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Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni 

May 17, 2024
Shanika | Orchids + Sweet Tea

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A bowl of pure comfort --- Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni. It's all about creamy, cheesy goodness with a deliciously smoky twist that'll have you coming back for seconds!

Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni 

Ultra creamy, cheesy + bursting with flavor, our Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni is an instant crowd-pleaser. This irresistible dish features tender rigatoni pasta enveloped in a velvety, smoky cheese sauce, baked to golden perfection. It makes the perfect side dish or main meal that everyone will go crazy for! Gluten-free + Vegan Option.

Two bowls of mac and cheese on a brown wood table with a black + white napkin and a side of drink.

What Makes This Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni SO Special?

Creamy, cheesy, and just all-around cozy goodness. Y'all know I'm a Southern girl at heart, and mac n cheese holds a special place in my heart hence the abundance of mac + cheese recipes on my site. Haha. This Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni recipe is irresistibly gooey, golden + loaded with smoky flavor it's a match made in heaven SERIOUSLY!

It’s a winner whether you serve it as a side dish or the main event. It’s that kind of soulful, feel-good food that brings everyone together. Super easy, takes just 40 minutes, and oozes Southern charm with its cheesy, gooey inside and that irresistible crispy outside. Guaranteed to be a hit with any crowd! Plus there is a gluten-free + vegan option so everyone can enjoy!

If you're on the hunt for everything mac and cheese, I've got you covered! From the Easy Vegan Pumpkin Mac + Cheese and Baked Vegan Buffalo Mac + Cheese to the Easy KFC Mac + Cheese Bowl [Copycat] and, of course, my newest addition Southern Baked Gnocchi Mac + Cheese definitely give them a try next!

Jump to:
Ingredients on a brown wood table.

Why Should You Make Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni?

  • It’s absolutely deliciously smoky while being creamy + velvety!
  • The perfect side or main meal
  • Cheesy & crispy
  • Bold Southern flavors that will tantalize your taste buds.
  • Easy weeknight meal--Simple preparation + minimal ingredients
  • crowd-pleasing combination that will have everyone coming back for seconds.
  • Family-friendly (Well, everyone in my family seems to love it, Haha.)
Cooked rigatoni pasta in a pot.

How To Make Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese

Preparing mac and cheese involves 3 essential steps--- Boil the pasta until it's 'al dente---then make the creamy cheese sauce; next, craft a crispy breadcrumb topping and bake to golden perfection.

Ingredients

Here is everything you need to make this Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese:

MAC + CHEESE:

  • Rigatoni pasta. You can also use ANY other pasta shape as desired
  • Unsalted butter. Adds richness and flavor to the cheese sauce.
  • Organic all-purpose flour. Helps thicken the sauce, providing a creamy consistency.
  • Sea salt + black pepper. Enhances the overall flavor.
  • Garlic. Adds a nice strong garlicky taste.
  • Mustard powder. Adds a hint of tanginess.
  • Onion powder. Offers a gentle oniony flavor without the texture of fresh onions.
  • Garlic powder. For an extra subtle garlic flavor.
  • Cajun seasoning. Homemade or store-bought. See my super easy cajun seasoning recipe here.
  • Cayenne pepper. Adds a pop of heat.
  • Almond milk. You can use whole milk or your fave plant-based milk.
  • Cheese. I use freshly shredded or grated Gouda cheese and sharp cheddar cheese (You can also use mild Cheddar).
Mac and cheese in a yellow skillet with a wooden spoon.

TOPPING:

  • Breadcrumbs. Contribute a crispy texture and a delicate, toasty flavor to the dish. You can use homemade or store-bought breadcrumbs!
  • Smoked paprika. This adds a nice subtle smoky flavor.

SHOP MY FAVORITE BAKEWARE ITEMS AND ACCESSORIES FOR THIS MAC + CHEESE!

Here, I’ve curated a list of cooking + baking essentials that I use to achieve my favorite baked goods or cooked meals, especially with this Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese. Everything from my fave dutch pot/oven, wooden spoons, immersion hand-blender, mixing bowls, and more. SEE THEM HERE!

Baked mac and cheese in a yellow skillet with a wooden spoon.

