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Smoky Air Fryer Mac and Cheese

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This ultra-creamy mac and cheese recipe is made right in your air fryer — no boiling required! Smoked gouda and paprika give it a fantastic smokey flavor that really takes it to the next level. If you love homemade macaroni and cheese, you’re going to flip for this recipe!

Overhead view of smoked mac and cheese in a grey bowl.

The Easiest Smoked Mac and Cheese You’ll Ever Make

We’ve been getting caught up on The Great American Recipe, and I’ve been so inspired by the contestants’ creativity.

In the first episode, one of the contestants, Bambi, made a smoked mac and cheese recipe that had me absolutely drooling. I knew I had to make something similar right away, but adapted to be even easier. You can find her original recipe here.

Did you know you can make macaroni and cheese in the air fryer? I know, I can hardly believe it myself. I came up with this technique when I was writing my air fryer cookbook and I’ve made it so many times since then. It’s absolutely foolproof and so effortless.

This particular recipe uses smoked gouda and paprika: two ingredients that are so flavorful they don’t need much else to shine through in the dish. The result is super creamy and rich, and it works as either a side dish or main course!

Plus, it only takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, so you can knock this one out before your next Netflix binge.

What you’ll love about this easy macaroni and cheese recipe


  • 30 minute recipe: You don’t even need to wait for a pot of water to boil.
  • Simple: This recipe has just 7 ingredients, but the smoked gouda and paprika add an extra layer of flavor that will make you feel like you’re eating at your favorite restaurant.
  • SO CREAMY: This dish is SO creamy, it’s guaranteed to satisfy any craving for comfort food

Ingredients for smoked air fryer mac and cheese with gouda.

Ingredients You’ll Need

Pasta. When it comes to mac and cheese, elbow macaroni is classic! These little noodles are the perfect size and shape for holding onto the creamy sauce, plus they cook quickly. I haven’t tried this recipe with other pasta shapes.

Milk and Heavy Cream. A combination of milk and cream give the cheese sauce it’s super creamy texture.

Smoked gouda. I use a generous amount of smoked gouda in this recipe. It melts really well and gives the mac an amazing smokey flavor without having to use an actual smoker.

Shredded cheese. You can use a bag of your favorite cheese here. I usually go for a Mexican blend with sharp cheddar, Colby jack, and queso quesadilla. The starches that coat pre-shredded cheese help the sauce thicken, so you don’t need to mess around with making a roux. You have to love when a convenient shortcut actually works in your favor!

Dijon mustard. Adds the perfect touch of acid to the recipe and keeps it from tasting flat. You can use dry mustard if you prefer; just whisk it into the milk and cream mixture.

Smoked paprika. For even more smoky flavor, plus that classic orange color.

You’ll also need a small cake pan that fits inside of your air fryer basket. I used this 7-inch pan, which worked perfectly. (DO NOT use a pan with a removable bottom, I tried and ended up with a floor full of milk.)

Elbow macaroni noodles in a cake pan.
Adding the mustard and smoked paprika.
Topping the noodles with milk and cheese.
Mixing it up and putting it in the air fryer basket.

How to make air fryer mac and cheese

Add all of the ingredients to your pan, stirring well and ensuring that the dry pasta is completely submerged by liquid.

Air Fry for 20 minutes. Stir after 10 minutes to keep the top layer of cheese from browning too quickly.

Let it rest for 5 minutes. When the cooking time is up, the pasta will be very al dente and the sauce will look greasy, soupy, and broken. That’s ok! Give it a good stir and let it sit for 5 minutes, it will thicken into a beautifully velvety sauce and the residual heat will continue to soften the pasta.

Air fryer mac and cheese before mixing.
Air fryer mac and cheese after stirring.

FAQs

Can I reheat leftovers?

Yes! Store your leftover macaroni and cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. You can reheat in the air fryer for 5 minutes, or pop it into the microwave for 2-3 minutes or until warmed through.

Can I freeze this recipe?

This mac and cheese freezes really well! You can keep it in the freezer for about 6 months.

Can I prep it ahead?

I don’t recommend assembling the ingredients until you’re ready to cook them. Letting the pasta sit in the cream mixture too long before cooking can make it gummy. If you need to get a jump on things, you can mix everything except the macaroni and keep it in the refrigerator. Then mix in the macaroni when you’re ready to cook it.

Can I make this macaroni and cheese in the oven?

If you don’t have an air fryer yet, I highly recommend getting one ASAP—they’re great for all kinds of things like veggies, chicken, and yes, even pasta! But if you want to make this recipe in the oven, just arrange the ingredients in the oven safe dish (make sure the macaroni is fully submerged) and bake at 350ºF for 50 minutes.ish. 

What is the texture of this mac and cheese like?

Despite being “baked” in and sir fryer, this recipe has a creamy texture that’s more like stove top mac and cheese. If you prefer a more traditional baked texture, reserve 1/4 of the cheese. 5 minutes before the cooking process is done, sprinkle the pasta with 1/4 cup of panko breadcrumbs and the remaining cheese.

More one pot pasta recipes:

More air fryer recipes:

Closeup of a bowl of gouda mac and cheese.

Smoky Air Fryer Mac and Cheese

This air fryer mac and cheese is perfect for those nights when you want an easy comfort food meal that feels indulgent. This recipe calls for smoked Gouda cheese and paprika, which gives the dish a signature smokey flavor that makes it extra special.
5
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Rest TIme 5 mins
Total Time 35 mins
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 4 servings
Calories 663 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 ½ cups elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese blend
  • 4 ounces smoked gouda shredded
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • black pepper for serving

Instructions
 

  • Add the Pasta, milk, cream, cheeses, mustard, and paprika to a cake pan the fit in your air fryer. Mix well, ensuring the pasta is fully submerged.
  • Air fry at 340ºF for 10 minutes. Give the macaroni a good stir, then cook for another 10 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente (the cheese sauce will look greasy and broken, that's ok).
  • Remove the pan from the air fryer and give the macaroni a good stir to incorporate it into the sauce. Let it stand for 5 minutes; the sauce will thicken as it cools.
  • Season to taste with black pepper.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 663kcalCarbohydrates: 70gProtein: 25gFat: 33gSaturated Fat: 19gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 102mgSodium: 512mgPotassium: 189mgFiber: 2gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 1227IUVitamin C: 0.2mgCalcium: 495mgIron: 1mg
Love this recipe?Mention @TheBusyFoodieLauren or tag #busyfoodie!
By on September 6th, 2022
lauren

Hi, I'm Lauren!

I love to cook -- but even more importantly, I really like to eat! I have a demanding day job that keeps me busy, so time is precious. I'm a culinary school graduate and five-time cookbook author who's all about finding ways to make delicious, restaurant-quality meals at home on a tight schedule. Read more...

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