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Chili Mac

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Winner, winner, kid-friendly dinner! This one-pot chili mac belongs in your weeknight recipe rotation.

Photo by Johnny Miller (Clarkson Potter, 2021)

A regular menu item in the school cafeteria when I was growing up, chili mac is one of those nostalgic dishes that reminds me of my childhood. It’s a comforting one-pot dish that you can have on the table in less than 45 minutes. When my kids were younger, it was one of my go-to weeknight dinners. Now I make a big batch when my nephews, Max and Leo (ages 9 and 7), come for dinner. I mean, with pasta, cheese, and ground beef, how can you go wrong with kids? Serve it with tortilla chips for dipping or crushing over the top.

What You’ll Need To Make Chili Mac

ingredients for chili mac

Step-by-step Instructions

cooking onions for chili mac

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Then add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and salt.

adding spices and garlic

Cook, stirring often, about 1 minute more.

onions. spices, and garlic

Add the beef.

adding ground beef

Cook, stirring and breaking apart the meat, until no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes.

cooked ground beef mixture

Stir in the broth, tomato sauce, oregano, sugar and pasta.

adding broth, tomato sauce, pasta to beef mixture

Bring to a boil.

bringing the chili mac to a simmer

Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring every so often and adjusting the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer, until the pasta is tender, 9 to 12 minutes. Use a soup spoon to skim any grease off the top, if necessary.

pasta cooked al dente

Off the heat, add the evaporated milk and cheese and stir until the cheese is melted.

adding the cheese and evaporated milk to the chili mac

Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

chili mac ready to serve

Ladle the chili mac into bowls and sprinkle with scallions. Serve with more cheese and tortilla chips.

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Beef Chili Mac

Winner, winner, kid-friendly dinner! This one-pot chili mac belongs in your weeknight recipe rotation.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Total Time: 45 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Ancho chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional; omit for less heat)
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 pound 85 or 90% lean ground beef
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 8 ounces (about 2 cups) elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup (8 oz) evaporated milk
  • 1½ cups (one 6-oz package) shredded Mexican cheese blend, plus more for serving
  • 3 medium scallions, dark green parts only, thinly sliced
  • Tortilla chips, for serving

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper (if using), and salt and cook, stirring often, about 1 minute more. Add the beef and cook, stirring and breaking apart the meat, until no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in the broth, tomato sauce, oregano, sugar, and macaroni and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring every so often so the macaroni doesn't stick to the bottom, until the pasta is al dente, 9 to 12 minutes. Use a soup spoon to skim any grease off the top, if necessary.
  3. Off the heat, add the evaporated milk and cheese and stir until the cheese is melted. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Ladle the chili mac into bowls and sprinkle with the scallions. Serve with more shredded cheese and tortilla chips.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (4 servings)
  • Calories: 918
  • Fat: 46 g
  • Saturated fat: 20 g
  • Carbohydrates: 70 g
  • Sugar: 18 g
  • Fiber: 6 g
  • Protein: 55 g
  • Sodium: 1489 mg
  • Cholesterol: 155 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • My 15 year old daughter is one of the pickiest eaters you’ll ever meet (if it isn’t a chicken finger, she doesn’t want it) and she LOVES this meal. She requests that we make it early in the week so she can take leftovers to school for lunch. It’s delicious!

    • — Shaynee on January 22, 2023
    • Reply
  • I was hoping to add some veggies to this. Do you think adding diced carrots and celery at the same time as the onion would be okay?

    thank you

    • — Lauren on December 19, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, just make sure they’re finely chopped. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2022
      • Reply
  • This was amazing. I made this last night for my husband and he told me he would be mad if I did not get this in on rotation as one of his favorites. I have never had chili mac without kidney or chili beans and now I think I prefer it this way. The evaporated milk was key to the creamy, cheesy finish.

    • — A. Forcellina on December 14, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, do you think I could substitute small shells in place of the macaroni? Not sure about if the ratio of liquid would need to change? Trying to use what’s in my pantry to make room for Christmas.

    • — Heather E. on November 27, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Heather, small shells should work here. The cook time may be slightly different for the shells; you just want to cook them until they’re al dente. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on November 28, 2022
      • Reply
  • Comfort food at its best! I had leftovers, but not quite enough for everyone, and decided to use it as the base for a simple taco soup. It was a hit, too! The family had no clue it was Chili Mac in disguise (wink)! Thank you for all the time you invest into your excellent recipes!

