Homemade Hamburger Helper

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Homemade Hamburger Helper — You can kiss the store-bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic hamburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There’s saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

Homemade Hamburger Helper - You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe

I am sure most of us have eaten or used store-bought Hamburger Helper at least once in our lives. Especially in childhood when mom needed a shortcut, or as young adults just starting out and on a budget, or as newlyweds when you had no idea what to cook, or how!

However, the days of relying on a box containing dry pasta and a seasoning packet are officially over. Enter this fast and easy homemade version of Hamburger Helper.

But this scratch recipe is a one-pot meal that’s ready in 30 minutes and seriously just as easy as the store-bought stuff.

Homemade Hamburger Helper - You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

Honestly, you won’t miss it when you’re devouring this cheesy, saucy pasta with ground beef, onions, garlic, tomato puree, and seasonings for loads of flavor.

This DIY Hamburger Helper recipe is a huge hit with kids (and grown up kids) as you may have guessed. It’s hard to say no to warm, cheesy pasta and ground beef. It’s family favorite comfort food in a flash making this an awesome recipe to whip up on busy weeknights.

And you can’t beat that one skillet thing because no one wants to do all those dishes especially after a long day at work and cooking!

Homemade Hamburger Helper - You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

What Even Is Hamburger Helper?

If you’re not familiar with the store-bought version, allow me to explain in a nutshell. After browning ground beef, you add dry pasta that comes out of the Hamburger Helper box, a seasoning packet, milk, water, and simmer.

It’s basically a store-bought shortcut that quickly lets you make hamburger pasta in a jiffy! But homemade is so much better and

Homemade Hamburger Helper - You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

Ingredients in Homemade Hamburger Helper

To make this easy and oh-so-classic recipe at home, you’ll need the following common and easy to find fridge and pantry ingredients.

Make sure to read my tips, substitutions, and rationale for all ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • Lean ground beef – I like to use at least 90% lean ground beef (90/10 or 93/7) to keep this one skillet recipe super easy and without having to stop to drain off the grease in fattier ground beef such as in 80/20
  • White or yellow onion – Use what you prefer, I tend to go with yellow
  • Paprika – If you have smoked paprika on hand and like the smokier flavor, it’s great
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic or garlic powder – Actual garlic is nice but garlic powder works perfectly well and there’s nothing to mince
  • All-purpose flour – This is sprinkled to thicken up the sauce a bit later on. I have never tried using cornstarch and don’t think it’s necessary; flour is just fine
  • Beef broth – I always suggest using reduced sodium broths, be it vegetable, chicken, or beef, and this is no different so that you can better control the salt level. If you need to substitute chicken or even vegetable broth, they’ll be fine. Water isn’t ideal but if that’s what you have, you can make it work but adding additional salt, and a bit more garlic powder, paprika, and doctor up the flavors to your liking
  • Tomato puree – You can use tomato sauce in a pinch but tomato puree is better because it’s a bit thicker. However, don’t grab for tomato paste which is too thick
  • Dijon mustard – I like the smoother flavor of Dijon mustard as opposed to basic yellow mustard. If you have honey mustard on hand, it would be an excellent choice too
  • Dry small shaped pasta – More on this below!
  • Shredded cheddar cheese – Classic medium sharp cheddar or sharp cheddar cheese is what gives this dish it’s nostalgic taste and vibe
  • Sweet pickle relish, optionalWhy? Because it adds a tangy-sweetness that I love but if you don’t like it, or don’t have it, you can just skip it. In place, consider adding 1 teaspoon granulated sugar to balance the acid from the tomato sauce, and the overall very savory nature of the dish but sugar is optional
  • Green onions, optional for garnishing – Fresh parsley is another optional garnishing idea

Note: Scroll down to the recipe card section of the post for the ingredients with amounts included and for more complete directions.

