Easy Hamburger Goulash with Ketchup: Only One Pot To Clean

Sneak Preview: This easy Hamburger Goulash with Ketchup combines ground beef, macaroni, tomato sauce, cheese, and ketchup. Only one pot is needed to make this American goulash recipe.

Easy Beef Goulash in an individual serving bowl.Pin

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This Hamburger Goulash recipe (as opposed to Hungarian Beef Goulash) is not exactly gourmet. It’s more of a what-can-I-throw-together-that’s-quick,-filling,-and-something-everybody-likes kind of dish.

Try it tonight. You will only have to wash one pot.

Is it Goulash or Chop Suey?

My mother-in-law used to make a dish she called Beef Goulash. She told me she cooked the macaroni and hamburger then added ketchup and Cheddar. That’s it!

I was puzzled by the title when I recently saw a recipe for “American Chop Suey” in Cook’s Illustrated. Then, I recognized the food in the magazine picture as a first cousin to my husband’s beloved goulash.

Never before had I heard of a mixture of ground beef (hamburger), tomatoes, sauce, and macaroni called “Chop Suey.” Sounds Chinese, doesn’t it?

I’ve learned this dish is known as Chop Suey in the northeast. They traditionally add soy sauce to add umami.

Easy Beef Goulash in a serving dish before adding cheesePin

Instant Pot vs. slow cooker vs. stovetop

Using the Instant Pot takes about the same time as cooking on the stove. The advantage of using the Instant Pot is that you can make this casserole beforehand.

When the cooking time ends, the pot will automatically switch to “warm.” So your goulash will be warm and ready to eat whenever you come home.

The slow cooker will take all day using the “Low” setting. Then, again, dinner will be ready and waiting for you at the end of the day. (My slow cooker allows me to brown the meat on the stove in the slow cooker pot. If yours doesn’t, you’ll need an extra frying pan for that step.)

No matter which method you chose, this is a one-pot meal. Winner!!

What is the difference between hamburger and ground beef?

The USDA has certain standards for hamburger and ground beef regarding the fat and where it comes from. Most Americans use the terms interchangeably in real life. Interesting note: According to the Food Lover’s Companion, The name “hamburger” comes from the seaport town of Hamburg, Germany, where it is thought that 19th-century sailors brought back the idea of raw shredded beef (known today as beef tartare) after trading with the Baltic provinces of Russia. Some anonymous German chef decided to cook the beef. 

Ingredients and substitutions:

Hamburger or ground beef: This is the perfect place to customize your goulash. Substitute sausage for the hamburger or go half beef and half sausage. Use leftover roast beef instead of ground beef. Cut the amount of beef in half if you prefer. Vegetarians can leave it out altogether. If you are avoiding red meat, substitute ground turkey for beef. Ground pork is another option.

Pasta: Macaroni is traditional. Ditalini (sometimes called salad pasta) is fun. If you only have spaghetti in the house, break it into small pieces and use that if you want to.

Tomato sauce: I called for tomato sauce because I wanted this recipe to be something you could make without going to the grocery store. Substitute pasta sauce, spaghetti sauce, or even pizza sauce.

Water: Amp up the flavor by substituting 1/2 cup of red or white wine for 1/2 cup of water.

Worcestershire sauce: This magic brown liquid adds umami flavor to anything. If you prefer, substitute soy sauce or coconut aminos. Another way to add umami is with a dry mushroom seasoning like the one sold at Trader Joe’s. Alternatively, you can make your mushroom seasoning mix with this recipe for mushroom seasoning mix.

Ketchup: Ketchup (or catsup, if you prefer the defining feature of this recipe as we know and love to eat it. If you’re not a catsup lover, you might want to add an extra can of tomato sauce for sauciness.

Cheese: We like LOTS of Cheddar. Mozzarella or Velveeta would also be delicious and melty. Parmesan cheese is another option, especially if you substitute spaghetti sauce.

Onions and Garlic: Feel free to chop fresh onions and garlic instead of powdered ones. I often opt for “easy” with this recipe. After all, this is not intended to be a gourmet recipe. Instead, it’s first-degree comfort food.

Miscellaneous seasonings: We like a little kick, so I add red pepper flakes and a quick squeeze of Sriacha. Leave this out if you prefer your food milder or if you are serving kids.

If you don’t have Italian seasoning, improvise with oregano, basil, and a touch of thyme.

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Beef Goulash after the cheese has been added.Pin

How to make Easy Beef Goulash with Ketchup (stove top directions)

Browning ground beef in a large pot.Pin

Brown ground beef in a large saucepan or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Break up the meat with a wooden spoon.

Adding onion and garlic powder to ground beef.

Add onion powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and red chili flakes.

Adding waterPin

Add 1/2 cup water and scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.

