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This simple chili mac recipe combines flavorful homemade chili with rich mac and cheese for the ultimate comfort food mashup! It’s an easy and inexpensive one pot meal.
Why you’ll love it
You get the best of both worlds in this easy chili mac recipe! The warmth and bold flavors of the ground beef chili is enhanced by the cheesy and irresistibly silky homemade mac and cheese. It’s ready in about half an hour, and my version is made all in one pot.
This chili mac and cheese is an American classic from the Midwest. They invented some of the best cozy meals, much like this Easy Cincinnati Chili recipe, the kind that make your kitchen smell amazing as it’s simmering away. Enjoy this for game day or any weeknight!
What you’ll need
- Ground beef – we’re using lean ground beef
- Onion and garlic – tasty base aromatics. I like using sweet (Vidalia) onions.
- Seasoning blend – I use a combo of chili powder and smoked paprika. It varies by brand, so make sure to check that your chili powder is mild if spice is a concern for you!
- Green chilies – they come in little cans and can be mild or hot
- Beef broth – for deeper savory taste
- Tomato sauce – classic tomato flavor in a good chili
- Heavy cream – for richness and to enhance the consistency
- Pasta – we’re using the traditional elbow macaroni
- Cheese – Mexican blend adds even more awesome flavor!
As with any one pot recipe, it’s important to note that stoves and pots can vary, so if it seems like the liquid is going down too quickly before the pasta is done, you may need to add in a bit more beef broth and/or turn down the heat a bit, and if there’s too much liquid at the end of the suggested cooking time, you may need to cook it a little longer or let it sit in the pot with the lid on (the pasta will absorb it quickly).
How to make chili mac
This is an overview with step-by-step photos. Full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.
Sauté the beef and onions in a large pot, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks. Spoon out any excess fat. Stir in the garlic, chili powder, smoked paprika, and green chilies. Add in the beef broth, tomato sauce, and cream.
Once it just begins to boil, add in the pasta. Reduce the heat, and then let it rapidly simmer, stirring occasionally, until the macaroni is cooked and the liquid has reduced. Remove from the stove, and stir in the cheese until it melts. Season with salt & pepper as needed.
Substitutions and variations
- I have only tested this recipe as written. I would use caution against making any big swaps with the liquids or pasta measurements as it could have an impact on how the recipe turns out. You can change the pasta shape if needed, but I would keep a close eye on it as it’s cooking, and you may need to tweak the liquid measurements a bit.
- You can swap the ground beef for ground turkey if you prefer.
- The seasonings can be adjusted to your preferences if needed, but I recommend making it as written the first time you try it!
- Some chili mac recipes include beans, so you could add in some dark red kidney beans if you like. Note that beans release starch, so you may need to add in more beef broth than suggested if you go this route.
Leftovers and storage
- Leftovers will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-4 days, but keep in mind the pasta will soak up the broth the longer you leave it.
- Reheat slowly over a low heat on the stove or in the microwave. You may need to add another splash of beef broth or cream if leftovers seem dry.
- I don’t recommend freezing cooked pasta as it tends to change texture.
If you made this homemade chili mac, please leave a star rating and review below! You can also tag me #saltandlavender on Instagram if you made any of my recipes.
Simple Chili Mac
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1/2 medium onion chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons chili powder see note
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 (4 ounce) can diced green chilies mild or hot
- 2 cups beef broth
- 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup heavy cream or evaporated milk
- 1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
- 2 cups Mexican blend cheese or cheddar shredded
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Add the beef and onions to a Dutch oven/soup pot over medium-high heat. Cook for 7-10 minutes, breaking the meat up with your spoon as you go along. If there's a lot of excess fat, spoon most of it out.
- Stir in the garlic, chili powder, smoked paprika, and green chilies.
- Add in the beef broth, tomato sauce, and cream, and increase the heat to high.
- Once it just starts to boil, add in the macaroni. Reduce the heat so it's rapidly simmering (I usually keep it around medium heat), and cook, uncovered, for 13 minutes or until the pasta is cooked and the liquid has reduced. Stir it every couple minutes to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot. If the liquid seems to be disappearing too quickly before the pasta is cooked or if you want it more soupy, add in 1/2 cup more broth and/or lower the heat.
- Take the pot off the heat and stir in the cheese. Season with salt & pepper as needed. If you need the liquid to absorb a little more prior to serving, simply cover the pot and let it sit for a few minutes. Optional: if you want a melty cheese layer on top, sprinkle on an extra 1/2 cup or so of cheese and cover the pot until it melts.
- Some varieties of chili powder can be spicy, but most are mild. Be sure to test it prior to making this recipe as it’ll make a big difference!
- I do not recommend subbing the heavy cream for a lower fat alternative as it’s likely to curdle. Evaporated milk can work in this recipe, but my top choice is the heavy cream.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
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