Chili Mac is a quick, easy, family-friendly dinner recipe featuring ground beef, beans, pasta, and cheese in a zippy tomato sauce made in just one skillet!
Now that school is back in session, I’m happy to report that we’re back to weekly meal planning and nightly dinner making around here. I’ve always been a huge fan of quick-to-make, one-pot recipes that start with a simple pound of ground beef. But lately, I’ve been feeling like we need some new additions to our usual rotation. So today I’m happy to introduce this easy, yummy, classic Chili Mac!
I mean, who doesn’t love chili? And pasta? And cheese? Because those are basically the separate components that this recipe magically combines. Kid-friendly and family-friendly and cook-friendly and clean-up-friendly, all in one fell swoop!
How to Make Chili Mac
And have I mentioned how effortless this recipe is to make? Start out by browning your ground beef (or turkey) in a skillet along with some fresh minced garlic. Once the meat is cooked, you basically just dump in all of the other ingredients: canned kidney beans, tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, diced green chiles, elbow macaroni, and seasonings.
Stir everything together and simmer for 10 or so minutes until the pasta is tender. Then sprinkle with a generous mound of grated cheese. And that’s it!
We thought this Chili Mac had the same amount of “kick” as mild chili, which was perfect for the kids. But feel free to tweak the spices — increasing or decreasing the heat — to your liking (see more on that in Tips & Tricks below).
Dinner in 20 minutes! As a bonus, my whole family loved it. We thought it was extra yummy with a small dollop of sour cream stirred into each serving and a sprinkle of cilantro on top. And we balanced the heartiness of the meal with a big, leafy salad on the side. Everyone even fought over leftovers the next day, which isn’t always the case!
Hearty, comforting, and perfect for busy weeknights, we can’t wait to enjoy this Chili Mac all fall and winter long. And if you’re stuck in a dinner rut, I hope your crew enjoys it, too!
Helpful Tips, Tricks, & Equipment
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- When you bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer, make sure that the simmer is a simmer…not barely bubbling (or the pasta won’t cook and absorb the liquid) and not bubbling too fast (or the liquid may get absorbed too fast and the bottom may burn). For my stove, this was medium-low heat, adjusting up or down a tad as needed when I would stir every few minutes.
- Chili powder is generally zippy but not overly spicy. That being said, if you’re highly sensitive to heat — or if your chili powder is hotter than most — you can always reduce the amount you use.
- On the other hand, if you’d like your Chili Mac to pack some heat, feel free to stir in a bit of cayenne or (my favorite!) chipotle chile pepper powder (for a smoky spiciness).
- I used small whole wheat elbow macaroni in this recipe to make it a bit more wholesome. If you use a different shape or size of pasta — or if you use regular white pasta instead of whole wheat — just keep an eye on things and be prepared to slightly tweak the amount of liquid and/or the cooking time.
- My kids don’t care for giant chunks of tomatoes in their food, which is why I often go for crushed as opposed to diced tomatoes. But either will work! And if you have super picky kids who avoid even small tomato pieces, you can always give your chosen canned tomatoes a quick whirl in a mini food processor to puree them before adding them to the recipe.
- Speaking of canned tomatoes, I always recommend fire-roasted over regular for deeper flavor!
- I also recommend looking for cans with non-BPA linings (or even glass jars). Tomatoes are very acidic, meaning that any chemicals in the lining of the can are more likely to leach into a tomato product. Luckily, it’s getting much easier these days to find canned goods with BPA-free linings!
- For the beef broth, instead of opening a new carton when I only need 1 cup, I usually just use water plus a spoonful of Organic Better Than Bouillon Beef Base. But since it’s salty, I always taste the recipe and stir in additional salt at the end, only if needed (rather than adding a pre-measured amount of salt while the dish is cooking).
- If you don’t have Mexican oregano on hand, you can use regular ol’ (Mediterranean) oregano. Either will work just fine!
- Also feel free to change up the beans and/or cheese in this recipe. Everyone at our house enjoyed it with kidney beans and extra sharp cheddar. But pinto beans or black beans — and Monterrey Jack or a Mexican cheese blend — would be tasty as well. And by all means, stir in extra cheese if you prefer!
Chili Mac Recipe
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