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With just 10 minutes of prep and a few pantry staples, this one pot chili mac is a quick and easy dinner recipe that kids and adults will love! Top each bowl with cheddar cheese, sour cream, and diced onion, and serve it alongside a saladcornbread, or biscuits. The made from scratch pasta and ground beef skillet is always a weeknight winner!

Close overhead shot of chili mac in a bowl with sour cream and cheese on top

Easy Chili Mac

Chili mac gets its name because it’s a simple combination of zesty ground beef chili and tender elbow macaroni noodles. You’ll love that the quick, family-friendly dinner comes together in one pot on the stovetop in about 30 minutes! It’s like a homemade hamburger helper — and way better for you. Let your family members add their favorite toppings, pair each bowl with a wedge of sweet skillet cornbread, and everyone at the table will be happy!

What’s the difference between chili mac and goulash?

They’re actually very similar! I’ve adapted my grandmother’s American chop suey (or “goulash”) recipe to create this one pot chili mac. The goulash includes green bell pepper, which you won’t find in this chili mac, and Italian seasoning rather than chili powder, onion powder, cumin, and seasoned salt. Chili mac also includes other classic chili ingredients, like corn and beans, that you won’t find in goulash. Otherwise, the tomato-based ground beef and macaroni skillet dinners have a lot in common!

Front shot of hands holding a warm mug of chili mac

Is chili mac a Midwest thing?

Hah! It’s definitely popular in the midwestern United States, but it’s certainly not limited to that region of the country. I grew up on chili mac in the south, and it’s also a popular dinner in other parts of America. “Cincinnati chili,” a similar dish, is more of a Midwest thing! Cincinnati chili, or “chili spaghetti,” is a dish that includes spaghetti noodles topped with chili (not stirred together in the same pot).

Browning ground beef and onion in a cast iron pot

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a pot of chili mac. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Ground beef: or substitute with ground turkey, ground pork, or ground chicken.
  • Onion and garlic: add savory flavor and texture to the dish.
  • Water and beef broth: the liquid base for the sauce. You need a good amount of liquid in the pot for the pasta to absorb as it cooks.
  • Diced tomatoes: I like petite-diced tomatoes, which are cut smaller. You can substitute with regular diced tomatoes instead. Do not drain off the juices before adding them to the pot.
  • Tomato paste: gives the sauce a thick, rich tomato flavor. You can add a small can of tomato sauce to the pot as well if you like a “saucier” chili.
  • Chili powder, seasoned salt, onion powder, ground cumin: classic zesty spices that make a great chili seasoning.
  • Brown sugar: a secret ingredient that balances the acidity in the tomatoes and gives the chili a more complex depth of flavor.
  • Beans: kidney beans are the most traditional, but you can use pinto beans, pink beans, or any other beans that you prefer. If your kids don’t like beans, just substitute with an extra can of drained corn — as I often do!
  • Corn: a small can of corn is an easy, sweet addition to the chili. You can use frozen corn or fresh corn off the cob if you prefer.
  • Elbow macaroni: there’s no need to boil the noodles before adding them to the pan. They cook right in the sauce, releasing starches that help to thicken the mixture.
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper: to enhance the other flavors in the dish.
Adding uncooked macaroni to a skillet

What beans go in chili mac?

Dark or light red kidney beans are a classic addition to chili. That said, the larger kidney beans don’t appeal to my picky little eaters, so I often substitute with smaller pinto beans or pink beans — or omit the beans entirely and substitute with extra corn or ground beef. Really, any beans that you enjoy will work well in this dish — including white beans, black beans, or even garbanzo beans!

How to Make Chili Mac

You can’t beat an easy ground beef dinner recipe that cooks entirely in one skillet. Childhood favorites make the best cozy, comforting family dinners!

  1. Brown the ground beef, onion, and garlic in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat on the stovetop until the meat is no longer pink; drain off the fat.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, and bring the mixture to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat and simmer (uncovered) for about 12-15 minutes, or until the pasta is tender, the liquid reduces, and the sauce thickens. Stir frequently so that the pasta doesn’t stick.
  4. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary.
  5. Sprinkle with grated cheese and other optional toppings.
Overhead shot of hands eating chili mac

Favorite Chili Mac Toppings

Set out a variety of toppings and let your friends and family customize their own bowls. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Grated cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Diced avocado
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Sliced green onion or minced red onion
  • Hot sauce
  • Sliced jalapeño peppers
  • Lime wedges
  • Tortilla strips or crushed chips

What to Serve with Chili Mac

This one-pot meal pairs nicely with any of the following easy sides:

Two bowls of chili mac served on a wooden dinner table with a side of cornbread

Storage

Keep leftover chili mac in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Can you freeze chili mac?

Yes, you can freeze the leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Just remember that pasta will swell in the freezer, resulting in a mushy texture when thawed.

How to Reheat

Reheat the chili mac in a skillet or saucepan, covered, over low heat, just until warmed through. Do not reheat it for too long, or the pasta will become overdone, gummy, and mushy. You can also reheat individual portions in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.

