This Easy Cheesy Hamburger Casserole is a homemade version of the boxed comfort food we all know and love. Made with macaroni noodles, ground beef, melty cheese, and savory tomato sauce – this easy recipe is hearty, satisfying, and delicious. It will become a family favorite fast!
Food has the remarkable ability to transport us back to childhood. And this hamburger casserole recipe is no exception. You can whip up this nostalgic childhood favorite in just a few simple steps and 45 minutes.
It’s an easy way to serve a satisfying meal on busy weeknights or when you’re craving some classic comfort food. Pair it with a simple side salad and watch it disappear from your dinner table!
You’ll need the following ingredients to make this Easy Cheesy Hamburger Casserole:
Pasta: Use a short pasta like elbow macaroni for a more authentic homemade hamburger helper texture. But penne, shells, bowties, or even egg noodles work, too. You want to use bite-sized pasta with texture so the tomato sauce sticks to it.
Ground Beef: I use a pound of ground beef but this is a great recipe to use up whatever ground meat you have on hand. Try ground chicken, pork, or ground turkey. With so much flavor in this recipe, there’s a lot of flexibility.
Cheese: This ground beef casserole has a blend of shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. But you can easily swap out the mozzarella with cheddar cheese or use sharp cheddar for a more bold flavor.
HOW TO MAKE HAMBURGER CASSEROLE: STEP BY STEP
Here are some quick visual instructions. Remember that full instructions with exact ingredients will be in the recipe card below!
Step 1: Cook pasta a minute or two less than the package directions. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large oven-proof skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion when the oil is hot and cook until soft and translucent (about 2-3 minutes). Add ground beef and seasonings such as salt, black pepper, dry basil, garlic powder, and thyme.
Cook beef, breaking it up with a spoon or spatula as it cooks, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5-6 minutes.
Step 2: Turn off heat and add Worcestershire sauce and pureed tomatoes or marinara. Mix well. Then, add the cooked pasta and toss until well-combined.
Step 3: Stir in half of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
Step 4: Sprinkle the remaining cheeses over the top. Then, bake in a preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the cheese melts and turns golden brown.
RECIPE TIPS & TRICKS
- Break up the meat effortlessly. When cooking the ground beef, switch to a potato masher to help get the meat broken up nice and fine.
- Don’t overcook the pasta. Cook the pasta a minute or two less than the package directions suggest, as it will continue to cook in the meat sauce and then bake in the oven. Al dente pasta is the best for this hearty meal.
- Use a casserole dish. If you don’t have a large skillet that can go from stove to oven, transfer the pasta and meat mixture to a 9×13 baking dish that has been lightly greased with cooking spray.
- Broil for a few minutes. If you find the cheese is not browning to your liking, broil for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.
- Let it rest. After baking, give the casserole a few minutes to rest and let the bubbling cheese settle down. This also allows the flavors to meld and makes it easier to serve without it falling apart.
Consider doubling this cheeseburger casserole recipe and delivering half to a friend in need. It travels well and is a major comfort food!
STORAGE & REHEATING
- Storage: Store leftover hamburger casserole in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Allow it to completely cool first before transferring it to the fridge.
- Reheating: To reheat individual servings, pop them in a microwave for a few minutes until heated through. You can also reheat the entire casserole in the oven at 350°F for about 20-25 minutes or until warmed through. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil so it doesn’t get burnt on top and creates steam to warm it from the inside out.
- Freezing: Freeze the casserole before baking. Transfer the hamburger meat mixture to a freezer-safe baking dish and sprinkle cheese on top of the casserole. Cover it tightly with aluminum foil and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or bake from frozen, adding an extra 15-20 minutes to the cooking time.
Additions & Substitutions
- Vegetables: Add more veggies by adding diced bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach, or broccoli florets to the meat mixture.
- Fresh herbs: Top with fresh parsley and green onions for a pop of color.
- Bacon: For the ultimate casserole the entire family will love – add bacon crumbles on top.
- Add creaminess: Consider adding a tablespoon or two of sour cream or cream cheese to the meat mixture to make a creamy cheese sauce.
- Seasonings: Swap out the individual seasonings with two teaspoons of Italian seasoning.
- Canned tomatoes: Instead of pureed tomatoes, you can use crushed tomatoes, marinara sauce, diced tomatoes, or even tomato soup or thinned-out tomato paste in a pinch.
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
To avoid this cheesy casserole from becoming too dry, make sure not to overcook the pasta or overbake the dish. If you find that the meat and pasta mixture is too dry, add a splash or two of liquid like pasta water or chicken or beef broth to add moisture.
Canned tomatoes have a very concentrated texture and flavor that you cannot get from fresh tomatoes. I recommend sticking to canned tomatoes for best results. Thankfully, you have plenty of options as to what tomato product to use.
If you find that the cheese on top is browning too quickly, tent the skillet or casserole dish with aluminum foil for part of the baking time then uncover towards the end until it has browned to your liking.
Casseroles You’ll Love
Easy Cheesy Hamburger Casserole
- 1 16 oz. box pasta short pasta such as penne, shells, bowties, and macaroni all work great!
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion (one small onion)
- 1 lb. lean ground beef if you want your casserole extra meaty, use 1 1/2 lbs!
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp dry basil
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/8 tsp dry thyme
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 28 oz. can pureed tomatoes can substitute a jar of marinara sauce
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella to be maximum cheese flavor and meltiness, shred your cheese straight off the block!
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- Prep: Cook pasta a minute or two less than package directions. Pasta will continue to cook/bake in the meat sauce, so no need to overcook! Drain and set aside. Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Cook Meat: In a large oven-proof skillet (See Note 1) over medium, heat oil. When oil is hot, add onions and cook until soft (about 2-3 minutes). Add ground beef and seasonings (salt, pepper, dry basil, garlic powder, and thyme). Cook beef, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks. (Pro tip: Switch to a potato masher when the meat is about halfway done-it helps get the meat broken up nice and fine!) Cook beef for 5-6 minutes until no longer pink.
- Add: Turn off heat and add tomatoes (or marinara, if using) and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well. Then, add pasta and mix until well-combined. Stir in half of the cheeses (mozzarella and Parmesan). *At this point if you don't have a pan that can go from stove to oven, you can transfer this mixture into a 9×13 casserole dish sprayed lightly with cooking spray.
- Bake & Finish: Sprinkle the remaining cheeses over the top. Then, bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until nice and bubbly and cheese is golden brown. Tip: You can also choose to broil the casserole for 2-3 minutes to get the cheese even more golden brown!