Ultra-comforting slow-cooker chili mac is the love child of macaroni and cheese and chili — perfect for the person who just can't choose. It's the best of both worlds, with lots of gooey, melted cheese and tender pasta mixed with a hearty blend of spices, meat, and beans. This is your chance to get it all in the same bowl.
Start with the Mac and Cheese & Then Stir in the Chili
Regardless of whether you're on Team Mac and Cheese or Team Chili, it's best to let the macaroni and cheese portion of this two-for-one comfort food take the lead. It skips the roux in favor of a nearly hands-off affair. The low heat from the slow cooker allows the elbow macaroni to cook in a mixture of half-and-half and evaporated milk until all the cheese gently melts. When the macaroni is tender and the sauce is thick and creamy, all that's left to do is stir in the chili components.
Slow-Cooker Chili Mac and Cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups half-and-half
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 6 ounces)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound lean ground beef
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
4 medium scallions, thinly sliced (optional)
Coat the bottom and sides of a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Place the pasta, butter, half-and-half, evaporated milk, cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in the slow cooker. Stir to combine and smooth the top so the pasta is submerged in liquid. Cover and cook on LOW, stirring every 30 minutes, until nearly all of the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is tender, 75 to 90 minutes total.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the beef, chili powder, cumin, and paprika. Break the meat apart with a wooden spoon and cook until just browned, about 5 minutes. Drain any fat from the pan; set aside.
When the pasta is ready, transfer the beef mixture to the slow cooker. Stir in the beans and tomatoes. Cover and cook on LOW for 30 minutes more. Stir again. Spoon into bowls, top with scallions if using, and serve warm.
- Make ahead: The beef can be cooked up to 1 day in advance and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Storage: Store leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.