This easy skillet Cheeseburger Macaroni recipe is a close re-creation of the Hamburger Helper version but homemade and using all real ingredients. We are still keeping it all in one skillet and with simple directions. Use ground beef or ground turkey...whichever is your family favorite. This is a weeknight comfort food favorite!
I'm a 70's baby and was raised on Kool-aid, margarine, and Hamburger Helper. AND...I'm the oldest of 10. Let's all agree that the food of the 80's and 90's, although terribly unhealthy, was quite budget-friendly. A packet of Kool-aid beats a 6-pack of craft flavored water in the budget department.
Being from such a large family with a very limited budget, it's no wonder that I grew up on every. single. variety of Hamburger Helper. Seriously! And Cheeseburger Macaroni was the hands-down variety of my siblings and I.
I'll admit I still revert back to my childhood eating habits and whip up a package of ramen, show my kids what a pitcher of Kool-aid is (they can't believe people drank that all the time ;)), and make Velvetta dip in the crock pot for football games. I grew up on the stuff (and Tater tot Hotdish), guys.
Thank goodness for the homemade version of this favorite comfort food! I love this real ingredient version of a childhood favorite I am perfectly okay with feeding my family!
How do you make cheeseburger macaroni?
I love my Lodge dutch oven for one-pot dishes. It's large enough that I don't have to worry about it spilling over when I stir. This is the smaller one of their dutch ovens and I love that, still large enough for big batches of recipes, it fits so much better into the dishwasher.
You can use a large skillet, if you prefer. This casserole doesn't need to bake in the oven so you won't have to worry about using an oven-proof dish. Just do NOT over-estimate how big your skillet is. (Totally speaking to myself. I am constantly choosing bowls and pans one size too small for what I need. I just can't seem to learn!)
Note: go ahead and sub out ground turkey and chicken to keep the fat content down. But, be sure to add a bit of olive oil to the skillet to replace the missing fat you'll need for cooking the onions and the remainder of the recipe.
You'll want to add the garlic cloves right when the ground beef or ground turkey has finished cooking, just for a couple minutes.
Note: if you don't have fresh garlic you can use 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder as a sub. Or, 3/4 teaspoon of garlic salt and reduce the salt by half.
Of course, you don't have to use whole milk if you don't want to. But the heavier the milk, the creamier the pasta will be. And, frankly, a whole lot closer to the original 80's version of Hamburger Helper you remember from your childhood.
Elbow pasta is the traditional choice. But go all freaky and un-traditional if you like and use rotini or shells or penne pasta.
Can you make Hamburger Helper without milk?
Yes, you can. Depending on what you use to substitute with you may sacrifice a bit of the creaminess but, you should still get a tasty tasty dish! Here are some thoughts...
- Part beef broth and part sour cream
- Evaporated milk diluted with water
- Straight beef broth (for lactose-free diets).
The above amount of salt is incorrect in the photo above. It should say 2 TEASPOONS!
That paprika is a strange addition, isn't it. But trust me, it's what keeps this pasta as close to the original hamburger helpers as possible. Truly, give it a try!
Like most pasta dishes, don't just cover the pan and leave. Be sure to stop by and give the macaroni a stir once or twice to make sure it isn't sticking to the bottom. If you find that it is sticking a bit, add a couple tablespoons more milk.
Speaking of 80's food, does anyone remember Velvetta? Oh yes. Please tell me you don't use that stuff anymore. Let's move on to real cheese that is made from real milk, can we? Like the sharp cheddar cheese we put into our cheeseburger macaroni. No little pouches of powder will go into this recipe. No sirree!!
You can mix up the kind of cheese you use, if you like. Cheddar cheese will keep the flavor close to the original recipe. However, other varieties of cheese are AH-MAZ-ING in this!
Some possible flavor changes to try:
- stir in 1/2 a package of cream cheese
- use part mozzarella and part pepper jack
- use part mozzarella and part parmesan
- add green onions
- stir in fresh spinach at the very end
- add chopped red and green peppers with the onion
- add frozen veggies
- stir in 1 cup of pureed squash (great way to sneak in nutrition for kids!)
- add green chili's and a dash of red pepper
Add a sprinkle of chopped parsley or oregano to the top of the casserole and serve it up with a salad or fruit and you will have a happy, happy family!
Why don't you gather your family around the table, share them memories of your childhood (I double dog dare you to tell them about your obsession with the Cabbage Patch Dolls!), and treat them to a plate of Cheeseburger Macaroni.
To freeze your cheeseburger macaroni:
First, unless you plan on making more for the single purpose of leftovers...there won't be any.
Second, make a double batch and pack it away to save yourself time another day!
After making your cheeseburger macaroni, put your casserole in a freezer pan. Properly cover and store in the freezer. The night before you are ready to eat, set your casserole in the fridge to thaw. Stir a bit of milk into your thawed pasta (about 1/4 cup) add a sprinkle of fresh cheese to the top, and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes or until hot. If you like, broil the pasta for a couple of minutes to make your cheese bubbling and brown.
Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni
- 1 lb. ground beef or ground turkey
- 1 small onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni uncooked
- 2 teaspoons flour
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons pepper
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
- Brown the ground beef and diced onion together on medium heat.
- When the ground beef is brown and the onion is transparent (about 8 minutes), add garlic. Cook for about an additional 2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant.
- In a small bowl, mix the spices together. Add the spices to the beef, onion, and garlic. Whisk to incorporate the mixture into the beef.
- Add the elbow noodles and milk. Stir well.
- Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook on low for 12 minutes or until the pasta is tender. Stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat and stir in the cheddar cheese.
- Serve warm with fresh parsley (optional)