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This easy homemade Hamburger Helper recipe has ground beef, macaroni, and a flavorful cheesy cheddar sauce! It’s total comfort food that’s inexpensive and ready in about 30 minutes.

Try my Simple Ground Beef Casserole or Simple Chili Mac next.

a bowl of homemade hamburger helper

Why you’ll love it

When I was little, my mom made everything from scratch. I do fondly remember a few boxed meals from visiting friends’ houses in the ’90s, though. One was Hamburger Helper, and that brings up all the nostalgia. Naturally, I had to recreate an even better Hamburger Helper from scratch! I like mine because you have total control over the seasonings and know exactly what goes into it.

This ground beef recipe is super simple to make with affordable pantry ingredients, doesn’t take much longer than the packaged kind, and it’s cooked all in one pot for fewer dishes. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with eating packaged foods every now and then, but a LOT of people crave homemade Hamburger Helper, so I am here to bring you the best version.

What you’ll need

  • Ground beef – I like to use extra lean ground beef, at least 90%
  • Onion – our kitchen prefers Vidalia (sweet) onions
  • Tomato paste – it’s an easy, economical way to get concentrated tomato flavor
  • Garlic powder and chili powder – our simple seasoning blend to infuse savory flavor, and they’re ingredients I always keep in my pantry
  • Elbow macaroni – the classic pasta shape for this
  • Beef broth – for a deeper, richer flavor to the sauce
  • Sharp cheddar cheese – my version of Hamburger Helper has no milk to make it that much easier, and the cheddar makes the dish creamy enough all on its own!
ingredients for homemade hamburger helper on a counter

Pro tip

One pot recipes can vary depending on your particular stove and ingredients, so if you seem to be running out of liquid with a lot of time still left, feel free to add in a bit more. Try 1/2 cup at a time. 

How to make Hamburger Helper

This is an overview with step-by-step photos. Full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.

sauteing ground beef and making sauce for hamburger helper

Start by browning the beef and onion in a large pot and draining any excess fat, then stir in the tomato paste, garlic powder, and chili powder. Add in the beef broth, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it’s boiling, stir in the uncooked macaroni.

adding cheddar to homemade hamburger helper and simmering

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender and most of the liquid is soaked up. Grate the cheddar while it’s simmering away. Stir in the cheese, and season to taste with salt & pepper.

Tools for this recipe

Check out Natasha’s favorite kitchen essentials, gadgets, and cookware!

Substitutions and variations

  • Feel free to tweak seasonings to your tastes. You can always increase the chili powder, add some hot sauce or crushed red pepper flakes, more garlic, and so on to make it perfect for your taste buds!
  • Some readers like to sneak in a bit of spinach. Just add it in near the end of the cooking time until it wilts. Finely chopped bell peppers would work great as well.
  • If you want to jazz it up, change up the cheese variety. Monterey Jack, smoked cheddar, etc. make some fun variations.
  • You can use ground turkey or ground chicken instead if that’s more your thing.
  • If you want to use another pasta shape (e.g. shells), you may need to adjust liquid measurements and/or cooking time (this has only been tested with macaroni).

What to serve with Hamburger Helper

Leftovers and storage

  • Leftovers of this Hamburger Helper will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days in an airtight container, but keep in mind that the pasta will continue to absorb the broth over time. It’ll still be tasty, though.
  • Reheat in a small saucepan over a low heat for best results, giving it the occasional stir, and warm it through. Add in a splash of beef broth to thin it if desired.
  • I don’t recommend freezing leftovers. Cooked pasta doesn’t have the same texture once thawed.
a pot of homemade hamburger helper with a wooden spoon

Let me know if you give this cheesy Hamburger Helper recipe a go! Questions? Made it? As always, I love it when you leave me comments.

a bowl of homemade hamburger helper
4.91 from 360 votes

Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe

This easy homemade Hamburger Helper recipe has ground beef, macaroni, and a flavorful cheesy cheddar sauce! It's total comfort food that's inexpensive and ready in about 30 minutes.
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound extra lean ground beef
  • 1/2 medium onion chopped
  • 2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions 

  • Add the beef and onions to a soup pot. Cook over medium-high heat until the beef has browned (about 7-10 minutes), breaking the meat up with your spoon as you go along. If there's a lot of excess fat, spoon most of it out.
  • Stir in the tomato paste, garlic powder, and chili powder.
  • Add in the beef broth and increase the heat to high. Once it starts boiling, add in the macaroni.
  • Reduce the heat so it's not furiously boiling (a rapid simmer is good). I ended up cooking mine over medium heat. Let it cook uncovered until the pasta is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed (about 13-15 minutes). I stir it every couple of minutes.
  • While it's cooking, grate the cheese (this saves prep time at the start of the recipe).
  • Take the pot off the heat and stir in the cheese. Season with salt & pepper as needed. I let it sit for a couple minutes prior to serving (soaks up the sauce and flavors more), but you can serve it right away.

