When it comes to comfort food, it doesn’t get much better than creamy macaroni and cheese. This easy Dutch oven mac and cheese is incredibly creamy but also loaded with rich umami flavors for a more adult spin on everyone’s favorite side dish. Made in cast iron, with pasta boiled ahead of time, it’s a perfect recipe for a camping trip or just because.
When it comes to cooking over a campfire, it’s easy to get carried away. Too many ingredients or prep work can make it stressful when the whole point of camping is to get outside and relax.
When planning a camp menu, we like to work in shortcuts and quick fixes but aren’t willing to give up delicious flavors.
This macaroni and cheese relies on easy hacks to quicken cook time. And bold rich flavors to create a savory dutch oven recipe. It’s so good it feels like it came right out of a steakhouse. This isn’t a mild kid-friendly dish, it’s made with beer and umami powder for palettes who love deeper flavor.
Why you’ll love it
Cooking in a Dutch oven creates even heat while also holding it in, keeping food warmer longer. It’s easy to clean afterward and can be used over a campfire, on a gas range, or in the oven. The versatility of cast iron makes it hard to beat and our preferred type of pot and pan. And because of its ease, this recipe only uses one dish for minimal clean-up.
For this easy mac and cheese, we’re making a quick roux and go for big bold flavors with a three cheese selection. Cheddar for sharpness, smoked gruyere for rich nuttiness, and provolone or Monterey jack cheese because they melt smooth and add that creamy texture.
Using beer instead of broth, along with the mushroom powder and espresso blend, the flavors become a rich and earthy creamy sauce, which mixes with the melted cheese and hearty pasta. We love our macaroni noodles covered in lots of sauce for an indulgent meal. As a rule, we recommend whisking in a little of the liquid at a time so that the cheese mixture is as thick or thin as you like.
- Milk – use whole milk, heavy cream or half and half for best results.
- Sharp cheddar cheese
- Smoked gruyere cheese
- Provolone or Monterey jack cheese
- Umami powder – GirlCarnivore Ooomami, a blended mushroom powder with a hit of chili for heat
- Espresso powder spice blend – any coffee spice blend, we recommend Coffee Junkie.
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Pasta, pre-cooked to al dente. Use whatever pasta you like, elbow noodles, shells, and the corkscrew-shaped Cavatappi, or fussili grip cheese for a better coating.
- Beer – marzen of amber lager
How to make:
- If you’re making this campfire mac and cheese recipe, start with a good even heat campfire in the fire pit. Trying to cook over embers that aren’t yet ready and are producing dark smoke can cause food to taste acidic and overly smoky. Wait until the embers have ashed over and there are no high flames before starting to cook.
- Preheat the cast iron dutch oven above the campfire on the cooler side of the grill grate, melt the butter and whisk in the flour to make a roux.
- Add in the milk to create the base, making sure to whisk the entire time to as the roux thickens without forming any clumps.
- Add in the salt, pepper, and seasonings and whisk to combine.
- Fold in the pasta to coat it and then start adding the cheese, a little at a time to melt, alternating with the beer to thin out, adding more or less beer for thinner or thicker consistency.
- Allow all of the cheese to melt and remove the Dutch oven from heat.
- The Dutch oven will hold the heat, keeping everything warm while serving.
Because we use umami power and espresso, we gave this recipe the nickname, “dirty mac” around our campfire.
- Don’t let the pasta sit in the Dutch oven over the campfire or direct without stirring as it can burn and stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Shortcut your cooking time by boiling the pasta ahead of time. Boil it to al dente according to the package directions. Toss it with a touch of oil to prevent sticking and let the pasta cool once drained, and then store it in a ziplock bag in the fridge or cooler until ready to use. It can be made up to 3 days in advance.
- Pre-shredded cheese vs. shredding it yourself. We love shredding our own cheese and feel it melts better, but for a quick camp recipe hack, buy pre-shredded and use it. Or, before you leave for the trip, shred the cheese, and store it in a resealable bag to make this recipe easier and less clean up.
- Use whatever different types of cheese you like for the cheesy sauce. But make sure a good melting cheese, like pepper jack, fontina, or mozzarella cheese, is in there to coat the pasta along with bold flavors. We even love Velveeta in our mac n cheese. Whatever you do, don’t skimp. This is stick-to-your-ribs ultimate comfort food.
