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Total comfort food! This one pot creamy beef and shells recipe is an easy dinner made from scratch with ground beef and shell pasta in a cheesy tomato sauce. Everything cooks in a single skillet, so cleanup is fast, too! Serve the dish with a side salad and cornbread, biscuits, or a loaf of crusty baguette for the ultimate family-friendly meal.

Overhead shot of ground beef and shells in a creamy sauce with a side salad

Ground Beef and Shells

For those of us who grew up with Hamburger Helper, Chef Boyardee, or Velveeta Shells and Cheese, this made-from-scratch dinner will be very nostalgic! Best of all, you won’t believe how quickly and easily the one-pot creamy beef and shells come together.

Browning ground beef in a cast iron skillet

Far better than the packaged stuff, this simple, family-friendly meal is ready in just over 30 minutes. The pasta, ground beef, and sauce all cook together in a single skillet, so you don’t even have many dishes to wash at the end! You just can’t beat an easy ground beef recipe for busy nights.

Adding cheese to a cast iron skillet

Ingredients

This is a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a pot of ground beef and shells. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Olive oil: for browning the meat.
  • Ground beef: you can substitute with ground turkey or Italian sausage, if you prefer.
  • Kosher salt and pepper: to enhance the other flavors in the dish.
  • Italian seasoning: a convenient blend that typically includes marjoram, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, savory, and sage.
  • Garlic powder and onion powder: for more savory, complex flavor.
  • Sugar: just a small amount balances the acidity in the tomato sauce, resulting in a more complex dish with a brighter tomato flavor.
  • Beef broth or beef stock: thins the sauce and adds flavor and richness to the dish.
  • Medium shell pasta: the dry pasta goes right into the pan with the rest of the ingredients — no need to boil it first!
  • Tomato sauce: adds a flavorful, slightly acidic component to the dish.
  • Velveeta cheese: this American cheese gives the sauce a creaminess that’s hard to replicate with other types of cheese. Sure, you can substitute with extra cheddar, but the sauce won’t have the same smooth consistency.
  • Sharp cheddar cheese: use a block of cheese that you grate by hand so that it melts smoothly into the sauce. For an even stronger flavor, try extra-sharp cheddar cheese.
  • Heavy cream: gives the dish it’s creamy texture. Do not substitute with half-and-half, milk, or other lower-fat alternatives, which may break or curdle in the acidic tomato sauce.
Pouring cream into a cast iron skillet

How to Make Creamy Beef and Shells

These cheesy beef and shells are the perfect family-friendly weeknight dinner, with just 10 minutes of prep time!

  1. Brown the ground beef with olive oil in a large skillet, Dutch oven, or other large pot over medium heat. Drain excess fat.
  2. Stir in the salt, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, sugar, broth, pasta shells, and tomato sauce.
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the pasta is tender, about 8-10 minutes. The total cooking time will vary, so keep an eye on the pasta and turn off the heat as soon as it’s al dente.
  4. Remove from the heat.
  5. Stir or whisk in the cream, Velveeta, and cheddar until the cheese melts and the sauce is smooth.
  6. Taste and season with salt and pepper, then serve!
Overhead image of one pot creamy beef and shells on a wooden table

What to Serve with Creamy Shells and Beef

Here are a few easy side dish recipes that pair nicely with the creamy one pot shells and beef:

Overhead image of the best creamy beef and shells recipe served with a side salad and cornbread

Storage

  • Beef and shells are best when served immediately, so I do not recommend preparing the dish in advance.
  • Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
  • This dish does not freeze well, since the cream-based sauce has a tendency to “break” or separate when thawed.

How to Reheat

Place the ground beef and shells in a saucepan. The pasta and sauce will dry out a bit as it sits, so it’s helpful to add a splash of cream and a little bit of butter to the pan. Then warm over low heat, just until it reaches the desired temperature. Stir regularly and the sauce should become smooth again!

