A hearty, hunger-crushing dish that’s so easy to make in the pressure cooker, Instant Pot Chili Mac with turkey and cheese will become your go-to dinner this winter!
I could tell from the moment I lifted the lid on the Instant Pot that this dish was going straight into regular rotation of crave-worthy, bone-warming winter recipes.
Even though I’ve had my Instant Pot for more than two years now, there’s a moment each and every time I peer into the pot that I expect to experience a heart-sinking, womp-womp moment. As a veteran of disappointing slow cooker results — watery, strangely overcooked, woefully under-flavored — it’s been hard to break the expectation that another meal-cooking-gadget won’t also muck up an otherwise stalwart recipe.
But, I think that’s why we’re seeing the resurgence of pressure cooking, with the new generation of electric and stove top models: pressure cooking just works.
And it just works here, too. When you combine the ease of a dump-and-set-it recipe with the flavor-boosting capabilities of a good ole ingredient saute, you get the best of both worlds: fast, but absolutely not short on soul-soothing taste.
So, back to that moment when I untwisted the lid, peered over the edge, and dug in with a spoon — watch the accompanying video to see what I mean. The pasta was done to perfection. The sauce was thick, bubbly and oh-so-fragrant. Stirring in the cream and cheese took seconds, and voila, ready to serve!
A hugely satisfying meal. I don’t even serve a side with this dish, because a big bowl is all I need to fill my happy tummy. But, a crusty baguette or a side salad would complement the meal nicely.
Tips for Making the Best Instant Pot Chili Mac
- Don’t skimp on the spices! Chili Mac is called Chili Mac because of the chili spices, not because of the meat. I use a rather generous quantity of my favorite chili powder and smoked paprika. But there’s nothing saying that you can’t use a blend of your favorites — say, a mild chili blend for flavor, plus Chipotle chili powder for smoky heat. Or go five-alarm, if your that’s how your family rolls with the chili.
- Use whatever cooked beans you like best. Or a mixture! Black beans are awesome, as are great northerns.
- To lighten up the usual beefy dish, I used lean ground turkey. You won’t miss the fat (or the grease) of beef. Ground meat simply adds texture, while the spices and tomatoes spike up the flavor, and the milk and cheese create an irresistible creamy richness.
- Use a small/medium pasta with your Instant Pot Chili Mac for the optimum spoon-it-up experience (and you’ll definitely want to use spoons for this recipe, so as to not leave a drop behind). I love traditional elbows with the thin ridges (ridges = sauce pockets), but you could also use ditalini or orecchiette.
- Vegetarians in the household? Just replace the turkey and pancetta with more beans, and use vegetable broth or no-chicken broth instead of chicken broth. You can also use meatless crumbles in place of the turkey/pancetta, but after sauteing, remove them from the pot and set aside, returning them to the chili mac at the end, after the pressure cooking is complete.
- If you’re changing the quantities in this recipe, or using an 8 quart unit, you might not need all of the chicken broth called for by the math. You don’t want the chili mac to end up watery, so make sure you just cover the pasta with the broth.
- Treat Instant Pot Chili Mac just like your favorite chili, and serve with a variety of toppings, such as sour cream, green onions, chopped parsley, sliced pickled jalapenos. Whatever your family loves!
Tips for Avoiding the “Burn” Warning with your Instant Pot
I definitely don’t want to create paranoia by proactively including tips for dealing with the Instant Pot’s notorious Burn message. If you read enough Instant Pot forums on the interwebs, you’ll be convinced that it happens all the time. It doesn’t — not by a long shot — but it’s pretty much inevitable that you’ll get the error sometime in your Instant Pot life. And if I can help you skirt it completely on this recipe, it’s worth the quick browse.
The first time I received the Burn error was when cooking refried beans. I literally had *no* idea what the “Burn” message meant, and I thought the unit was about to go up in flames. As someone who’s deathly afraid of fire, that’s where my thought process immediately goes to: “burn” = flames. Lol.
The unit’s not going to flare up right there on your counter, but you do need to deal with what’s going on in the pot, because your food won’t finish cooking until you correct it. So, let’s head off all of that at the pass right now and learn the tricks for avoiding it in the first place.
