Beef Goulash

With simple ingredients like ground beef and tomato sauce, this Beef Goulash recipe is sure to be a dinner that everyone will love!

Overhead view of beef goulash with tomatoes, bell peppers and parsley garnish


Classic goulash doesn’t get any better than this Beef Goulash recipe! The perfect comforting meal for any weeknight!

Can you spot the ingredient that doesn’t belong in this goulash? Ha! I didn’t think so…

What is the difference between American Goulash and Hungarian Goulash? 

A classic American goulash is made up of the basic components of elbow noodles, ground beef and a tomato base. Whereas Hungarian goulash is made with beef pieces, a tomato base and either dumplings or potatoes, almost like a beef stew. And then there is German Goulash made without tomatoes.

Wooden spoon in a pot of American goulash

My goulash is neither Hungarian nor American because the addition of bell peppers. I love hiding veggies and making sure my dinners, especially one dish dinners like goulash, are full of vegetables.

Don’t forget to PIN Beef Goulash!

Adding tri-colored bell peppers added more flavor and color to this classic comfort food dish. 

Spoon of beef goulash

In fact, goulash is very similar to Italian bolognese or ragu, simply meaning to saute vegetables and meat together. 

Goulash is the ultimate in one-dish meals. It is also the ultimate in comfort food. In fact, Goulash gained its popularity in the US during the mid 20th century for the same reason other comfort foods dishes like Salisbury Steak and meatloaf did. 

Is was cheap. Ground beef was much cheaper than other cuts of beef, chicken or pork. A little could go a long way.

Overhead of goulash in a large pot

Pasta was also relatively inexpensive and with a simple dish like this, most of the ingredients were kept in cans. You could even make goulash without the onion and garlic if needed. 

PRO TIP: To add flavor to any pasta, add complementing flavors to the boiling water. Chicken or vegetable stock are good options. White cooking white, herbs and spices will also work. 

It could also be argued that goulash was on the forefront of the one-dish pasta revolution. It was one of first dishes I know of that cooked the pasta right in the flavorful sauce with no need to dirty a second. 

Cooking pasta in the sauce has three objectives. One, it doesn’t dirty that second dish. Two, it saves time. Three, plain old pasta takes on a whole new life as it sucks up the juices from your sauce. 

Angle view of American goulash in a white serving bowl

Now onto the logistics of how to make goulash. The first step is making sure you have a pot large enough to handle the massive amount of food you are about to prepare. 

The second step is browning the meat until it is no longer pink. It really doesn’t matter what fat percentage you use because you will be draining the meat before adding it back into the pot anyhow. 

Ground beef for goulash

Thirdly, you will saute the bell peppers, onions and garlic. If you want to stay traditional, feel free to omit the bell peppers. Keep the rest of the recipe exactly the same. 

bell peppers and onion for goulash

Next, you will incorporate the cooked ground beef along with your tomato products. I like to have the smoothness of a sauce along with the texture of diced tomatoes, so I use both. 

If one doesn’t appeal to you, simply substitute with another can of the other. Be mindful that tomato sauce is not the same as a jarred marinara, which is seasoned with many other things. You want plain tomato sauce in a can. 

tomato base for goulash before pasta

Some sort of liquid is necessary to help the pasta cook and make the sauce. Beef broth is the most commonly accepted liquid, but you can also use chicken or vegetable broth or plain water.

I also use a tablespoon of Gravy Master. I find it to be richer and offer more beefy flavor than the other commonly used ingredients which include soy sauce and worchestire sauce. 

PRO TIP: Stir often, minding the bottom of the pot. Since pasta is heavy, it sinks and has the tendency to stick. 

The next step is to add dry pasta and let is simmer until the pasta is tender, stirring occasionally. All of those herbs, spices and tomato juice will soak up into your pasta for rich and robust flavors. 

Your sauce might still be a little liquidy after all the pasta cooks and that is okay and to be expected. The next step is to add cheese. I use a sharp cheddar, but you can get creative here and add any type of cheese you’d like.

PRO TIP: It is an extra step, but freshly grating your own cheese will result in better texture for your sauce. Pre shredded cheeses are tossed in a cornstarch or potato starch mixture to prevent clumping, this will thicken your sauce further and might give a grainy texture. 

I find cheddar pairs best and would avoid processed cheese like American and hard cheese like Parmesan. Cheese will help the additional liquid tighten up. 

Adding cheddar cheese to goulash mix

Allow your goulash to sit for a few minutes before serving. It will be piping hot, but you also want to give the flavors some time to marry.

