One-Pot Beef Goulash


Is catsup a must?

It’s not my mother-in-law’s goulash, rest her soul.

I could be wrong about this, and I can no longer verify it with her, but I think her recipe went something like this.  Boil macaroni and drain. Add browned ground beef and maybe some onions? Drown the whole mess with a bottle of catsup. Add a lot of cheddar cheese and stir it up good. My husband loved it. But that’s a lot of sugar, so I resist.

When I recently saw a recipe for “American Chop Suey” in Cook’s Illustrated, I was mystified. I’ve never heard a mixture of beef, tomatoes, sauce, and macaroni called such a thing.  Then again, maybe you’ve never heard it called “goulash,” which is only a distant relative to “Hungarian Goulash.”  But I recognized the food in the picture as a first cousin of my husband’s beloved goulash, so I immediately began to gather the ingredients.

I followed the recipe fairly closely with these exceptions:

  1. I used cheap ground beef and drained the grease, which means I ended up with a little less beef but more flavor. I’m OK with that.
  2. I used red bell pepper instead of green–a standard substitution in this house.
  3. I substituted pasta sauce for the tomato sauce.
  4. I used some Parmesan cheese, but I also added some cheddar.

When I tasted the end product, something was missing.  You guessed it.  It needed some catsup, but not the whole bottle. Just a couple of glugs brought back all kinds of memories, added some sauciness, and a touch of sweetness I crave way too often.

I didn’t add it this time, but next time I’m going to throw in a squirt of Rooster Sauce (Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce) just to make things more interesting.


One-Pot Beef Goulash
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 6-8
Prep time:
Total time:
One of my husband's favorite comfort foods
  • 12 ounces elbow macaroni
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 cup frozen, chopped onion
  • ¼ cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped finely
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 (29-ounce) can tomato or pasta sauce
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup catsup
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  1. Boil pasta in salted water for 3 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
  2. Brown ground beef. Season with salt and pepper. Drain off excess grease. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Saute onion, bell pepper, and celery in same pan until softened and lightly browned. Add tomato paste and stir, continuing to cook for about 2 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes along with tomato sauce, tomatoes, water, and cooked ground beef. Simmer until vegetables are tender, 15-20 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in macaroni, cover and allow to sit about 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in catsup and cheese. (If you don't have Parmesan, we like cheddar too.)
  6. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with additional Parmesan if desired.


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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie September 14, 2013 at 8:00 pm

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!


Paula September 16, 2013 at 8:44 am

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


Ravyn Guiliani July 17, 2013 at 7:12 pm

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.


Paula July 19, 2013 at 6:47 am

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


Rob February 6, 2013 at 12:13 am

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.


Piper@GotItCookIt May 2, 2012 at 8:56 pm

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!


`Suzanne April 28, 2012 at 12:32 pm

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 :).


Martha Ann April 27, 2012 at 2:46 pm

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?


Paula April 27, 2012 at 3:24 pm

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


Gary April 27, 2012 at 7:04 am

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 . . .


Mimi April 24, 2012 at 6:41 pm

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


Paula April 25, 2012 at 9:21 am

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


tinafreysd April 23, 2012 at 11:57 pm

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


Mal @ The Chic Geek April 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm

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


TheKitchenWitch April 23, 2012 at 9:24 am

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


cmichaelsny April 23, 2012 at 4:13 am

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


Paula April 22, 2012 at 9:43 am

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


Melissa B April 22, 2012 at 9:40 am

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!


Nancy in NW PA April 22, 2012 at 7:40 am

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.


Paula April 22, 2012 at 6:07 pm

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.


The Café Sucré Farine April 22, 2012 at 5:28 am

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!


Nicole@The Galley Gourmet April 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm

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.


Pam Spicer April 21, 2012 at 7:58 pm

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!!


Paula April 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Hi Pam,

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


Lorraine April 21, 2012 at 6:50 pm

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.


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