Homemade Hamburger Helper

published Oct 5, 2023
Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe

This one-pot casserole channels the nostalgic favorite with ground beef and pasta in a creamy cheddar cheese sauce.

Serves4 to 6

Prep10 minutes

Cook30 minutes

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Homemade hamburger helper in Dutch oven.
Credit: Kelli Foster

One of the first stovetop recipes I ever made when I was a kid was a box of Hamburger Helper. Because it called for ground beef, it made me feel like I was cooking from scratch, and I loved every bite of those cheesy, saucy noodles loaded with savory beef. 

I still look back fondly at that dish and the confidence it gave me to cook, so I created an easy, one-pot version of Hamburger Helper that’s just as tasty (I also created from-scratch versions of Cheeseburger Macaroni and Tuna Helper too!). One bite always transports me back to my childhood kitchen and all the boxes of Hamburger Helper I cooked through. It’s a great family-friendly weeknight meal to add to your regular rotation.

Why Homemade Hamburger Helper Is Better than the Boxed Version

  • It takes almost the same amount of time to cook. The cook time for the homemade version is almost the same as the boxed, with the only difference being that the pasta takes a few minutes longer.
  • You get more food. A whole pound of pasta is cooked in the homemade version, which means you end up with way more food in the end.
  • You can control the salt. Boxed meals tend to have a high amount of salt, but you can control the amount of salt in the homemade version. I like 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt, but you can start with a smaller amount if you’d like.
  • Fresh ingredients make a difference. Fresh onion and cheddar cheese give better flavor than their dried or dehydrated counterparts.
Credit: Kelli Foster

How to Make Homemade Hamburger Helper

The basic steps of cooking homemade Hamburger Helper are similar to the box instructions.

  1. Brown the beef. In a Dutch oven, cook 1 pound ground beef (frozen is fine — just thaw it first) and diced onion at the same time. Season it with granulated garlic, salt, and pepper.
  2. Add the seasonings and liquid. Add some flour for thickening, then mix in tomato paste, water, beef broth, milk, and soy sauce or Worcestershire.
  3. Cook the pasta. Add one pound shell pasta right into the sauce and cook until tender.
  4. Finish with cheese. Stir in lots of sharp cheddar cheese to create and thicken a creamy, cheesy sauce.

What to Serve with Homemade Hamburger Helper

Homemade Hamburger Helper has starch and protein already, so pair a vegetable with it for a complete meal. A green salad, cooked broccoli, or sautéed green beans would be great companions.

Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe

This one-pot casserole channels the nostalgic favorite with ground beef and pasta in a creamy cheddar cheese sauce.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1/2

    medium yellow onion

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

  • 1 pound

    lean ground beef

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    granulated garlic

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

  • 1 tablespoon

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon

    tomato paste

  • 1 2/3 cups

    water

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can

    low-sodium beef broth (scant 2 cups)

  • 2 cups

    whole or 2% milk

  • 1 tablespoon

    soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 pound

    dried medium shell pasta

  • 8 ounces

    sharp cheddar cheese, preferably yellow (about 2 cups shredded)

  • Chopped fresh parsley leaves or 1 thinly sliced medium scallion, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Dice 1/2 medium yellow onion (3/4 to 1 cup).

  2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until simmering. Add the onion and 1 pound lean ground beef. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic, 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Break up the beef into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook until the beef is cooked through and the onion is tender, 6 to 7 minutes.

  3. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour and add 1 tablespoon tomato paste. Stir for 1 minute to cook the floury taste out. Add 1 2/3 cups water and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add 1 (14.5-ounce) can low-sodium beef broth, 2 cups whole or 2% milk, 1 tablespoon soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer (do not boil or the milk will separate).

  4. Add 1 pound dried medium shell pasta and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally and making sure the pasta is mostly submerged in liquid, until the pasta is tender, 13 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, grate 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese on the large holes of a box grater (about 2 cups) if needed.

  5. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the cheese and stir until the cheese is melted. Taste and season with more kosher salt and black pepper as needed. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley leaves or 1 thinly sliced medium scallion if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.