Chili Mac is a hearty meal filled with beef, cheese, and macaroni that fills you up and is definitely satisfying. This hot and hefty meal is full of flavor and makes the perfect meal for the fall and winter months. It’s ooey-gooey, beefy, cheesy heaven!
Chili mac is one of my go-to recipes for the fall and winter. When the weather begins to turn, I start looking for recipes that are the perfect counterpoint to the coming cold, and this recipe is absolutely on my list of favorites. It’s a hot, hearty meal filled with delicious ingredients and a kick of heat to help keep you warm when the weather outside is cold and gray.
It’s also easy to make, which is another big bonus for this recipe. And, it’s all made in one skillet, so there’s not a lot of clean-up, and it’s so easy, you can make it any time you get the craving for it. It only takes a little bit of prep and a few minutes of cooking, and you’re ready to go!
The Best Chili Mac and Cheese Recipe
There are a lot of recipes like this out there. I’ve made my fair share of them, and they’re pretty good. I think that mine is the best, though. Every chili mac has the same basic base, but I take that basic premise and kick it up a few notches. This recipe packs an extra kick of heat with Slap Ya Mama seasoning and jalapeno, so it brings the heat in more ways than one. I also love to use cream cheese and sharp cheddar cheese to add all that cheesy flavor that we love in any kind of chili recipe.
When you combine all of those flavors with a recipe that comes together quickly and easily, you get what I think is the best chili mac you’ll ever eat. It’s so packed with flavor and heat, it’s one meal that you can’t beat when it comes to cold-weather food. That being said, you don’t have to wait for a cold day to make this one-pot meal. It’s delicious any time of year!
What is Chili Mac
Chili mac is exactly what it sounds like – chili and macaroni. It’s a simple recipe, but it can be made in several ways. Some versions use chili and macaroni noodles, while some use chili and prepared or homemade macaroni and cheese. It’s popular across North America, but it’s especially beloved in the Midwest.
Several variations of this dish exist. One version is simply chopped meat, tomato, spices, and elbow macaroni. In another version, boxed macaroni and cheese and canned chili are combined to make chili mac. There’s even a version where the individual ingredients are layered in a dish. In some versions, beans are added, and in St. Louis, a version called chili mac a la mode is chili mac served with fried eggs.
One fun fact is that it’s also the most popular MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) in the military, skyrocketing in popularity after its induction to the MRE lineup in 1995.
Aside from its delicious flavor, one of the best things about chili mac is how easy it is to change up the recipe. That’s why you’ll find so many variations on this theme across the USA. It only takes a few tweaks to turn this base recipe into a number of different recipes, and it takes almost no effort to make those changes. It’s a fun recipe to toy with, creating all kinds of different variations from this one base recipe.
A great addition to this chili mac recipe is beans. Adding beans will give it added flavor, protein, and substance. If you like chili with beans, you will enjoy then in this recipe. Some delicious options include:
- Kidney beans
- Black beans
- Pinto Beans
One of the easiest ways to change up this recipe is changing the texture. All you have to do is use different noodles. It’s an easy way to switch things up a little if you just want a different texture without changing the flavor of the dish. I recommend using short pasta varieties, as long pasta will simply turn into a mess. Some excellent pasta options include:
- Any macaroni
To give your chili mac a different flavor, simply change the cheese that you use. It’s an easy twist that can change this meal just enough to make it something new. You can use any cheese you want, but I tend to stay away from cheeses like Mozzarella. I think this chili mac works better with more pronounced cheese flavors. Some of my favorites are:
- Monterey Jack
- Colby Jack
Changing the meat is another easy way to switch up this recipe. You can use a variety of meats in this dish. There are several different avenues you can take. Whether you want to make it leaner or kick it up a notch, health is darned, you can do so much just by tweaking the meat. Some great meat options include:
- Ground Turkey
- Ground chicken
- Italian Sausage
I love my chili mac like I love my chili – hot. However, if you’re not a fan of heat, it’s simply to tone down this recipe. Simply omit the jalapenos and the Slap Ya Mama seasoning. You’ll still have a delicious recipe, but it won’t be overly spicy.
If you want to know more about chili mac, I have the most common questions generally asked about it here. These questions will help you understand the dish, what to do with it, and how to store it.
What to Serve with Chili Mac?
Chili mac is a complete meal in and of itself, so you won’t be serving a lot alongside it. I recommend going with a nice, simple salad. However, there’s so much you can do on top of it. Top your chili mac with a dollop of sour cream.
Try adding extra cheese to the top, as well. You can even garnish it with more sliced jalapenos, sliced avocado, diced tomatoes, or chopped green onions.
Can Chili Mac be Made in Advance?
Absolutely! You can make this chili mac up to a day in advance, store it in an airtight container, and then simply heat it up when you’re ready to serve it. It’s one of those dishes that are just as good reheated as it is fresh.
To heat it up, simply put it in a baking dish and bake at 350 until hot. You can also put it in a slow cooker to heat it up. If reheating in the microwave, I suggest adding a splash of water to it to help it maintain its creamy, cheesy texture.
