This American goulash recipe is an easy one-pot meal made with ground beef and macaroni pasta in a tangy red sauce and covered with cheddar cheese. It’s classic American comfort food.
Did you eat American goulash growing up? I didn’t, but I got completely obsessed with it a while back when I was working on my Hungarian goulash recipe. This American version has total grown-up Hamburger Helper vibes and feels like such a nostalgic treat every time you make it.
It’s simple to throw together, and even though it requires a slightly longer cooking time than most of my favorite weeknight meals, most of the cooking time is hands-off so it’s still a great candidate for busy nights when you need something easy and filling for dinner.
What is American goulash?
American goulash, also known as chop suey and in casserole form, the Johnny Marzetti, is an Americanized version of Hungarian goulash, a dish that was brought to the United States by Hungarian immigrants.
It’s almost always made with ground beef, pasta (usually macaroni), and tomato sauce (either homemade or store-bought), and seasoned with Italian seasonings.
- Ground beef: I prefer to use 85% ground beef in this recipe, but you can use whatever ground beef you have on hand.
- Tomato paste: Tomato paste helps add depth of flavor to the sauce. You won’t use a full can in this recipe, so check out my post What to Do With Leftover Tomato Paste for storage tips and recipe ideas to use up the leftovers.
- Crushed tomatoes: This is my preferred brand of canned tomatoes. If all you have are diced, diced will work here too. You’ll just have a chunkier red sauce.
- Elbow macaroni: Classic American goulash uses elbow macaroni, but you could also use other small-to-medium pasta in this dish like medium shells or rotini.
How to Make American Goulash
1. Cook the onions in olive oil until they begin to soften.
2. Brown the beef, breaking it up into crumbles as it cooks.
3 Add the garlic and then the tomato paste and spices. Cook them until the garlic and spices start to smell amazing.
4. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, give everything a good stir, and then simmer covered for 25 minutes to let the flavors meld.
5. Stir in the pasta and cook until al dente.
6. Add cheese, cover the pot, and let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes for the cheese to melt.
7. Uncover, admire all that beautiful melty cheese, serve, and enjoy!
What to serve with American goulash?
Serve the goulash with a couple slices of crusty bread and a simple vegetable side like:
What is the difference between American and Hungarian goulash?
Even though American goulash evolved from Hungarian goulash, they are two extremely different dishes. Where American goulash is usually made with hamburger and macaroni, Hungarian goulash is made with chunks of beef chuck roast, which cooks with thinly sliced onions and beef broth for about 2 hours to make a thick and rich stew, that is served over egg noodles or potatoes.
Both versions are delicious but are very different.
Can I freeze American goulash?
I don’t love freezing recipes that contain pasta as the pasta will bloat slightly in the freezer and have a different texture after reheating. But if you don’t mind the slight texture change, you absolutely can freeze this dish.
Just freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months and defrost overnight in the fridge before reheating. DO NOT try to microwave still-frozen pasta to reheat. It will turn the pasta to mush.
Can I make this ahead of time?
Yes. Make the dish completely but don’t add the cheese. Store covered in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to eat, reheat the goulash gently on the stove. Once hot, add the cheese, cover and let sit until the cheese is melted and then serve and enjoy!
Why are my noodles taking forever to cook!!?
I feel your pain! Pasta in one-pot pasta dishes always takes longer to cook than when boiled in water, so don’t worry if your pasta seems to be taking a while. Just keep cooking it with the lid on, stirring every few minutes, and it will reach al dente eventually. I promise!
More Comfort Food Favorites
Easy American Goulash
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ large onion diced
- 1 pound ground beef *
- 4 cloves garlic crushed or minced
- ¼ cup (60g) tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Pinch red pepper flakes optional
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes *
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 ounces (about 1 ½ cups) elbow macaroni
- 1 cup (4oz) shredded cheddar cheese preferably sharp
- In a large pot with a lid, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until the edges begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add ground beef and cook, breaking the meat into crumbles as you go, until meat is browned.
- Stir in garlic and cook for 30 seconds before adding tomato paste, salt, oregano, basil, pepper, and optional red pepper flakes. Stir until the meat is well-coated and you can really begin to smell the garlic and spices, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add crushed tomatoes, chicken broth, soy sauce, and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes.
- Remove bay leaves, stir in the macaroni, and cover. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until pasta is al dente, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Turn off heat and add cheese. Replace lid and let sit for 2 to 3 minutes until cheese is melted. Serve and enjoy!
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