Dipping cornbread in a bowl of chili mac

Recipe Variations

  • Substitute ground turkey for the ground beef, and use chicken broth instead of beef broth. You can also use ground chicken or ground pork if you like.
  • Make chili mac with no beans by omitting the can of beans and substituting with extra corn and/or ground beef.
  • Use any of your favorite beans! Try kidney beans, pinto beans, pink beans, or even navy beans, black beans, or garbanzo beans.
  • Add diced bell peppers to the skillet with the ground beef, onion, and garlic.
  • For spicy chili mac, add cayenne pepper to taste.
  • Add a dash of paprika to the sauce, or season with fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, or oregano.
  • For added texture, sprinkle cheese and a few buttered breadcrumbs over the top, and then place the pot under the broiler for a few minutes. This will give it a crunchy, cheesy topping similar to baked mac and cheese.
Overhead image of a bowl of chili mac on a dinner table with cornbread

Tips for the Best Chili Mac Recipe

  • Drain the excess grease. This makes the meal healthier, and also prevents the finished dish from having a greasy texture.
  • Don’t omit the brown sugar. In order to achieve great tomato flavor, it’s important to balance acidity and sweetness. Too much acid or too much sugar yields a chili that tastes one-dimensional. The right amount of sugar perfectly balances the acidity of the tomatoes. Start with about ½ teaspoon of sugar here, and add more to taste, if necessary.
  • The cheese garnish and other toppings are optional, but they sure add great flavor! You can use shredded sharp cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, Pepper Jack, Colby, Colby Jack, or any other good melting cheese.
  • Adjust the heat. The chili powder gives this chili mac recipe a little bit of kick, but it’s still mild and kid-friendly. If you prefer a spicy chili mac, add a dash of cayenne, diced jalapeno, or hot sauce.
Front shot of person in a sweater eating chili mac

More Chili Recipes to Try

Overhead shot of a bowl of chili mac

One Pot Chili Mac

Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Servings 4 – 6 people (about 8 cups total)
Calories 283 kcal
With just 10 minutes of prep and a few pantry staples, this one pot chili mac is a quick and easy dinner recipe that kids and adults will love!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb. ground beef (or sub with ground turkey)
  • ½ of a large onion, diced (about ¾ cup)
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes, not drained
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Lawry’s seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon brown sugar (or increase to 1 teaspoon for a slightly sweeter taste)
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 (15 ounce) can red kidney beans, pinto beans, or small pink beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (8.75 ounce) can corn kernels, drained
  • 1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • Optional, for serving: cornbread; corn chips; cheese; sour cream; sliced green onions/chives; cilantro; avocado; diced red onion

Instructions

  • Heat a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and onion. Break up the meat with a wooden spoon, and cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Drain off the excess fat.
  • Add the remaining ingredients to the skillet.
  • Stir to combine; bring to a boil. Once the mixture boils, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 12-15 minutes, or until the noodles are tender and the sauce thickens.
  • Taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve in individual bowls and garnish with optional toppings.

Notes

  • Substitute ground turkey for the ground beef, and use chicken broth instead of beef broth. You can also use ground chicken or ground pork if you like.
  • Make chili mac with no beans by omitting the can of beans and substituting with extra corn and/or ground beef.
  • Use any of your favorite beans! Try kidney beans, pinto beans, pink beans, or even navy beans, black beans, or garbanzo beans.
  • Add diced bell peppers to the skillet with the ground beef, onion, and garlic.
  • For spicy chili mac, add cayenne pepper to taste.
  • Add a dash of paprika to the sauce, or season with fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, or oregano.
  • For added texture, sprinkle cheese and a few buttered breadcrumbs over the top, and then place the pot under the broiler for a few minutes. This will give it a crunchy, cheesy topping similar to baked mac and cheese.
  • Drain the excess grease. This makes the meal healthier, and also prevents the finished dish from having a greasy texture.
  • Don’t omit the brown sugar. In order to achieve great tomato flavor, it’s important to balance acidity and sweetness. Too much acid or too much sugar yields a chili that tastes one-dimensional. The right amount of sugar perfectly balances the acidity of the tomatoes. Start with about ½ teaspoon of sugar here, and add more to taste, if necessary.
  • The cheese garnish and other toppings are optional, but they sure add great flavor! You can use shredded sharp cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, Pepper Jack, Colby, Colby Jack, or any other good melting cheese.
  • Adjust the heat. The chili powder gives this chili mac recipe a little bit of kick, but it’s still mild and kid-friendly. If you prefer a spicy chili, add a dash of cayenne, diced jalapeno, or hot sauce.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 283kcalCarbohydrates: 31gProtein: 18gFat: 10gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 39mgSodium: 1139mgPotassium: 805mgFiber: 6gSugar: 7gVitamin A: 735IUVitamin C: 11mgCalcium: 65mgIron: 4mg
Keyword: chili mac, chili mac recipe, easy chili mac
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

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