- Skip the roux and use cream cheese over the pasta on lower heat with added milk to create the base of the cheese sauce. Once the cream cheese is melted and the sauce is made, fold in the shredded cheeses.
- To make this creamy mac kid-friendly, skip the mushroom powder and simply season the roux with garlic and onion powder. The alcohol in the beer cooks out, but if you want a more mild flavor, use chicken broth.
What to serve with this creamy Dutch oven mac and cheese
This dish is hearty enough on its own, but we love pairing it with an easily grilled Kansas city strip steak or grilled bavette steak; it’s also great with Traeger 3-2-1, smoked meatloaf, or smoked chicken thighs.
For side dishes, it’s great with a fresh salad, smoked brussels sprouts, and roasted cabbage.
What to add to Mac and Cheese to make it a main dish
- Mushrooms – use a blend of chopped sauteed portabellas, baby bellas, and your other favorites to add more ‘meatiness’ to this recipe
- Cooked Sausage or ground sausage
- Hot dogs (don’t judge)
- Spinach or arugula
- Chopped chicken
- Minced jalapenos
- Pulled pork
- Leftover steak, shredded beef, or prime rib cut up.
Sure, you could cook this ahead of time. Simply follow the directions to cook on the stovetop and reheat as desired. This cast iron mac and cheese can be made up to 3 days ahead.
Yes, you can bake this cheesy macaroni in the oven. To do that, we recommend using a cast iron skillet for baking the dish for an even crust on the golden brown top layer. Alternatively, you could make smoked mac and cheese in a cast iron skillet and get that smoky flavor! If the top is browning too quickly, simply cover with tin foil and cook until the sauce is bubbling.
Sure thing, if you are using a gas range, make this as directed above on the stove top. If using an electric range, we advise only using pots and pans recommended by the manufacturer.
How to store leftovers
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge or a cooler on ice for up to 3 days.
This mac and cheese can be frozen and stored for up to 3 months. Store in smaller containers to make reheating single portions easy, or store in one large container to reheat and feed a family!
Use up leftovers creatively by trying this bacon-wrapped smoked fatty; a smoked sausage log with this as the filling. Or, making fun deep fried mac and cheese (which is another great Dutch oven recipe)!
How to reheat
Reheat individual portions, as needed, in small bursts in the microwave with a splash of milk or water.
If reheating over the campfire, return the macaroni and cheese to the Dutch oven with a splash of water, a tablespoon or two of butter, beer, or milk, stirring as needed, until heated through.
More Dutch oven camping recipes
Dutch Oven Mac and Cheese Recipe
- dutch oven
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1 cup Milk
- 1 tbsp umami powder GirlCarnivore Ooomami
- 1 tbsp espresso powder spice blend we recommend Coffee Junkie
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 8 cups Pasta pre-cooked to al dente
- 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese
- 8 oz smoked gruyere cheese
- 4 oz provolone or monterey jack cheese
- 12 oz beer marzen of amber lager
Preheat the Dutch Oven
- Set a large dutch oven over the grill grate of a fire pit that has even burning embers that have preheated for cooking and allow to pot pre-heat.
Make the Sauce
- Melt the butter in the Dutch oven and whisk in the flour; stirring to form a roux.2 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp flour
- Slowely, while whisking constantly, pour in the milk. Let the mixture thicken, about 3 to 5 minutes, while whisking over low to medium low heat.1 cup Milk
- Season with the umami powder, espresso power, salt and pepper; stir to combine.1 tbsp umami powder, 1 tbsp espresso powder spice blend, Kosher salt, Black pepper
- Fold in the pasta and toss to coat.8 cups Pasta
Fold in the cheese
- Start adding in the cheese, a little at a time, alternating with the beer. Allow the cheese to melt and sauce to thicken between each addition.8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, 8 oz smoked gruyere cheese, 4 oz provolone or monterey jack cheese
- Add beer a little at a time to thin out the sauce.12 oz beer
- Carefully remove the Dutch oven from the heat and allow the homemade mac and cheese to cool 5 minutes before dishing out.
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I’m always looking for more camping recipes and this looks perfect!
Thanks, Jenny! We hope to see it when you give it a try – we’re always excited about camping trips!