Cheeseburger Mac and Cheese
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Burger night, but make it pasta! This flavorful cheeseburger mac and cheese has all the flavors of your favorite meal in pasta form. The homemade cheese sauce is made creamier and lighter thanks to a secret ingredient.
Cheeseburger macaroni is one of those foods that, I think, holds a special place in the hearts of many. Especially those who grew up in the Casserole Belt — AKA, the Midwest.
When I was a kid cheeseburger mac and cheese was made by simply stirring ground beef into boxed mac and cheese, or using a box of Hamburger Helper.
This homemade version doesn’t take much more time than those box mixes, and has so much more flavor. If you like my American goulash, you’ll love this dish!
Adding ketchup, mustard, and pickle relish evokes that burger flavor, while pasta and breadcrumbs take the place of the bun. A few tomatoes arranged on top gives it even more of that classic burger taste.
This cheeseburger macaroni is made healthier by replacing some of the cheese with pumpkin puree, a trick I like to use often in cheesy dishes.
The pumpkin is imperceptible, which means you can get some veggies into your kids (or picky spouses) without complaint. To save time, you can use canned pumpkin or frozen pureed butternut squash that is available in many grocery stores now.
Your family will love this flavorful pasta dish for a change of pace from the standard mac and cheese!
Ingredients for cheeseburger macaroni
You’ll need these ingredients:
Ground beef – You can use ground chuck, ground sirloin, or ground round for this recipe. I like using sirloin because it has a lot of flavor, but it tends to be more expensive. Use your favorite!
Pasta – You’ll need 1 pound of pasta for the full batch of this recipe. Penne is my favorite for this dish, because the sauce coats the exterior ridges as well as the inside.
Onion – Use yellow or white onion. For a more zesty bite, use red onion.
Salt and pepper – Use to your preferred levels.
Ketchup – Any ketchup will work here, or you can substitute plain tomato sauce.
Mustard – I use yellow mustard in this dish for the classic burger taste. You can use your favorite variety; a spicy stoneground mustard works well here.
Pickle relish – Sweet relish is my go-to here, but if you love dill flavor you can use dill flavor instead. Or, simply chop up some of your favorite pickles.
Butter – To make the roux for the cheese sauce, use a bit of butter. I also mix some melted butter with panko for topping. Both salted and unsalted will work.
Flour – Used in equal parts to the butter.
Milk – I use 2% milk in this recipe, but you can use what you have on hand.
If using a nondairy milk alternative, make sure that it is unflavored and unsweetened.
Cheddar cheese – My preference is for sharp cheddar, which pairs well against the meat. Mild or extra sharp are also options.
I like to grate the cheese at home for the freshest taste. I find that freshly grated cheese also melts better in cheese sauces like this.
Pumpkin puree – You can use homemade pumpkin puree or canned. Only 1 cup is needed, so you’ll have some leftover for using in pumpkin pancakes or blend into a smoothie.
Panko – If you’re baking this dish, adding a bit of crunchy panko on top is a great way to finish it and evoke even more burger flavor.
Panko is a Japanese-style breadcrumb that is larger, lighter, and crunchier than other dried breadcrumbs. If you can’t find it, you can substitute any other variety of breadcrumb.
How to make this recipe
If baking this dish, preheat the oven to 375°F and lightly coat a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray or butter.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Prep the rest of your ingredients while waiting for the water to boil.
Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente according to package instructions. This is around 10 minutes for penne. Drain and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, continue with the recipe.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the ground beef and break into small pieces with a spatula or spoon. Cook for 5 minutes, breaking apart further as it cooks.
Add the chopped onion, salt, and pepper, and continue cooking until the beef is no longer pink and onion is softened.
Transfer the meat and onion to a large bowl, draining excess fat if you like. Add the ketchup, mustard, and pickle relish, and stir well to coat. Add the cooked pasta to the bowl and stir.
Wipe out the pan and return it to medium heat. Add the butter, and once it is melted, sprinkle in the flour.
Whisk the flour to blend it with the butter and form a roux. Cook for a couple of minutes, then pour in the milk in a slow and steady stream, whisking the entire time.
Bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking to ensure the roux is fully incorporated, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until it is just slightly thickened.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the cheese and pumpkin. You can add all of the cheese, or save half for topping the pasta bake.
Whisk until all of the cheese is melted and both cheese and pumpkin are blended into the sauce.
Pour the sauce over the pasta and meat, stirring well to evenly coat.
You can either serve the pasta immediately, or bake in the oven.
If baking, pour the pasta into the prepared baking dish, making sure the meat is distributed evenly in the pan. Top with tomato slices or extra shredded cheese if desired.
In a small bowl, stir together the panko and melted butter, then sprinkle it over the pasta.
Bake for 20 minutes, until golden.
Use a different ground meat, like ground chicken, ground turkey, or even ground pork. For a zesty flavor, use Italian sausage. You can even try a meat-free alternative.
The pasta can be whatever shape you prefer, from macaroni to bowtie. Long pasta noodles won’t work quite as well, but can be used in a pinch.
Need dinner in a hurry? Skip the baking step and serve after mixing everything together.
Instead of using tomato slices, dice the tomato and either scatter on top or mix into the pasta.
Add garlic powder, onion powder, or paprika to the meat mixture for extra flavor.
Make it a chili cheeseburger mac and cheese and mix 1-2 teaspoons chili powder and 2 tablespoons tomato paste into the sauce.
Add other burger favorites, like diced cooked bacon or chopped pickles instead of pickle relish.
Try a different cheese or a blend of cheeses, like pepper jack, Colby, smoked cheddar, or gouda.
This dish makes a lot, so chances are you’ll have leftovers.
To store in the refrigerator, let cool, then either portion into individual containers, or cover the casserole dish tightly with foil or plastic wrap.
Reheat leftovers in the microwave for 1 minute, covered.
To reheat in the oven, remove any plastic wrap and cover with foil. Heat at 350°F for 15-20 minutes, until warmed through.
For longer storage, freeze cheeseburger mac and cheese in single-serve portions. Let thaw in the refrigerator overnight before heating.
Freeze for up to 3 months for the best quality.
Serve this easy and delicious cheeseburger macaroni with a green goddess salad or French bread for a complete meal!
Cheeseburger Mac and Cheese Casserole
- 16 ounces dried penne
- 16 ounces ground beef
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
- 2 tablespoons pickle relish
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided use
- 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 cup 2% milk
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 to 2 tomatoes, cored and thinly sliced, or diced
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- Heat the oven to 375° F. Coat a 9×13-inch casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boiling. Add pasta and cook 10 minutes, according to package directions. Drain.
- While pasta cooks, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef, breaking apart with a wooden spoon. Cook 5 minutes, then add onion, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking until no longer pink.
- Transfer meat to a large bowl and mix in ketchup, mustard, and pickle relish. Add the drained pasta and stir.
- Wipe out skillet and return to medium heat. Add butter and once melted, whisk in flour. Cook 2 minutes, then whisk in milk in a slow and steady stream. Cook 2-3 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add cheese and pumpkin, whisking to melt completely. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour sauce over meat and pasta and stir well to coat. Pour into prepared baking dish, making sure the meat is evenly distributed. Add sliced or diced tomatoes.
- Melt remaining butter in a small microwaveable bowl, then whisk in panko. Sprinkle over the pasta.
- Bake for 20 minutes, until golden. If desired, broil for 2 minutes to toast the panko.
I am really excited to make this soon! It sounds right up my alley.