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.
Slow Cooker Chili Mac: Watch the Video
New and Improved Chili Mac Version 2.0 Starts with the Chili
This recipe is our 2.0 version of slow cooker mac and cheese. The first was good, but if we're being honest it was a little fussy and we knew we could do better. So we did. If you've made this recipe before, you'll quickly notice that this new and improved version is pretty different!
Regardless of whether you're on Team Mac and Cheese or Team Chili, it's best to let the chili take the lead in this two-for-one comfort food. It starts with a richly flavored beef and bean chili, flecked with a mess of spices, that simmers all day long in the slow cooker. Then, just at the end of cooking, cooked elbow noodles and cheese get stirred in with an extra layer of cheese sprinkled and melted over the top. You can certainly make the noodles just before they get added to the slow cooker, but I like to get a head-start by making them during my weekend meal prep and then stashing them in the fridge until I need them.
Slow Cooker Chili Mac and Cheese
yellow onion, diced
lean ground beef
freshly ground black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can
fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can
kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (6-ounce) can
1 1/2 cups
low-sodium beef broth or water
elbow macaroni, cooked
1 1/2 cups
shredded cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces), divided
1 1/2 cups
shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 6 ounces), divided
scallions, thinly sliced (optional)
Set a 5-quart or larger slow cooker to low and allow it to heat while the beef browns.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute more. Transfer to the slow cooker.
Add the tomatoes and their juices, beans, tomato paste, and broth or water and stir to combine. Cover and cook on the LOW setting for 7 to 8 hours or the HIGH setting for 3 to 4 hours.
Stir in the pasta and half of each the cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses. Top with the remaining cheese. Cover, set to LOW and cook for 15 minutes for the cheese to melt. Spoon into bowls, top with scallions if using, and serve warm.
Make ahead: The beef and pasta can be cooked up to 1 day in advance and stored separately in covered containers in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Storage: Store leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.