One Pot Chili Mac

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Blending the best of both worlds, chili mac combines the smoky and spicy flavor of chili with the rich and creamy texture of mac & cheese. It’s an all-American camping classic and using this recipe, you can make it using just a single pot!

Megan holding a bowl of chili mac

Chili mac holds a special place in our hearts. For us, it’s a nostalgic meal from our childhood that combines the easy-to-approach comfort of mac and cheese with the more challenging and assertive flavor profile of chili.

And this wide appeal of chili mac is part of what makes it such a home-run for camping. Young and old can find everything they’ve ever wanted in a warm bowl of chili mac and cheese. It’s popular, filling, and easy to make. What else could anyone ask for?

But we went a step further to develop this recipe to be a one-pot meal. Not only does this save you from having to drain the pasta water from a separate pot, but it also builds layer upon layer of flavor that really comes through in the finished product. All you need is a large pot with a lid.

While chili mac on its own is a wonder to behold, the creative use of toppings can really take each serving in a unique direction. Lean into the spice with sliced jalapenos or tame it with a dollop of sour cream. Add in some bit with diced red onions, scallions, or chives. Or layer on some extra cheese. It’s totally up to the individual.

Why we love this One Pot Chili Mac:
↠ Lots of complex flavors and textures that come together really quickly.
↠ Cooking the pasta in with the chili saves you an extra pot, plus the hassle of trying to strain off the boiling water at a campsite.
↠ It’s hard to express just how stick-to-your-ribs hearty this meal feels. As satisfying as a Hamburger Helper, but without all the processed ingredients.
↠ Toppings allow you to customize each bowl. A few sliced jalapenos for the adults, some extra cheese for the kids.

So if you’re looking for a sure bet camping meal to cap off the evening, put this chili mac and cheese on the menu!

How to make chili mac & step by step video

Start by dicing an onion and adding it to a pot with some oil over medium heat. Saute for a few minutes until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the ground beef, tomato paste, and spices. Use your spatula to break up the beef (1). Cook until the beef has browned, stirring frequently.

Step by step photos illustrating how to make chili mac

Now, add the elbow noodles and a can of drained kidney beans (2). Add the broth and stir to combine (3). Bring to a simmer and cover. The cooking time will depend on the specific noodles you use, so check the package for the cooking time. Ours usually takes 5-6 minutes. While the noodles cook, you can prep all your toppings.

Once the noodles are cooked through, remove the lid and stir in the cheese (4). Serve the chili mac in bowls and let everyone customize with their toppings of choice.

Pre-trip prep

While there isn’t a ton of prep work to be done ahead of time with this recipe, you could premix the spices at home so you don’t have to bring the chili powder, cumin, and smoked paprika with you. But definitely bring along the salt!

A bowl of chili mac on a camp table

Equipment needed

Cookpot or Dutch Oven: A large cookpot (this is the one we use) or a 10” Dutch oven will work for this recipe.
Camp Stove: This is the best camp stove we’ve used so far. It offers great simmer control and does a good job blocking wind. Alternatively, this meal can be made over the campfire!

Other one pot meals you’ll enjoy

Dutch Oven Enchiladas
One Pot Red Lentil Sloppy Joes
Campfire Nachos
One Pot Beef Stroganoff

Megan holding a bowl of chili mac topped with jalapeños and cheese

Megan holding a bowl of chili mac

One Pot Chili Mac

Blending the best of both worlds, chili mac combines the smoky and spicy flavor of chilli with the rich and creamy texture of mac & cheese. It’s an all-American camping classic and using this recipe, you can make it using just a single pot!
Author: Fresh Off The Grid
4.55 from 33 votes
Print Pin Rate Save
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
4 servings


  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • ½ pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz elbow noodles
  • 1 (14.5oz) can kidney beans, drained
  • 1 ½ cup beef broth
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • To serve: minced red onion, jalapeno, scallions


  • In a Dutch oven or other large pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the ground beef, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, and salt. Using your spoon or spatula, break apart the meat and stir to coat with the tomato paste and spices. Once browned, add the garlic and saute for 30-60 seconds.
  • Add the noodles, kidney beans, and broth and stir. Cover with the lid and cook for 5-6 minutes (unless the noodle packaging denotes a different cooking time).
  • Remove the lid and stir in the cheese. Serve with your favorite chili toppings.