Tips + Tricks For Ultra Delicious Mac + Cheese!

  • Avoid pre-shredded cheeses---Opt for shredding your own cheese instead of relying on pre-shredded varieties from the store. Pre-shredded cheese often contains preservatives and might not melt as smoothly as freshly shredded cheese.
  • Invest in good-quality ingredients--- They can truly elevate the dish! Particularly, opt for high-quality cheese. Using premium ingredients can take your dish from good to gourmet, making a noticeable difference in the final taste.
  • Cook your pasta 'al dente' for that ideal texture--- It'll continue cooking a bit in the oven, so avoid overcooking it initially.

Best Types of Cheese for this Baked White Mac + Cheese with Bacon

Even though this Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese is based on using Gouda + sharp cheddar you can also switch things up and add a new flare to its flavor profile by adding any of the following grated cheeses:

  • Fontina
  • Monterey Jack
  • Mozzarella
  • American cheese
  • Havarti
  • Parmesan cheese
Baked mac and cheese in a yellow skillet with a wooden spoon and forks.

What Can I Add to This Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni?

I like to add some extra texture to creamy dishes like this Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni recipe. While the ingredients in this creamy dish are perfect as is, I wanted to share a few more ideas of ingredients that you can add in case you make this recipe more than once and want to switch things up!

Other ingredient ideas include:

Adding More Protein

If you'd like to add protein to this smoky mac + cheese, it's easy to do, regardless of your diet!

PLANT-BASED PROTEIN OPTIONS:

  • Crispy seared or baked tofu cubes
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Crumbled stir-fried seitan
  • Crumble vegan bacon on top
  • Sautéed cauliflower florets or broccoli
  • Sautéed asparagus, Brussels sprouts, etc.

MEAT-BASED PROTEIN OPTIONS:

If you're a seafood lover, feel free to swap out the chicken for these delightful options!

Two bowls of mac and cheese with drinks on a wood table.

Choosing Your Perfect Pasta

You can use any type of pasta that you like in this Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese recipe. That is what makes this recipe so adaptable!

I love using rigatoni because it does a beautiful job of embracing and holding onto the cheesy sauce. But any of these pasta varieties would work for this dish -

  • Macaroni --For a more traditional feel.
  • Shells
  • Pappardelle
  • Tagliatelle
  • Fettuccine
  • Penne
  • Spirals
  • Ravioli or gnocchi would also go wonderfully with this sauce combo!

I would recommend tossing with tongs to ensure that longer varieties of pasta are fully manageable and fully coated. You can also use gluten-free pasta, whole-wheat pasta, or even zoodles for a low-carb option!

Up close shot of two bowls of mac and cheese with drinks on a wood table.

What To Eat + Serve Baked Smoky Mac + Cheese With?

When it comes to most pasta dishes (including this Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese dish), I often enjoy them with a side of bread of some sort. Most times, I make my own homemade Garlic Bread, however, you can choose to spruce things up with many other options such as:

Here's the thing. This Smoky Mac + Cheese recipe is so delicious and flavorful that you can honestly enjoy it all by itself. Seriously, the tender rigatoni + cheesy creamy sauce with the crispy golden topping is everything! So, feel free to dig in and savor every single bite. It's a dish that stands tall on its own!

Bowl of mac and cheese on a wood table with forks.

What Gives This Mac + Cheese It's Smoky Flavor?

What gives this smoky mac and cheese its signature flavor is a blend of smoked paprika and Cajun seasoning that brings richness + depth. And for an extra punch of smokiness, you can always add a splash of liquid smoke.

Common Q + A's For Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni

How to store smoky baked mac + cheese?

Leftovers can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and reheated when ready to serve. To reheat, simply heat in the oven for the best results or microwave for a minute or two until heated through. 

Can I use another flour to thicken the sauce?

Yes! If you don’t want to use all-purpose flour, feel free to substitute with regular starch like arrowroot starch, or tapioca flour, which all act as a thickening agent.

How to make this mac and cheese recipe gluten-free?

To ensure that this recipe is GF, be sure to use GF-friendly pasta, breadcrumbs, and flour.

Can I make this mac and cheese recipe vegan?

