Be it a get together or a Sunday dinner, these smoked au gratin potatoes are a great side dish that won’t stay on the table for long. A great alternative to mashed potatoes, this classic dish of thinly sliced potatoes layered with a creamy cheese sauce is so delicious, hearty, and comforting that you’ll want another serving as soon as you finish the first one.
While traditional au gratin potatoes are made in an oven, it’s your trusty smoker that adds a lot of depth and complexity to the already rich, creamy, and cheesy potatoes. Cooked low and slow in the smoker, the potatoes absorb all the smoke flavors and become incredibly tender, making for some seriously irresistible comfort food. Plus, the crispy, golden brown crust on top adds a satisfying crunch to every bite.
What does au gratin mean?
Au gratin is a French culinary term that refers to a dish that is topped with cheese and/or breadcrumbs and then baked until it forms a crispy crust. In my version, I’m using grated cheese on top to achieve that perfect golden brown cheesy crust while still keeping the gooey, cheesy goodness underneath.
Au gratin potatoes vs scalloped potatoes
While both involve layers of thin potato slices and creamy sauce, the main difference between au gratin potatoes and scalloped potatoes is the addition of cheese. In traditional au gratin potatoes, cheese is sprinkled in between each layer as well as on top, giving it a richer flavor and a golden brown crust on top.
Another ingredient that sets these potatoes apart is the breadcrumb topping, which adds a crunchy texture to the dish. Scalloped potatoes, on the other hand, traditionally use a cream sauce only, although you can always add cheese for more flavor.
The thickness of the potato slices are usually thinner in au gratin potatoes than in scalloped potatoes. This gives the former richer, more luxurious texture as the thin slices absorb more of the sauce. Either way, they’re both creamy potato recipes that everyone will surely enjoy.
What kind of potatoes are best?
A perfect au gratin potato dish s made with thin, evenly sliced potatoes that can hold their shape when cooked while also soaking up the cheese sauce. That means you’ll want to look for starchy potatoes, like Russet or Yukon gold potatoes, that have less moisture than waxy potatoes like red potatoes.
If you’re using Yukon gold, you can leave the skin on since they are so thin and tender. But if you’re using Russets, which are slightly better since they contain more starch than Yukon, I recommend peeling them first as the tough skin can disrupt the creamy texture of the dish.
Ingredients you will need
Salt and black pepper
Monterey Jack cheese
Slicing potatoes for au gratin
If you’ve never made potatoes au gratin, the goal is to slice the potatoes as thinly and evenly as possible to maximize the amount of surface area that soaks up the cheese sauce. For the best results, we recommend using a mandoline slicer. If you don’t have one, you can use a sharp knife. Though it may take some time to get even slices this way, it’s totally doable!
A good rule of thumb is to slice the potatoes to a thickness of about 1/8 to 1/4 inch. It should be thin for the potatoes to soak up a lot of the sauce but thick enough to retain a bit of structure in the finished dish.
Making the cheese sauce
The base of the cheese sauce is a classic béchamel, which is nothing more than a roux (butter and flour) with milk added to it. To start, melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat.
Once the butter is melted, add the onion and sauté until it’s translucent. Now, the flour goes in along with salt, pepper, and other spices to make a flavorful roux.
Mix everything well over medium heat until it forms a smooth, thick paste that bubbles slightly. The roux needs to be cooked for at least 2-3 minutes to remove the raw flour taste.
The trick to keeping the cheese sauce smooth is to pour the milk in a slow, steady stream while whisking constantly. You want to keep whisking while the sauce simmers and thickens to prevent lumps from forming. This can take a couple of minutes if you do it right. The sauce is ready when it coats the back of a spoon.
Finally, remove the sauce from heat, add the cheese, and stir until it melts completely into the sauce. In this au gratin potato recipe, I’m using three kinds of cheese for my sauce: Gruyère, Cheddar, and Monterey Jack, which are all semi-hard to hard cheeses that melt beautifully to form a creamy sauce.
Putting it all together
This recipe makes three layers of potato using a 9×13 casserole dish, which is roughly 6-8 servings. First, preheat the smoker to 250°F as you grease the casserole dish with butter, oil, or cooking spray to avoid the potatoes from sticking.
Layer the bottom of the baking dish with 2 layers of potatoes and top them with 1/3 of the cheese sauce. Repeat with one more layer of potatoes and top with the remaining cheese sauce.
You can also cover the top of the dish with bread crumbs and then place it in the smoker at 250°F.
Smoke the au gratin potatoes for 90 minutes, then uncover and continue smoking at 375°F for 30 minutes until the potatoes are browned and bubbling for the perfect smoky flavor.
Wait for 15 to 20 minutes to let the casserole rest before serving and garnish with chopped fresh parsley or other fresh herbs for a nice finish.
- Add bacon or ham: Stir in some crumbled bacon or diced ham to the cheese sauce or sprinkle them on top for extra flavor.
- Try different types of cheese: Mix things up by using Mozzarella, Swiss, or Parmesan cheese for the cheese sauce or topping.
- Top with breadcrumbs: A layer of crispy breadcrumbs on top adds a nice contrast to the soft, creamy potatoes.
- Make it creamier: Use heavy cream, chicken stock, and sour cream instead of making a cheese sauce for a creamier version.
What to serve with au gratin potatoes
Here are some of the best meals to pair with this side dish:
- Ribeye steak with asparagus
- Grilled beef galbi
- Smoked bbq meatballs
- Smoked pork butt burnt ends
- Spicy garlic parmesan chicken skewers
- Grilled chicken drumsticks with Alabama white sauce
- 2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled
- 1 small yellow onion
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 ounces Gruyere cheese grated
- 2 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated
- 2 ounces Monterey Jack, grated
- Fresh parsley for garnish
- Slice potatoes into 1/4 inch thin slices using a sharp knife or mandolin.
- Melt butter over low heat in a medium sauce pan. Saute diced onion until translucent. Stir in flour and seasonings. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the mixture is bubbly.
- Gradually stir in milk and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes until thickened, stirring often.
- Remove sauce pan from the heat and stir in the cheeses until melted completely.
- Arrange potatoes in a greased 9×13 casserole dish in 3 layers. Top the first 2 layers of potatoes with 1/3 of the cheese sauce then add the final layer of potatoes and the remaining cheese sauce.
- Smoke at 250°F for 90 minutes then increase the temperature to 375°F and cook for 30 more minutes until the cheese on top is bubbling and the potatoes are tender.
- Allow potatoes to rest for 15-20 minutes lightly covered with foil. Garnish with parsley before serving.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 120 minutes
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