20 Minute Homemade Hamburger Helper
20 Minute Homemade Hamburger Helper is a hearty and fast pasta dish that is perfection for those hectic weeknight dinners. This healthier take on the American classic boxed favorite has less sodium and preservatives than the traditional boxed version. Ground beef, American cheese and seasonings lend so much flavor to this recipe. But the secret and most important flavor ingredient comes from.. beef bouillon cube.
When you think of your classic Hamburger Helper, you have warm thoughts of cheesy, beefy, nostalgic goodness. It was always one of the tastier of the boxed pastas. This recipe is just as easy as the boxed stuff to prepare but healthier. There are no preservatives and/or chemicals that you can’t pronounce the names of. This pasta recipe isn’t loaded up with sodium. And I would even argue that this recipe is somehow still tastier than the original box.
My love for the OG Hamburger Helper runs deep. So when the concept of making my own right at home entered my mind, I had the bar set high. This is a recipe that I made four different variations of before I finally got it right. There was a certain je ne sais quoi that none of my other attempts could quite capture.
What was missing? It was the beef bouillon cube. In my opinion, this is the most important ingredient in this recipe. It gives the exact right flavor of the boxed Hamburger Helper and it’s the perfect compliment to the ground beef and the cheeses.
20 Minute Homemade Hamburger Helper is an excellent dinner option that fits handsomely right into the weekly grocery budget. Ground beef and pasta are inexpensive dinner options. The rest of the ingredients in this recipe including butter, milk and cheese are items that are readily available and most likely always in your refrigerator. Best of all, this dinner is a homerun for even the pickiest of eaters. Children love cheesy pasta dishes and this one is no exception.
My fondest memory of Hamburger Helper and what really inspired me to want to make my own was my labor with Dylan. It was hours before my due date and I was pretty positive that I was in the beginning stages of the big show. Since I was growing more and more uncomfortable with contractions, Anthony made dinner for us and Aidan that evening. This was our last ever dinner as a family of three. *Insert ugly crying face here*
I was uncomfortable but I was also extremely pregnant so I had to eat something filling. They don’t let you eat once you arrive at the hospital until Baby makes their grand entrance. (And boy, did Baby Dylan take his sweet time.) So I definitely did not want to go there on an empty stomach. Thankfully, I ate because Dylan didn’t arrive until about 26 hours since I had eaten my final meal. My labor was horrific and the only comforting thought I had was my amazing Hamburger Helper that my sweetheart made for me the night before… and meeting my handsome bundle of joy, of course.
Being that this is such a quick and easy weeknight dinner option, I like to have an equally as quick and easy side to serve it with. My 5-Minute Garlic Bread is a family favorite. Or some delicious restaurant-quality Olive Oil Bread Dip served with some French or Italian bread would be fantastic.
How do I crush the beef bouillon cube?
This is an ingredient that I really recommend you do not skip. The beef bouillon cube delivers such big, intense beef flavor and I feel like it is 100% necessary. You can buy spice containers of granulated beef bouillon. This way is the most convenient and saves you the step of having to crush the cube. In this case, use one teaspoon of the seasoning.
However, for me, my store only has the cubes. You can put the bouillon cube in a plastic bag and hit it with a meat tenderizer, pestle or even a hammer. You want the cube to be broken up but if there are some chunks of the bouillon cube, then no worries. The chunks will dissolve once they make their way into the pasta pot.
Do I have to use rigatoni in this 20 Minute Homemade Hamburger Helper recipe?
Absolutely not! Use what you have on hand or whatever your pasta preference is. Rigatoni is just Tonio’s favorite so I use that as often as I can. However, elbow macaroni or egg noodles will give your pasta dish the most authentic Hamburger Helper vibes. You can use whatever short pasta blows your hair back though. Shells, penne, ziti or farfalle would all be great alternatives as well.
What kind of ground beef should I use?
I like an 85% ground beef for this recipe. It has lots of flavor with a little less fat and grease than the 80% ground beef but you can certainly use that if you prefer. Even a 93% ground beef will turn out great. It’s just a leaner beef. Just be sure to brown for about 15 minutes or until cooked thoroughly.
Variations and Substitutions
What’s so excellent about a pasta recipe like this, is that you can add or substitute so many different options to make this recipe uniquely your own. Find some alternate suggestions or ingredient substitutions below.
