Now that the snow has melted and our frigid landscape has thawed to the point of being warm enough to untie the dock lines, it’s time to kick off the early boating season with some outdoor cooking using a camping smoker. That’s right: if you have a portable smoker, there’s no need to wait until summer. You can start enjoying smoke-infused dishes right now.
Yes, we all know smoking foods has been around since the dawn of cavemen, when meats and vegetables were cooked over an open flame in fumy caves using primitive tools. But it wasn’t until the late 1930s that home cooks discovered incorporating smoke into their foods wasn’t just something that occurred unintentionally when cooking with fire. Backyard barbecuers, whether they knew it or not, were creating a culinary breakthrough, offering more complexity in the form of new aromas and tastes while making the food more interesting to eat.
Today, the art of smoking is more popular than ever, thanks to innovative technology, advanced kitchen appliances, and more efficient tools and equipment for the job. So, as you set sail this year to visit your favorite cove or secluded beach, try this exciting, delicious, and easy-to-make recipe from my cookbook Charred and Smoked that I wrote with Chef Derek Bugge.
Smoked Mac & Cheese
There’s nothing more American than a bowl of mac & cheese. What’s beautiful about this meal is that no two are alike. With so many different varieties of pastas and cheeses to choose from, there is virtually an endless number of possibilities. I discovered smoked mac & cheese some years ago when I attended a friend’s wedding. The food was catered by a BBQ truck. There were ribs, both beef and pork, baked beans, rolls, coleslaw, and then the piece de resistance, this delectably smoked macaroni and cheese.
10 ounces uncooked pasta (elbow or orecchiette)
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 cup cream cheese
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons minced tarragon
1⁄2 cup breadcrumbs
Bring a pot of salted water (make it taste like the ocean) to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta from the water and allow to cool.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the flour. Using a high-heat resistant spatula, stir the roux consistently for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the butter and flour smells nutty. (Note: Allowing the roux to slowly cook over medium heat creates that nutty flavor which enhances soups and sauces.) Slowly add the milk and whisk well until the mixture comes to a simmer. Add the cheeses and continue whisking until the cheeses are melted, then add the tarragon. Transfer the pasta to a casserole dish and pour the cheese mixture over the top. Mix gently to combine. Spread the breadcrumbs evenly over the top.
Preheat your outdoor smoker to 200°. Place the casserole dish in the smoker for 45 minutes. Remove from the smoker and serve immediately.