Queso Mac and Cheese with Spicy Ground Beef
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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.
Step 1: Cook Banza elbows or your choice of pasta in 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 or 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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Trader Joe’s queso is kind of a magical ingredient that has 165 calories per jar. 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.
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.
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!
- 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
- 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.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with the olive oil. Once hot, add the ground beef.
- 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.
- Add the chipotle Cholula and cook until no liquid remains, about 30 seconds.
- Reduce the heat to low and add the queso. Stir to fully incorporate before adding the cooked pasta.
- 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.
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