American Goulash is a classic, old-fashioned comfort food that brings back nostalgic memories. With a twist on traditional German or Hungarian Goulash, this recipe is made with ground beef and elbow macaroni simmered in a flavorful tomato sauce. Made all in one pot (even the pasta!), this easy recipe is an inexpensive way to feed your family on a budget!
This recipe holds a special place in many hearts! I remember my mother and grandmother making this on cold winter days. It’s one of those old-fashioned, hearty recipes that brings back so many memories in every bite.
We always served this with a slice of skillet cornbread or crusty French bread.
What is Goulash? American goulash vs Hungarian goulash
Goulash comes from the Hungarian word “Gulyas”. It’s pronounced the same as goulash, but with a silent “L”.
As I mentioned, this American version is a twist on the traditional Hungarian goulash or German goulash recipes. German and Hungarian goulash are largely similar, but very different to the American version.
Traditional goulash is very similar to a hearty beef stew but with different seasonings. Goulash uses spices such as caraway seeds, cumin, peppers, and paprika, which alters the flavors from a classic beef stew recipe.
Like so many dishes, Hungarian goulash came over with immigrants arriving in the late 19th century. In a recipe from The Settlement Cook Book 1903, an early recipe for “Gulash” included the essential ingredients: beef, onions, paprika, and tomatoes.
As time evolved, Americans made adjustments to the recipe based on what they could afford and what was available. Now, there are so many different goulash recipes!
The American version of goulash is a combination of ground beef, tomatoes, tomato sauce, elbow macaroni, and some of the seasonings you will find in a classic goulash. It’s basically a simplified version of the traditional way of preparing this dish.
The goulash meat has differed throughout its evolution. Instead of using beef chuck or stew meat, ground beef is a popular choice.
Old Fashioned Goulash
You might have heard this recipe called by other names too. Through my research, I found this recipe labeled as American Chop Suey and Johnny Marzetti. They each have their own spin on this recipe.
In the 1950s and 1960s, this recipe was a staple in many homes – mainly because it was simple and inexpensive. Plus, kids loved it.
It was largely popular in areas of New England, like New York state, as well as Ohio and parts of the Midwest and Southern United States. It’s been quite a hit for a long time and for good reason!
Why this version is the best:
- It’s cheap. Aside from ground beef, this recipe calls for inexpensive canned ingredients like tomatoes and tomato sauce.
- It’s easy. It’s as simple as browning the beef, combining the ingredients, and simmering. You can even use the same pot!
- Feeds a few or many. You can easily double this recipe to feed more people, or stretch it with additional cans of tomatoes, broth, ground meat, and even pasta.
- Ingredients are flexible. There are plenty of substitutions and variations to make this recipe work for your family. (see the recipe card below!)
American Goulash Ingredients
See the full list of ingredients in the recipe card below.
- Meat: This recipe calls for ground beef, but you can use ground turkey, chicken, or pork in its place.
- Vegetables: Onions help fill out the recipe and give it a slight bite. You’ll notice that there are no peppers included like you would find in other more traditional recipes.
- Seasonings: Paprika was a seasoning used in the traditional preparation. This gives it a slightly smoky flavor. Other seasonings like garlic, Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper are also included.
- Canned ingredients: Add additional broth, tomato sauce, or tomatoes to stretch the recipe. You can also use vegetable broth in place of beef broth. Stewed tomatoes can also be used in place of diced tomatoes.
- Pasta: Elbow macaroni is the old fashioned way! Feel free to use any small pasta shape in its place.
- Cheese: The sharp cheddar cheese is added at the end. It gives a delicious bite and cheesy texture. This ingredient is completely optional and flexible. Other ideas include different types of cheddar, Monterrey jack, Italian blend, Mexican blend, etc.
Since this is a one-pot meal, I highly recommend using a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot.
How to Make Goulash with Ground Beef
See the full list of instructions in the recipe card below.
Step 1: Saute the Onion and Brown the Beef.
Heat the oil in the dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, sauté the onion until it begins to soften. Then, add in the ground beef and garlic.
Continue cooking over medium-high heat until there is very little pink left in the ground beef. This should only take about 5 minutes or so.
As the meat cooks, make sure to break it up as much as possible. I like to use a wooden spoon, but meat choppers are also handy.
Depending on the lean-to-fat ratio of the beef, you may need to drain the grease. Make sure the grease doesn’t go down the drain. You can discard the grease by straining the beef into a bowl and discarding in the trash after it has cooled.
Step 2: Make the goulash tomato sauce.
To make the sauce, add the broth, water tomato sauce, and tomatoes to the dutch oven with the ground beef. Stir well to combine.
Stewed tomatoes, petite diced, and whole peeled tomatoes can be used in place of diced tomatoes. Avoid using puree or crushed as it might make the dish too soupy. Additionally, try flavored canned tomatoes like Italian style, fire roasted, etc.
Next, add in the Worcestershire sauce and seasonings to the pot and stir well. Bring the sauce and ground beef to a simmer.
Step 3: Cook the pasta in the goulash.
When the pot is simmering, add in the macaroni noodles and continue to simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking for about 12 minutes, or until the macaroni is tender. Stir occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Alternatively, the pasta can be prepared separately from the goulash. Follow the instructions on the packaging.
