Queso Mac and Cheese with Spicy Ground Beef

This queso mac and cheese is super easy to make, picky eater approved, and loaded with 27 grams of protein per serving thanks to a chipotle seasoned ground beef. Pair it with a side salad, roasted vegetables, or just an extra serving or two and everyone will be full and happy. And this dish reheats really well, making it a great recipe to double for meal prep!

I’ll run you through the recipe below and cover ingredient substitutions as we go. You’ll also find a printable recipe card at the bottom of the post. 

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Step 1: Cook Banza elbows or your choice of pasta in salted water. 

a box of Banza elbows cooking in a pot of boiling salted water

Banza makes chickpea based pasta that’s gluten free and a bit higher in protein. It is one of my go-to pasta substitutes, and I’ve used it in recipes like my pressure cooker chili mac, homemade Easy Mac, and  cajun sausage pasta bake. That said, any pasta will work in this recipe. 

Two tips for cooking the pasta for your queso mac and cheese: 

  1. Cook the pasta for about 4-5 minutes and let the time in the queso ground beef finish it off. This will prevent overcooking the pasta. 
  2. If you start the pasta right before cooking the beef, the timing should be perfect. If you for whatever reason get sidetracked and need to drain the pasta before the beef is ready, drizzle a little oil over the drained pasta to prevent sticking once it cools. 

Step 2: Cook extra lean ground beef with a chipotle pepper spice blend. 

lean ground beef, spices, and olive oil for the spicy chipotle ground beef

I know you’re wondering, so yes, you can probably skip the olive oil if you use a nonstick skillet. That would save some calories for more cheese to partially makeup for the lost flavor from cooking the beef and spices in oil. 

The only other ingredient notes I have here would be on the white pepper and kosher salt. If all you have is black pepper on hand, that’s perfectly fine. And if you’re using table salt instead of kosher, cut the amount in half. 

cooking the ground beef in the olive oil with spices on top

If you’re new to my recipes and have never heard my spiel about allowing your ground beef to develop a crust before fully cooking, check out my sweet chili ground beef or hamburger steak recipes to learn more about cooking ground beef like a pro. 

Step 3: Add hot sauce to the cooked ground beef.

adding chipotle cholula hot sauce to the cooked ground beef

Since the recipe calls for ground chipotle chili powder, it only makes sense to stick to the chipotle theme with hot sauce. But if you have trouble locating this blend of Cholula, any hot sauce will do. The hot sauce is in the recipe to both deglaze the pan (help you scrape off any crispy bits stuck to the pan) and add flavor. So keep it in! 

If you wanted to really up the spice level, though, you could use canned chipotles in adobo like in my chipotle beef sweet potato nachos.

Step 4: Add queso to the ground beef.

adding the Trader Joe's queso to the cooked ground beef

Trader Joe’s queso is kind of a magical ingredient that has 165 calories per jar. If you’re making a shopping run, you’ll want to grab an extra jar for my queso mac and cheese with ground beef

That said, you can use any jarred queso for your mac and cheese, but you’ll need to adjust the nutrition information slightly. Also, there’s always the option to make your own cheese sauce like in my chicken bacon ranch mac and cheese or cajun mac and cheese recipes. 

Bonus tip: If you want extra cheesy queso mac and cheese, you could try extending the queso by mixing it with a bit of chicken broth like in my chicken fajita pasta bake.

Step 5: Add cooked pasta to the queso and ground beef. 

cooked pasta in the ground beef and queso mixture

Be gentle folding everything together. Even if you slightly under cook, sometimes chickpea pasta can be a delicate flower. 

Step 6 (optional): Top with your choice of cheese and broil to melt. 

shaved cheese on top of the finished queso mac and cheese before broiling

In the photo above, you’re looking at shaved cheddar with crushed chipotle pepper on top before broiling. The recipe calls for monterey jack, however, since it’s much better for melting. You can skip this step, but it’s a grate idea not to. 

Well, that’s it. In case I missed anything about this queso mac and cheese, you can ask a question in the comments below or join my free Facebook group to get some help from the 12,000+ home cooks there. And when you try this recipe, don’t forget to come back and let me know how it turned out! 

