American Goulash is a Family Favorite, ONE DISH meal that is perfect any time of year! My family has been making this recipe for 3 generations!
What is American Goulash
American Goulash is one of those home-style, comfort food dishes, made in one pot that originated in the mid-west and the south. Made from simple ingredients like ground beef, pasta, and canned tomatoes, it’s easy to fix and makes an equally perfect weeknight meal or potluck dinner.
Throughout the country, the name varies depending on the region – Traveling Man’s Hash, Beef and Mac, Slum Gullion, Kentucky Burgoo, and American Chop Suey.
You’ll also find that the ingredient list can change as much as the name does. Some recipes have vegetables, some do not. Some have tomatoes, some do not. Some have cheese, some do not.
Beef seems to be the only unifying ingredient among the recollected recipes (though some European transplants still make it with pork), but it means “comfort food” no matter who’s doing the answering.
This is a simple goulash recipe, one that’s been a family favorite for decades.
My mom made it for me, and she got the recipe from her mom. Now I get to make it for my family – it’s totally a family thang!
I’m always respectful of grandma’s recipes, especially since I know how much love and care she put into the ones she handed down, but I do tweak them occasionally. This old fashioned goulash recipe, though, is practically sacred, and my family has zero tolerance for any deviation from grandma’s original.
Don’t even try to make this goulash recipe with corn or add bell pepper (like the Paula Deen goulash version). You won’t like them when they’re angry!
Goulash itself is an old dish created by Hungarian cow herders.
The original recipe was a carefully cooked stew, full of tender chunks of beef and onions, with a touch of salt and pepper. Later they added dried chilies from their gardens which gave this dish its characteristic red color.
Most modern Hungarian goulash recipes use a potent (Hungarian) paprika, full of toasted red pepper flavor, to achieve this beautiful hue.
Unlike the American versions of goulash which use ground beef, this dish uses large pieces that require a good, slow cook, so an authentic Hungarian recipe will be a baked goulash, simmered slowly in the oven until everything is nice and tender.
American goulash is a respectful homage to the original Hungarian version, with savory ground beef cooked into a rich tomato sauce, full of different herbs and spices depending on which family recipe you’re following.
Soft pieces of pasta, usually elbow macaroni, serve as a perfect conduit for all the wonderful flavors in this dish. It’s also a one-pot meal, unless you want throw in a side salad to go along with it, so it’s a home cook’s dream when it comes to clean-up?
How do you make American Goulash?
This is a really easy dish to make! Let me give you a quick summary.
The first ingredient, which I’ve already mentioned, is ground chuck, a rich 80/20 ratio with plenty of flavor that cooks much quicker than the original stewed version.
I start the recipe by browning the beef. Onions and garlic get incorporated during the browning process too, so they get to absorb some of that beefiness.
The next “standard” ingredient in American Goulash is tomatoes, and that can mean paste or sauce, diced or crushed. Different combinations here can really impact the flavor, and I’m pretty sure you can find recipes for every possible scenario.
Grandma’s recipe uses tomato sauce, which adds the thickness you might find in a tomato paste but without the acidic quality that needs to cook down longer to mellow out.
She also calls for diced tomatoes (regular, not petite), which distribute nicely in this chunky dish and adds a slightly subtler tomato flavor than crushed would. (Check out my American Chop Suey recipe if you want a nice strong tomato component. It’s a great hand-me-down recipe from my husband’s side of the family with some overlap in ingredients but a unique flavor all on its own. Oh, and cheese!)
Pasta is definitely a deviation from the Hungarian original, but in American Goulash elbow macaroni is basically a requirement.
The size of the pasta itself works great, but the tube-shape means it’ll also hold onto the sauce much better than a flat pasta. In this recipe, the elbows actually cook in the sauce, so they’ll absorb all the wonderful flavors in the dish, rather than just some salted water.
My grandma used Mediterranean-inspired spices in her recipe – bay leaves, oregano, and basil.
If you don’t have the latter two on hand, you can substitute 1 – 2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning. Grandma also added a touch of soy sauce, which adds a nice, savory umami flavor as well as some salt.
You can substitute tamari, the Japanese version of soy sauce, if you need a gluten-free option.
Oh, and speaking of sodium chloride, she also used seasoned salt in this one, rather than just plain table salt.
Seasoned salt is a great multi-purpose flavor enhancer to keep on hand for French fries and roasted veggies since it adds spices like paprika and turmeric, onion and garlic powder, and a touch of sugar. All these things work to add another layer of seasoning to this American Goulash.
This recipe makes a TON, so you can save part of it in an 8” or 9” pan and freeze it for later (or just enjoy some yummy leftovers, which I think are even better than right of the stovetop! And yes, the leftovers are a bit mushy but, what can I say, I still love em that way!).
Once you try my grandma’s version, you may decide to make some tweaks of your own to suit the needs and tastes of your family. Changes or not, though, I predict it’ll be a family favorite!
Recipe Notes for American Goulash:
Cheese – So I have to say grandma wouldn’t approve of this addition, but I wouldn’t necessarily discourage making this a cheesy goulash. Frankly, my kids love it with cheese melted on top!
A generous sprinkling of mild cheddar or Monterey jack (even the peppered variety), either stirred in before serving or melting on top, would work well with this dish.
Dietary restrictions – You can easily make this vegetarian by substituting some extra veggies for the beef – about 4 cups of any combination of the following: chopped celery, mushrooms, or zucchini (sautéed with the onions and garlic), or pre-cooked lentils (added during that last 25 minutes).
There are also some great vegetarian “beef” crumbles you can substitute. Gluten-free elbow macaroni works perfectly, if needed.
If you’re looking for a pasta recipe or beef recipe this is it! Or, if you’re like me, and buy your ground beef at Costco, you need lots of good hamburger recipes! This Goulash just may become your go-to recipe. You can always substitute the beef with ground turkey if you want to add to your healthy dinner repertoire.
- 2 Pounds Ground Beef 80/20
- 1 Large Yellow Onion
- 4 Large Cloves Garlic Minced
- 3 Cups Water
- 2 15 Ounce Canned Tomato Sauce
- 2 14.5 Ounce Canned Diced Tomatoes
- 3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
- 2 Tablespoons Dried Oregano
- 2 Teaspoons Dried Basil
- 2 Dried Bay Leaves
- 1 Tablespoon Seasoned Salt
- 1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
- 2 Cups Elbow Macaroni Uncooked
- In a large Dutch oven, cook the meat over medium heat, breaking up the meat as it cooks into small pieces. Cook until the meat is cooked through and there's no longer any pink. Stir in the onions and garlic. Cook and stir the mixture until the onions are translucent.
- Stir in water, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, soy sauce, oregano, basil, bay leaves, seasoned salt, and black pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the pasta, cover, and simmer over low heat until the pasta is tender, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, discard bay leaves, and serve
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More family Dinners!
Porcupine Meatballs ~ These super easy meatballs are made with beef and rice then simmered in a delicious tomato sauce. Always a family favorite!
Million Dollar Spaghetti ~ This Spaghetti Casserole is super easy to put together and has a center layer of creamy, gooey cheese. This is one of my favorite ways to serve spaghetti and people just can’t get enough of it!