    • — Barbara Kettler on November 19, 2022
    • Reply
  • Great recipe! So perfect for the cooler weather. Paired with Fritos!

    • — morgan on November 16, 2022
    • Reply
  • My family loves this recipe! Two family members recently became vegetarian and the other two lamented the loss of this recipe in our regular rotation. I subbed Smart Ground for the ground beef and vegetable broth for the chicken broth and the whole family thought it was even better this way! Hooray!!!

    • — Elisabeth on November 12, 2022
    • Reply
  • Made it tonight. Very yummy.
    Quick and easy and I had all the ingredients. Would definitely make again!

    • — Lisa on November 10, 2022
    • Reply
  • Excellent! Definitely a recipe the kids will love!

    • — Darlene E. on November 7, 2022
    • Reply
  • Made this for my family. Finished browning the beef then had to go to baseball practice for 2 hours, so covered the pot and put it in the oven at 170F. Upon returning, began the remainder of the recipe. The family raved about the depth of flavor (even the kids) and although this pushes it out of the quick meal column, I’ll do it again! Added to the rotation.

    • — A. Monroe on October 31, 2022
    • Reply
  • Could this be done in a slow cooker, sautéing the meat first.I’ve got a ceramic cooktop & my wonderful old Dutch oven can’t be used on it. I’m pretty sure if using my stainless steel pot that there will a lot of sticking involved. Any opinion?

    • — Lindy on October 29, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Lindy, you could complete part of the recipe on the stove up until where you add the broth, etc. but I wouldn’t add the macaroni. (I’d cook it separately and then add it to the remainder of the ingredients right before serving.) Considering you’ll still need to complete much of the recipe on the stove, I’m not sure how much sense it makes.

      • — Jenn on November 1, 2022
      • Reply
  • Absolutely great!! But all your recipes are great. Thanks Jenn. This took me back to my childhood. My mother made a version of Chili Mac often back in the day. I’m 77 now.
    Thanks again Jenn,
    Jim

    • — Jim Jacobs on October 28, 2022
    • Reply
  • I used turkey, half and half, and spiral pasta as that is what I had on hand and my super picky eater had two helpings.

    Very filling-this could be doubled and feed a ravenous pack of teenage boys for sure.

    Could sub Impossible meat easily.

    Hubby and I also enjoyed it and I loved that it is a true one-pot meal.

    Your recipes never disappoint.

    • — Betsy on October 27, 2022
    • Reply
  • Absolutely delicious. Made this tonight following the recipe precisely. My gosh, every recipe of yours I try is a hit. Just finished two bowls, happily content and settling in for the Phillies game. Thank you!!

    • — Desiree on October 22, 2022
    • Reply
  • HOLY COW!! So good! I made this for my husband and niece who both eat like toddlers 😉 Because I’m the crazy one in the family who is always trying to “make it healthy-ish” I made a few changes but DO NOT think they compromised the amazingness of the recipe. I sub’d ground turkey (not breast) for the ground beef, and used a combo of cream, 1/2 & 1/2 and low fat milk for the evaporated milk and 2% fat Mexican cheese. Was worried it wouldn’t thicken up as it would with the evaporated milk, but it did. It was wonderful. I have recently found Jenn and LOVE every one of her recipes.

    • — Juls on October 22, 2022
    • Reply
  • Made this last night and it was absolutely delicious!

    • — Perri on October 21, 2022
    • Reply
  • Good morning Jenn, looking to make this tonight with your infamous corn bread. My question is do I have to use evaporated milk or can regular milk or cream work too? Is there a reason for using evaporated milk? I’ve never cooked much with this type of milk except for desserts. TIA!

    • — Judy on October 21, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Judy, Evaporated milk contains less water than cream or milk and helps to keep the sauce from “breaking.” If you want to sub that for something else, half & half would be my first choice, followed by heavy cream, or whole milk. Hope that helps and that you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on October 21, 2022
      • Reply
  • This is a surprisingly simple meal….but so much more. It is full of familiar flavors, but miles away from school cafeteria fare. No elbows in house, so I made it with penne. I think any similar sized pasta would be perfect. Comforting, mildly spicy, creamy and delicious. We topped it with a little extra cheese and scallions, as recommended, and it was a satisfying dinner for all!