Adding tomato sauce, tomatoes and remaining waterPin

Stir in tomato sauce, tomatoes, and remaining water.

Uncooked macaroni added to potPin

Add uncooked macaroni noodles and stir. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes or until the macaroni is soft.

Adding additional seasoning after macaroni has cooked.Pin

Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and Sriracha if using. Stir.

Adding Cheddar to potPin

Stir in half of the Cheddar.

After Cheddar is added on top of ready-to-serve goulash with ketchupPin

Sprinkle remaining Cheddar over the top when ready to serve. (If the goulash has cooled off, pop it back into the microwave to melt the cheese on top.)

FAQ for Goulash recipes:

How is American Beef Goulash different from Hungarian Goulash?

A typical recipe for Hungarian Goulash is a paprika-flavored broth full of meat and other vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers. The consistency is more of a cross between a soup and a stew. This recipe is a variation of American Beef Goulash.

Can I freeze Beef Goulash?

Let the prepared goulash cool completely in the refrigerator. Then, double-wrap it and keep it in the freezer for three months. Thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating.

How can I make this ahead of time?

Prepare the recipe entirely except for the final sprinkling of Cheddar. Wrap and keep it in the fridge for up to 3 days.
When ready to eat, stir the casserole and microwave or heat in the oven until hot. (If the pasta has absorbed all the moisture, stir in some water or more catsup to make it saucy again. Sprinkle the final cheese over the top and let it melt.

What can I serve with Goulash?

Try French Bread or garlic breadsticks, a green salad (I always have these on hand), and a green vegetable like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or green beans.

I bought too much ground beef. What else can I do with it?

Try this spaghetti recipe from one of my friends: Scooter’s Baked Spaghetti with Cream Cheese. For a Tex-Mex taste experience, try these enchiladas: Green Chile Beef Enchiladas. For your next barbecue, the crowd will go crazy for these Baked Beans with Sausage and Ground Beef.

Parting Thoughts: Eating Hamburger Goulash made with ketchup brings back so many memories for us. I’m hoping this recipe will be the beginning of new memories at your house, too.

If you have questions or suggestions, email me privately for a quick answer: Paula at saladinajar.com. Hope to see you again soon! 


Easy Hamburger Goulash Recipe with Ketchup

Paula Rhodes
This easy recipe can be made in one pot in about 45 minutes on the stove. An Instant Pot version and a slow cooker version is included in the notes below.
4.55 from 11 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 45 mins
Course Beef
Cuisine American
Servings 8 servings
Calories 253 kcal



  • 1 pound ground beef
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 8-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 ½ cup water
  • cup elbow macaroni - 6 oz.
  • ¼ cup catsup
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 squirt Sriracha
  • 1 cup Cheddar cheese - grated (mild or medium)


  • Brown 1 lb ground beef in a large, heavy pot. Season with salt and pepper. Drain off excess grease.
  • Stir in 1 t onion powder, ½ t garlic powder, 1 t Italian seasoning, and ¼ t red pepper flakes.
  • Add ½ cup water to the meat and scrape the bottom of the pan.
  • Stir in 1½ c elbow macaroni and the remaining 1 c water, 8-oz can of tomato sauce, and 1 14.5 oz can of tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the macaroni is tender.
  • Stir in ¼ c catsup, 1 t Worcestershire sauce, 1 squirt Sriracha, and ½ c Cheddar.
  • Add salt and pepper as needed after tasting. Move to a serving dish for a fancier presentation and sprinkle with the remaining ½ c Cheddar, letting it melt before serving.
  • If you are not eating this dish immediately, you may need to add some extra water and sauce as the pasta absorbs moisture, especially for leftovers the next day or two.


Instant Pot Version: (Illustrated in the video)
  1. Cook ground beef on the Sauté setting. Proceed through step 3.
  2. In step 4, add the tomato sauce and tomatoes. Sprinkle macaroni evenly over the top. Pour remaining water over the top WITHOUT STIRRING.
  3. Seal pot and set to high-pressure cook for 8 minutes. (It could take 10-12 minutes for the IP to come to pressure.)
  4. When the IP beeps, do a quick release and proceed to step 5 above. Stir everything together. If not eating right away, you can leave it in the Instant Pot on warm for 5-6 hours. When ready to eat, go to step 6.
Slow Cooker Version:
Cook ground beef in a skillet on the stove. Add to a slow cooker and the rest of the ingredients except for cheese. Stir and allow to cook for 8 hours. When ready to eat, stir in half of the cheese. Sprinkle the remaining half of the cheese over the top and allow it to melt before serving.