Absolutely! To make this Mac + Cheese vegan, simply substitute cheeses with dairy-free shreds and use vegan butter. Also, check out my Vegan Mac + Cheese recipe.

More Deliciously Cheesy Recipes to Try

If you are a fan of this Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni, then you will also love these cheesy recipes for the entire family:

MADE OUR RECIPE(S)?

If you tried this Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni recipe or any other recipe on my website, please please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how you go in the 📝 comments below. And don't forget to tag @orchidsnsweettea_ on Instagram and hashtag it #orchidsandsweettea! I love hearing from you!

Bowl of mac and cheese on a wood table with forks.

Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni 

May 17, 2024
5 from 1 vote
Ultra creamy, cheesy + bursting with flavor, our Smoked Baked Mac + Cheese Rigatoni is an instant crowd-pleaser. This irresistible dish features tender rigatoni pasta enveloped in a velvety, smoky cheese sauce, baked to golden perfection. It makes the perfect side dish or main meal that everyone will go crazy for! Gluten-free + Vegan Option.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Serves: 6 servings

Ingredients

MAC + CHEESE:

  • 1 (16 oz.) package rigatoni pasta, organic (You can also use ANY other pasta shape as desired)
  • 2 Tbsps unsalted butter
  • 4 Tbsps organic all-purpose flour
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cajun seasoning, homemade or store-bought
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsps mustard powder
  • 2 cups Almond milk, unsweetened (You can use whole milk or your fave plant-based milk)
  • 1 ½ cups Gouda cheese, shredded or grated
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (You can also use mild Cheddar)

TOPPING:

  • 1 cup breadcrumbs, homemade or store-bought
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

BOIL THE PASTA:

  • Cook pasta according to packaging. NOTE: rigatoni pasta doesn’t take a long time to cook, usually 10-13 minutes. NOTE: I always add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the boiling water to prevent pasta from sticking together. Drain and set aside.

MAKE THE MAC + CHEESE:

  • In a large deep skillet (oven-safe) over medium-high heat, add butter and let it melt. Once melted, add flour, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cajun seasoning, mustard powder, and cayenne, whisking until combined and "paste-like".
  • Slowly pour in the milk, whisking frequently until lump-free, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add in the Gouda and sharp cheddar, stirring (using a wood spoon or spatula) until fully melted and smooth, about 4-5 minutes.
  • Add in the cooled rigatoni and stir together until well coated, combined, and creamy!

TO MAKE THE TOPPING:

  • In a bowl, add the breadcrumbs and smoked paprika, stirring to combine.

ASSEMBLE + BAKE:

  • Evenly spread the breadcrumb topping atop the mac + cheese until covered.
  • Bake on the center rack for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown, the sides are bubbly, and the mac and cheese center has set. Remove from oven and serve immediately.
  • Bon Appetit!

Tips & Tricks

  • STORAGE: Leftovers can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and reheated when ready to serve. To re-heat, simply heat in the oven for the best results or microwave for a minute or two until heated through. 
  • FLOUR: If you don’t want to use all-purpose flour, feel free to substitute with regular starch or arrowroot starch, tapioca flour, which all act as a thickening agent.
  • VEGAN OPTION: To make this Mac + Cheese vegan, simply substitute cheeses with dairy-free shreds and use vegan butter. Also, check out my Vegan Mac + Cheese recipe.
  • GLUTEN-FREE OPTION: To ensure that this recipe is GF, be sure to use GF-friendly pasta, breadcrumbs, and flour.

Nutrition

Calories: 206kcal | Carbohydrates: 21g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 29mg | Sodium: 523mg | Potassium: 58mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 704IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 243mg | Iron: 2mg

DID YOU MAKE THIS recipe?

Tag @orchidsnsweettea_ on Instagram and hashtag it #orchidsandsweettea

Xx, Shanika in script writing

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  1. I made this yesterday and let me tell you…my coworkers smelt it when I warmed it in the microwave for lunch.. let’s just say you got some new believers!! I served this mac n cheese with some wings and it was crazy!!

    • Hi James! Wow---that makes me so happy! Thanks so much for giving it a try! 🙂

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