- The most important thing you can do for this recipe to avoid the burn warning is to make sure the bottom of the inner pot is residue-free after each saute step. So, after browning and removing the turkey, make sure there are no burnt bits stuck to the bottom. If there are, scrape them up with a metal spatula (deglazing with a little red wine or broth, if neccesary). Ditto with the aromatics.
- The use of the saute function seems to correlate with a burn warning later in cooking. I’ve completely eliminated this quirk in my 6 qt model by turning off the unit towards the end of sauteing. I don’t believe the Instant Pot is flawed; rather, sauteing just makes the inner pot get a little too hot as it heads into the actual pressure cook. In this recipe, I advise that you turn off the unit between browning the turkey, and cooking the aromatics. Don’t worry — the inner pot stays plenty hot! But, letting the unit wind down for a few minutes seems to take the edge off of that extra saute heat.
- Tomato products — sauce, paste, tomato bits — are sticky by nature and are prone to generating the burn warning, even when they don’t actually seem to be burned to the bottom of the pan. The fix here is simple: as you can see in the steps photos above, I’ve lined the bottom of the pot with the vegetables and turkey. On top of that goes the beans, followed by all of the tomato products, so they’re not sitting on the bottom of the pot. Then the pasta and broth go in last … but do not stir before affixing the lid, no matter how tempting 😉 .
- Consider purchasing a non-stick inner pot for your Instant Pot. I have not tried one yet, but word on the street has it that it significantly reduces the likelihood of tomatoes and other stubborn ingredients from generating a burn warning. Makes sense: the burn message is triggered most often because something is stuck to the bottom of the pot. Plus, clean up will be a breeze!
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 ounces pancetta cubed or chopped
- 1 pound lean ground turkey
- 1/2 medium/large onion diced
- 4 ounces green chiles canned or fresh*
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons dried marjoram
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 15 ounce can beans**
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 15 ounce can tomato sauce
- 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni pasta
- 1 quart chicken broth
- 1/2 cup half and half or whole milk
- 2 heaping cups shredded cheese***
- sliced green onions
- sour cream
- pickled jalapenos
- shredded cheese
- chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
- Press the Saute function button on the Instant Pot, and adjust to medium heating. Add the oil to the inner pot of the unit and let heat until shimmering. Once the oil is shimmering (the unit might not yet display "Hot"; that's okay), add the pancetta and the turkey. Cook, stirring frequently, until the turkey is browned.
- Spoon out the pancetta and turkey into a separate bowl, and set aside.
- If you used lean turkey, there should be the right amount of fat in the inner pot. If there's more than a couple of tablespoons, carefully spoon out the extra and discard.
- Turn off the unit (see notes).
- Add the onions and green chiles, and saute until the onions are soft and translucent. Move the onions around to inspect the bottom of the pot. Scrape up any brown bits with a metal spatula and mix them into the vegetables (if there is stubborn residue, use a splash of red wine to help deglaze).
- Sprinkle the next 5 spices and salt over the vegetables and stir to mix.
- Return the pancetta and turkey to the pot. Add the beans, and level out the contents in the pot.
- Add the tomato products on top, followed by the pasta.
- Pour the chicken broth over the pasta just to cover (you might not use all of the broth). Use a spoon to pat down the pasta below the level of the liquids. Do not stir the contents; just pat down the pasta.
- Close the lid and seal the vent.
- Set manual pressure to high, and adjust for 4 minutes.
- When cooking is complete, quick release the pressure (cover the valve and vent with a towel to catch the steam and protect your hand). It could take a couple of minutes for the unit to depressurize.
- When the valve drops, carefully open the lid away from you, taking care to watch the drips from the lid.
- Stir the contents well. Add the milk and the cheese, and stir to incorporate completely. Ladle into bowls and serve with toppings. (If serving is delayed, leave the unit on warm; otherwise, turn off).
Instant Pot Chili Mac is definitely weeknight-easy. In fact, I keep the ingredients on hand so I can change my mind about the evening’s menu the moment a chili-seasoned pasta craving hits. I love how the pressure cooker does all the work, while I putter around the kitchen, cleaning up, setting the table, and checking Insta, lol. I hope you’ll love it, too!
Instant Pot Chili Mac with Turkey
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