Cozy comfort meals don’t have to take hours and hours to cook and they can easily be made with real ingredients. This homemade Hamburger Helper Chili Mac recipe is chocked full of hearty ingredients that will cook away in the crock pot while you run errands, pick up the kids from sports, or take care of those awful chores you keep putting off doing.
I am of the generation who grew up eating Hamburger Helper. Gen Xers unite!
Was it a meal I looked forward to eating? Absolutely not.
There was something about ground beef being mixed up in a pan with powdered cheese flavoring and water that just didn’t appeal to the picky eater I was as a child and teenager.
My parents and brother loved it though. And Kyle always put some variety of Hamburger Helper on the grocery list for nights I would be out at book club or with friends for dinner after work.
He was always so excited for those nights I was out! To him, Hamburger Helper was familiar and homey comfort food. It was easy for him to make, too.
Over the years almost 20 years Kyle and I were together, I learned how to make different homemade Hamburger Helper versions. I am, after all, a creature who craves making homemade dupes for store-bought items.
He loved the cheeseburger mac I made a few times. And my taco mac was always a big hit. However, this chili mac recipe wasn’t a meal I made until after he died in 2022.
I needed all the comfort food I could get that winter and this meal hit the spot. It was also sort of an “Ode to Kyle” meal where I could find comfort in knowing that we would have enjoyed this meal at our family table after a busy day at work and school.
What Is Chili Mac?
Chili mac is a cozy and hearty meal that combines chili with macaroni and cheese. I don’t mean mac and cheese in its usual form, but rather macaroni – usually elbows – and cheese mixed together with a chili base.
This recipe is made with all real ingredients – ground beef, tomatoes, shredded cheese, onions, red bell peppers, garlic, elbow macaroni, brown sugar, milk, bread, and a homemade spice mixture.
Homemade chili mac recipes are nothing at all like the boxed store-bought versions! And yet, this one still gives those homey vibes that we crave with a lot of food we ate during our childhoods.
What Kind of Chili?
In its simplest form, chili mac can be made with any type of chili you wish! Mixing cooked elbows and shredded cheese into cooked chili is a great way to use up leftover chili you might have.
This recipe includes instructions for a quick stovetop chili mixture that you’ll stir with the dry pasta and cheese in the crock pot.
How to Make Chili Mac
I made this chili mac recipe in the crock pot so be sure to keep that in mind as you plan your meals for the week. There are several ways you can make this recipe on the stovetop but keep in mind that I haven’t tried to make it this way so I’m no help with suggestions.
Here’s how you’ll make crock pot chili mac. Be sure to keep scrolling down to the recipe card below to find the full list of ingredients and instructions!
STEP 1: Prep your crock pot with a foil collar. This will prevent overcooking the macaroni. Don’t skip this step!
STEP 2: Mash the bread and milk together and then mix the ground beef in with some salt and pepper.
STEP 3: Cook the aromatic ingredients (onions, peppers, garlic, and spices) in some oil. Add the meat mixture and cook until browned. Stir in the tomatoes and brown sugar; continue to cook for a few more minutes.
STEP 4: Transfer the chili base to the slow cooker and mix in water, macaroni, and cheese. Top with more cheese.
STEP 5: Cook on high for 2 hours. Stir the melted cheese on top into the chili mac. Add water to loosen if needed and salt and pepper to taste.
Now, take a dip into the back of your pantry or cabinets and pull out what you need to make this fantastic homemade Hamburger Helper meal in the crock pot this week!
MORE CROCK POT RECIPES FOR BUSY WEEKNIGHTS
- Classic Beef Chili
- Chicken Tikka Masala
- Baked Potato Soup
- Thanksgiving Stuffing
- Chicken and Sausage Stew
- 1 slice white or wheat sandwich bread, torn into chunks
- 2 tbsp milk
- 1 lb ground beef 85/15% (or leaner, if you choose)
- Kosher salt and ground pepper
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 small onions, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut ½-inch
- 2 tbsp chili powder - spicy level is your choice
- 2 tbsp ancho chili powder
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tsp ground cumin
- 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
- 1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
- 1 tbsp light brown sugar
- 1 lb dry elbow macaroni
- 2 cups (8 oz) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- Sour cream
- Scallion, sliced
- Red onion, chopped
- Fritos corn chips or tortilla chips
- Line a 6-quart slow cooker/crock pot with an aluminum foil collar (see Note below) and spray the foil with cooking or baking spray.
- Add the milk to a large bowl and mash the bread into the milk until a paste forms. Using your hands, mix the ground beef, ½ teaspoon Kosher salt, and ¼ teaspoon (or a bunch of cranks - doesn't have to be exact here) of ground pepper into the bread paste. Set aside.
- Set a large pot over medium-high heat and once hot, add the oil. Sauté the onions, peppers, both chili powders, garlic and cumin for about 8 minutes, until the onions and peppers have softened and are lightly browned, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
- Stir the beef-milk-bread mixture into the pan and break up the meat into smaller bite-size pieces with a wooden spoon or meat chopper. Cook for about 3 minutes. Stir in both tomato types and brown sugar. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoons and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker. Stir in the elbows, 2 ½ cups of water, 1 cup of cheese, 1 ¼ teaspoon of Kosher salt and a few cranks for black pepper. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the mixture. Cover the slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 2 hours.
- Remove the foil collar from the slow cooker and stir the pasta until the cheese is fully incorporated. Mix extra water into the pasta if it is too thick. Season with salt and pepper before serving with scallions on top.
The foil collar is used here to prevent the slow cooker from burning the pasta. Most slow cookers have a "hot" side, which can burn more delicate foods like pasta and bread-based recipes. So we use a foil collar for these types of recipes. Here's is a foil collar tutorial!
adapted from Slow Cooker Revolution
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 299Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 46mgSodium: 277mgCarbohydrates: 23gFiber: 3gSugar: 4gProtein: 18g