Serving: 1 | Calories: 253kcal | Carbohydrates: 11g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 55mg | Sodium: 710mg | Potassium: 316mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 264IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 137mg | Iron: 2mg
Keyword American goulash, beef goulash, easy goulash made in one pot, easy supper recipe, goulash with catsup, hamburger goulash with ketchup
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Recipe Rating


  1. Hi Paula! My kids grew up on this and my in-laws had it at every back yard cook-out. But, it has been YEARS since I made it and clear forgot about it.

    Wow – look at that yummy photo! I can almost taste it : ) I’ll pass on the Hot Chili Sauce but will add the catsup. That is how my mother-in-law pronounced it too. We say ketchup.

  2. Pam Spicer says:

    My dad made this growing up and wished I had his recipe. Yours looks delicious and I can’t wait to try it. Thanks Paula!!

    1. Hi Pam,

      Sounds like goulash is comfort food for you too. If you try it, hope it brings back lots of good memories.

  3. Nicole@The Galley Gourmet says:

    I know three little people (and two other people ☺) that would love this! I ditto your 2. substitution. It is standard in my house as well.

  4. The Café Sucré Farine says:

    Paula, who else could make goulash look so delicious!? I didn’t think I liked it but I just changed my mind! Love this photo!

  5. Nancy in NW PA says:

    My family made this with stewed tomatoes and called it goulash. Later on, I lived with a Hungarian (who escaped during the ’56 Revolution) and discovered that REAL goulash was really a stew made with dried beef and little else – no macaroni, or cheese, or much beyond paprika – which is dried sweet or hot red peppers – and probably onions or garlic.

    I discovered that some people call it Chili-Mac – which is more suggestive of its ingredients. As an extension educator I used to teach folks to use the same ingredients in a single pan (Yes, a one-pot meal) and it became “skillet lasagna” and it worked pretty well. People sometimes substituted other meats – like venison – for the ground beef and a can of spaghetti sauce was easier for some than straight tomato sauce. You browned the meat and onions, poured on the sauce and some extra water, dumped in the pasta, covered the pan over low heat and cooked it covered for as long as it took to make the pasta tender.

    This is the original hamburger helper recipe and how it got to be called goulash is beyond me – but it still works and still tastes just fine.

    1. Very interesting Nancy. I knew that my goulash not Hungarian since it has no paprika but didn’t know about the red peppers. What we used to call Chili-Mac had chili powder in it. My sister once made Chili-Mac for her boyfriend when he asked for chili. He was astonished to find macaroni in his chili.

      Thanks for taking the time to write.

  6. Melissa B says:

    5 stars
    I had Goulash alot when I was little, and loved it!
    I really need to make it more often. =)

    Love your recipe! thanks so much for sharing!

  7. Sometimes all you need is a little catsup…or a bbq sauce…or yes, Hot Chili Sauce!

  8. cmichaelsny says:

    Thanks for the recipe..I really appreciate this recipe..I cant wait to taste it..Hope you can share more..

  9. TheKitchenWitch says:

    My mama used to make this and I loved it! Thanks for the blast from the past!

  10. Mal @ The Chic Geek says:

    My father in law makes something very similar to this, it’s so yummy!

  11. tinafreysd says:

    Nice sharing of recipe..I cant wait to try this..Thanks for sharing with us..

  12. My mother in law makes something similar and calls it slum gum. My mom also had a version that used tomato soup. What memories!

    1. Mimi, Slum gum? Haven’t heard that one before. Tomato soup seems like a pretty good idea–if you don’t mind the extra salt. 🙂 I use tomato soup in my tamale pie and love it. Have a great day! pr

    2. @Paula, Probably a shortened version of Slumgullion (a peasant stew-not the bird!) Whenever my dad made a giant pot of cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes, corned beef and anything else he could find in the kitchen, he always called it slumgullion. I always thought it was a word he made up until I stumbled across it in the dictionary one day! Sorry, off topic, but great memories.

      1. Love the story. What a strange sounding word!

  13. When I taught school, this was standard fare in the school cafeteria. I always gobbled it up (it was a small town and those ladies could cook!). I think they may have used tomato soup . . .

  14. Martha Ann says:

    I’ve been fixing my salad in a jar ever since I saw your post and it has been just great until the last few times. I’ve been getting brown edges after less than a week – top is tight and well sealed. Any suggestions? There were a couple pieces of chard in this jar – do you think that would have made a difference?

    1. Martha Ann,
      The chard is indeed suspect. That’s why I do not add anything else to my lettuce because it will usually shorten the time you can use it. The only other thing I can think of is that your lettuce was not as fresh as you hoped when you bought it. pr

  15. Paula, I didn’t know the name of this but this is what my mother in law makes all the time, but she throws in peas but no other vegetables. I can’t even say that I tired hers since I was a vegetarian for many years, but your recipe def. seems much healthier than the ketchup version or the no veggie version :).

