This Chili Mac casserole is a delicious family friendly comfort food in an hour! Quick and easy homemade chili with macaroni baked in a creamy cheese sauce.
EASY CHILI MAC
When it comes to combining comfort foods, you can’t get much more retro and old school than a hearty Chili Mac recipe. Just like American Goulash, this classic dinner recipe was born in a time where meals needed to be budget friendly and canned food was king.
This is not your average retro Chili Mac recipe, there’s no canned chili and no blocks of Velveeta cheese to be found. The cheese sauce is creamy and full of real cheddar cheese and the chili is made from scratch with just a few pantry ingredients. It may not be the processed Chili Mac you grew up with but it’s every bit as easy and delicious!
Homemade Chili Mac is a quick and easy weeknight dinner but you can make it even easier. This Chili Mac recipe is made on stove top. Just simmer, covered, over low-medium heat for about 15-20 minutes before adding the cheese. We also included slow cooker and Instant Pot variations so you can make it however is easiest for you!
One of the best things about this Chili Mac recipe is it is simple to adjust with what you have on hand. If you don’t want to make a special trip for the stewed tomatoes, just use diced tomatoes. To make it heartier, add a can of drained and rinsed kidney beans. Check out more variations and substitutions for Chili Mac below.
This Chili Mac is made in two pans, cooking the macaroni separately. You can make this a one-pot meal by cooking everything in a large dutch oven and using 4 cups low sodium broth and a can of tomato sauce. Add uncooked macaroni to the sauce, bring to a boil, and cook until sauce is absorbed and pasta is tender.
A kid-friendly casserole like Chili Mac goes great with easy sides like Roasted Broccoli or Sautéed Green Beans, both made in about 30 minutes. Make Chili Mac a future go-to dinner by freezing the casserole before baking and heating in the oven from frozen. You’ll need to bake about 5-10 minutes longer than the recipe calls for.
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VARIATIONS ON CHILI MAC
- Meat: You can use ground turkey, ground chicken, or ground sausage instead of the ground beef. Smoked sausage or diced Grilled Chicken would also taste delicious!
- Tomatoes: Make this Chili Mac more hearty and saucy by adding crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, or tomato paste. Give it a little kick by adding a jar of salsa.
- Beans: Add canned beans or dried beans like kidney beans (red or white), black beans, or pinto beans. Drain and rinse canned beans. To use dried beans, you’ll need to cook the dish longer and add 3 cups beef broth.
- Pasta: You can use any smaller pasta for Chili Mac like penne, rotini, small shells, or rigatoni. Smaller pasta makes the bites more balanced with chili, cheese sauce, and macaroni.
- Veggies: To make one dish meal, add veggies like spinach, corn kernels, and diced red peppers. For some heat, add a can of diced green chiles or jalapeños.
- Spices: Instead of the store bought kind, try Homemade Taco Seasoning or substitute Chili Seasoning Mix. You can also keep your Chili Mac simple by just using cumin, chili powder and paprika.
Slow Cooker Chili Mac
- Do not cook the pasta beforehand. You will need 4 cups low sodium chicken broth or beef broth.
- Brown ground beef with the onions and bell peppers until no longer pink. Drain grease and add to slow cooker.
- Add all ingredients, except cheddar cheese, uncooked macaroni, and 4 cups broth to the slow cooker and stir.
- Cover slow cooker with lid and cook on high for 2-3 hours, or low 6-8 hours, until pasta is tender.
- Stir in shredded cheese until combined and cheese is melted.
Instant Pot Chili Mac
- Do not cook pasta and use 4 cups low sodium chicken broth or beef broth.
- Turn Instant Pot to Sauté function and cook ground beef, onion, and bell peppers until beef is no longer pink.
- Use 1 cup broth to deglaze pot and scrape off any browned meat from sides and bottom.
- Add remaining ingredients, except cheese, to the Instant Pot including uncooked pasta and broth.
- Close lid and seal valve. Set to Manual High Pressure for 5 minutes, then quick release pressure.
- Stir in cheese until melted and sauce is creamy.
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HOW TO STORE CHILI MAC
- Serve: You can keep Chili Mac at room temperature for up to 2 hours before it needs to be chilled.
- Store: Refrigerate Chili Mac in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave, adding a little broth or milk to make creamy again.
- Freeze: Freeze Chili Mac baked or unbaked for up to 3 months. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and aluminum foil and reheat in the oven from frozen to serve.
- 1 pound ground beef , 85/15
- 1 medium onion , chopped
- 1 green bell pepper , chopped
- 1 can Mexican or chili-style stewed tomatoes , undrained (14.5 ounces)
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons Homemade Taco Seasoning , or 1 packet of taco seasoning mix
- 2 cups elbow macaroni , or small shells
- 2 cups cheddar cheese , shredded, divided
- Cook the pasta two minutes shy of the package instructions, rinse and let cool.
- In a large skillet, cook ground beef, onion, and green pepper over medium heat 5 minutes, or until beef is no longer pink; drain.
- Stir in tomatoes, water and taco seasoning. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add pasta back into pot, stir well to combine and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add in cheese, stir well and serve.