Chili Mac

spicy chili mac in a serving bowl
The Spruce / Diana Rattray
Prep: 12 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Total: 42 mins
Servings: 8 to 10 servings
Yields: 12 cups
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
372 Calories
22g Fat
19g Carbs
25g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 10
Amount per serving
Calories 372
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 22g 28%
Saturated Fat 10g 48%
Cholesterol 76mg 25%
Sodium 766mg 33%
Total Carbohydrate 19g 7%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 25g
Vitamin C 22mg 109%
Calcium 302mg 23%
Iron 3mg 17%
Potassium 476mg 10%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Chili mac is a flavorful combination of two classic favorites: macaroni and cheese and beef and bean chili. Think of it as a fancy American chop suey with a Tex-Mex vibe. Chili mac is a versatile dish that you can alter to suit your taste with a little extra cayenne or chopped jalapeño peppers, a different kind of bean, or perhaps whole kernel corn for a sweet flavor and added texture. Although a bowl of our super hearty chili mac is filling enough to be a complete meal, you can round out the meal with a slice of skillet cornbread, a few biscuits, some steamed broccoli, a fresh garden salad or a few jalapeño poppers.

Even if not very common, the combination of chili with pasta is not new. Cincinnati chili, a layered chili and spaghetti dish created by a Macedonian immigrant in 1922, is an early example of the fusion. This might be a new favorite in your weekly menu, as it's easy to make, makes great leftovers, and is also great for freezing. Our version is especially convenient for busy cooks, as the whole meal cooks in just one pot—make sure the pot is at least 4-quart in size or larger—in under 45 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 1 medium onion, diced

  • 1 medium bell pepper, green or red, chopped

  • 6 cloves garlic, minced, about 1 tablespoon

  • 1 pound ground beef

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, regular or chili style

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

  • 4 cups chicken broth or stock, low-sodium

  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni, uncooked, or any short pasta

  • 12 ounces shredded cheese, divided, mild cheddar or cheddar Jack

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • chopped cilantro or parsley, garnish

  • jalapeño pepper rings, garnish

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for chili mac
    The Spruce / Diana Rattray
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Cook, while stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.

    Cook the onions until softened
    The Spruce / Diana Rattray
  3. Add the bell pepper, garlic, and ground beef to the pan, breaking up the meat into smaller pieces. Cook the meat, turning occasionally, for about 6 to 9 minutes, or until the beef is no longer pink.

    Brown the ground beef
    The Spruce / Diana Rattray
  4. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, black pepper, cayenne pepper, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, beans, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

    Simmer with tomatoes and spices
    The Spruce / Diana Rattray
  5. Add the macaroni to the pot. Bring to a boil and cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until the macaroni is cooked. Reserve a few tablespoons of cheese and stir the remaining cheese into the chili mac. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt, as needed.

    Add the macaroni and continue to cook
    The Spruce / Diana Rattray
  6. Transfer the chili mac to a serving bowl, or leave it in the Dutch oven, and sprinkle lightly with the reserved cheese. If desired, garnish with cilantro, parsley, or pepper rings.

    Bowl of spicy chili macaroni and cheese
    The Spruce / Diana Rattray
  7. Enjoy.

How to Store, Freeze, and Reheat

Before placing the leftovers in containers, cool the mixture entirely, then:

  • Refrigerate for up to four days.
  • Or transfer to freezer bags or freezer containers and freeze for up to three months. Thaw the chili mac in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.
  • Reheat leftover chili mac in a foil-covered baking dish in a preheated 350 F oven for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until it is hot and registers at least 165 F.

For the Tastiest Chili Mac

Try these tips to make the best chili mac:

  • Use organic canned tomatoes and beans. With no additives, you'll get the convenience of canned food without the added preservatives.
  • Commercial grated cheeses often have anticaking ingredients added that prevent them from properly melting. If possible, use block cheese and grate it at home.
  • If your ground beef has a high ratio of fat, drain off some of the fat before you add the spices, tomatoes, and broth.

Recipe Variations

This versatile dish can have a makeover with a few simple changes:

  • Baked Chili Mac: Follow the recipe up until step 5, add the macaroni, and cook, adding just half of the cheese. Transfer the mixture to a large, shallow casserole and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake at 425 F for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the casserole is bubbling around the edges.
  • No-Bean Chili Mac: Make the dish with 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of ground beef and omit the beans.
  • Vegetarian Chili Mac: Skip the beef and add another can of drained and rinsed beans (kidney, pinto, or black beans) to the pot. Or replace the beef with any plant-based protein of your liking, such as tofu, seitan, or tempeh. Add about 1 to 2 cups of whole kernel corn to the pot along with the macaroni.