Overhead image of a dinner table with two white bowls full of creamy shells and beef

Recipe Variations

  • Instead of the ground beef, try ground turkey, ground chicken, or Italian sausage.
  • Swap out the shells pasta and use elbow macaroni, penne, rotini, farfalle, cavatappi, or another similar short shape.
  • Try different types of cheese. For instance, swap out the cheddar and try white cheddar, Monterey Jack, gruyere or gouda.
  • Add a can of drained, diced tomatoes.
  • To add some extra vegetables to the pan, sauté grated carrots or grated zucchini at the same time that you brown the meat.
  • Instead of garlic powder and onion powder, use 1-2 cloves garlic (minced or pressed) and 1 small onion. Sauté the garlic and onion with the ground beef so that it softens.
Front shot of ground beef and pasta shells in a cheesy sauce on a dinner table

Tips for the Best Creamy Beef and Shells Recipe

  • Use heavy cream. Do not substitute with half-and-half, milk, or other lower-fat alternatives, which may curdle or separate in the acidic tomato sauce. Use room temperature cream so that it’s less likely to break when added to the hot pan.
  • Velveeta gives the dish a smooth, creamy texture and mouthfeel. Substituting with other types of cheese will change the consistency of the sauce.
  • Use cheddar that you grate by hand. Do not use pre-shredded cheese in a bag, because those packaged cheeses include a powdery coating with stabilizers that prevent the cheese from melting as smoothly into the sauce.
  • A small amount of sugar balances the acidity in the tomato sauce, resulting in a more complex dish with a brighter tomato flavor.
  • Stir the shells occasionally as they simmer. This helps the pasta cook evenly and prevents it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  • Remove the pot from the heat before adding the cream and cheeses. When cheese gets too hot, it separates and gives the sauce a grainy texture.
  • Garnish the dish with a few tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, chopped fresh parsley, or fresh basil for even more flavor.
Overhead shot of a bowl of creamy beef and shells with fresh parsley on top

More Easy Ground Beef Recipes to Try

Overhead shot of ground beef and shells in a creamy sauce with a side salad

One Pot Creamy Beef and Shells

5 from 2 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Servings 4 – 6 people
Calories 507 kcal
Total comfort food! This one pot creamy beef and shells recipe is an easy dinner made from scratch with ground beef and shell pasta in a cheesy tomato sauce.

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cups beef broth or beef stock
  • 8 ounces dry medium shells pasta (about 2 ¾ – 3 cups measured before cooking)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 4 ounces Velveeta cheese, cubed
  • 4 ounces grated sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 1 cup)
  • ½ cup heavy cream, at room temperature
  • Optional garnish: grated Parmesan cheese; chopped fresh parsley or basil; sliced green onions

Instructions

  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the beef and cook, stirring, until the meat is no longer pink, about 7-9 minutes. Drain off the fat, leaving the beef in the pan.
  • Stir in the salt, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, sugar, broth, pasta shells, and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low or medium-low so the liquid is at a gentle simmer. Cover and cook until the pasta is tender, about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the pasta cooks evenly and doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat.
  • Stir in heavy cream, Velveeta, and cheddar. Stir until the cheese melts. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary.
  • Garnish with Parmesan, herbs, or green onions; serve immediately.

Notes

  • Use heavy cream. Do not substitute with half-and-half, milk, or other lower-fat alternatives, which may curdle or separate in the acidic tomato sauce. Use room temperature cream so that it’s less likely to break when added to the hot pan.
  • Velveeta gives the dish a smooth, creamy texture and mouthfeel. Substituting with other types of cheese will change the consistency of the sauce.
  • Use cheddar that you grate by hand. Do not use pre-shredded cheese in a bag, because those packaged cheeses include a powdery coating with stabilizers that prevent the cheese from melting as smoothly into the sauce.
  • A small amount of sugar balances the acidity in the tomato sauce, resulting in a more complex dish with a brighter tomato flavor.
  • Stir the shells occasionally as they simmer. This helps the pasta cook evenly and prevents it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  • Remove the pot from the heat before adding the cream and cheeses. When cheese gets too hot, it separates and gives the sauce a grainy texture.
  • Garnish the dish with Parmesan cheese, chopped fresh parsley, or fresh basil for even more flavor.
  • Recipe adapted from The Kitchn.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/6 of the recipeCalories: 507kcalCarbohydrates: 36gProtein: 31gFat: 26gSaturated Fat: 13gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 104mgSodium: 1383mgPotassium: 834mgFiber: 3gSugar: 6gVitamin A: 979IUVitamin C: 5mgCalcium: 291mgIron: 3mg
Keyword: beef and shells, creamy beef and shells, creamy shells and beef, ground beef and shells
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Thanks for the note about cheese turning grainy if heated too high. I have had this happen and had blamed the cheese, because it certainly couldn’t have been the something I did ! haha