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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.

Chili Mac

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. This tasty mash-up of mac and cheese and chili is 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. Nowadays, I make a big batch when my nephews, Max, Leo and Remy (ages 10, 8, and 3), 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.

“This is a surprisingly simple meal….but so much more. It is full of familiar flavors, but miles away from school cafeteria fare.”


What You’ll Need To Make Chili Mac

ingredients for chili mac
  • Onion and Garlic: These aromatics form the flavor foundation.
  • Ancho Chile Powder, Ground Cumin, Smoked Paprika, Cayenne Pepper & Oregano: This spice and herb blend gives the dish its distinctive chili flavor.
  • Lean Ground Beef: The protein component, adding richness and texture. Leaner beef keeps the dish from being too greasy.
  • Chicken Broth: The liquid base that cooks the macaroni and integrates all the flavors.
  • Canned Tomato Sauce: Adds tomato flavor and acidity, balancing the richness of the beef and cheese.
  • Macaroni: The classic pasta choice for chili mac.
  • Evaporated Milk: Adds creaminess to the dish without the heaviness of cream.
  • Mexican Cheese Blend: Melts into the dish, adding creaminess and a rich, cheesy flavor.
  • Scallions: Adds a fresh, oniony crunch and a pop of color when serving.
  • Jump to the printable recipe for precise measurements

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can chili mac be made ahead of time?

Chili mac is best enjoyed fresh as it contains pasta, which can become overcooked and mushy if left to sit for an extended period.

Can I use another type of pasta?

Yes, you can substitute other medium pasta shapes such as rotini or shells. Just make sure to adjust the cooking time based on the type of pasta you use, as different shapes may require more or less time to cook to al dente.

Is this chili mac spicy?

The recipe has a pretty mild level of spiciness. If you prefer an even milder flavor, reduce or omit the cayenne pepper. For extra heat, you can increase the cayenne pepper, add diced jalapeños, or shake on hot sauce to taste.

You May Also Like

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


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Ancho chile 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


  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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  • Needed something quick and easy and this recipe came to mind. So glad I made it! Your recipes have become my family’s favorites! Thanks for all you do and all you share, it’s much appreciated!

    • — Melanie on May 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • Easy, quick dinner that has become a family staple! Thank you!

    • — Heather on May 9, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hey, people! Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good chili-mac. 😆 I loved this recipe so much. It was so hearty and homey and full of flavor. It was incredibly easy to throw together and it lasted several days for leftovers. Two thumbs up, imo.

    • — Joseph on April 10, 2022
    • Reply
  • I’ve been eating to make this for awhile, and finally made it tonight – it was so good! I’ll definitely be putting this into our meal rotation. Perfect for a chilly winter night! It was really easy to make, and had really rich flavor.

  • This chili mac was straight up delicious comfort food for the family last night, the kids loved it.

  • This was very easy and filling and enough for a hungry family of 6.
    Everything I have made using your recipes has turned out extremely well.

  • I’m no kid; I’m 85, but loved this. It was easy to make in one pot. My new favorite chili.

  • I am sure it will be great since all your recipes are AMAZING! I have 2 questions: 1. I’m not a fan of bagged/preshedded cheese due to all the anti-caking agents in them. What blend of cheeses do you recommend I buy to grate myself separately? 2. Whenever I make any soups with pasta in them I always slightly undercook them in a separate pot and then add hot soup over them at the time of service to keep them from expanding and drinking up all the soup in the fridge. The hot soup finishes cooking them and they are perfect every time (I highly recommend this trick. It’s a game-changer. No mushy noodles!) How long would you say you can keep this in the fridge before the Mac gets all soggy? Or is there any trick you can suggest?

    • Hi Katt, so glad you like the recipes! I’d recommend a combination of sharp Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses. And, you’re right, the pasta will start to soak up the liquid and get mushy as this sits in the fridge so this really is best if served right after it’s prepared. That said, you could let it sit in the fridge for up to a day knowing that the pasta won’t be at its best. Hope that helps!

  • Can I double the recipe and can I make it a day or 2 ahead? Thanks.

