Hamburger Soup is a home-style, hearty meal sure to satisfy healthy appetites and stir up happy memories of Grandma’s house.
My Grandma always had something special bubbling or baking away in her kitchen. Her cooking has definitely inspired a great deal of mine, and one of my first memories is sitting down to enjoy a big, warm bowl of her Hamburger Soup.
It was such a hearty, filling dish, and it’s the kind of meal that somehow manages to make everything better. I think everybody has a favorite hamburger vegetable soup recipe.
First, it’s frugal – you can stretch a pound or two of ground beef to feed a crowd. Second, hamburger soups are a great way to use up leftover veggies or those odds and ends I always seem to have rolling around in my produce drawer.
I think the main reason hamburger soup is such a popular provision on dining tables across the country, though, is because it brings back fond memories of cold days and the warm hands of someone special serving it to you.
I’ve definitely tweaked Grandma’s recipe over the years, mostly to make things a little simpler and quicker. The changes haven’t sacrificed flavor but do let me take advantage of some of the modern conveniences my Grandma didn’t have the luxury of enjoying in her kitchen. My version of Hamburger Soup is definitely still Grandma’s; it’ll just be ready in less than half the time!
Choosing a flavorful ground beef or chuck is important in this recipe, even though you’ll need to drain off the excess fat after browning. Leaner combinations work in recipes with more dominant flavors, but we want to maximize the beefy goodness in this soup by using a rich, fatty cut.
I like to add the salt and pepper while I’m browning the beef so it can absorb the seasoning while it’s hot. I find that ultimately means I use a lot less salt than I would if I seasoned at the end. Building layers of flavor is what you’re after in a great soup, after all, so seasoning as you go helps ensure every ingredient brings its “A” game.
One of Grandma’s secrets (shhhh, don’t tell anyone) is mixing in a little flour with the onions and garlic before adding the broth.
This changes the mouth feel of the soup to something a little thicker – not as thick as a stew but not brothy like so many other recipes for this type of soup. It’s a simple addition, making a little roux, but it creates a complex texture and a real “stick-to-your-ribs” meal.
Adding tomato paste also helps thicken the soup a bit and adds a deep, intense tomato flavor that complements the diced tomatoes and other ingredients in the soup. Another flavor layer complete!
The hallmark of any great soup is a great broth, and a homemade, painfully slow-cooked one is a great choice if you have lots of time on your hands. “Free time” to me, though, usually means a good book, a glass of wine, and a nap, not tending to stock in the kitchen, so I use store-bought beef broth.
One of MY secrets is emulating the rich, intense flavors of a slow-cooked stock with my favorite flavor booster, Better than Bouillon.
It really does a remarkable job of fortifying canned or boxed beef broth to give it a “home-cooked” flavor. No one needs to know you haven’t been standing over a stock pot making it from scratch for 8 hours! By the way, I use regular, not low-sodium beef broth. If you choose low-sodium, you might need to adjust the salt.
Another great time-saver is buying pre-chopped, frozen veggies instead of spending time and elbow grease washing and uniformly chopping those extra ingredients. I like a combination of carrots, corn, peas, and green beans, but you can use your favorite blend.
There’s no need to thaw them, either. You can dump them into the pot straight from the freezer.
Some home cooks make this hamburger soup with cabbage, which turns it into a spoon-able, slurp-able version of cabbage rolls. You might want to skip the frozen vegetables if you go that route, but that’s definitely a deviation from my Grandma’s soup.
I do love lots of veggies in this recipe for all the color and texture they provide (I suppose the health benefits are okay too), and my recipe has even more than the Pioneer Woman hamburger soup version!
One thing I DO carefully chop is the potatoes.
This recipe happens to be one my dad’s favorites too, and we both like every spoonful to be perfect. We feel very strongly (which is totally acceptable when you’re dealing with a family recipe) that each bite should have a little bit of everything, and big chunks of potato can throw that delicate balance off.
