Cheesy Old Fashioned Baked Goulash casserole with tender pasta, spicy tomato sauce with ground beef, and a cheesy kick like the lunchroom ladies made—an easy recipe for an economical dinner.
You will want to make a large amount for great leftovers. It freezes well, but is easy to cut down to a "cooking for two" size.
Ground beef—may substitute ground turkey or chicken.
Pasta—Elbow macaroni or similar
Onion and garlic
Tomatoes—sauce and diced
Cheese—cheddar and mozzarella
Pantry ingredients—basil, seasoning salt, and black pepper
Optional added paprika—to make it more like Hungarian goulash, add 1 to 2 teaspoons
Featured comment from Denise:
"This tastes just like my mom’s. Thanks for the wonderful memories and delicious dish."
This cheesy American-style baked goulash recipe has been a staple in grade school lunchrooms for decades. Now you can make your own like the lunch lady.
It adds a cheesy topping that was not always used in the lunch room but makes it special. This easy, tasty everyday recipe will be a favorite of kids and the whole family.
👨🍳How to make Cheesy American Baked Goulash
- Cook pasta and brown the ground beef with chopped onion and crushed garlic.
- In a casserole dish, mix tomato sauce and diced tomatoes with spices.
- Add the ground beef and the pasta and stir in some shredded cheese.
- Top with more cheese, but skip all the cheese for classic American goulash.
- Bake until golden brown–about 30 minutes.
This is a summary of the steps and ingredients. See the recipe card or the step-by-step photo instructions below for complete instructions.
↕️How to make a half-size or double-size recipe
This is "cooking for two," so I strive to make adaptions to make recipes smaller when it makes sense. This recipe is easy to cut in half, creating a more "for two" recipe, and it is easy enough that the amount of work makes sense.
To cut this recipe in half, use an 8X8 or 6X9 dish. Also, skip the tomato sauce and use the can of diced tomatoes. Cooking time will be a bit less, but you are cooking to the color, so watch that.
Double size: To make a double-size recipe, use a 9X13 casserole dish or cake pan. Cooking time will increase some, but cook to the final color.
- Pick the cheeses of your choice. I added cheddar to the casserole and topped it with mozzarella. But all cheddar is more than I had in the 60s.
- Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of paprika if you want more of a Hungarian-type taste.
- You can use jarred spaghetti sauce, but the taste will be much different.
- Other spices, like oregano, rosemary, thyme, or Italian seasoning, may be added for different flavors.
- Skip the cheese and make it a stovetop dish. Cook the macaroni a little longer and just mix it all in one pot. I prefer cheese and oven-baked.
- Any pasta can be used, but elbow macaroni is traditional.
- This is a casserole—add what you want or have hanging around. Some will add bell pepper, corn, drained kidney beans, or other things.
❄️Storage and reheating leftovers
Many think it is much better to warm up the next day
Stored in an airtight container, it is good refrigerated for 3-4 days or frozen for 3-4 months.
To reheat: Thaw first if frozen—reheat in the microwave or the oven covered.
Some other names for American goulash or similar dishes are American Chop Suey, chili mac, beef with macaroni, Slumgullion, Johnny Marzetti casserole, or just goulash.
They are not even close to the same thing.
Hungarian goulash is like a thick stew with meat and vegetables and lots of paprika.
American Goulash is a casserole-type dish made from ground beef and usually elbow macaroni—seasoned with tomato and spices. Frequently with cheese but no extra vegetables other than tomato products.
♨️What is Goulash?
If you think of this as a cheesy tomato hamburger casserole, you will be about right. And it is great comfort food, especially with the added cheese.
Some feel that the term goulash needs some heavy paprika. There is some in the seasoning salt, and feel free to add a teaspoon or two of paprika if you wish, but to me, the taste is just right—lunchroom goulash with lots of cheese.
American goulash is more "freestyle," while Hungarian goulash has multiple specific variations and lots of opinions of what is right or wrong. I'm more of a freestyle guy.
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Step-by-Step Photo Instructions
Preheat oven to 350° convection or 375° conventional.
Heat water and start cooking 1 cup of pasta to al denta.
Start brown 1 pound of ground beef over medium-high heat.
Chop one small or ½ medium onion. Add the onion to the ground beef about 5 minutes into cooking, and add 2 cloves of minced or crushed garlic to the burger the last few minutes of cooking the ground beef. Drain when done cooking.
Prep a 2 ½ quart baking dish with PAM cooking spray.
To the baking dish, add one 15 oz can of tomato sauce, 14 ½ oz diced tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of basil, 2 teaspoons of seasoning salt (I used Lowery's), and ½ teaspoon pepper. Mix well.
Add the ground beef along with the pasta and mix well.
Stir in 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese.
Top with ½ cup of shredded mozzarella.
Bake until golden brown—about 30 minutes.
Old Fashioned Cheesy Baked Goulash
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 cup dry elbow macaroni pasta
- 1 onion - small or ½ medium
- 2 cloves garlic - crushed or minced
- 15 oz tomato sauce
- 14 ½ oz diced tomatoes - not drained
- 1 teaspoon dry basil
- 2 teaspoon seasoning salt - Lowery’s suggested
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- ½ cup mozzarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 350° convection or 375° conventional.
- Heat water and start cooking 1 cup of pasta to al denta.
- Start brown 1 pound of ground beef over medium-high heat.
- Chop one small or ½ medium onion. Add the onion to the ground beef about 5 minutes into cooking, and add 2 cloves of minced or crushed garlic to the burger the last few minutes of cooking the ground beef. Drain when done cooking.
- Prep a 2 ½ quart baking dish with PAM cooking spray.
- To the baking dish, add one 15 oz can of tomato sauce, 14 ½ oz diced tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of basil, 2 teaspoons seasoning salt (I used Lowery's), ½ teaspoon of black pepper. Mix well.
- Add the ground beef along with the pasta and mix well.
- Stir in 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese.
- Top with ½ cup of shredded mozzarella.
- Bake until golden brown—about 30 minutes.
Your Own Private Notes
- A full recipe uses a 2 ½ quart casserole dish, but as long as it fits in the dish, it will be fine.
- A double recipe needs a 9X13 casserole dish or cake pan. And may take a bit longer to cook.
- To cut this recipe in half, use an 8X8 or 6X9 dish. Also, skip the tomato sauce and just use the can of diced tomatoes. It will cook a bit faster.
- You are cooking to the browned top, not by time.
- You can skip all the cheese, cook the pasta a bit more and make this a stovetop recipe. But cooking in the oven helps tastes to blend.
- If you feel "goulash" must have more paprika than what is in the seasoning salt, add 1 teaspoon of paprika.
- Vary the cheeses to what you like.
- Like many casseroles, I feel it is better the second day.
- It is good refrigerated for 3-4 days and will freeze well for 3-4 months.
- Nutrition is based on a serving size of about 1 ½ cups.
To adjust the recipe size:
You may adjust the number of servings in this recipe card under servings. This does the math for the ingredients for you. BUT it does NOT adjust the text of the instructions. So you need to do that yourself.
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Editor's Note: Originally published November 16, 2013. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.