A deliciously rich and creamy, smoke infused bacon cauliflower low carb mac and cheese recipe. The perfect comfort food side dish made on the grill that everyone can indulge in!
There are a lot of cauliflower recipes here at Bon Appeteach. But if you had asked me not even three years ago to eat let alone go anywhere near cauliflower I would have probably given you the stink eye.
It’s taken me a few years to learn to enjoy, appreciate, and dare I say love a good low carb cauliflower dish. But if my own personal testament from being a previous cauliflower hater into a full on cauliflower lifestyle embracer doesn’t convince you to make this side dish, then nothing will.
While I feel confident in mastering a delicious cauliflower rice or even cauliflower mash, I know this one is definitely my favorite cauliflower based recipe here (um hello cheese and bacon, duh). Not to mention it fits a gluten free and keto diet as well.
It truly makes the perfect side dish (or main dish) for a week of meal prep as well as, sharing with the family at your next BBQ or gather. The flavor from the grill/ smoker just takes this bacon cauliflower mac and cheese recipe to the next level and will have everyone going back for seconds. It’s that good!
Grab the full recipe below but read through for all the help tips and techniques from prepping and partially cooking your cauliflower, setting up your smoker, alternatives for ingredients, and ways to cook this even if you don’t have a grill. Let’s dive in!
- Knife and Cutting Board
- Small Bowl
- Cheese Grater
- 9 inch Baking Dish/ Cast Iron Skillet/ Foil Pan (for smoking)
Let’s go over everything you need to know before you get started or to help answer any questions you may have along the way. Here are some helpful insights into cooking with cauliflower and the best way to make a gluten free, keto friendly cheese sauce too!
- Cauliflower – Use a whole head of cauliflower for this recipe. Fresh is the way to go, none of that frozen stuff here people!
- Olive Oil – Feel free to sub with any other oil you prefer.
- Smoky Paprika – Love the addition of a smoky paprika to this sauce. It helps play up the already delicious smokiness you get but feel free to add other spices like this keto all purpose BBQ rub too.
- Salt and Pepper- Seasoning for the cauliflower and for the sauce.
- Heavy Cream- I use this for the base of the sauce. While low carb it is high fat! If you want to reduce the calories a bit you can swap with half and half, stock of choice, or honesty… low carb beer works amazing too. Beer cheese in the cauliflower mac? I don’t hate it!
- Cream Cheese- Works really well to thicken the sauce and is an easy to obtain ingredient!
- Cheddar Cheese- Grate your own cheddar cheese. This is a must! Use any cheddar you like.
- Gouda Cheese- This adds a nice flavor profile and a little smokiness as well.
- Bacon- I use about 8 slices of cooked bacon for this recipe. Sub with turkey bacon, ham slices, or omit if vegetarian.
This recipe works best when you plan and prep ahead. It’s honestly a simple dish, but take your time and get the ingredients ready before you begin cooking for the best result.
The Grill/ Smoker-
Part of the preparation is getting your grill preheated. You will need to utilize both direct heat and then indirect heat with your grill. I work with a temperature of around 300 F. for both. Set up whatever grill you plan on using (starting with direct heat).
What if I don’t have a smoker? You could choose to use a gas grill or just simply roast the cauliflower in your preheated oven instead. It won’t have the smoke infused flavor but it will still be incredibly delicious!
The Cheese and Bacon-
I cannot recommend to you enough that you grate your own cheese! It is a critical component to having a nice, cohesive cheese sauce in this recipe. Pre-shredded cheese has additives to prevent the cheese in the package from clumping and sticking, thus preventing it from melting nicely into your sauce. I use a combo of cheddar and gouda. You can swap it out however you like to your desire.
Pre-cook your bacon ahead of time as well. I prefer to bake mine to render out the fat. You can also fry it up in a pan and discard the extra fat. Cut the bacon into bit size pieces and set it aside.
Make Cauliflower Steaks-
Start by removing the stems and leaves from the cauliflower. Make cauliflower “steaks” by slicing the head into 4-5 one inch thick pieces. Sometimes the pieces crumble a bit or may fall into bigger chunks, that’s ok! You just want them big enough to grill and not fall through the grates.
Oil up your pieces thoroughly. Then take your salt, pepper, and paprika blend and season everything on all sides. Leave about one teaspoon of the spices aside for the sauce.
Why is cauliflower mac and cheese watery?
Because you probably steamed it or used boiling water in the past! That water is the reason why it is watery!!! Roasting and in this case grilling, makes all the difference here. Dry heat methods will be your best friend when working with cauliflower.