Homemade Hamburger Helper - You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

How to Make Hamburger Helper from Scratch

You won’t need to reach for the store bought stuff when you can whip up this family favorite homemade version in less than 30 minutes and in just one skillet!

Step 1: Add the oil, beef, onion, paprika, salt, and pepper to a large skillet to cook over medium-high heat to brown the beef and soften the onion.

Step 2: Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Step 3: Evenly sprinkle with flour, stir, and cook for one minute.

Step 4: Add the broth, tomato sauce, Dijon mustard, stir to combine, and add the dry pasta.

Want Saucier Pasta?

My family doesn’t like their pasta overly saucy (they’re crazy because I love it very saucy!) which you may notice in the photos. It’s easier to make your pasta more saucy – either add another 1/3 cup or so of broth (and a bit more tomato puree) or just simmer for slightly less time, a minute or two.

Also note that pasta always continues to absorb whatever sauce it’s mixed with so it will appear dryer 45 minutes after you make it and leftovers the next day, even more so.

Step 5: Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and remove the lid to stir, and allow mixture to simmer for about 15 minutes uncovered.

Step 6: Stir in the cheese, optional relish, and allow the cheese to melt.

Step 7: Optionally garnish with green onions and serve immediately.

Want to Make This Into DIY Cheeseburger Helper?

If you’re like me and never say no to more cheese, after you stir in the 1 cup shredded cheese into the pasta and beef mixture, you can sprinkle another 1/2 cup or so over the top, and cover with the lid for a minute or two to allow it to melt.

Homemade Hamburger Helper - You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

What’s the Best Pasta to Use?

I used cavatappi pasta to make this copycat Hamburger Helpder It’s very similar to small elbow macaroni but grooved and slightly larger with a slight twist.

The following pasta shapes are all good choices for this recipe:

  • cavatappi (what I used)
  • small elbow macaroni (the next most logical choice because it’s common and easy to find)
  • small shells (the next logical choice because it’s common and easy to find)
  • penne
  • ziti
  • rigatoni
  • rotini
  • small wheels
  • ditali
Homemade Hamburger Helper - You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

Can I Use Whole Wheat Pasta?

I do not recommend whole wheat or really “hearty” pasta as they generally require more liquid. It’s similar to how brown rice requires double the amount of liquid compared to white rice! Perhaps they will work just fine but I don’t know and fear as written, you’ll wind up with hard pasta.

Can I Use Gluten-Free Pasta?

I have not tested with gluten free pasta and in general they are a bit tricky to work with so they don’t get gummy. You’ll have to do some testing and trialing if you need to make this gluten free.

Homemade Hamburger Helper - You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

Tips for the Best DIY Hamburger Helper

Measure Properly: Since this is a one pot recipe, and you don’t drain the cooking liquid, it’s important to measure both the beef broth and the pasta correctly. You want 8 ounces dry pasta + 2 1/2 cups beef broth.

Pay Attention to Package Sizes: Pasta is commonly sold in 16 ounce (1 pound) boxes, so in this case you’ll use half of the box. However, sometimes it’s sold in 12 ounces boxes or packages, in which case you’ll use 2/3 of the box.

If you’re using the eyeball method for measuring a half box, make sure you’re eyeballing it from a 16 ounce box, and eyeball two-thirds of a box if it’s a 12 ounce box because remember you want to use 8 ounces dry pasta.

Grate Your Own Cheese: I always suggest grating your own cheese on a box grater rather than buying packets of shredded cheese. It melts better and the flavor is almost always richer

Homemade Hamburger Helper - You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

Make-Ahead Instructions

If you’re planning on serving a huge batch of this for say a game day party, birthday party, or backyard get-together and want to make a few batches in advance, you can do that.

I recommend keeping the sauce just a tiny bit soupier and looser (maybe simmer it about 12-13 minutes rather than 15) because it will tighten up when you take the pot off the stove. And the sauce will continue to absorb into the pasta as it sits.

