This one-pot homemade Hamburger Helper recipe combines lean ground beef and macaroni in a cheesy, tomato-based sauce for a satisfying, crowd-pleasing dinner in under 30 minutes!
Hamburger Helper is an American childhood classic “packaged meal” made with pasta and dehydrated “sauce” to combine with ground beef and liquid and transform into a hearty, one-dish, quick, and easy meal. However, as a packaged product, it’s also packed with additives and preservatives – which is where this homemade hamburger helper recipe comes in.
With a combination of tender macaroni, ground beef, onion, and garlic in a cheesy, tomato-based sauce, this hamburger pasta dish is actually very similar to this hamburger casserole recipe but can be made in just one pot on the stovetop in a fraction of the time!
Better yet, by making it at home, you can eliminate/replace unnecessary ingredients with healthy, wholesome ones (which many will already have) for a truly satisfying one-pot meal.
Why you’ll love this homemade hamburger helper
- Made from scratch with inexpensive, common household ingredients.
- Ready in just 30 minutes in one pot (meaning easy clean-up).
- Packed with rich, savory, cheesy flavors – much better than the boxed stuff.
- Customizable in many ways – bulk with veggies, sub the meat, make it gluten-free.
- Cozy, comforting, satisfying, hearty, filling – all the best adjectives.
- A child-approved, family-friendly meal on busy weeknights.
- Meal prep and freezer-friendly meal.
Pair this recipe with veggies and/or salad for a super satisfying meal on weeknights, at potlucks, dinner parties, and more.
What you’ll need
A combination of simple and inexpensive ingredients is all you need to prepare this comforting cheeseburger pasta dish.
- Ground beef: I use extra lean ground beef between 90-95% lean to avoid greasiness. However, sub ground chicken, ground sausage, or ground turkey if preferred.
- Elbow macaroni: I use macaroni, though other small pasta shapes work, like cavatappi, penne, fusilli, or shells. Use regular, whole wheat, or gluten-free pasta.
- Aromatics: A simple combination of garlic and onion (yellow or white) helps to make a super aromatic, flavorful base.
- Tomato paste: Use store-bought or homemade tomato paste.
- Beef broth: Use rich, high-quality beef broth (store-bought or homemade). Use one that’s reduced sodium, if preferred.
- Cheddar cheese: Use sharp cheddar cheese for a super cheesy flavor. Using it from a block (rather than pre-shredded) works best. Smoked Gouda/Pepper Jack also works.
- Seasoning: You only need a simple combination of:
- Dried oregano,
- Chili powder or red pepper flakes or hot sauce – optional,
- Salt & black pepper.
- Oil: I use olive oil, but a neutral cooking oil, like vegetable oil, will also work. For an oil-free version, use a splash of broth (or water) instead.
How to make hamburger helper
First, finely chop the onion and mince the garlic.
Then, heat a large pot over medium heat with the oil (or a splash of broth). Once hot, sauté the onion for 1-2 minutes until soft, then add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds.
Stir in the ground beef and spices, breaking it down with your spoon/spatula as it browns. Cook the meat until completely browned (3-4 minutes).
Optionally drain any excess grease from the meat mixture if necessary.
Then, stir in the tomato paste, add the broth, and bring it to a boil over high heat.
Once it’s boiling, add the pasta to the pan and reduce it to medium-high heat.
Allow the pasta to simmer in the tomato sauce for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s tender and most excess liquid is absorbed.
Adding a lid is a good idea. If you notice it looks too dry, add about ½ more broth.
Meanwhile, shred the cheddar cheese.
Once the pasta is cooked, stir in the cheddar off the heat – the residual heat should melt it. Leave it to rest for just a few minutes, then enjoy!
Give it a final taste test before serving, and adjust any seasonings to taste.
Helpful recipe tips
- Use the right amount of broth: I’ve tested this recipe numerous times to ensure there isn’t too much liquid. If it gets too dry, however, add a little more.
- Monitor the pasta: Cook it until al dente/”just” tender, being careful not to let it become mushy.