    • Hi Peggy, it’s fine to double it but I wouldn’t recommend making this ahead (I think the pasta will get mushy). It’s not much of a timesaver, but you could brown the beef with the spices ahead and then finish the rest of the recipe when you’re ready to serve it. Hope that helps!

  • I admit the last time I ate this I was a college student and it was a Hamburger Helper box. This time I made it for a bunch of 40 something adults on vacation. The flavor is fantastic – the combination of spices provides both the up front and lingering flavor that makes this a dish worth creating and not mixing from a box. It hit the balance perfectly between the folks that love spice and those that are more sensitive. I made a fresh avocado and tomato salsa that was a good “cool” to the heat of the dish. I served it with a basic salad with an oil/vinegar vinaigrette and a brown ale or a Vinho Verde both paired well with the spice. I splurged on some higher quality pasta and used an italian puree rather than a canned tomato sauce. Served the Kentucky Bourbon cake for desert. Was delicious and is one of those dishes you look forward to reheating the next day.

    • — Sarah McConnell
    • Reply
  • I made this chili mac and ate the whole thing by myself, not in one sitting, but for breakfast, every day. I am not an egg and toast gal, or a sweet-first-thing-in-the-morning girl. Evidently, I am a chili mac for breakfast girl. THIS is the best I’ve ever made and I will make it every week for the rest of my life.

    • — Courtney Townsend
    • Reply
  • I make this on a regular basis because it tastes wonderful, its easy to make and clean up is a breeze. Sometimes I add corn or black beans but most often I simply make it as written. Thanks!

  • Hi Jenn,
    I am busy working my way through your new cookbook (as are my two daughters and my mother). Everything has been great!
    I am making the Beefy Chili Mac right now and I am wondering about the can of tomato sauce. It says 8 ounces or 227 grams but I believe tomato sauce is usually measured in mls, not grams and wondering if the gram direction is correct.

    • Hi Lisa, Thanks so much for your support with the cookbook — I’m happy you’ve been enjoying it so far!

      Sometimes when I’m adding the metric/weight conversions to recipes, I will look at what the can indicates and in this case, it says 227 g. I understand that liquids are usually measured in milliliters so this is a bit unusual, but I was just going off of the can label. Hope that clarifies!

  • My whole family loved this recipe – comfort food at it’s finest! It’s so easy to make with ingredients I always have on hand. I did use whole milk in place of evaporated milk and it was delicious.
    We got 6 very generous servings from this, and the leftovers were equally tasty. Thank you for another solid recipe!

  • It’s a five star! Easy to make and the flavor is so good… My 91 year old mother-in-law told me…I am really enjoying this… don’t lose the recipe!
    Thank you!

  • As a previous review mentioned, this is reminiscent of Hamburger Helper. And, we are ALL about it! It’s like the gourmet, much more delicious version of Hamburger Helper. It hits the spot, and loved by both the kids and adults!

  • What do you think about making this without the milk?

    • Hi Amy, I think you could get away with it; it just won’t be very creamy. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it!

  • I give most of your recipes 5 stars but this was reminiscent of a hamburger helper meal I prepared in my college days! Not good!

  • Made this today for the N’oreaster and it was so delicious and incredibly easy!
    We will definitely add this to our rotation 🙂

  • Another amazing recipe of yours! I substituted beef for turkey, gluten free elbow macaroni (can’t tell the difference), and used regular 2% milk. Will definitely keep making this recipe, it was easy, quick and hearty!

    • I also added carrots.

  • As a resident of the Pacific Northwest for the last 25 years, and having been born in the Midwest, this was like taking a bite out of my early (long ago) childhood.
    Tasty comfort food, kiddos enjoyed it also. As always, Jenn, your recipes are easy and impressive.
    I left out the cumin, (my spouse has a weird sensitivity around it,) but added a bit to each of the bowls for the rest of us. Going to try it with whole wheat noodles, (and add a bit more cook time as a result,) the next time we make it. Thank you again!

  • I made this for the first time a few days ago. We love this recipe. My husband said it’s the best comfort food ever and I agree. I have tried several recipes from your site. Each dish has been 5 stars. I’m learning so much from your step by step instructions. Thank you so much Jen.