Queso Mac and Cheese with Spicy Ground Beef

Queso Mac and Cheese with Spicy Ground Beef

Yield: 6 Servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Chickpea pasta in a lower calorie queso with spicy chipotle ground beef and monterey jack cheese.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Lean Ground Beef (96/4)
  • 1 Tbsp (16g) Olive Oil
  • 2 tsp Ground Chipotle Chili Powder
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp Onion Powder
  • 1 tsp White Pepper (or black pepper)
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 C (60g) Chipotle Cholula Hot Sauce (or your choice of hot sauce)
  • 8 oz Banza Pasta Elbows
  • 12 oz jar Queso Dip, I used Trader Joe's
  • 3/4 C (84g) Shredded Monterey Jack, optional topping

Instructions

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil to cook the pasta. Cook the pasta for 2-3 minutes less than instructed on its packaging.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with the olive oil. Once hot, add the ground beef.
  3. Mix the spices in a small bowl and add to the top of the ground beef. Stir the ground beef and continue cooking until no pink remains.
  4. Add the chipotle Cholula and cook until no liquid remains, about 30 seconds.
  5. Reduce the heat to low and add the queso. Stir to fully incorporate before adding the cooked pasta.
  6. Top with cheese and place under a high broil in your oven for 3-5 minutes to melt the cheese. (Or you could stir in the cheese with the queso before adding the cooked pasta.) Top with crushed chipotle peppers and fresh cilantro, if desired.

Notes

Each serving has 9 WW SmartPoints (blue plan).

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Servings Serving Size: 190 grams
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 315Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 4gCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 5gSugar: 5gProtein: 27g

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15 thoughts on “Queso Mac and Cheese with Spicy Ground Beef”

  • This was absolutely delicious! Didn’t have chipotle Cholula on hand but Frank’s Red Hot worked fine. Used Aldi’s salsa con queso since I’m not blessed with a TJ’s. New favorite and will absolutely make again soon.

  • This recipe was so good! To make it like a meal prep, I doubled the meat and the elbow noodles and spices. Also used a Mexican style cheese blend on top when we broiled it. Makes a perfect dinner for us to eat on all week!

  • My family loves this recipe! This weekend I used turkey instead of ground beef and it is amazing. I made it for friends who don’t watch what they eat and they wanted the recipe. Thank you this hits the spot! 😋

  • Made this recipe this weekend and loved it! We do not have a Trader Joe’s close by, so we used regular queso and stretched it with chicken broth. Absolutely delicious, and will he making again soon!

  • I came to this page for the mug cakes because I was looking for an easy quarantine dessert to curb my sweet tooth…and stayed for everything else! This recipe is very quickly becoming one of my favorites. I did substitute the pasta for chickpea pasta (you can hardly tell the difference with all the cheese tbh), and I did throw in some steamed broccoli as well. But it was easy to make, and even easier to finish! 5/5, would make again and will probably do so this week.

  • Okay I can’t be the only one that is married to a man that loves boxed hamburger helper… gosh it’s horrible and I’ve always refused to make it. Well long behold this mason fit recipe right here is sent from ABOVE. ITS OH SO YUMMY and it’s not that garbage box crap!! This is in my banza pasta rotation. New FAV. 👏🏻

      • Love this dish! My husband is picky because he doesn’t like healthy food. However he put this as “one of the best things I’ve made!” This time i made it, it was soooo spicy. I like spice but not everyone could have palette that. Idk what i did wrong. What is the spice level suppose to be?

  • WOWOW. That’s all I have to say. I’ve never really liked any Mac and cheese recipe I’ve tried, but THIS. This is different. So comforting and delicious. We used a garlic hot sauce and it worked perfectly with the garlic powder seasoning. Definitely recommend

  • Made this for my family and everyone LOVED IT! My dad who even *hates* eating anything healthy or any recipes I try to make healthier loved it and had me make it again!

  • This has been one of my favorite staple recipes of mason’s! Very macro friendly. I was nervous with leftovers because I feel like sometimes banza pasta really soaks up sauces but this reheated perfectly the next day. The flavor is out of this world. I followed the ingredients/directions to a t and didn’t make any changes and it’s perfect every time. Thank you Mason!!

  • This was my second Mason recipe I tried with Banza pasta and it didn’t disappoint. I was craving a loaded mac & cheese and this hit the spot! Plus the macros made it easy to fit into my daily allotment. Thanks for highlighting TJ’s queso Mason- it’s now a staple in my cupboard!

  • I made this last night and it was a crowd pleaser! Your recipes have the best combinations of spices, which always make a great flavor. My teenagers thought it was a little too spicy but I was heavy handed with the hot sauce. Next time, I might just put it in each individual bowl. Thanks again for another great recipe!

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