Homemade hamburger helper is a from-scratch version of the classic boxed meal. Beef and macaroni come together in a cheesy and flavorful seasoned sauce - all you need is a single pan and thirty minutes!
Looking for a nostalgic comfort food meal? If you grew up on hamburger helper, you'll love this homemade version that's made entirely from scratch.
Macaroni and ground beef are coated in a cheesy, creamy, seasoned sauce. The best part? This skillet meal is ready in 30 minutes or less and comes together in a single sauté pan.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Beef broth - Can be substituted with vegetable broth or chicken broth if needed, but this will change the flavor slightly.
- Milk - I recommend whole milk for best flavor and a creamy, thick sauce. However, lower fat milks will work in a pinch (sauce will turn out thinner).
- Macaroni - Can be substituted with any medium sized pasta. Shells are a great alternative.
- Canned crushed tomatoes - Can be substituted with tomato sauce if you don't want tomato chunks in your recipe.
- Ground beef - Could be substituted with your favorite ground meat, like ground turkey or ground bison.
- Onions - Add flavor to the dish. I don't recommend omitting them.
- Seasoning - Chili powder, garlic powder, paprika, oregano, pepper, and salt add savory flavor to the dish. We're adding a bit less salt than usual due to the addition of beef broth. If you're using a low sodium broth, you may want to add an extra pinch of salt.
- Cheese - I highly recommend using freshly grated cheese from a block for best consistency and even melting. Cheddar cheese or monterey jack are my favorites in this recipe.
Tips and tricks
If you've never made a homemade skillet meal before, here are a few tips for success.
Food sticking? - Add a bit of liquid and turn the heat down - your stove is too hot. Stoves all run at slightly different temperatures, even if they're turned to the same setting.
Sauce look thin? If your sauce looks thin when you're done cooking, allow the pan to sit uncovered for 5 minutes. The pasta continues to absorb liquid as it stands.
Properly measure liquids and pasta - Everything is cooked in a single pan, so you'll need an exact amount of liquid to cook your pasta. Improper measuring can lead to a runny sauce.
Shredded cheese - Use fresh shredded cheese (ex: cheese grated from a block) instead of pre-shredded cheese in a bag. Pre-shredded cheeses are coated in anti-clumping powder that can make your sauce grainy as it melts.
Frequently asked questions
There are no thickening agents in this recipe (like flour or cornstarch). Instead, we're using the starches released from the pasta to thicken the sauce naturally. As long as the pasta and liquids are measured exactly, you'll have just enough liquid to cook your pasta and create a sauce. If your sauce looks thin, remove the finished dish from the heat and allow it to set, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Your sauce will continue to thicken as it stands.
Yes. If you'd like to make this recipe without ground meat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan to cook the onion, then continue with the recipe as written. Ground meat could also be substituted with a can of rinsed and drained black beans or kidney beans for some extra bulk.
Leftover hamburger helper will keep for 4 to 5 days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator and reheat well in the microwave.
Homemade Hamburger Helper
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1.5 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 12 ounces beef broth
- 8 ounces whole milk
- 8 ounces macaroni, uncooked
- 14 ounces canned crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
- Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Crumble ground beef into pan and add onion. Cook until beef is browned. Drain excess grease from pan if needed.
- Add paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, pepper, salt, beef broth, milk, crushed tomatoes, and macaroni. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 8 minutes, or until macaroni is al dente (refer to macaroni package directions). Stir once halfway through to prevent sticking.
- Remove lid. Add shredded cheese and stir until melted. Remove from heat and allow to set for 5 minutes to allow sauce to thicken. Serve and enjoy.
- Freshly shredded cheese is highly recommended for this recipe. Packaged, pre-shredded cheese often contains powder coating the cheese to prevent clumping. This can cause your sauce to become gritty.
- Leftovers can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator and reheated for 4 to 5 days.