Therefore, just be a little careful not to overcook it on the stove. Of course though, make sure you cook it long enough that the pasta is done! That’s above all else.

Homemade Hamburger Helper - You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

Storage Instructions

Extra homemade hamburger helped with cheese is a family favorite meal and I know you won’t have to ask for anyone to clean their plates – especially when this is right there up there as one of those childhood favorites for many adults!

However, if you do have any leftovers, I store mine in individually portioned airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 4 months.

Reheat gently in the microwave.

Homemade Hamburger Helper - You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

Recipe FAQs

Can I double the recipe?

Of course you can! Just make sure to use a very large high-sided skillet or in this case, a Dutch oven would be ideal.

store bought HAMBURGER helper has milk. Why not in this recipe?

I find that I don’t miss the dairy in this homemade copycat recipe and that the beef broth works perfectly well, especially with the cup of cheese stirred in for creaminess.

However, if you’d like to replace 1 cup of the beef broth with 1 cup milk, half-and-half or cream (or 1/2 cup broth with 1/2 cup milk or cream) and see what you think, feel free.

Can I make this hamburger helper homemade recipe in a slow cooker?

I’m sure you definitely could. However, I haven’t tested it so really can’t say what the exact specifics are.

My guess is that I would brown the ground beef and onion in a skillet, then transfer that to the slow cooker with everything else, and simmer for a couple hours on low, or until the pasta is tender. Stir every 30 minutes or so and check on it. Stir in the cheese at the end, garnish, and serve.

can i make the recipe creamier? cheesier?

Yes and it’s very easy to do! To make the recipe creamier, add 1/3 to 1/2 full fat sour cream (Greek yogurt will work but sour cream is better). Stir it in with the 1 cup of cheese at the end.

To make this homemade hamburger helper even cheesier, in addition to the 1 cup shredded cheese stirred in, sprinkle 1/2 cup or so on top (or a bit more!) Place the lid on for a minute or two to encourage the cheese to melt.

Is it possible to use another protein instead of ground beef?

Yes you can use ground chicken, ground turkey, or ground pork if you’re trying to shave off some excess fat from the recipe.

Note that for the most classic taste, ground beef is the way to go. Although once everything is seasoned and you’ve got that saucy pasta and cheese, you may not notice too much of a huge difference!

My pasta is still hard or things look too dry. What can I do?

Any time you’re cooking pasta with other ingredients and don’t have the luxury to boil it on its own, there are times where the pasta simply needs a bit more liquid than the recipe calls for.

That could be based on the type of pasta you use, the other ingredients you use, your climate, the temperature and rate of your simmer, etc.

If things are looking a little dry, simply add additional beef broth or a few splashes of water, as needed. Easy-peasy.

After simmering everything together, there’s excess liquid. What should I do?

After simmering the pasta with all the other ingredients, and the pasta is done, but there’s more liquid left in your skillet than you’d like, there’s a solution.

Remove the lid, turn up the heat to medium, and allow the mixture to come to a fast simmer with plenty of steam. Stir the uncovered skillet with it bubbling away like this for 2-3 minutes, or until the liquid level evaporates and reduces to your liking.

Homemade Hamburger Helper - You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!

What to Serve with Hamburger Helper

My family is very content with pasta, pasta, and more pasta for dinner. But I like to serve this with a salad or vegetables to balance things out.

Here are some easy side dishes that work well with your homemade hamburger helper pasta recipe:

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5 from 7 votes

Homemade Hamburger Helper

By Averie Sunshine
You can kiss the store bought stuff goodbye because my homemade recipe for classic cheeseburger pasta is EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and made in ONE skillet! There's saucy cheesy pasta and juicy ground beef in every bite making this a family FAVORITE comfort food recipe. PERFECT for busy weeknights!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 6
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Ingredients  