  16. Piper@GotItCookIt says:

    This is such a comfort dish for me. My Grandma used to make this, something between this and your mother-in-law’s recipe. It was simple and fantastic. My Mom always went to exotic and ethnic extremes (weird in the 70’s) but Grandma always made this and it was just what we wanted. I need to do this. THIS is goulash to ME!

  17. Hi Paula,

    I’ve spent the last 15 or so years trying to find my mother’s recipe for her goulash. We couldn’t get enough of it when I was a kid. I just stumbled on yours and couldn’t believe just how close it was to hers. However, she used a loaf of bread and a lot of tomato paste in hers and she did it in a 12 qt stock pot. The rest seemed basically the same so I tried it. A couple of variations such as an xtra 1/2 cup of water and 2 large cans tomato paste and…….PERFECTION. It was exactly what she used to make. I had tears in my eyes the first time I tried it. It brought back the days when we came home to a hardy bowl of Mom’s goulash. I can’t thank you enough. Peace be with you and thank you very much.

  18. Ravyn Guiliani says:

    I was thinking about this simple American/Italian dish and wondered what you all grew up calling it? In south Jersey we called it American Goulash (or just goulash–small “g”-really not sure how the Hungarians figure in there), in school they called it Beef-a-Roni (which I thought was made by Chef Boy-Ar-Dee and came in a can…), but my husband’s Boston family calls it American Chop Suey (which makes NO sense to me at all!) So what do you call elbow macaroni in tomato sauce with ground beef and chunks of tomatoes and onions (and sometimes green peppers, or in the case of my school lunches chopped bacon pieces…)? This to me is the ultimate “comfort-food”.I get the “chop suey” or “goulash” thing being a thrown together kind of random left-overs type of dish—however this is not random. It is made with as much care and planning as most any pasta dinner, so I don’t understand that inference either.

    I never had it with ketchup (is catsup also a regional thing?) but my mother always put a spoonful in her sauce (which my husband’s family call “gravy” even if it is made of tomatoes) instead of the sugar most other mothers I knew used. You might try it with the bacon pieces like my school lunch-ladies did–it gives it a sweet tang.

    1. Yes Ravyn, I can imagine bacon would be a wonderful addition! Thanks for the suggestion.

  19. This is becoming a forgotten dish sadly! I grew up on this (before hamburger helper found it’s way into my single mother’s hands, lol)…anyway, I have never tried to make it, but would like to try one day. Mostly because my last name is Losch, and oftentimes people have a hard time pronouncing it, so i always say, “It’s like goulash, without the ‘goo,’ ” which up until recently went over well. Now when I say it people just smile awkwardly sometimes. I started asking, and many people have NEVER even heard of it…imagine that! I’m going to be 27 this year, so I know it’s not that old…or is it? lol… Anyway, thanks for posting!

    1. Julie,
      Goulash is definitely not old. The name maybe, but the dish itself is a classic. Right?

  20. Melissa B says:

    5 stars
    I had Goulash alot when I was little, and loved it!
    I really need to make it more often. =)

    Love your recipe! thanks so much for sharing!

  21. I grew up in Rhode Island, and here as in the rest of New England American Chop Suey was what some in the Midwest and south called Goulash… or at least that’s what some say. To me what I see in goulash recipes isn’t the American chop suey we were served in the school cafeteria, or what mom made a huge pot of when we went camping, or what a local grocery store used to serve up as a prepared food. There was no tomato sauce, probably canned chopped tomatoes in their juice, as it wasn’t saucy, there were onions, peppers, maybe Worcestershire sauce and some seasoning.. that is the mystery to me, whatever seasoning that provided the particular taste that was distinctive. It was closer to a sloppy joe flavor than anything else. If I know that I could fake my way to a better approximation :). I never got the recipe from my mom before she passed away, and haven’t found a recipe that delivers.

    1. Very interesting, Mary. When I think of sloppy joe flavor, I think of prepared mustard and catsup mixed with a little Worcestershire sauce. Do you suppose your mom added any mustard?

  22. This recipe is somewhat similar to the one I grew up with. I have never seen or heard of anyone making it the way I do which I learned from my mother and grandmother. The only ingredients we use are ground beef, macaroni noodles, ketchup, a little salt and pepper to season the meat, and a little diced onion and green pepper. Boil the macaroni noodles separately and then add them to the cooked ground beef (seasoned to taste), stir in enough ketchup until it is all evenly coated and let simmer until it no longer has the ketchup taste.

    1. Hi Samantha,

      Thanks for writing. Was your mom or grandmother from Texas? I’m curious. My mother-in-law (from Texas) made hers exactly as you describe. I applied the one-pot method just to save time and dirty pans. Wait! You didn’t mention cheese. My mother-in-law added lots of cheese.