Nutrition (Per Serving)

Calories: 509kcal | Carbohydrates: 66g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 16g | Fiber: 10g | Sugar: 5g
*Nutrition is an estimate based on information provided by a third-party nutrition calculator
Main Course

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  1. Have you tried dehydrating this one?

    1. We haven’t yet. Although due to popular demand we are absolutely planning to! It would definitely need modifying. The ground beef would need to be mixed with bread crumbs (to help it rehydrate later), precooked in a skillet (to make sure it reaches 165 F), thoroughly padded to remove as much grease (i.e. fats) as possible, and then dehydrated separately. As for the mac & cheese, we would recommend a store-bought mac & cheese with a powdered cheese packet. Shredded cheese doesn’t dehydrate well and can potentially turn rancid. But a $2 box of Annie’s Mac & Cheese comes with a trail-ready powder cheese packet.

    2. My family made this over a fire this weekend and we all loved it! Really easy and delicious meal.5 stars

  2. My family loved this! Because I used chile powder instead of chili powder, I added a couple of tbsps of milk. Easy – will make this again!5 stars

    1. Sarah Nyeholt says:

      Started off following the recipe exactly, but it was soon apparent that 3 cups broth would not be enough liquid to cook noodles thoroughly. Had to add water because didn’t have more broth at campground. This cooled it down so had to increase cooking time. It was way too spicy for my kids and almost for me. Also, for a Dutch oven recipe for camping, I couldn’t find any directions on number of coals to use on top and bottom. However, it was good and after tweaking spices and liquid we will try it again.4 stars

  3. Cristina Coro says:

    To preface, we’re vegetarians so we made this without beef (I know, I know…). Wasn’t thrilled about the flavor of this recipe, and yes, it’s probably because beed would make it tastier. I think there was too much paprika for my liking because it left a bitter taste. I will say the cheese cut that down a bit. I would add more garlic, a bit more salt, more veggie broth and definitely more beans. Will try it again because it was super easy to make and I love getting to use the dutch oven over the fire.3 stars

    1. Thanks for the feedback. We will definitely need to develop a vegetarian version of this recipe. (Already working on a backpacking version) The fat from the ground beef definitely would have helped smooth the flavors out. All your additions though seem like they would work, so you’ll have to let us know how it goes if you make it again. You may also want to check out this dutch oven chili & cornbread recipe. It’s a good vegetarian chili base, so if you just add some more liquid and the noodles it could easily be adapted to make veg chili mac! You could skip the cornbread top or keep it. Hope that all helps!

  4. Made this last week while camping and it was delicious. It was super easy to make. We’re vegetarian so I left out the beef and replaced with sweet potatoes and it was just as good. Leaving again for a trip in two days and definitely making this. Love your recipes!5 stars

  5. This looks excellent! I would love to try this with gluten-free lentil macaroni. Do you think I need to change the amount of broth to get the texture right with GF noodles? (I noticed that there’s a lot more liquid in the one-pot recipe for Protein Pasta,but that one is not covered during cooking, so some water evaporates…) Thanks for sharing these yummy-looking camp dinners!

  6. Very do-able, and it hits the spot after a long day. This doesn’t take long to make, and it’s a forgivable recipe – I neglected to add any tasty toppings besides shredded cheese and Tabasco and it was still very good (I even left out the beans, b/c I only needed two servings worth of food).
    Thank you for this site – it has saved me a bunch this summer when last minute camping adventures came up!5 stars

  7. We made this recipe last month camping and our kids loved it! We are going again this weekend and they said that they want it on the menu again. So easy to make and yet quite a hit- two thumbs up from Minnesota.5 stars

  8. This recipe is amazing! Made it first time on our camping trip this weekend, absolutely yummy!! Little spicier than we wanted.. And it made 3 servings, not 4. Or may be we overate because it was so damn good.. 😀5 stars

  9. Great recipe, but definitely on the spicier side for my two toddlers. I made it again with half the spice and my very picky nephew went back for thirds!4 stars