How To Make the Very Best Tuna Casserole from Scratch

updated Sep 12, 2022
How To Make Tuna Casserole

A modern-day tuna casserole that keeps the classic, comforting flavors but loses the can of condensed soup.

Serves 4 to 6

Prep25 minutes

Cook20 minutes

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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

When I was growing up, my single mother served tuna casserole at least once a week, because the ingredients were cheap and it came together quickly. We ate it so frequently that it may have been the dish that jump-started my culinary career (frankly, I was so tired of eating it that I’d cook if it meant eating anything else). I spent most of my teens and 20s avoiding tuna noodle casserole at all costs.

Now that I’m a mom to two elementary school-aged kids, I have a newfound appreciation for the casserole. It’s a budget-friendly family meal, adaptable to my kids’ whims, and a comforting weeknight dish that we all agree on.

This is not my mother’s tuna bake (no canned soup here), but one that my family loves enough for me to serve it once a week.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

What Makes This the Best Tuna Casserole?

Tuna noodle is at heart an easy, thrifty casserole, with a base of tender egg noodles, savory gravy, sweet peas, and delicate flakes of tuna (bonus points if it has a crispy, cheesy top). This one doesn’t require a can of condensed soup or an advanced culinary degree — it hits all the high points of the classic casserole while still being adaptable, making it a weeknight meal that’s a win with the elementary school crowd.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

What Ingredients Do I Need for Tuna Casserole?

While tuna noodle casserole is generally amenable to changes, there are two ingredients you shouldn’t compromise on: the noodles and the tuna.

  • Egg noodles are a must for tuna noodle casserole. They hold up well to boiling and then baking, and the sauce clings to their slightly furled shape. Egg noodles rank high on the nostalgia factor, too.
  • Canned tuna has come a long way in both flavor and sustainability since I was a kid. I prefer envelopes to cans because the tuna is cooked more gently, giving it a more mild flavor. No matter the brand, look for tuna packed in water.
  • Peas, carrots, and mushrooms are classic additions, and while I kept the peas and carrots, I lost the mushrooms since we’re skipping the old-school condensed soup route.
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Do I Need Canned Soup for Tuna Noodle Casserole?

No condensed soup shame here, but I don’t find myself stocking my pantry with the stuff like my grandmother and mom used to. Instead, I build a savory stovetop gravy — seasoned with stock, garlic, and onion powder — and fold the egg noodles and tuna into that.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Can I Make Tuna Casserole in Advance?

My mom was big on prepping her casserole in advance, and I, too, often assemble this the day before I serve it. Just leave the cracker and cheese topping off until it’s time to bake.

If you find yourself making this on a whim on a Wednesday night, it’s worth noting that you can build the sauce and casserole in an oven-safe skillet and transfer it from stovetop to oven without dirtying a casserole dish. We serve tuna noodle casserole as a one-bowl meal, but if you find yourself wanting more vegetables on the side — steamed broccoli, sautéed spinach, or even just a simple green salad.

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This tuna noodle casserole requires just a few pantry staples and no canned soup.

How To Make Tuna Casserole

A modern-day tuna casserole that keeps the classic, comforting flavors but loses the can of condensed soup.

Prep time 25 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


  • 8 ounces

    dried egg noodles

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 1/4 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup

    low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

  • 1 cup

    whole milk

  • 1 teaspoon

    onion powder

  • 1 teaspoon

    garlic powder

  • 2 cups

    frozen peas or peas and carrots

  • 1 (6 ounce) envelope

    water-packed tuna (see note)

  • 1 cup

    shredded cheddar cheese

  • 8 to 10

    butter crackers, such as Ritz, crushed (about 2/3 cup)


  • 4-quart pot

  • colander

  • frying pan or skillet

  • 2-quart baking dish


  1. Preheat the oven. Set your oven to 375 degrees. You can bake this casserole right in the skillet or coat a 2 quart baking dish with non-stock spray for baking later.

  2. Cook the noodles. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add one teaspoon of the salt, followed by the noodles. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the noodles are just tender, about 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.

  3. Make a pan sauce. Melt the butter in a large oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. (If you don't have an oven-safe frying pan, use a regular one and bake in a 2-quart baking dish.) Add the flour and cook until it smells toasted, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the broth and milk. Add the onion powder, garlic powder, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes.

  4. Add the frozen vegetables, noodles, and tuna. Remove the sauce from the heat. Add the peas, noodles, and tuna, and fold them in with a spatula.

  5. Sprinkle with the cheese and cracker crumbs. Sprinkle with the cheese, followed by the cracker crumbs.

  6. Bake until bubbly and serve. Bake until bubbly, the cheese is melted, and the crackers are golden-brown, 15 to 18 minutes.

  7. Cool for 5 minutes before serving. Let the casserole cool 5 minutes before serving — this will allow the sauce to thicken slightly.

Recipe Notes

Canned tuna: Feel free to use the equiviliant of your favorite canned tuna, just make drain to it well before using.

Make ahead: The casserole can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance. Sprinkle on the cheese and breadcrumbs right before baking.

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

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