Notes

  • Serves 4-6 depending on the portion size.
  • As with any one pot meal, ingredients and stoves vary. If you’re running out of liquid (like it’s in danger of sticking and burning) when you still have a while to go before the pasta is done, feel free to add in more liquid, 1/2 cup at a time. 

Nutrition

Calories: 501kcal, Carbohydrates: 22g, Protein: 44g, Fat: 25g, Saturated Fat: 15g, Cholesterol: 130mg, Sodium: 1106mg, Potassium: 624mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 640IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 437mg, Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

© Salt & Lavender Inc. Content and photographs are copyrighted. Sharing this blog post is much appreciated, but copying and pasting full recipes without authorization to social media is strictly prohibited.

Leave a star rating and comment below!

This recipe was originally published on January 17, 2020. It’s been updated with new photos and better instructions but is the same great recipe!


Hi! I’m Natasha.

Salt & Lavender is a recipe blog with a focus on delicious comfort food using everyday ingredients. Beat the weekday grind with hundreds of easy-to-follow and hassle-free recipes!

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4.91 from 360 votes (68 ratings without comment)

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809 Comments

  1. nancy says:

    Made this for the 2nd time last night and it’s always a hit with the whole family and with two little ones that’s a big win! The adults topped it off with a little dollop of sour cream for extra richness. Thank you so much for all your recipes during this time when we all must spend more time in the kitchen!

    1. Natasha says:

      I’m so happy to hear that!! And you’re very welcome 🙂

  2. Stephanie says:

    Made it this afternoon, it’s really delicious and took me back to my childhood!

    1. Natasha says:

      That’s great!! I’m happy to hear that!

  3. Donna says:

    5 stars
    Made this exactly to recipe. It was AWESOME! I will be making this many times in the future. My husband loved it. Thank you!

    1. Natasha says:

      Glad to hear that, Donna!! 🙂

  4. Courtney says:

    4 stars
    Can I use real garlic to substitute for the garlic powder? Or will it be too over powering?

    1. Natasha says:

      You could use it for sure. I’d probably stick to a couple cloves max for this particular recipe unless you do want it very garlicky (which is fine too… it just may not taste like a copycat recipe as much).

  5. Jessica says:

    I’m going to make this this week. What kind of veggies seem to work well in this? Thanks!!

    1. Natasha says:

      Hi! I would just do veggies on the side. I haven’t tested it with veggies. It’s a one pot pasta so the liquid ratios really matter, and vegetables can throw that off.

  6. Patty says:

    Can I substitute tomato sauce for the paste? I have everything but the paste!!!! Thanks

    1. Natasha says:

      I think that will be ok. I mean tomato paste is a lot more concentrated so the flavor won’t be exactly the same. But should be fine. Let me know!

  7. Angelica says:

    I want to make this and am out of broth and can’t make it to store. Can I use water? And add beef bouillon cubes?

    1. Natasha says:

      Yes, that will work.

  8. Kathleen Rayfield says:

    5 stars
    I added a chopped red pepper and some Worcestershire sauce when browning the beef and this is a great meal for all ages! Thank you for using kitchen staples!

    1. Natasha says:

      Awesome! Thank you. So glad you enjoyed it!

  9. Miranda says:

    5 stars
    So delicious! One of my dirty little secrets is that I LOVE the “helper” meals (the ones that come in a box and you add beef or chicken or tuna…). My friends/family would give me such a hard time about how unhealthy and loaded with sodium they are, that I would sneak them into the house to cook when no one was home! Well, not only am I proud to cook this version in front of people, it tastes much better too and it feels healthier! Thank you, I love your recipes!!

    1. Natasha says:

      Haha nothing wrong with packaged foods once in a while. 😉 So glad you enjoyed this recipe!! Thanks for your sweet comment. XO

  10. Annie says:

    5 stars
    This recipe is great! I’ve been looking for a fairly simple Hamburger Helper knockoff and this was on point. I would say it was better — tasted less processed. I actually made it with Trader Joe’s meatless ground beef and it was great. I added a bit of olive oil while cooking the “beef” and onions as is typically needed when using fake meat but other than that followed the recipe and it was great. Thanks!

    1. Natasha says:

      That’s awesome that it worked with the meat-free alternative!! Thanks for letting me know!