This isn’t, after all, a hamburger potato soup. I chop the potatoes small, into ½” cubes or smaller, so they’re similarly sized to the other veggies (even the tomatoes are small). You’ll thank me when you try the soup, plus your knife might be feeling a little neglected at this point.
There’s Worcestershire sauce because it is, after all, beef’s best friend and a flavor bomb all on its own.
I’m also a fan of Italian seasoning, which works perfectly with the tomatoes in this dish. Most Italian seasoning blends have basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme, with some additional herbs and spices thrown in. This particular mix balances the brightness of the tomatoes with warm, earthy, herby notes and makes a warm loaf of Italian bread an obligatory accompaniment to this meal.
Bread’s required, of course, but I don’t like to add other starches to this soup. Some recipe versions – hamburger soup with macaroni, hamburger soup with noodles, and hamburger soup with rice – have the liquid-to-starch ratio worked out so the pasta and rice get cooked without thickening the soup too much.
My Grandma’s soup has the perfect thickness thanks to her purposefully added ingredients, so I’m not going to mess with it. I think these additions also dim the spotlight on the wonderful flavor layers we’ve worked hard to craft in this dish.
Slow Cooker – If I have an opportunity to use some of that rare “free time,” I’ll make a Hamburger Soup slow cooker dinner, completing the first two steps of the recipe in a pan on the stovetop, then dumping everything into the crockpot for 6 – 8 hours on low. I think that leaves plenty of time to sneak a nap in!
Potatoes – If you don’t already know this about me, you will. I’m a bit of a (rabid) Russet fan. It’s the potato I use whenever I can, because I really love the texture. In this recipe, the potatoes get slightly crumbly and even lend some of their starchy goodness to the soup to thicken it a bit more. You can substitute red potatoes, but they have a slightly sticky texture and won’t add body to the soup like the Russets.
To Saute or not to Saute – Why can’t you just dump everything into the soup pot instead of doing all the browning and pre-cooking? Well, I suspect you’ve seen very few (good) recipes for soups and stews and sauces that don’t pre-cook aromatics. That’s because aromatics – things like onions, celery, garlic, and herbs – release their “aroma” when they interact with hot oil (hotter than boiling water). Without this step, you miss out on balanced flavors and smells that make the dish a flavorful, complex masterpiece.
Easy Hamburger Soup Recipe
- Ground Beef, 80/20 - 2 Pounds
- Salt - 1 1/2 Teaspoon
- Black Pepper - 1 Teaspoon
- Vegetable Oil - 2 Tablespoons
- Large Yellow Onion, Chopped - 1 Large
- Cloves Garlic, Minced - 4 Cloves
- All-Purpose Flour - 1/4 Cup
- Beef Broth - 6-8 Cups~Divided
- Petite Dice Tomatoes, Undrained - 1 (14.5 Ounce) Can
- Better than Bouillon~Beef Flavor - 2 Tablespoons
- Worcestershire Sauce - 1 Tablespoon
- Dried Italian Seasoning - 1 Tablespoon
- Tomato Paste - 1/4 Cup
- Large Russet Potato, Diced - 6 Cups (About 2 Large)
- Frozen Mixed Vegetables - 1 (16 Ounce) Package
- Fresh Chopped Parsley - 2 Tablespoons
- Brown the ground beef, in a large pot, over medium heat. Add salt and pepper. Cook until there is no longer any pink. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Drain all fat from the pot and discard.
- In the same pot, add the oil and sautee the onion and garlic until the are soft, about 6-7 minutes. Sprinkle the onions with flour, stirring to evenly coat the onions and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes until the flour begins to brown.
- Add the cooked beef, 6 cups of beef broth, tomatoes, Better than Bouillon, Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasoning, tomato paste, potatoes, and frozen veggies. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 25 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Add more beef broth if the soup gets too thick. Garnish with parsley and serve.