Old Fashioned Baked Goulash casserole with ground beef, flavorful tomato sauce, and a cheesy kick like the lunchroom ladies made—an easy recipe for an economical dinner.
This cheesy American-style baked goulash recipe has ground beef, a spicy tomato sauce, tender pasta, and cheese. It's like the lunch lady have made for school lunch for decades.
It has the addition of a cheesy topping that was not always used in the lunch room but makes it special. An easy, tasty everyday recipe that will be a favorite of kids and the whole family.
You will want to make a large amount for great leftovers. It freezes well. but is easy to cut down to "cooking for two" size.
Serve with a nice bread like Stand Mixer Lunch Lady Rolls or Honey Wheat Rolls. For other comfort food casseroles you many enjoy Tuna Noodle Casserole with Parmesan Topping, Cheesy Jambalaya, and Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli and Rice Casserole.
- Ground beef—may substitute ground turkey or chicken.
- Pasta—Elbow macaroni is classic, but other small pasta will work—cook al denta.
- Tomatoes—sauce and diced
- Cheese—cheddar and mozzarella are in the recipe but using all cheddar or other cheeses are fine.
- Pantry ingredients—basil, seasoning salt, and black pepper
- Optional added paprika—to make it more like Hungarian goulash, add 1 to 2 teaspoons
👨🍳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 shedded cheese.
- Top with more cheese but skip all the cheese for classic American goulash.
- Bake until golden brown–about 30 minutes.
↕️How to make a half-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, making 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 just 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 may be added for different flavors, like oregano, rosemary, thyme, or Italian seasoning.
- 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.
♨️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.
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.
❄️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.
This recipe is listed in these categories. See them for more similar recipes.
🖼️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.
© 101 Cooking for Two, LLC. All content and photographs are copyright protected by us or our vendors. While we appreciate your sharing our recipes, please realize copying, pasting, or duplicating full recipes to any social media, website, or electronic/printed media is strictly prohibited and a violation of our copyrights.
Editor's Note: Originally published November 16, 2013. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.
I made this last night for dinner...my first night of retirement!
I was very good, my husband had three servings!
I was confused about the 1 cup of dry pasta, as compared to the directions of 1 pound. I used 2 cups dry and it worked out great.
Dr Dan, we made your 'goulash' recipe and only changed by deleting some salt here and there. We brought some over to our elderly neighbor and she exclaimed "Oh my gosh, this is just like my family's 'slumgullion' but with cheese on it!" I'm 72 and I had completely forgotten that term. My grandgirls have had an absolute fit over that name
Oh! My mother called it that! I always thought she made it up. I wonder where it comes from.
Hi Dr. Dan-
I'm making this up, will let it sit a day in my fridge, and then want to freeze it. Can you please give me suggestions on how to defrost (do I need to defrost? can it go straight in the oven?)and timing and temp in the oven. Thanks! Kimberlee
Dan Mikesell AKA DrDan
I have not frozen this but we do lasagna frequently. So it would be about the same. We do precook before freezing but only due to the egg.
We usually cook frozen, covered with foil until near the end. We go for 160 plus just to have it very hot. It does seem to vary a lot in time.
I would say about 90 minutes but it is usually under control of my wife since it is her dish. 350 degree oven. It would be faster if thawed first. To do that, I would do 1-2 days in the refrigerator.
Hope that helps some. This will vary by size and thickness. Also, deep freezer vs refrigerator freezer.
This tastes just like my mom’s. Thanks for the wonderful memories and delicious dish.
Welcome to the blog.
It is that old fashion taste. Plus great for leftovers.
Thanks for the note and rating.
Hi Dr. Dan, this is the recipe I have been looking for. I loved lunchroom Goulash. Can’t wait to try it. I’m making your crockpot bbq ribs recipe this weekend. I’ve never had ribs turn out so good until I used your recipe. Thank you
Welcome to the blog.
I was thinking of setting in the junior high cafeteria when I did this. It is right on for my experience since they used cheese.
Glad those easy ribs are good for you.
Thanks for the note.