How to Make the Ultimate Holiday BBQ Mac and Cheese

"This is a great dish to make during the winter, especially the holidays, since it can feed a crowd and tastes great the next day."
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Lewis Barbecue Mac and Cheese (2)

It's too easy to love mac and cheese, whether it's infused with queso fundido or bolstered with bacon bits. This take on elbow macaroni coated in delightfully gooey melted cheese comes from John Lewis, pitmaster of Lewis Barbecue in Charleston, South Carolina. This elite meat maestro has been professionally active for over a decade, having honed his skills on the competition BBQ circuit and previously launched the revered "La Barbecue" in Austin before moving to the Holy City. 

"For me, mac and cheese is the perfect side dish for barbecue. It’s such a nostalgic, comforting dish and right about now, I think everyone could use a little comfort so it’s been super popular as a to-go order," he says. "What makes our version stand out is the balance between the crunchy exterior and really creamy, decadent interior. We achieve that by adding xanthan gum, which helps thicken the sauce, and the EZ Melt make sure the dish is extra cheesy."

"This is a great dish to make during the winter, especially the holidays, since it can feed a crowd and tastes great the next day," Lewis adds. "Don’t worry if the mixture looks too saucy before you bake it, that’s good. It’ll firm up in the oven."

Lewis Barbecue Mac and Cheese

Yields 10-15 Side Portions

Lewis Barbecue Mac and Cheese (1)
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 4 tablespoon butter
  • 1.5 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1.5 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • .5 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Scant teaspoon nutmeg, fresh grated (if using pre-ground, use a light pinch)
  • 1 pound mild white cheddar, shredded |
  • 1 pound white EZ-Melt cheese, shredded
  • 1 pound elbow pasta
  • 1 cup mild white cheddar, shredded

Method

  1. Combine whole milk, evaporated milk and butter in a heavy bottom pot, at least 1 gallon capacity. Gently heat the milk on very low heat to just warm.
  2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
  3. Combine sea salt, xanthan gum, mustard powder, cayenne, and nutmeg in a bowl. Mix with your hands until well dispersed.
  4. In a blender, blend dry spices into warm milk. The mixture will be thickened after 15-30 seconds.
  5. Return thickened milk to the pot. Add 1 pound shredded mild white cheddar, 1 pound shredded white EZ-Melt cheese to warm, thickened milk. Fold together using a rubber spatula. The cheese will begin to soften.
  6. Add elbow pasta to boiling, salted water. Boil for 11 minutes and drain. Immediately add hot, drained pasta to the cheese sauce. Using a rubber spatula, fold together until homogenous.
  7. The mixture will look sauce heavy at first. Let rest for 10-20 minutes and allow the pasta to complete hydration in the cheese sauce.
  8. Transfer mac and cheese to desired baking tray and top with mild white cheddar. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or until cheese develops golden brown color.