Your favorite barbecue and comfort food dish come together to make this crowd-pleasing brisket mac and cheese! Topped with crispy panko crumbs, this meaty BBQ mac and cheese features the most luscious, rich cream sauce with loads of melted smoked cheddar and Gouda layered between tender pasta. This is one mac and cheese you'll want to make again and again — the entire family and all your guests are sure to love this dish.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Made for cheese lovers: As a cheese fanatic, I can promise my fellow cheese lovers that you will adore every decadent bite. As if the cheesy cream sauce weren’t enough, you’ll love how the two cheddar and Gouda layers melt in the oven to give us that drool-worthy cheese pull.
Perfect for using leftover brisket: I love making my Texas-style smoked brisket, but brisket is a big cut of meat, which means we sometimes have leftovers. We can’t let that delicious meat go to waste, and this mac and cheese is perfect for putting those leftovers to good use.
That smoky flavor: With our smoked cheese and brisket, we add a wonderfully complex depth of flavor to this mac and cheese to make for one unforgettable dish.
Brisket: As mentioned, I love using smoked brisket for the flavor, but if you have leftover brisket from a slow cooker or oven, that will work just fine too.
Macaroni: This is the classic pasta shape, but feel free to swap it for another type. Cavatappi and shells are popular options. Even a larger pasta shape, such as rigatoni, rotini or penne, works well.
Smoked cheddar and Gouda: If you can’t find the smoked varieties, unsmoked cheese also works — you just won’t get as much smoky flavor. I can typically find smoked cheddar and Gouda with the specialty cheeses without a problem, but sometimes the store runs out. I prefer a sharp cheddar cheese, but you can pick up whatever is available.
Heavy cream: For the most luscious sauce, we want heavy cream, not half and half. Mac and cheese is all about splurging, so let’s make the most of this treat meal.
Whole milk: Like the heavy cream, we want whole milk rather than a lower-fat variety for the best flavor and texture.
Panko crumbs: These are Japanese bread crumbs, and they make for an extra crispy topping. You could also substitute them for Ritz crackers mixed with melted butter, or you can simply leave them out if you prefer your mac and cheese with no topping.
Step 1: We start by bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil and then cook our macaroni for two minutes less than the package directions specify. When the macaroni finishes boiling, we drain the pasta and reserve (photo 1).
Pro tip: The macaroni will continue cooking in the oven, so we don’t need to fully boil it to al dente at this stage. That said, if you plan on serving as a stove-top mac and cheese and skipping the baking process, you should fully cook the pasta according to the package instructions.
Step 2: While the water boils and the pasta cooks, let’s do a little multitasking and brown our panko crumbs. To do this, we melt some butter in a skillet over medium-high heat, stir in the panko crumbs and cook until golden brown (photo 2). The panko won’t brown in the oven, which is why we take care of this step on the stove.
Step 3: Now we start on our cheese sauce by making a roux. For this step, we melt some butter in a large skillet over medium heat and stir in some garlic at the very end (photo 3).
Step 4: From here, we whisk in some all-purpose flour, which is our thickening agent, and continue to whisk for about three minutes (photo 4). This ensures we eliminate the flour taste in our sauce.
Step 5: After cooking the flour, we’re ready to pour in the milk and heavy cream (photo 5). Once the milk and cream hit the skillet, we want to immediately whisk the mixture well to smooth out any flour clumps. Now we season with salt and black pepper and bring the cream to a simmer to properly thicken the sauce.
Step 6: When the sauce thickens, we turn off the heat and whisk in the smoked Gouda and cheddar until the grated cheeses fully melt (photo 6).
Step 7: And just like that, we have our roux-based cheese sauce with the perfect creamy texture. We can now stir in the partially cooked pasta and chopped brisket with the cheese mixture in a large bowl (photo 7).
Step 8: If you prefer a stove-top mac and cheese, you’re ready to serve. But for a baked mac and cheese, pour half the cheesy macaroni into a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish. We then sprinkle grated cheese on top (photo 8) and follow that layer with the remaining macaroni, another layer of grated cheese and the browned panko crumbs (photo 9).
Now we bake the beef brisket mac and cheese until it’s nice and bubbly. Grab a spoon and try not to let the drool drip on your chin as you scoop out the most decadent cheesy pasta bake. Serve with some jalapeño popper cornbread and love every bite.
You can make a delicious baked mac and cheese ahead of time, but you’ll want to follow a few tips. I recommend serving a stove-top mac and cheese immediately.
- To make ahead of serving time, prepare this dish through the step of stirring the pasta with the cheese sauce and brisket. Let it cool, tightly cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and then store in the refrigerator for up to two days.
- Thirty minutes to one hour before baking, pull the pasta from the fridge to allow it to come closer to room temperature.
- As the pasta sits in the refrigerator, it will absorb some sauce, so you may want to add a splash of milk to help cream it up again.
- Layer the pasta and cheese as specified in the main directions and bake. Because the pasta won’t be as warm, plan for about five to 10 minutes of additional baking time.
The biggest culprit of grainy mac and cheese is allowing the roux to curdle. To prevent this, do not let the roux come to a boil when you add the milk and heavy cream to the flour and butter mixture. Boiling can cause milk to separate. All we need is a simmer.