  • This is our favorite way to eat chili, my go-to recipe when I have hamburger on hand, and one of the best to reheat and enjoy the next day. I’ve made it several times and it never gets boring! Once I had to use heavy cream as I was out of evaporated milk and it was still just as creamy. I have also added American cheese slices to give it a stronger ‘mac and cheese vibe’ on the nights when we really need comfort food…they melt beautifully, blending in just right. We live in Scotland but are American – we’ve been here seven years – so Jenn’s recipes are always perfect for us to enjoy a taste of home!

  • This recipe is easy to veganize! And is a huge hit with the kiddos.

    I use Incogmeato to replace the beef, veggie stock for the chicken broth, a plant based shredded cheese (Chao makes the best ones in my opinion, youngest that likes to cook agrees!), and extra creamy -unflavored- oat milk (it is what I have on hand typically for cooking, have not tried others in this recipe!).

    Adding a little extra oil helps compensate for the less greasy meat if you need a little more mouthfeel. I like the flavor of olive oil and Earth Balance more than plain vegetable oil in this.

    Definitely a fun and easy recipe!

  • I love this recipe! My mom used to make Goulash and it was similar to this but not nearly as good.
    This recipe has such a depth of flavor. Really really good!

    • — pamela hartman
    • Reply
  • Well another hit recipe, fantastic after a cross country ski with some crusty bread and a beer. My husband loves this combination of the mac plus chili plus melted cheese, and a few nice crunchy tortilla chips. We have had this three times already this winter, and it is being requested again. I do add a can of red kidney beans for even more “chili-ness”.

  • Perfect family supper! Quick, easy, affordable and the kids love it! We made huge amounts of this and froze family sized foil pans of it to give.to struggling families during this pandemic. It was a hands down favourite.

  • So easy and hearty! Makes a ton so it’s good for groups!

  • I had never made, or even heard of, Chili Mac before. Now, whenever I want to do something special for my husband, or if I want him to do something special for me, I make Beef Chili Mac! Comfort food at it’s finest, and a new staple on my dinner menu rotation. Thanks for a truly yummy recipe!

  • I made this a few nights ago. There’s just Sweetie and I now, so this recipe made enough for at least 3 meals for us! Good, inexpensive and fairly easy.

    Sweetie doesn’t do dairy, so I left out the cheese. She pronounced this dish among the top 5 dishes I’ve cooked……and, believe me, I’ve been cooking for her for over 20 years and for her to say that? Wowzers!

    Thank you!

  • I can write an honest review for every single recipe I’ve tried through this website and the cookbook stating that all of them are absolutely flawless and amazing! Thank you Jennifer for sharing all of your wonderful recipes.
    I’ve chosen this recipe because it is a frequent go-to. The whole family will eat it (even my two little picky eaters). Not only is it delicious, it requires little time to prepare for a quick crazy week night meal!

  • This was easy and delicious. It was one of those dishes that I like more the more I ate it.

  • Would this freeze well? Prepping for my first few weeks as a new (first time) mom!

    • Congrats on your soon to come addition!! I think the ground beef mixture will freeze nicely but not sure about the whole dish. If you want to partially make it, you could prepare it up to the step right before you add the broth and other ingredients. Hope that helps!

      • I can attest to this! We froze our leftovers and with the noodles in, it was a bit mushy but frozen separately I’m sure it will be great!

  • This recipe is great and we absolutely loved it! It was easy to make and cooking it all in one pot made clean up a breeze. I did not have any tomato sauce on hand but used one can of Delmonte Stewed Tomatoes instead ~ it was delicious. Thanks Jen for another outstanding recipe!

  • I’ve made several of your recipes and this was another winner. It’s so quick, simple and comforting. My family loves chili mac but I don’t like to have them eat processed/pre-packaged foods so I was delighted to find a recipe I could make with fresh, wholesome ingredients. I’ll probably dial the cayenne back a bit for my taste. It was SO good.

  • Really delicious, easy to make, great reheated the next day. I’ve made it twice, both times a super hit with my husband. Love the crumbled up tortilla chips on the top for crunch. Great comfort food for the winter months.

  • i have regular chili powder and regular paprika. will it taste the same?

