed to cooking it in the more traditional manner. On that note, one of your most important choices is going to be using the proper wood and smoking the dish at the proper temperature.
Watch Your Temperature
You definitely don’t want to cook the dish at a temperature higher than 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything beyond that is going to make your noodles so overcooked that they’ll turn to mush. It will also dry your macaroni and cheese out so you won’t be getting the creamy dish that you know and love.
As far as your choice of wood for the smoker is concerned, it’s best to stick with something like pecan, maple or cherry wood. In some cases, it’s okay to go with apple wood. If that’s something that you know you love, there’s certainly nothing wrong with making that choice. The other thing that you want to keep in mind is that you don’t want to cook this dish for too long. Pasta that’s cooked too long or at too high a temperature has a tendency to lose all of its texture.
Texture is Also Very Important
You want the dish to be creamy, but you also want the noodles to maintain some of their texture. The exact amount of time you’ll cook the dish will depend in large part on how you like your pasta. Some people like it to be very al dente when they eat it. If that’s the case, you obviously don’t want to have the dish inside the smoker any longer than absolutely necessary, as the noodles tend to continue cooking for some time after the skillet has been removed from the smoker.
The ideal time will also vary according to the exact temperature you are using. Your best bet is to pay close attention while the dish is cooking and remove it once the cheese is creamy and the noodles are to your liking.
Taking Your Dish to the Next Level
You’re already taking a typical macaroni and cheese dish to the next level by smoking it, but if you really want to, you can kick things up a notch or two beyond what you’ve done so far. Consider adding shrimp, crab or lobster to the dish in order to provide more substance and change the flavor up.
This isn’t something you have to do all the time, but it definitely makes things more interesting. It also elevates this from a delicious side dish into something that can actually be used as the main course, one that will prove delicious and memorable for all the right reasons.
This is Fun for the Entire Family
If you’ve only thought of macaroni and cheese as something that kids eat or you still have a tendency to think of it as that stuff in a blue box that you cook for a few minutes on the stove, think again.
Homemade macaroni and cheese is an entirely different subject matter altogether. Putting it in the smoker makes it even more sophisticated, especially when you start adding things like lobster or other fine items. If you’re ready for your macaroni and cheese recipe to graduate to the next level, this is something you absolutely have to try.