    • — PaulainVA on October 20, 2022
    • Reply
  • Chili Mac was easy and yummy! I used dark ground turkey and the spices really gave it great flavor!

    • — Catherine on October 20, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    Should this be fairly soupy?
    I am sure I measured the liquids correctly. I didn’t have macaroni so substituted fusilli instead. Maybe that made the difference. Yummy flavors and really easy weeknight meal!

    • — Sue K on October 18, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Sue, Initially it is soupy; I intentionally developed it that way because it will very quickly thicken (the pasta absorbs a lot of the liquid).

      • — Jenn on October 21, 2022
      • Reply
  • Jenn, when you said in the book that you make a big batch when your nephews visited, somehow I got confused and DID do the big batch but I only doubled the meat,pasta and cheese. I misread your comment. My fault but… with that said, when you do a big batch, do you double all those spices, onion,garlic,broth and tomato sauce too???? Because…. it was VERY flavorful even without doubling those ingredients and only doubling the meat,cheese and pasta.

    I gave some to my neighbor and my husband raved about it. Gosh I love your recipes and videos!!! Have the book and use it regularly with so many compliments. Always give you accalades!
    Sherie

    • — Sherie Cloud on October 18, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Sherie, so glad you enjoyed this enough to share with a neighbor! Yes, if I doubled this, I would double the spices as well, but if you found that the spices were very prominent, feel free to cut back on them when you double the recipe. You can just tweak it to your taste buds. 🙂

      • — Jenn on October 18, 2022
      • Reply
  • Jenn!!!!!!! Oh my gosh this was the most amazing chili mac I have EVER had. I made a double batch and shared with my neighbor. I also made mexican cornbread to serve with it and Ceasar salad. I have pictures but not computer savy. Thank you thank you thank you!!! it was the best chili mac I have ever had and my husband confirmed this!!!! My neighbor too.

    • — Sherie Cloud on October 17, 2022
    • Reply
  • I just made it as chili because I had made my family mac n cheese a couple nights earlier.
    Omitted the chicken broth and all related macaroni / cheese ingredients AND bumped up the beef to 1.5 lbs to feed 6.
    Served with tortilla chips, salsa and grated cheddar. SCRUMPTIOUS!

    • — Karen on October 17, 2022
    • Reply
  • I wonder if I could make it as per the recipe then put it in a crockpot on warm to keep it ready to serve after church?

    • — GmMary on October 17, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Mary, I’d be concerned that the pasta would get too soft and overcooked if it sat in a crockpot for too long. You could make the beef portion of the recipe, put that in the slow cooker ,and complete the remainder of the recipe when you get back from church. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on October 18, 2022
      • Reply
  • This has been one of our faves for a couple of years now! I am curious as to why it is showing up on the site as new? The chicken parm (another fave!) is showing as a new recipe as well.

    • — shaynee on October 16, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Shaynee, So glad you like it! I didn’t love the pictures so I updated them. When I do that, it registers as a new recipe – sorry for any confusion!

      • — Jenn on October 17, 2022
      • Reply
  • How can I make this vegan? Have to for my heart, but I love chili Mac.

    • — Claudia Williams on October 16, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Claudia, I’d leave the evaporated milk out. It won’t be quite as creamy but will still be delicious. And you can replace eh cheese with a vegan version. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it with these changes!

      • — Jenn on October 17, 2022
      • Reply
    • Hi! In addition to what Jenn replied, I’d add diced smoked tofu and 1-2 cans of black beans for your protein in place of the meat. I’d add the tofu after cooking the onions and spices and then add the black beans when you add the broth and pasta. Cheers!

      • — Nic on October 26, 2022
      • Reply
      • Oh right — I wasn’t thinking about the beef the recipe includes! Thanks for weighing in 🙂

        • — Jenn on October 26, 2022
        • Reply
  • If I want to serve a salad with this, what salad dressings would you recommend? Or if I want to serve a side of veggies what are some options that you would recommend? My family loves your recipes, and I appreciate how well you explain how to make things with pictures. Love your blog and cookbooks!

    • — Heather on July 26, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Heather, Out of the dressings I have, I’d suggest either the chipotle honey vinaigrette or the buttermilk ranch. And thanks for your kind words about the blog and the cookbooks — so glad you like them! 🙂

      • — Jenn on July 26, 2022
      • Reply
      • Thank you! Great suggestions as always!

        • — Heather on July 26, 2022
        • Reply

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