    • — dawn yoselowitz
    • Reply
    • It will taste slightly different, but it will still be good. 🙂

      • really good! I didn’t have tomato sauce so I used a jar of homemade stewed tomatoes. in place of commercial Mex shred cheese, I used fresh-shred colby-jack cheese tossed with some taco seasoning. we were skeptical about the evap milk, but the results were amazing!! thank you for a tasty dinner! also I don’t like smoked paprika so we used regular… and I don’t have the ancho seasoning or whatev, so we used an adobo seasoning (normally for enchiladas) instead. lastly I only had a cup and a half left of chicken broth so we used that plus homemade vegetable broth to make up for the rest. so good!!

  • Hello! If I’m making this ahead, should I hold off on adding the evaporated milk and cheese until closer to serving or will it not matter?

    Thanks for all of your great recipes! We’ve enjoyed several of them.

    • Hi Amelia, I wouldn’t recommend making this ahead b/c I think the pasta will get mushy. It’s not much of a timesaver, but you could brown the beef with the spices ahead of time and then finish with the remainder of the recipe when you’re ready to serve it. Hope that helps!

  • Absolutely loved it! I’m actually making it for the 3rd time right now!
    Thanks for this hearty and easy recipe!!!

  • This is a great recipe. Huge hit with the whole family. Easy to make with clear directions. Will definitely make this again.

  • Omgosh this was a hit! Hubs is vegetarian/pescatarian so I used a pack of beyond meat burgers and a packet of beyond meat sausage. Made vegetable broth from previously trimmed vegetables odds and ends and added a bit of soy and fish sauce – I know sounds weird but turned out yumm! Followed directions for everything else and yummy! Another Once Upon a Chef recipe for rotation!

  • This is amazing! We all loved it — including my picky 8 and 11 year olds! I just omitted the cayenne, doubled the recipe and added a can of kidney beans! It was perfect! Thank you!!!

  • Hi Jenn,

    Our family has some dairy intolerance challenges. Can you recommend a substitute ingredient for the evaporated milk, which is heavily concentrated with lactose and casein? I have been able to find some cheese substitutes to replace all or part of the grated cheese.

    Love your recipes and own your book😊. Keep us your fabulous work!!

    • Hi Carol, glad you like the recipes! I’d actually just leave the evaporated milk out. It won’t be quite as creamy but will still be delicious. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it!

  • Thank you, Jenn! This is SOOO good! I followed the recipe to a ‘T’ and it turned out perfectly! Honestly, any recipe I have tried of yours has been a hit; all starting with your Pumpkin Bread recipe a few years ago (which I have shared with many friends and family along with your website)! Let’s just say my taste buds totally get you! The only thing I did differently is serve with cornbread muffins. SO good!

  • Would regular paprika or chili powder be a good substitute for the smoked paprika? Only got a pinch left!😬

    • Sure, either should work – enjoy!

  • This is delicious and so easy to bring together. Perfect for a week night!

  • The flavors are amazing and the ease of cooking for any night of the week is much appreciated in our busy family.

  • My family loved this! It was so easy and delicious on a rainy night. Jenn never lets us down!

  • We’ve always wanted to try chili mac and cheese so I was very happy when this recipe came into my inbox. I’m so impressed!! So delicious, so easy, just spectacular. I added a little hot sauce to my bowl but it’s wonderful without it, too. Thank you, Jenn!

  • This was tasty, my small kids enjoyed it too. I had a hard time finding ground nacho chili powder (in Southern CA!) so I bought the actual dried Chiles, soaked them in some hot water, blended the water and chilies together and used the resulting paste in the recipe. I used 1 tbsp – not sure if I should have used more or less. I might try 2-3 tbsp next time just to compare. Random note about shredded Mexican style cheese, the bag I bought was 8 oz and was labeled “2 cups”. Was that a misprint on the cheese bag? If yes, I may have but too much cheese in the dish since recipe indicates 6 oz and I threw in the whole 8 oz bag.

    • Hi Susie, Glad you liked this! The 6-ounce packages of this cheese in my area are the equivalent of 2 cups volume-wise, so you may have used a little extra – but you can’t go wrong with a little extra cheese! 🙂

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