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, I recommend 90/10 or 93/7 so you don’t have to drain excess fat
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced small (white onion may be substituted)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika, or smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder OR about 2 finely minced garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces small-shaped dry uncooked pasta*, See Notes
  • 2 ½ cups reduced sodium beef broth
  • ½ cup tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, honey mustard may be substituted; I don’t care for yellow mustard here
  • 1 heaping cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and optionally 1/2 cup more for sprinkling on top
  • ¼ cup sweet pickle relish OR diced sweet gherkins OR 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, optional
  • 2 tablespoons green onions, sliced thin; optional for garnishing

Instructions 

  • To a large high-sided skillet, add the olive oil, ground beef, onion, evenly season with the paprika, salt, pepper, and saute over medium-high heat to cook the beef and soften the onion. Stir, flip, and crumble the beef frequently as it cooks to ensure even cooking; about 5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute; stir nearly constantly.
  • Evenly sprinkle with the flour, stir to combine, and cook for 1 minute; stir nearly constantly. Tip – Flour is used to thicken the sauce a bit later on.
  • Add the pasta (See Notes below for my suggestions and make sure to only add half of a 16 ounce box, or 2/3rds of a 12 ounce box), reduced sodium beef broth (tip – you may substitute with reduced sodium vegetable or chicken broth, or even water as a last resort but make sure to add more salt and extra seasonings if using water), tomato puree (tip – tomato puree is different from tomato sauce which is a bit thinner although would still work, but do not use tomato paste because it's too thick), Dijon mustard, stir to combine, and cover with a lid.
  • Bring it to a boil, and once boiling, remove the lid, and stir well.
  • Cover it again, reduce the heat to low (or as needed so mixture is simmering gently), and allow mixture to simmer for about 15 minutes, or until pasta is cooked to al dente and all liquid has been absorbed, or absorbed to your liking and pasta is done. For those who want a saucier final dish, cut the simmering time short by a couple minutes (or add an extra 1/3 cup broth or extra tomato puree). Tips for Liquid Level – Please read the FAQ section in the blog post about what to do if your skillet still has excess liquid (in short, remove the lid, bring it up to a faster boil, and let it boil away rapidly for 2-5 minutes, or as needed until the excess liquid volume evaporates). Or if your pasta isn't fully cooked and is still hard and/or the mixture is dry looking at any time add extra broth or water, starting with about 1/3 cup, and continue to simmer until the pasta is soft and done.
  • Add the heaping cup of shredded cheese (tip – shred your cheese by hand for optimal melting) and the optional sweet pickle relish (or diced gherkins or teaspoon of sugar) and stir to combine. Flavor Tips – I love the sweet-and-tangy dimension but if you don't, simply omit the relish or diced gherkins. If you are omiting you may consider adding 1 teaspoon granulated sugar to help balance the acidity of the tomato puree and overall savory aspect of the dish, however the sugar is also optional and to taste. Make sure to check for seasoning balance and if desired, add more salt, pepper, paprika, garlic or onion powder, etc.
  • Optionally, for those who want a cheesier final dish, evenly sprinkle an additional 1/2 cup or so of shredded cheese over the top, and cover with the lid for a couple minutes to help encourage the cheese to melt.
  • Optionally garnish with green onions and serve immediately. Leftovers will keep airgith in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months. Reheat gently in the microwave.

Notes

*Best Pasta Shapes for the recipe
  • cavatappi (what I used)
  • small elbow macaroni (the next most logical choice because it’s common and easy to find)
  • small shells (the next logical choice because it’s common and easy to find)
  • penne
  • ziti
  • rigatoni
  • rotini
  • small wheels
  • ditali

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 373kcal, Carbohydrates: 18g, Protein: 29g, Fat: 20g, Saturated Fat: 8g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 10g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 86mg, Sodium: 701mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 7g

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

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Please note: I have only made the recipe as written, and cannot give advice or predict what will happen if you change something. If you have a question regarding changing, altering, or making substitutions to the recipe, please check out the FAQ page for more info.

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