Chili Mac and Cheese is the ultimate fall comfort dinner, a combo of meaty chili, pasta, and lots of gooey cheese. Perfect for Game Day or every day!
chili mac and cheese for the win
Quick ~ when you think comfort food, what comes to mind? For me it’s something that looks a lot like this big pot of cheesy chili mac, it’s got everything a hungry girl could want, and more! The chili is extra meaty with 2 pounds of beef (half ground and half chunks) so even before you add the mac and cheese it’s a winner. It’s got game day written all over it, just set the pot on the stove, provide a ladle, some bowls, lots of napkins, and let your hungry hoard at it.
meaty chili + cheesy macaroni and cheese
Of all the comforting fall soups and stews, chili is up there on the list for me. I love how relaxing it is to make, there’s nothing fussy about it, and the flavor payoff is so big for such little effort. I especially like to double the meat in my chilis, which makes them all that much more satisfying.
ingredients and substitutions
- stew beef plus ground beef
- I used two kinds of beef but you can certainly use either one, alone. Sometimes I can’t decide so I go with both.
- elbow pasta
- pinto beans
- canned. Use black or red beans if you prefer.
- beef broth
- I love to use beer in chili, when I have it around, but I won’t make a special trip to the store for it. Use more broth if you want to leave it out.
- canned whole tomatoes
- why whole tomatoes? They’ve been the least ‘processed’ of all canned tomatoes, so will have a fresher, better flavor and texture. You can chop, blitz, or crush with your hands. Oh, and btw, imported Italian tomatoes are usually best. San Marzano is the phrase to look for on the can, they’re the best.
- chipotle chili in adobo sauce
- this stuff is spicy hot and I love it, but use sparingly, or leave out for heat sensitive eaters like kids.
- shredded cheese
- you have lots of choice here, For flavor I like sharp cheddar, and for appearance I love a blend of yellow and white.
- onion and garlic
- olive oil
- chili powder
- chili powders vary a lot in quality. Always buy in small jars, and go for a reputable brand.
- salt and pepper
- green onion and or chives for garnish.
how to make chili mac and cheese ahead of time
Assemble the chili itself up to 2 days ahead. But don’t add the pasta or the cheese until just before you’re ready to serve. If you add the macaroni ahead of time it will continue to swell and absorb liquid from the chili.
The finished chili can also be frozen, but again, it would be wise to add the pasta and cheese just before serving.
make it gluten free
Use your favorite gluten free pasta. I use Barilla regular elbows in this recipe, so their gluten free elbows would be a good choice.
make it lower carb
There are lots of lower carb pastas out there, but again, since I used Barilla in my recipe, here’s their alternative.
Omit the beer and replace with more beef broth. Omit the beans entirely. No problem, there’s plenty else going on in this chili 🙂
make it paleo and whole 30 friendly
You could use a paleo friendly elbow pasta, such as one made with sweet potatoes, here, and a dairy free cheese, here, but they are highly processed foods, so your best bet would be to eliminate the pasta, cheese, beans, and beer. Not exactly chili mac, but still good 🙂
You might want to add some additional veggies like carrots and extra peppers, and add some sliced avocado to garnish. Use some sour cream if your diet allows.
Since your chili won’t have pasta to help with thickening, try cooking it down longer with the cover off the pot. You can also add additional tomato paste, or even some almond flour to thicken.
make it vegetarian
Leave the meat out and double down on the beans. My Easy Lentil Chili could be your base.
more chili recipes
- Chili Stuffed Acorn Squash
- Easy Meat Lovers Chili
- Slow Cooked Hatch Pepper Chili
- Creamy White (Leftover) Turkey Chili
Chili Mac and Cheese
- a large stock pot
- 28 ounce can whole Italian tomatoes
- 1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, or more to taste
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, cut in small dice
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 pound lean beef, cut in cubes
- 1 pound ground beef
- 8 ounces beer
- 8 ounces beef broth
- 1 1/2 Tbsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp chipotle powder, or cayenne to taste
- salt and fresh cracked pepper
- 4 ounces uncooked elbow pasta
- 1 bell pepper, cut into small dice
- 15 ounce can pinto beans, drained
- 2 cups of your favorite shredded cheese
- 8 green onions, finely sliced
- 3 Tbsp snipped chives
- Process the canned tomatoes and chipotle pepper in a food processor until crushed, about 7 good pulses. Set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron pot and sauté the onions, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until softened. Toward the end of cooking, add the garlic. Remove to a plate.
- Turn the heat up and brown the cubed beef on all sides. Try to get a good bit of browning here because it will provide flavor for the chili. Remove the beef to the plate with the onions.
- Brown the ground beef in the pan, breaking it apart as you cook. When the ground beef is browned, add the onions and cubed beef back into the pot. Stir to loosen any browned bits at the bottom of the pan.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, broth, beer, and spices. Season with salt, start with 1/2 teaspoon, and fresh cracked pepper.
- Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to low, and cook for 30 minutes, covered. (Make sure that the chili is simmering.)
- Meanwhile cook the elbow pasta in salted boiling water about 3 minutes less than the box directions. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
- Uncover the chili, add the bell peppers and beans, and continue to gently cook with the cover off. Taste and adjust the seasonings. I usually add more salt at this point.
- Add the pasta to the pot and stir to combine. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and cover to let it melt.
- When the cheese has melted, sprinkle the chili with the green onions and chives and serve.