Smoked Tri Tip Mac and Cheese is cooked on the grill with perfectly smoked and tender tri tip, mixed with an ultra creamy cheese sauce.
It is sure to up your mac and cheese game… by about a million percent.
Mac & Cheese Recipe Inspiration
If a winery could be my spirit animal it might be Barton Family Winery and Grey Wolf Cellars in the Paso Robles Wine Region. In addition to a wide range of tasty wines, they offer a casual and friendly environment, plus they’re family AND dog friendly! 👩👧👦🐩👪 (something that is important to me as we frequently travel with our children and I want them growing up understanding wine is not just an alcoholic beverage, but a culture).
But the bigger connection I found with this winery is their Barton’s Kitchen Widow, a sort of built-in, casual, food cart style restaurant, offering some killer smoked meals you can pair with their wines.
It’s very similar to the philosophy behind Ember and Vine, our own wood-fired wine country catering company, which is why I connected so quickly with this place.
Good wine + BBQ inspired food and wine pairings + family friendly + great people = my idea of a great overall hospitality experience.
And that’s what you get when you visit Barton Family Winery and Grey Wolf Cellars and their Kitchen Window as I experienced on a press trip last year.
I also found my dream mac and cheese. You see, Chef Jeffry (the chef behind the Kitchen Window) is also a mac and cheese master, and has won awards left and right for his creative concoctions. This one was called Paso Mac & CheeseSteak, which included a roasted garlic-provolone cheese sauce, smoked tri-tip, sautéed peppers & onions, tossed with mini shell pasta.
I knew the moment I took my first bite that we had to re-create it.
Our Version- Smoked Tri Tip Mac & Cheese on the Grill
I couldn’t remember the exact cheese blend Jeffry used (and you know I fo-sho asked him!), but I do remember him saying he makes the cheese sauce so creamy and extra liquidy, so liquidy that you question yourself before going in to bake. So don’t question it! That’s how it gets so indulgently creamy after it’s baked. Some of that liquid will evaporate, and some will soak into the pasta.
Our version is pretty simplified from his. We used just two cheeses (I’m pretty sure I remember him saying he used four or five?). And we stuck to red bell peppers instead of going for that full cheesesteak onion-pepper-provolone inspiration. And you know we had to add a smoked Tri Tip for an extra layer of unbelievable flavor!
You guys. It. Is. Insane!
What Pasta to Use
Speaking of pasta, this is obviously not macaroni, as the name “mac & cheese” would suggest. Instead we use the shell pasta to better get pools of that rich cheese sauce in the shell pockets, so that each bite bursts with that heavenly cheese blend. (Inspired by Jeffry, Genius!)
You will cook the shells to an al dente and set them aside until you are ready to mix everything together and cook on the grill.
How to Smoke Your Tri Tip on the Grill
We used a kettle grill for this to show that you don’t need a fancy smoker to get great smoked tri tip. Simply prepare your grill for indirect cooking, and add some wood chunks into your coals. Simple.
Prep your tri tip simply by rubbing it in a salt/pepper/garlic powder blend. Smoke it at 250 for about an hour (or until 135 IT). We are cooking it more to medium because we are adding into the mac and cheese. A rare steak would be a little too tender. When it’s done, let it cool enough to handle, then cut about 1 ½ heaping cups full of the smoked brisket into small bites. This will get mixed into your cheese sauce.
Cheese Sauce for Smoked Tri Tip Mac & Cheese on the Grill
For richness we started with a standard béchamel sauce, and added creme fraiche, which added so much richness. Then I added about a cup more milk than what’s called for in most other mac and cheese recipes. I took Jeffry’s advice for adding much more liquid than you think you’ll need.
To get the maximum cheesiness we use sharp cheddar for flavor and color and Gruyère for more incredible flavor, and because it melts so ridiculously well.
Gruyère ain’t cheap! But it’s so worth it for this indulgent, smoky, creamy, mac and cheese.
I know it may seem like a lot of work to go through for Mac and Cheese, but it’s so worth it!
This is the mac and cheese I’ve been looking for all my life. So extra creamy and rich, with that gorgeous smoked tri tip!
- 1 (1 1/2 -2 lb) Tri Tip
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons salt, pepper, garlic powder, equal parts of each, mixed together. Combine and use to coat the meat.
- 12 oz macaroni or shell noodles, approximately 4 cups, but will vary based on the size and thickness of your noodles. In this picture we specifically used a thick shell.
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped into small pieces
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk, we use 2%
- 1 cup crème fraîche
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, grated
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 1/2 cups gruyère cheese, grated
- 1 1/2 heaping cups smoked (cooked) tri tip, cut into small bite-size pieces
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
Prep smoker to 250 degrees (F)
Trim any excess fat or silver skin. Coat with olive oil and generously coat with dry rub (dry rub is equal parts salt/pepper/garlic powder.
Place on smoker, over indirect heat, until 135 degrees F internal temperature. Roughly 1 hour. Remove and let sit 20 minutes, until cool enough to handle.
Cut into small bite size pieces and reserve 1 1/2 cups for the mac and cheese. Feel free to much on the rest 😉
Prepare noodles according to package instructions, draining them when they are still slightly firm (al dente). Set aside.
In a large saucepan or oven proof skillet (like a large 9" cast iron skillet like you see in the photos) set to medium heat add 1 tablespoon of olive oil (just enough to coat the pan), and add the chopped red bell pepper. Cook until soft (about 5 minutes). Remove the bell pepper from the pan.
Add butter and flour and whisk together for 1-2 minutes.
Add milk, whisk together a and let thicken (about 4 minutes), stirring consistently.
Add the crème fraîche, mix. Next add the nutmeg, Dijon mustard, salt, and the cheese and mix to combine. Once the cheeses have melted add in the cooked bell pepper, and 1 1/2 cups of the smoked tri tip, and the noodles. Transfer to baking dish (or if using cast iron, leave it in there). Top with breading mixture.
Increase grill temperature to 350 degrees prepped for indirect cooking.
Place the skillet directly on the grill, over indirect cooking, and cook 20 minutes. (Alternatively you can cook this in the oven set to 350 degrees as well). Remove and serve.
Note: We intended this recipe to be cooked on a smoker or grill. The instructions and video show a kettle grill, set to indirect cooking, with wood chunks mixed with charcoal.
You can cook the Mac and cheese directly on your smoker or grill, or you can do this part in the oven. Since we use the grill to smoke the tri tip, it's easier to keep using it for the Mac and cheese. But if you want to skip this part and cook it in the oven that's fine. The dish won't take on much more smokiness during this part of the cooking process.
And if you should find yourself in Paso Robles, go check out the folks that inspired this recipe and try their version.
- Barton’s Kitchen Window is open Thursday through Monday, 12pm – 4pm.
It’s incredible. And to top it off you’ll get this view!
THE VIDEO FOR SMOKED TRI TIP MAC AND CHEESE
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