Chili Mac and Cheese Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep: 30 min. Bake: 20 min.
This Mexican mac and cheese is an entire meal in one dish—a meal even the pickiest eaters will pick for dinner many times a month. And the busy chef won't mind, as it's on the quicker and easier side.

Updated: Jun. 12, 2024

Did somebody say a spicy, creamy, cheesy take on classic mac and cheese? Why yes, we did, and if we can say so ourselves, this Mexican mac and cheese is a dish you simply must try, especially if your family or friends love Mexican or Tex-Mex food. (We already know everyone loves mac and cheese, right?)

A great quick and easy weeknight meal that can easily be scaled up to serve a large group or scaled down for a smaller portion, this Mexican macaroni and cheese can be served as a side dish or spruced up into an entire meal in itself. And you can dial up the heat or take it easy on the spiciness as you please, so go ahead and make it your own.

Ingredients for Mexican Mac and Cheese

  • Macaroni and cheese: This recipe makes eight servings, thus the call for two 7-1/4-ounce packages of mac and cheese mix, but of course you can halve everything.
  • Ground beef: The heart of this meal is the meat. A hefty dose of ground beef brings the flavor, the texture—and the protein.
  • Onion: Make sure the onion is evenly chopped so it will disperse well throughout the dish.
  • Diced tomatoes: Do not drain the liquid from these canned tomatoes, as you very much want it in the dish!
  • Diced tomatoes and green chiles: Same story here, do not drain the liquid from the can, as it’s a rich source of flavor and moisture.
  • Tomato sauce: The tomato sauce brings plenty of flavor and provides the chili base, as well.
  • Chili powder: What would a Mexican dish be without some chili powder?
  • Garlic salt: If there was ever a case where a little goes a long way more than garlic powder, we’re not sure what it is. Maybe ghost peppers?
  • Ground cumin: A mainstay of so many Mexican and Mexican-inspired dishes, cumin is a defining ingredient in this one.
  • Crushed red pepper flakes: If you have some more sensitive palates coming to the table, leave the red pepper flakes out; diners can always sprinkle some over their individual portions.
  • Sour cream: A generous 2 cups of sour cream make this dish all the richer and, well, creamier.
  • Shredded Mexican cheese: Note that you’ll add this cheese in different steps, so be sure to measure it out and keep it divided.

Directions

Step 1: Cook the pasta (without the cheese packets)

Preheat your oven to 350°F, then bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large sauce pan. Cook the macaroni until it’s tender (just under 10 minutes) and set aside the cheese packets that came with the pasta; you’ll use them later.

Step 2: Brown the beef

As the pasta cooks, heat a Dutch oven or a large, deep pot and add the ground beef and chopped onion. Cook, stirring often, just until the beef has browned, then drain off any excess liquid.

Step 3: Add all the tomatoes and seasonings

Into the Dutch oven or pot, add the tomatoes and the tomatoes and green chiles—including all the liquid from the cans—plus the tomato sauce, chili powder, garlic salt, cumin, pepper flakes and pepper, and stir to combine.

Step 4: Combine and bake

Drain the macaroni and add it to the beef mixture. Stir in the cheese packets, sour cream and 1 cup of the cheese, and stir to combine everything well. Transfer the mixture to a greased 13×9-inch baking dish, top it with the remaining shredded cheese and bake the dish until it’s bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes.

Mexican Mac and Cheese Variations

  • Add classic taco ingredients: For a taco-style twist, add corn, black beans and taco seasoning right before the baking step. Make sure the corn is thawed if you’re using frozen and the beans are rinsed and drained.
  • Use a different meat: Replacing the ground beef with ground turkey will in no way damage this recipe; in fact, it will taste quite similar, still be protein-rich and be lower in fat content. You can also use chorizo or even a plant-based meat substitute.
  • Make it a fancy dip: This recipe can actually be a great dip for chips! Add in sliced jalapenos and black olives and even more cheese, and serve it with tortilla chips for a tasty and filling app that’s really more of a chip-borne meal.

How to Store Mexican Mac and Cheese

This spicy, savory mac and cheese with Mexican cheese can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for three to four days. It should ideally be reheated on the stovetop with a bit of fresh cheese and sour cream added to revive the texture, but a microwave works fine as well. And you can freeze it for up to three months, with a slow thaw in the pan and the same additions advisable as it heats up.

Mexican Mac and Cheese Tips

What’s the best way to handle the cheese packets?

Anyone who has made a lot of mac and cheese knows that sometimes the powdered cheese packets end up causing little gummed-up balls in the final dish when they aren’t fully broken up and stirred in. Make sure to evenly spread the cheese packets into the recipe and stir well as soon as they are in—and if you do see any cheese powder balls that aren’t breaking up, try to scoop them out before baking.

Can I use fresh tomatoes?

If you have an abundance of fresh tomatoes, by all means use them in this recipe. Just chop them well and try to save their fluid, and consider adding a bit of extra water and a dash of salt with the fresh tomatoes to compensate for the liquid you’re not getting from canned tomatoes.

Can I bake Mexican mac and cheese in the Dutch oven?

Sure you can! If you have an oven-safe Dutch oven, go ahead and do the stovetop and the oven cooking in it—just note that there will be less surface area than with a baking pan, so there will be a thicker layer of cheese atop the dish and it might need a bit more time to heat through.

Chili Mac and Cheese

Prep Time 30 min
Cook Time 20 min
Yield 8 servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 packages (7-1/4 ounces each) macaroni and cheese dinner mix
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes and green chiles, undrained
  • 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend, divided

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Set aside cheese packets from dinner mixes. In a large saucepan, bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add macaroni; cook until tender, 8-10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, cook and stir beef and onion over medium heat until beef is no longer pink, 8-10 minutes; drain. Stir in tomatoes, tomatoes and green chiles, tomato sauce and seasonings. Drain macaroni; add to beef mixture. Stir in contents of cheese packets, sour cream and 1 cup cheese.
  3. Transfer to a greased 13x9-in. baking dish; top with remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, until bubbly, 20-25 minutes.

Nutrition Facts

1-1/2 cups: 631 calories, 35g fat (17g saturated fat), 105mg cholesterol, 1286mg sodium, 22g carbohydrate (10g sugars, 3g fiber), 35g protein.

This Mexican/southwestern casserole of comfort food is high on taste and low on the scale of difficulty—a delicious combination. —Mary Aguilar, Shelby, Ohio