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Better than Mama’s: Chili 3 Ways

I love this chili 3 ways recipe because it combines two of my faves-spaghetti and chili, and all the toppings are like bonus points. Make it with turkey or ground beef or even ground chicken or ground pork, because this chili mac recipe is so good!
chili 3 ways

My husband grew up in Texas. He loves chili. (I don’t know if this is a Teyxas thing or not but I suspect it could be.)

He loves chili however many ways he can get it. He loves chili for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

He loves it with eggs. He loves it with burgers. He loves it in a bowl sprinkled with cheese and onions and jalapenos.

He loves Texas chili; the kind with hunks of meat and deep, dark chipotle, ancho seasoning.

He loves it made with hamburger meat, too. And chorizo.

He loves it with beer in the recipe and beer on the side.

He loves it with football games or on a snowy day.

He loves it with pintos, but he’ll eat it with black beans.

He loves it green. He loves it red.

chili 3 ways

He loves it over cornbread and especially over Fritos. He adores it over hot dogs.

I’ve never seen him eat it over tuna fish but I suspect he might… Well, maybe not, but he does love tuna fish with green chiles.

Yes, my husband loves chili.

I, on the other hand, grew up in Illinois. We didn’t eat chili like THAT.

We ate chili with red kidney beans and I do not like red kidney beans.

No. I do not.

chili 3 ways

I do not remember cheese or onions served on the side.

But I do remember my mother ordering chili mac three ways whenever we went to Kankakee’s version of Steak and Shake – Wally’s.

This diner was named Wally’s. I don’t know who Wally was but Wally had very good taste in all things diner.

I liked their thin, crispy burgers and my brother loved the pork tenderloin.

We all liked their shakes and thin, crispy, fries.

My father probably had the jello that was always on the counter cut into neat little red or green cubes with a squirt of probably fake whipped cream.

chili 3 ways

Whatever. I remember this chili mac recipe. I never ate it.

Never had a bite that I can remember. But I did eat the saltines. It always came with a lot of saltines.

And my mother gave us each a package.

But back to chili. I get tired of chili. I wanted a new way to make chili.

One that wouldn’t burn my mouth with heat.

Well, Midwest chili is not known for its heat, at least that I know of. And that is when I remembered my mom’s chili mac that was really Wally’s chili mac.

She always ordered it so I figured it must be good.

And no this isn’t Wally’s chili mac recipe, because Wally probably keeps that hidden.

So I invented this and frankly, it might be even better than Wally’s!

chili 3 ways recipe

In any case what is featured below is probably not my mama’s chili mac.

But I will tell you that it is really, really good.

And I like this better than Texas chili, but let’s not start a fight or anything.

A few notes on making this Chili 3 Ways:

Begin by making the chili. This is more of a Midwestern chili.

I like to add my own seasonings and create my own chili powder-more or less.

If you only have chili powder on hand and not different varieties of chili powder, that’s OK.

I love the umami flavor that Lipton’s onion soup has and if you use half the packet throw the rest into some sour cream and create some onion dip.

But it’s OK to use the whole packet, too.

Pinto beans are optional and sometimes I don’t even mix them into the chili.

Often, I use them as a layer (think 3, 5, or 5 ways) so folks who don’t like beans don’t have to have them.

Toppings for Chili 3 Ways:

Toppings are my favorite part.

Chopped onion, grated cheese, parmesan cheese from the can and pepperoncini, pickled jalapenos-whatever you want.

Diner style means serving this with a packet of Saltines to crush over the top or oyster crackers and a can of dried parmesan on the side, but that is up to you.

Spaghetti or elbows? The choice is yours. I prefer spaghetti!

BBQ Sauce? Yes, that might confuse you and though it isn’t essential, to me it is.

I love the tinge of sweetness that this gives to the chili mac. 

Top everything off and mix it all up until you have a messy plate.

Dive in. This chili 3 ways recipe is comfort at its finest!

