Learn how to make the creamiest beer mac and cheese with a touch of smoke. It’s all about the rich beer cheese sauce, packed with flavor. This quick recipe can be prepared in less than 30 minutes before it hits the smoker.
This is a bowl of my favorite things
There’s smoke, beer, and cheese. This bowl of comfort food is fortified with a creamy beer cheese sauce and then kissed with smoke for an added touch. We’re going to focus most of the efforts on nailing the beer cheese sauce, and I’ll show you how to customize it to your preferences.
Every good BBQ should have some epic sides, mac and cheese being one of those in my opinion. There are definitely times where you just want to make mac and cheese for dinner too. Maybe this recipe is more about how I don’t really want to grow up.
Making the BEST Beer Cheese Sauce
The key to any good mac and cheese is the sauce, in this case, the beer cheese sauce. You are likely familiar with the process to create a roux, bechamel, or mornay sauce. If those words are all above your head do not worry, we will walk through it together. My goal is for you to learn the process of creating the best beer cheese sauce so you can take it away and customize it to your preferences. Or just copy me and enjoy.
Important Ingredient Notes
Let’s spend a minute covering some very important notes on how the ingredients will affect your outcome. Do not skip over this section, this is where the flavor happens.
- Pasta – Stick with short pasta shapes, either shell or macaroni which gives the beer cheese sauce room to hide in. Spiral pasta doesn’t work as well here, as there are no crevices for pockets of cheese.
- Beer – Generally I will tell you to use what you like to drink, but not in this case. IPAs, Sours, and hoppy beers will have their bitter flavors overpower the sauce. Look for a generally tasty Amber Ale or Stout. My top recommendations would be Fat Tire for an amber ale and Guinness for the Stout. The end results will be extremely different between the two due to the beer, so have fun and try them both out.
- Milk or Cream – I’ve tested this recipe well over a dozen times, and the best results are whole milk or half and half. I recommend sticking with whole milk if you’re going to use a stout beer, half and half tends to make the sauce a little too thick. You cannot go wrong with keeping it simple and just using whole milk, period. Any substitutes (oak milk, soy milk, etc) will have extremely different results and I have not tested them.
- Dijon Mustard – This can be flexible, not everyone has a jar of Grey Poupon in the fridge. Mustard is a must for this sauce, as it compliments the flavor of beer and acts as an emulsifier. The mustard has properties that tell the liquids and the fats to hang out and bond, helping the beer cheese sauce to stay smooth and creamy. Use mustard powder or yellow mustard if you’d like, but smooth dijon is my preference. No grains.
- Salt – Seems like a funny thing to point out, but the truth is that it’s important to discuss. Your pasta will be salted while cooking, and the cheese will vary with levels of salt too. Make the beer cheese sauce and then salt at the very end, right before you add the pasta.
Important Ratios for Beer Cheese Sauce
Simply put, this is going to be a version of the classic mornay sauce, but with some beer added in.
Start out with melting butter and whisking in flour, cooking out the rawness of the flour to create the thickening agent for the beer cheese sauce. Most recipes will measure out equal parts of flour and butter by volume, but those “equal parts” should be measured by weight. Here’s a great article to break down the details of different types of roux.
For this recipe we’re going to use 1.5oz each: 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, and 4 1/2 Tbsp flour.
Use equal parts of flour and butter measured by weight to create your roux. This recipe uses 1.5oz each: 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, and 4 1/2 Tbsp flour.
This recipe works with a white roux, meaning the flour has cooked slightly and the roux has a very light color. Feel free to push it further and create a blond or brown roux for more complex flavors. Blond roux with stout beer is magical.
There are rules for this, and the first is that you need to have a melting cheese. I’m highly recommending using cream cheese, which is what my recipe will show you. I’ve substituted Monterrey Jack, which has a sharper, tangy profile, and it does also work well.
I highly recommend using Gouda no matter what recipe you make. It has a nice creamy consistency and pairs well with beer and mustard. It’s also slightly nutty and smoky, creating one of the best pairings for this dish.
Last, you can use a firmer, sharp flavor such as cheddar. Aged white, sharp yellow, choose your weapon. This is the cheese that will give that punch of flavor, elevating the beer cheese sauce to the next level.
For this recipe you’ll use 2.5 Cups of cheese, 1 of those Cups is cream cheese (8oz block). Feel free to adjust the rest to your preference or try my recipe.
TIP: Make sure your beer cheese sauce is being prepared over a lower heat. If you have a thermometer handy, we want to keep the sauce below the temp of 180F to ensure that the fats stay together. We’re tempering the cheese sauce through this process, making sure it’s creamy and doesn’t break into clumps. If it’s bubbling, it might be too hot.
Another TIP: Set the cheeses out for at least 30 minutes before you start, allowing them to come to room temp. Cream cheese tends to stay lumpy if it’s cold when you’re mixing it in, that’s no good.
Smoked Beer Mac and Cheese
Let’s not forget the smoker, it loves to be fed.
There are a few ways you can handle this, and that will largely depend on how you’re serving it. Most BBQ restaurants do not typically smoke their mac and cheese. You’re already eating a lot of smoked food, and it can tend to be overwhelming. Personally, we make this mac and cheese just because it tastes great as a dinner.
Low Temp, Creamy, and Light
Smoke the mac and cheese on low, very low (180-200°F) for about 45-60 minutes, stirring halfway through. You’ll have a nice smoke flavor without overwhelming it. This is for creamy, smoked beer mac and cheese. We’ll use this process when we want more fresh and vibrant flavors to come through.
High Temp, Crispy Crust
Top the beer mac and cheese with a little more cheese, breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, or even chicharrones. Cook at 350-400°F for 30-40 minutes and you’ll have an amazing crust on the top. This is a typical process for baked mac and cheese, which works well with this recipe. Make sure you feel that the sauce isn’t too thick when you start the process because the pasta will absorb a lot of it during this type of cook.
Feel free to smoke your beer mac and cheese with any type of foil pan, baking dish, or oven-safe pan you prefer. You’ll notice I’m smoking mine in a pan, which is my Hestan NanoBond pan. This type of pan can withstand temps of up to 1050°F, looking like brand new out of the smoker.
How to Customize Smoked Beer Mac and Cheese
Perhaps you’re a purist, which is why I’ve created this recipe. It’s hard for me to show restraint sometimes, but mastering this base recipe for the smoked beer mac and cheese is important.
I’ll be making and sharing flavor combinations along the way, updating this guide to provide you new ideas. For now, there are some delicious flavor combinations that will amp up this dish even further:
- Mexican Street Corn: Jalapenos, grilled corn, red onions
- BBQ Pork: Pulled pork, BBQ sauce, green onions
- Korean: Fiery Korean Chicken pulled, kimchi, green onions
- Beefy: Pulled Chuck Roast, stout beer, red onions, parsley
- Spicy Shrimp: Adobo Grilled Shrimp, Mexican lager, corn, cilantro