One-Skillet Cheesy Beef and Macaroni

Macaroni and cheese with beef
Workman Publishing. Photo by Todd Coleman
  • 30 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 20 mins
  • Yield: Serves 8-12

Very possibly the least sophisticated recipe in The Mom 100 Cookbook, this may be the one dish that my husband in particular eats as though he will be fasting for the following week. The kids love it, but Gary’s eyes get kind of teary whenever I make it. He’ll show up for dinner early. It’s nothing new under the sun, but once you try it, you will understand the deepest meaning of the word crowd-pleaser. And, it all cooks in one skillet. Even the pasta, which cooks right in the sauce! I know, I know! It’s the little things. 

Get a huge pan, a twelve or thirteen incher (best pan in the world if you cook for a group regularly), make a vat of this, and keep it in the fridge. If you don’t have a huge honking pan, cut the recipe in half. If you have bigger kids who are constantly running in and out of the house with their friends, all of them starving and in need of fuel before or after soccer practice, then you, my friend, may never again be without a pot of this awaiting reheating and inhalation. My sister-in-law Lisa, with her three large boys and revolving cast of visiting teenagers, swears by it. It is reminiscent of something that rhymes with Flamberger Felper, but it’s better and it’s yours.

What You'll Need

  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped red, yellow, orange, or green bell pepper (about 14-inch pieces)
  • 1 cup peeled chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes in juice
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons chili powder (optional but recommended)
  • Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 34 pound dried elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) grated cheddar cheese

How to Make It

  1. Heat a very large skillet over medium-high heat (for this full recipe, it should be a deep 12 to 13-inch skillet). Add the beef and cook it until browned, stirring until no pink remains, about 5 minutes. Place the browned beef in a strainer and let the fat drain off, then set the beef aside.
  2. Wipe out the skillet, add the oil, and heat it over medium heat. Add the bell pepper, carrots, onion, and garlic and cook until almost tender, about 5 minutes.
  1. Return the beef to the skillet and add the basil, oregano, tomatoes with their juice, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, if using, and 2 cups of water. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Increase the heat to high and let come to a simmer. Add the elbow macaroni, stir, and cover the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the macaroni is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or black pepper as necessary.
  2. Sprinkle the cheddar on top, then cover the skillet and cook until the cheese is melty, about 1 minute. Serve this right out of the skillet.

What the Kids Can Do: Kids can add ingredients to the skillet, with supervision, and letting them sprinkle on the cheese during the final step often locks in their appetite for the dish, because it smells great.

Cooking Tip: Leftovers can be reheated on the stovetop over medium-low heat, or in a preheated 350°F oven, for 10 to 15 minutes (you may want to add a bit of water if it seems like the macaroni is drying out). If possible, don’t add the cheese until the very end, otherwise it has a way of dissolving right into the casserole and not staying on top in that appealing melty way. If you are serving half of the dish on one day and saving the other half for another, sprinkle one cup of the cheese over half of the skillet, leaving the other half naked for later.

NOTE: YOU SAY TOMATO . . . Crushed tomatoes have become my go-to canned tomato for most dishes.

They have a more interesting consistency than a puree, more body than a sauce, and involve less work than chopping up whole canned tomatoes. But not all brands of crushed tomatoes are created equal—some are thinner, some thicker, and of course the acidity and saltiness come into play in the flavor. You should taste several brands and see if one jumps out at you. Of course, there’s always the I-like-the-one-that’s-on-sale method of choosing, which also works.