You can finish this off with some salt and pepper, or even a dollop of sour cream. Serve with a leafy salad and a glass of red wine and you’re set!

Overhead shot of American goulash in a white serving dish

Tools you need to make goulash: 

Dutch Oven– every kitchen should have one! They are heavy. They are expensive. They are worth it! 

Ground Beef Masher: Easily break up ground beef using this handy dandy tool!

Close up of beef goulash for pinterest

Questions about how to make goulash: 

What is the difference between smoked paprika and plain paprika? Smoked paprika… is well, smoked, giving it a smoky flavor. Paprika doesn’t have much flavor until heated, so add with caution and taste frequently.

Can I use regular paprika instead of smoked paprika? You sure can, it will just lose a slight amount of flavor.

What can I use instead of beef broth? If you just realized you were out of beef broth or beef bouillon, then use either water or vegetable broth and season it with 1 tablespoon additional Worcestershire or Gravy Master. 

Can I make goulash ahead of time? My husband would argue that it should always be made ahead of time and tastes better the second day.

My neighbor would also tell you that it tastes better cold. I, however, like it fresh, so it is really a matter of preference. 

Can you freeze goulash? You sure can! Freeze in an airtight container or plastic bag for 3-4 months. 

Is goulash gluten free? If you substitute a gluten free pasta, then yes. 

Do I have to use elbow macaroni? You don’t, but I would choose and similar size pasta with an equal number of nooks and crannies. Pastas are paired to sauces with a lot of purposes.

For goulash, you want something with texture and hole so the sauce has something to grab. You also don’t want anything too thick so it can cook properly in the sauce. Acceptable substitutions would be bowtie pasta, cavatelli or even Israeli couscous.

What is a substitute for Gravy Master? You can substitute with Worcestershire Sauce or soy sauce. it is slightly more syrupy, so in this recipe, it doesn’t make much of a difference, but if you are using it in another recipe or sauce, you might need to thicken it a little more.

American beef goulash for pinterest

If you liked this recipe, check out these other beef recipes:

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Beef Goulash

4.63 from 8 votes
Classic goulash doesn't get any better than this Beef Goulash recipe! The perfect comforting meal for any weeknight!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 6



  • In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat ground beef over medium heat. If you are using a low fat ground beef, add vegetable oil to prevent from sticking. Break into pieces and cook fully, approximately 5-9 minutes.
  • Drain ground beef, discarding any liquid or grease left behind. You don’t have to wipe it clean, just pour it out.
  • Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the hot pot and add bell peppers, onions and garlic. Saute for 3-4 minutes or until the start to soften. You don’t want them to be fully softened.
  • Add diced tomatoes in juice, tomato sauce, tomato pate, bay leaves, smoked paprika, black pepper, beef broth, gravy master, dried oregano and dried parsley. Bring to a low simmer.
  • When simmering, add dry elbow macaroni being mindful to stir often and scrape the bottom of the pot as it tends to stick.
  • Simmer for an additonal 15-18 minutes or until macaroni is al dente.
  • Remove from heat and stir in shredded cheddar cheese.
  • Sample the goulash to determine if it needs additional salt. Since beef broths vary in saltiness, I wait until the very end to decide if it needs additional seasoning.
  • Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
  • If you’ve tried this recipe, come back and let us now how it was!



Calories: 694 kcal, Carbohydrates: 63 g, Protein: 37 g, Fat: 33 g, Saturated Fat: 15 g, Cholesterol: 100 mg, Sodium: 1339 mg, Potassium: 1401 mg, Fiber: 7 g, Sugar: 14 g, Vitamin A: 2505 IU, Vitamin C: 53 mg, Calcium: 245 mg, Iron: 7 mg
Calories: 694
Course: Main Course, Main Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: american goulash, beef goulash, hungarian goulash
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Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and chef behind Savory Experiments. You might see her on the Emmy- nominated TV show Plate It! or on bookshelves as a cookbook author. Jessica is a Le Cordon Bleu certified recipe developer and regularly contributed to Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal and more!

Read More About Jessica

4.63 from 8 votes (5 ratings without comment)

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Questions and Reviews

    1. Hi Shelley, great question! It is basically just a flavor enhancer. You can substitute with Worcestershire Sauce or soy sauce. Can you get your hands on either of those?

  1. 5 stars
    I haven’t had beef goulash in years. This looks like a tasty version of the recipe. The step by step instructions are truly helpful.