Place your cauliflower steaks onto the grill over direct heat (medium high heat works). I sear each side for 2-3 minutes as needed. You want a little char and some color on the steaks and for them to be tender but still al dente. Remove from the grill and dice into smaller, bite size pieces.
Easy Three Ingredient Cheese Sauce:
This cheese sauce is ridiculously simple and made of three basic ingredients- heavy cream, cream cheese, and your shredded cheese.
Start with a saucepan over medium heat and add your cream. Be sure to whisk continuously so it doesn’t scorch. Add in softened cream cheese and whisk until it’s fully blended and incorporated into the mixture. You may notice very small lumps of cream cheese in the sauce, that’s ok! Season with salt, pepper, and paprika that remains.
Reduce the heat to low before adding the cheese. Add small handfuls of the shredded cheese at a time and whisk each handful in fully before adding the next. I do this until I have about 3 tablespoons of cheese left (reserved for the top).
Mix in the diced cauliflower pieces and diced bacon (reserve one piece of bacon for the top). Once it’s folded into the mixture add it to preferred pan for smoking. I used a 9 inch ceramic pan, but foil pans or cast iron work great too. Top with the remaining cheese and bacon bits.
Tips For Smoking:
- Set the grill for indirect heat at 300 F.
- Use a lighter wood for smoking. Anything too powder (hickory or mesquite) will over power the sauce.
- The cauliflower is already partially cooked, so you should only need to smoke for about 30 minutes or so or until it is bubbly and golden brown.
- If you like to add texture to the top, sometimes people like to add pork rind crumbs or a sprinkle of almond flour. If you’re not keto try adding crumbled butter crackers to the top too. I left mine as is!
Remove the smoke cauliflower mac from the grill and let it sit 5-10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh herbs for color!
This recipe is perfect for meal prepping or serving up with my popular smoked BBQ recipes like:
Grilled Cauliflower Bacon Mac and Cheese
- 1 Head of Cauliflower
- 2 tbsp. Olive Oil
- 2 tsp Fine Sea Salt
- 2 tsp Fresh Cracked Pepper
- 1 tbsp. Smoky Paprika
- 1 1/4 cup Heavy Cream
- 8 oz. Cream Cheese
- 4 oz. Cheddar Cheese grated
- 4 0 z. Gouda grated
- 8 slices Bacon crumbled
- Preheat your grill to 300 F. You will need direct heat first before smoking, so wait to set it for indirect heat.
- Prep your ingredients to start. Pre-cook your bacon as desired, grate both your cheeses, and mix the spices in a bowl and set it aside.
- Take your cauliflower and remove the leaves but leave the stem base intact. Slice the cauliflower into 4-5 thick, 1 inch slices (aka cauliflower steaks). Some pieces may fall apart into slightly larger chunks. That’s ok.
- Season the cauliflower first by oiling both sides, then sprinkle on the seasoning. NOTE: You want at least a teaspoon left of the seasoning reserved for your sauce.
- Place the cauliflower steaks over direct heat on your grill. This process helps partially cook them and infuses them with way more flavor. Close the lid of your grill and cook them 2-3 minutes per side. They should be tender but not too soft.
- Remove the cauliflower steaks from the heat and chop them into pieces. Set it aside.
- In a ceramic saucepan over medium low heat, add your heavy cream. Add in the softened cream cheese (works best if it’s very soft already) and whisk it into the cream. It should completely mix in, though you might see very tiny pieces in the cream. That’s ok!
- Season this mixture with the remaining seasoning left. Then fully reduce the heat to low.
- Take small handfuls of your grated cheese and whisk it in. Do a little at a time and whisk until each handful is fully incorporated and melts into the mixture. Repeat until all but a small handful of cheese is mixed in (I like to add a little to the top to get golden brown).
- Add your diced cauliflower pieces into the sauce and fold it in. Add in the crispy bacon pieces (optional – reserve a small amount to sprinkle over the top as well).
- Transfer the mixture to the desired pan you wish to smoke the cauliflower mac in. A 9 inch cast iron or ceramic pan works great as do other casserole dishes or foil pans. Top with the little bit of remaining shredded cheese and bacon pieces.
- Smoke at 300 F. for 30-40 minutes. The top should set and melt and the sides will bubble when it’s done. Use lighter wood for smoking so it’s not too overpowering as well.
- Remove from the heat and garnish with fresh herbs. Let it sit 5-10 minutes to cool slightly and serve.