More to Try:

Green Chile

green chile in bowl
Corn and Green Chile Chowder

Corn and Green Chile Chowder
Red Chile

Breakfast Enchiladas with Red Chile
Cincinnati Chili

cincinnati chili

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chili mac recipe

Not My Mama’s Chili Mac or Chili Three, Four or Five Ways

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star No reviews
  • Author: Abbe Odenwalder
  • Prep Time: 20 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 Minutes
  • Total Time: 40 Minutes
  • Yield: 4 - 6 Servings 1x
  • Category: Soups and Chili
  • Method: Stove Top
  • Cuisine: American


I love this diner style chili mac recipe. So good, and not too spicy! And you can eat it three, four or 5 ways!


Units Scale

1 lb ground turkey or chicken or beef

1/2 c diced onion plus 1/2 c more for topping

2 minced cloves of garlic

1 T ancho chili powder or just use your favorite chile powder

1 T rojo chili powder

1 t oregano

1/4 t allspice

1/2 t smoked paprika

1 t cocoa

1 14 oz can diced tomatoes

1/2 envelope Lipton’s onion soup mix

1/2 c ketchup

1 T yellow mustard

1 t Frank’s hot sauce

1 c water or beef bouillon

1 can pintos, drained and rinsed

1 1/2 c grated cheddar cheese

Canned Parmesan cheese at your discretion

1/2 lb cooked spaghetti or elbows

BBQ Sauce

1/4 c ketchup (I’m a Heinz girl)

2 T Worcestershire

2 T brown sugar


Brown turkey over medium heat and crumble it as it cooks.

Add onion and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Push to side and add chili powders, oregano, allspice, and paprika. Cook for a minute or so until spices are toasted. You will smell them.

Add can of tomatoes, cocoa, onion soup mix, ketchup, mustard and Frank’s hot sauce. Let simmer a few minutes until liquid has disappeared by about half.

Stir in can of beans. Now stir in water and let simmer about 10 minutes. It should still look like a thick gravy but not be so thick as to not have liquid. If you let it sit a bit too long and it gets too thick just add a little more water. It can take it!

BBQ Sauce

Mix ingredients together and shake or stir until sugar dissolves.


Place a serving of pasta on a plate. Top with several spoonfuls of chili. Spread the chili with 1 T  of BBQ sauce or to taste.

Top with some spoonfuls of diced onion and then the grated cheddar. Feel free to use the Parmesan out of a can. And just for good measure I topped my chili off with a few pepperoncini slices, but you could use jalapenos. If you like saltines-go for it!  Crumble a package of oyster crackers on top or some Saltines straight from the cellophane!


Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star


Monday 26th of January 2015

Abbe I grew up a few blocks from Wallys. they had great food and I remember the chili and jello. Thank you for the recipe and a lot of great memories. oh and the building is still there it is a Mexican food restaurant now.Jim from Bradley, il.

Abbe Odenwalder

Tuesday 27th of January 2015

Oh Jim. So nice to hear from you! A Mexican restaurant? Jeez, when I loved in Kankakee there were NO Mexican restaurants! We went to Wally's at least once a week. Bummer! Thanks so much for writing!

Libby B.

Friday 8th of March 2013

A magical dish of comfort ! I still go to the Steak and Shake when we are back in Illinois to eat this. And I order it with no beans ! Thanks for your version, abbe. I'm going to make it with my gluten-free spaghetti. Love, Mom

Shut Up and Cook | The Attainable Gourmet

Thursday 7th of March 2013

Can you say comfort food? This sounds fantastic! Sign me up!

Abbe Odenwalder

Thursday 7th of March 2013

Natalie, I have to confess that since I came up with this I've made it twice. It really is addicting...Try it with spaghetti. I liked that best!

Natalie G

Thursday 7th of March 2013

You just paired two of my fave comfort meals into ONE magical meal, this looks AMAZING.