Then, stir in the cooked pasta, OR add the pasta to the bottom of each bowl before adding the goulash on top.
Finally, fold in the cheese and stir until it is completely melted in the sauce.
Tips for the Best Goulash Recipe Ever
This recipe is incredibly versatile, so there are plenty of ways to make this your very own. See the tips below.
To make goulash in the slow cooker, follow the instructions up to adding the noodles.
- Saute the beef and onion separately.
- Add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker pot (except the noodles).
- Stir to combine and cook on low for 4-5 hours, or on high for 2 hours.
- Stir in the macaroni 30 minutes before serving or prepare the pasta separately.
- Fold in the cheese just before serving.
Instant Pot Goulash
To make goulash in a pressure cooker, follow the instructions below.
- Saute the beef and onion. Drain if necessary. Then, add the garlic and stir.
- Turn off the saute function and stir in the remaining ingredients, including the pasta.
- Pressure cook on high for 5 minutes. Once it’s finished, do a quick pressure release.
- Stir the mixture. Serve topped with cheese.
To make goulash casserole style in the oven, follow the instructions below.
- Prepare the recipe according to the stove top instructions in the recipe card below.
- Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish, top with cheese, and bake at 350°F for 20-30 minutes.
Types of Pasta for Goulash
Small noodles are recommended because of their quick cooking time. This is especially important if you are cooking the noodles in the same pot as the sauce.
Alternatively, prepare the pasta in a separate pot following the package’s instructions. Other types of noodles to try are penne, egg noodles, ziti, rigatoni, fusilli, rotelle, small shells, etc.
Leftover Goulash: Can I freeze leftover goulash?
If you have leftovers, they are best stored separately from the pasta. The noodles will absorb the liquid leaving you with dry goulash and soggy noodles. If you are planning for leftovers, cook the pasta separately. Store in airtight containers for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
The same advice goes for freezing goulash. Add the leftovers to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. To defrost, thaw in the refrigerator and reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop until warm.
How do you thicken goulash?
If your goulash is watery, add additional pasta or scoop excess liquid for a thicker consistency. Removing excess liquid may remove some of the flavors and seasonings. Keep this in mind as you are cooking.
Is Hamburger Helper the same as goulash?
While the ingredients are similar, Hamburger Helper and goulash are worlds apart. Hamburger Helper is full of processed ingredients, which come in powdered form. Goulash can be made with organic, natural ingredients which are better for your health.
What’s another name for goulash?
Goulash is also called Johnny Marzetti, American Chop Suey, and slumgullion.
How do you fix bland goulash?
Add additional seasonings to enhance the flavor of goulash. Salt, pepper, and paprika are great places to start. Begin by adding one teaspoon at a time.
What is the difference between spaghetti and goulash?
While there are similarities, spaghetti and goulash are very different. Goulash is German or Hungarian while Spaghetti is Italian.
Goulash is made by cooking the noodles and sauce together in the pot. Spaghetti is made by preparing the sauce separately, then adding the sauce and noodles when serving. Also, each dish uses different types of pasta.
Easy American Goulash Recipe without Peppers
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion (chopped)
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 ½ pound ground beef
- 15 ounces beef broth
- ½ cup water
- 15 ounces tomato sauce
- 15 ounces diced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (dried)
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups elbow macaroni (uncooked)
- 1 cup sharp cheddar Cheese (grated)
- Heat the oil in the dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, saute the onion until it begins to soften (about 3 minutes). Then, add in the ground beef and garlic.
- Continue cooking over medium-high heat until there is very little pink left in the ground beef and the meat is crumbled. Drain the fat if necessary.
- To make the sauce, add the broth, water, tomato sauce, and diced tomatoes to the dutch oven with the ground beef. Stir well to combine.
- Add in the Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasoning, paprika, and salt and pepper to the pot and stir. Bring the mixture to a simmer.
- When the pot is simmering, add in the uncooked macaroni and bring to simmer once again. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the macaroni is tender, about 12 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Finally, fold in the cheese and stir until it is completely melted in the sauce.
Reheating / Storing / Leftovers Info:If you have leftovers, they are best stored separately from the pasta. The noodles will absorb the liquid leaving you with dry goulash and soggy noodles. If you are planning for leftovers, cook the pasta separately. Store in airtight containers for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. The same advice goes for freezing goulash. Add the leftovers to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. To defrost, thaw in the refrigerator and reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop until warm.
Ingredient substitutionsStewed tomatoes, petite diced, and whole peeled tomatoes can be used in place of diced tomatoes. Avoid using puree or crushed as it might make the dish too soupy. Additionally, try flavored canned tomatoes like Italian style, fire roasted, etc. Other ideas include different types of cheddar, Monterrey jack, Italian blend, Mexican blend, etc. Instead of ground beef, use ground turkey, pork, chicken, or ground meat. Use beef stock instead of broth.
- Stir in a spoonful of sour cream at the end.
- Add a dash of cayenne pepper or hot sauce for extra spice.
- Hot, smoky, or sweet paprika can be used.
- Alternatively, the pasta can be prepared separately from the goulash. Follow the instructions on the packaging. Then, stir in the cooked pasta, OR add the pasta to the bottom of each bowl before adding the goulash on top.