- Ground beef: Now I do understand that we are making a “Hamburger Helper” recipe. However, there are so many other great ground meat options that you can absolutely try instead. Ground turkey, pork, lamb, veal or chicken would all be excellent in this dish.
- Whole milk: This is just my personal preference. You could use skim or 2% milk if that’s what’s usually in your fridge. If you wanted to be extra decadent and indulgent, you could use half & half cream instead of whole milk. Or you could add some cream cheese or sour cream for added flavor and creaminess.
- Cheeses: In this recipe, I use shredded mozzarella cheese and American cheese. However, I have made this dish with different cheeses and combinations of cheeses and it’s always great. Cheddar cheese, provolone and swiss have all been very tasty additions to this recipe.
Heat a large pan sprayed skillet over medium heat. Add ground beef, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Break apart the ground beef and brown for about 15 minutes or until cooked through. In the meantime, prepare rigatoni according to package instructions. Drain when finished.
Return the pasta pot to the stovetop on medium heat. Add whole milk and butter to the pot. Fold in the shredded mozzarella cheese and tear the American cheese into slices and add it to the pot.
Next, add browned ground beef, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, garlic powder, dried parsley, dried oregano, paprika and a crushed up beef bouillon cube.
Stir for 2 minutes until everything is fully combined and the cheese is melted and distributed throughout.
Looking for more fast dinner recipes?
- Taco Rigatoni and Cheese is a creamy, dreamy and tasty pasta. This will save your time and money all while feeding a crowd. A special topping of Dorito Nacho Cheese chips is the special ingredient. This dish has all of the flavor and texture you want in a perfect pasta dinner.
- Spinach Bacon Feta Fettuccine is a dinner that combines speed and flavor. It’s perfect for a family weeknight dinner and a great option if you’re having guests you want to impress. You get delicious saltiness from the bacon and feta. The lemony parmesan sauce adds the perfect amount of citrusy balance. And the spinach and cherry tomatoes deliver great freshness to this recipe.
- Weeknight Cajun Shrimp Farfalle with Lemon Cream Sauce is cheesy, spicy, smoky perfection. This is a rich pasta with amazing brightness from the lemon juice and lemon zest. Unbelievably, this dinner comes together in only 20 minutes!
- Better Than The Buffet Chicken Lo Mein delivers all of the classic flavors of your favorite Chinese noodle dish. Soy sauce, boneless skinless chicken thighs, mixed veggies, ginger and garlic make this a dish that’s big on flavor but comes together in just 30 minutes time. This is a perfect recipe for a side dish or a quick weeknight meal.
- 25-Minute Thai Ground Pork Rice Bowl is the quickest and tastiest way to have a fast and simple lunch or dinner. This is an excellent recipe if you want to prep lunches ahead of time or having a delicious, filling and healthy dinner. Ground pork cooked in a sauce made with brown sugar, soy sauce and ginger make for a tasty protein to enjoy with your fresh vegetables, rice and toasted rice powder.
How did your 20 Minute Homemade Hamburger Helper turn out? Let me know in the comments below what your favorite childhood Hamburger Helper memory is. Did you make any alterations or changes when you made this recipe? As always, thank you so much for supporting the Spice and Sugar Mama food blog!
20 Minute Homemade Hamburger Helper
- 1 Pound ground beef
- ½ + 1 Teaspoon salt
- ½ + 1 Teaspoon black pepper
- 1 Pound rigatoni pasta
- ¾ Cup whole milk
- ½ Cup butter
- 8 Ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
- 8 Ounces American cheese
- 1 Teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 Teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 Teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 Teaspoon paprika
- 1 Beef bouillon cube, crushed
- Heat a large pan sprayed skillet over medium heat. Add ground beef, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Break apart the ground beef and brown for about 15 minutes or until cooked through. In the meantime, prepare rigatoni according to package instructions. Drain when finished.
- Return the pasta pot to the stovetop on medium heat. Add whole milk and butter to the pot. Fold in the shredded mozzarella cheese and tear the American cheese into slices and add it to the pot.
- Next, add browned ground beef, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, garlic powder, dried parsley, dried oregano, paprika and a crushed up beef bouillon cube.
- Stir for 2 minutes until everything is fully combined and the cheese is melted and distributed throughout.