- Use freshly grated cheese: Pre-grated cheese doesn’t melt the same way.
- Allow it to rest: Giving it a few minutes off-heat will allow all the flavors to meld and the sauce to thicken before serving.
- Experiment with add-ins: Check the recipe card notes section for all my favorite optional recipe variations, including adding extra veggies, seasonings, and more.
What to serve with hamburger helper?
Hamburger helper is a creamy, cheesy pasta dish that pairs well with:
- Cornbread, garlic bread, buttermilk biscuits, focaccia, or dinner rolls,
- Cooked vegetables – Brussels sprouts, green beans, broccoli, etc.,
- Sauteed spinach or mushrooms,
- A simple side salad – like a Caesar salad, Greek salad, or spinach/arugula salad.
How to store and reheat
Store: Allow it to cool, then store the leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Note it will continue to soak up the sauce as it sits, becoming thicker.
Freeze: I prefer to freeze leftovers in freezer-safe containers/bags (spread flat with excess air removed) minus the cheddar cheese for up to 3 months. The pasta will become very soft upon thawing overnight in the fridge and reheating (when you can add the cheddar) but still tastes delicious.
Reheat: Individual portions reheat well in the microwave (1-2 minutes). Large amounts will reheat well on the stovetop, adding a splash of extra water or broth if needed.
More easy pasta dinner recipes
- Tuna Casserole With Noodles
- Mac and Cheese
- Tomato and Eggplant Pasta
- Baked Feta, Spinach and Mushroom Pasta
If you try this hamburger helper recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments below. I’d appreciate a recipe card rating and would love to see your recipe recreations – tag me on Instagram @Alphafoodie!
Easy Homemade Hamburger Helper
- 1 lb extra lean ground beef 90-95% or ground turkey/chicken
- 3.6 oz onion 1 medium (1 cup finely chopped) – yellow or white
- 0.4 oz garlic 2 cloves (1/2 tablespoon minced)
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder adjust amount to taste – or red pepper flakes/hot sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano optional
- 5.9 oz elbow macaroni pasta uncooked (1.5 cups) or other small pasta shapes (cavatappi, penne, fusilli, shells); regular, whole wheat, or gluten-free
- 4 cups beef broth regular or reduced sodium
- 2 cups cheddar cheese grated or smoked gouda/pepper jac
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Finely chop the onion and mince the garlic.
- Heat a large pot over medium heat with the oil (or a splash of broth). Once hot, sauté the onion for 1-2 minutes until soft, then add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds.
- Stir in the ground beef and spices, breaking it down with your spoon/spatula as it browns. Cook the meat until completely browned (3-4 minutes).Optionally drain any extra grease from the meat if preferred.
- Stir in the tomato paste, add the broth, and bring it to a boil over high heat.
- Once it's boiling, add the pasta to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-high.
- Allow the pasta to cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it's tender and most excess liquid is absorbed.Adding a lid is a good idea. If you notice it looks too dry, add about ½ more broth.
- Meanwhile, shred the cheddar cheese.
- Once the pasta is cooked, stir in the cheddar off the heat – the residual heat should melt it. Leave it to rest for just a few minutes, then enjoy!Give it a final taste test before serving, and adjust any seasonings to taste.
- Smoked paprika: For a subtle yet delicious smokiness. Add to taste.
- Other seasonings: Increase the aromatic flavor with the addition of onion powder and garlic powder added to taste.
- Fresh parsley: To garnish for a hint of freshness.
- Vegetables: Bulk up the recipe with finely sliced/shredded carrots or zucchini, sliced bell peppers or mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, corn, etc.
- Spinach: Added at the end to wilt while the cheese melts.
- Creaminess: Add a small amount of cream cheese, sour cream, or heavy cream in the last 4-5 minutes.
- Dijon mustard: Just a teaspoon or so for tangy depth in the sauce.
- Worcestershire sauce: Add a splash for extra umami and tangy flavor.
- Dill pickles: Finely diced to stir in before serving for extra cheeseburger flavor.
- Vegetarian: Use a vegetarian-friendly minced beef alternative and vegetable broth.