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.
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, so it's an easy ground beef recipe you can feel good about serving your family.
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 around that's still budget friendly.
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! Always grate your own for best taste and texture. I use this cheese grater.
- 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.
Start by browning the beef and onion in a large pot or Dutch oven 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.
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.
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
- It's definitely a meal in and of itself, but it would go great with a salad on the side. Try one with my Simple Homemade Ranch Dressing or Copycat Olive Garden Salad Dressing.
- Making Extra Cheesy Garlic Bread at home is another fantastic pairing everyone will devour.
- Want to serve it with some veggies? These Easy Roasted Green Beans are a cinch to make and caramelized to perfection.
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.
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.
Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy only and should be construed as an estimate rather than a guarantee. Ingredients can vary and Salt & Lavender makes no guarantees to the accuracy of this information.
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!