Generally, you can get 1 cup of grated cheese from a 4-ounce block using the large holes on a box grater. This means you'll need about 12 ounces of cheddar and Gouda for this recipe.
Make sure you keep the leftover mac and cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator. As long as you store it properly, you should be able to enjoy leftovers for three to four days, and you can reheat it in the microwave. If necessary, stir in some milk or cream as you reheat.
Even with some extra milk, it won’t be as creamy as freshly baked, so I don’t recommend this for company. But it does make a quick and tasty lunch or low-key dinner for yourself.
Mix in your favorite meat. Substitute pulled pork, smoked candied bacon, smoked chicken or any other favorite protein. You could even use a combination or vegetarian mix-ins, such as green chiles, sautéed red onions, hot sauce or BBQ sauce.
Skip the baking for a saucier dish. Stove-top mac and cheese is a great option if you prefer a more runny sauce. Baked mac and cheese is my personal favorite, but you do you.
Swap in other cheeses. A Monterey jack cheese or smoked Gruyère, for instance, would both be great. And don’t feel like you have to use a smoked cheese if it isn’t available. You have a lot of leeway here to experiment.
Cook in the smoker. Check out my smoked mac and cheese to get the details on how to do just that.
Use a broiler for a cheesy crust. If you’d like to add a bit of a crisp texture to the cheese topping, broil it for a minute or two. Make sure you use a broiler-safe baking dish and keep a close eye on the cheese — it doesn’t take long for a broiler to work its magic. If desired, you can serve with a drizzle of barbecue sauce on top.
Use room-temperature milk and heavy cream: Adding cold liquid can cause the roux to seize. Simply let the liquids sit at room temperature 30 minutes before using. If you forget, a short one-minute burst in the microwave should do the trick.
Shred your own cheese: Bagged shredded cheese is coated with a substance to prevent clumping, which causes it to not melt as well. For the creamiest texture, take a couple minutes to shred your own cheese.
Trim any excess fat: Before mixing in the brisket, get rid of any large chunks of fat. The brisket's point cut is a bit fattier, and it's totally fine to use that — you just want to make sure you're using mostly meaty pieces. For leaner meat, use the flat cut.
Pick up brisket from your favorite local BBQ joint: Don’t have any leftover brisket or time to make your own? No problem. Simply place a to-go order for some smoked brisket at a local BBQ restaurant and proceed with the recipe. How’s that for a quick and easy hack?
This barbecue brisket mac and cheese recipe was made for a stout. Not only is the smoked brisket a natural match to the stout’s roasted malt, but a stout is also great with the Gouda. A porter is another tasty option.
For a wine, you’ll love a syrah, which features a burst of berry flavors with the right touch of spice. The berries nicely contrast the smoke from the brisket and cheese while the spice nicely complements that deep, complex flavor.
If you’re in the mood for a cocktail, a dark rum- or bourbon-based drink is lovely. For a rum, try my rum sour or Barbados rum punch, both of which let the spirit shine. My chai old fashioned makes a delicious pairing if bourbon is your choice drink.
For the ultimate comfort food, you will love this smoked brisket macaroni and cheese. With that cream, cheesy sauce loaded with brisket in every bite, it doesn’t get more satisfying than this dish.
Get More Favorite Barbecue Recipes
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Brisket Mac and Cheese
- Large pot
- Cheese grater
- 12-inch cast-iron skillet or 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish
- 1 pound dried elbow macaroni
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon salted butter divided
- ½ cup panko crumbs
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 4 garlic cloves grated or minced
- 2 cups whole milk room temperature
- 2 cups heavy cream room temperature
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 3 cups freshly grated smoked cheddar divided
- 3 cups freshly grated smoked Gouda divided
- 2 cups chopped cooked brisket
- Heat oven to 325 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the elbow macaroni two minutes less than what the package directions dictate. Drain and reserve in a large mixing bowl.
- While the water boils and the pasta cooks, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the panko crumbs and stir to coat. Continue to cook, stirring every so often, until the panko crumbs turn golden brown. Remove from heat and reserve.
- Melt the remaining ½ cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Whisk in the flour. Continue to whisk constantly for about three minutes.
- Slowly pour in the milk and heavy cream, whisking constantly to create a smooth mixture. Season with salt and black pepper. Bring to a simmer, whisking frequently. Do not boil as that can cause the milk to separate and leave you with a grainy sauce.
- Turn off the heat. Stir in 1 ½ cups smoked cheddar and 1 ½ cups smoked Gouda until the cheese melts and becomes one cohesive mixture. Pour the cheese sauce on top of the reserved macaroni with the brisket and stir to coat. If you prefer a stove-top mac and cheese, serve immediately. Otherwise, proceed to the next step.
- Pour half the mac and cheese into a greased 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish or 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Layer half the remaining cheese on top. Pour the rest of the macaroni on the cheese layer and top with the last of the cheese. Sprinkle the browned panko crumbs on top.
- Bake until hot and bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. Enjoy!
- If making a stove-top version, fully cook the macaroni to package directions.
- For 3 cups of grated cheese, you'll need about 12 ounces of each cheese.
- Trim any excess fat from brisket.
- To bring the milk and cream to room temperature, simply let it sit out for 30 minutes. Otherwise, you can warm it in the microwave for about a minute.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container for three to four days. You can reheat in the microwave. Feel free to add a little additional milk or cream.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.