What’s the Difference Between Chili Mac and American Style Goulash?
To begin with, chili mac is an American dish while American style goulash actually has its roots in Hungary.
Chili mac can be made simply with just chili and macaroni noodles, or it can be a combination of chili and macaroni and cheese, or chili, elbow macaroni, and a cream cheese and cheddar cheese mixture. It’s enormously popular throughout North America, but it’s especially popular in the Midwest.
American style goulash, on the other hand, has no chili in it whatsoever. The original goulash didn’t have noodles, either, but the Americanized version does. Rather than a chili base, American goulash uses a base of stewed beef and tomato sauce and typically contained elbow macaroni. It’s a bit like a bowl of lasagna without the ricotta cheese.
What Other Ways Can I Cook Chili Mac?
This chili mac recipe is made in a skillet, but you can also make it in a crock pot/slow cooker, instant pot, or a Dutch oven.
Tips for Making Chili Mac
This recipe is a straightforward affair, but there are a few things to remember that can help you make it the best it can possibly be. These are simple tips that can make a big difference, so don’t skip over this section.
Use a Cast Iron Skillet
If you choose to make this recipe in a skillet, cast iron is always best. Cast iron skillets heat incredibly evenly and really hold their heat. A regular pan will do the job, but it won’t do it nearly as well.
Seed the Jalapenos
I love heat as much as the next gal, but I’m no masochist. Be sure you seed your jalapenos before adding them to your dish. The seeds do add a tremendous amount of heat.
Don’t Skip the Vegetable Oil
Remember that cast iron skillets aren’t non-stick. Even though beef has fat in it that will render as it cooks, you still need to use oil to begin the cooking process. If you don’t, your ground beef and other ingredients will stick to the skillet.
Chili Mac Ingredients
The ingredient list of this recipe is incredibly simple. In fact, you’ll probably have most of the ingredients needed for this recipe in your kitchen already. Most of them are staples like spices, broth, and cream. Here’s what you’ll need.
- Ground beef
- Chili powder
- Garlic powder
- Cayenne pepper
- Slap Ya Mama
- Black pepper
- Vegetable oil (or olive oil)
- Beef broth
- Elbow macaroni
- Cream cheese
- Heavy cream
- Sharp cheddar cheese
How to Make Chili Mac
Making this one-pot chili mac is as easy as gathering the ingredients for it. It’s a simple matter of sauteeing and then cooking a bit in the large skillet, and that’s it! You’ll find the recipe card with amounts and cooking times at the end of this post, but the recipe overview below will give you an excellent idea of how easy this recipe is.
Step 1: Cook the Ground Beef Mixture
In a cast-iron skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat, and add ground beef, onions, jalapenos, 3 minced cloves garlic, and seasonings. Cook the mixture until the ground beef is no longer pink and the onion and jalapenos are tender. Drain and return to the skillet.
Step 2: Add the Liquid
Pour the beef broth and Rotel into the meat mixture. Stir and bring to a boil.
Step 3: Cook the Pasta
Add the uncooked pasta and stir. Cover and let simmer until the pasta is tender.
Step 4: Make it Creamy
Add the cream cheese and stir until melted. Then, pour in the heavy cream and add the shredded cheddar cheese. Stir until the cheese is completely melted and all ingredients are combined.
Try This Chili Mac Today
This chili mac is absolutely delicious and so easy to make. It’s so flavorful, and it’s incredibly easy to tweak, which means you can serve up a variety of chili mac variations using this one recipe! With a combination like that, there’s no reason not to give it a try. Try this recipe today, and I know you’ll find yourself making it again and again, especially on those cold fall and winter days.
More Easy Pasta Dinners
If you love pasta dishes, then I have some other recipes that I think you’ll love.
Skillet Chili Mac
A cheesy and delicious homemade chili mac recipe that tastes so good, even the pickiest eaters will love this recipe. And, the leftovers (if there are any) will not last long.
- 1½ pound lean ground beef
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 jalapeño diced
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon Slap Ya Mama®
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups beef broth
- 10 ounce can Rotel
- 2 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
In a cast iron skillet, heat oil over medium high heat, and add ground beef, onions, jalapeños and seasonings.
Cook until ground beef is no longer pink and onion and jalapeños are tender.
Drain and return to the skillet.
Pour beef broth and Rotel® into meat mixture. Stir and bring to a boil.
Next, add uncooked pasta, stir. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes or until pasta is tender.
Add cream cheese. Stir until melted.
Pour in heavy cream and add shredded cheese. Stir until cheese is completely melted and ingredients are combined.
Remove from heat and serve hot.
Optional: top with sour cream, slice green onions, parsley.
Nutritional values are approximate.
Please note that these values can change with different brands and any modifications made to the recipe. For the most accurate information, use a nutritional calculator with the exact brands and measurements.
Calories: 652kcalCarbohydrates: 43gProtein: 43gFat: 34gSaturated Fat: 19gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 149mgSodium: 704mgPotassium: 782mgFiber: 3gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 1605IUVitamin C: 9mgCalcium: 351mgIron: 5mg
Here are a few pics that are perfect for pinning to Pinterest.
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