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There’s nothing easier than making ground beef with pasta shells on busy weeknights. With a simple ingredient list, it makes for a truly effortless weeknight meal — satisfaction guaranteed!

ground beef with pasta shells in a cast iron skillet next to a yellow checkered linen towel with fresh parsley garnished on top
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This easy creamy beef with pasta shells is almost like homemade hamburger helper with slight differences but still amazing flavor and cheesiness!

The sauce is creamy and thick and it covers the pasta shells so well. It envelopes everything in this dish and gives it that comforting kick. It’s hearty, beefy, cheesy, and everything you dream of in a cozy pasta dish.

ground beef with pasta shells recipe

Ingredients for Ground Beef with Pasta Shells

  • 85/15 ground beef – I know people tend to shy away from fat but I think 85/15 is the perfect ratio because it’s not too fatty and it’s not too lean. Fat = flavor.
  • Large onion
  • Garlic
  • Red bell pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Ground cumin
  • Smoked paprika
  • Tomato sauce – make sure to buy tomato sauce. It is smooth and there are no chunks in it. It can also sometimes be called passata.
  • Beef broth
  • Medium shells pasta – the pockets in the cooked pasta shells are a great place for the sauce!
  • Velveeta – don’t hate. This is the secret ingredient to the sauce and quite frankly, you don’t even use a lot of it. It’s sooo creamy!

How to Make Creamy Beef and Shells Step by Step

  • Brown the beef. Heat a large skillet, or similar, over high heat and add a little olive oil. Brown the beef with a wooden spoon or spatula, crumble and break it into smaller pieces. If you would like to drain excess fat, now would be the time. I prefer to keep it.
  • Add the vegetables and seasonings. Stir in the onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Sprinkle in the seasonings and stir to incorporate. Cook until tender.
  • Add the liquids and pasta. Pour in the tomato sauce, beef stock, and pasta. Stir to make sure everything is incorporated. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook until pasta is cooked through.
  • Stir in the velveeta. Once the pasta is cooked through, remove from heat and stir in the velveeta and allow to melt through the pasta dish.
ground beef with pasta shells in a white bowl with a metal fork and garnished with fresh parsley on top

Beef and Shells Variations

  • Use different pasta shapes. I used pasta shells in this but elbow macaroni, rotini, or penne would be great substitutes!
  • Make it creamier. Adding a splash of heavy cream can give this pasta dish extra creaminess and richness. Of course topping it off with some cheddar cheese would do the trick as well!
  • Add some spice. Sprinkling a little crushed red pepper flakes will give this dish a kick if you’re craving something spicy!


What meat can i add to my pasta?

There is already ground beef but if you prefer to use another type of meat, ground turkey or ground chicken would be great substitutions for the ground beef.

How do you beef more flavorful?

Seasonings! There’s already a good amount in this that I don’t think you’ll have a problem with flavor, but for whatever reason, if you desire more flavor, you could use Italian seasoning or using dried basil or oregano if you don’t have the Italian seasoning. Black pepper, too!

I don’t like velveeta, can i use something else?

You can use freshly grated cheddar cheese in lieu of velveeta but let me tell you – velveeta creates a creamy sauce that you can’t truly replicate with just cheddar cheese! I would not suggest using parmesan cheese or mozzarella cheese in this.

ground beef with pasta shells in a white bowl and a metal fork

Storage Instructions

Store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to five days in the refrigerator. To reheat, pop back into the microwave and heat until warmed through. You may need to add a bit of liquid to loosen up the sauce a bit.

To freeze: if you know you are going to freeze this and not eat it immediately, cook the pasta to al dente and then allow to cool before storing in Souper Cube trays. Put in freezer and freeze for up to 3 months. To reheat from freezer, place frozen cube into a pot on the stovetop and add a little beef broth and cover. Once melted, cook until pasta is cooked through.

Serving Suggestions

For a complete meal, serve ground beef with shells with a side salad or garlic bread!

More Easy Ground Beef Recipes

5 from 7 votes

Ground Beef with Pasta Shells

Cheesy ground beef and pasta shells are an indulgent pasta dish for you want that cozy cheesy, carby goodness!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 4



  • 1 pound (454 g) 85/15 ground beef
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cored and diced
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 ¼ cup (306 g) tomato sauce
  • 1 ¼ cup (296 ml) beef broth
  • 2 cups (200 g) dried medium shells pasta
  • 4 ounces (113 g) Velveeta, cubed
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Ground black pepper, optional
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  • In a dutch oven, or similar, brown ground beef and break into small pieces with a wooden spoon or spatula.
    ground beef crumbled into smaller pieces in dutch oven
  • Add the onion, garlic, bell pepper, and seasonings. Stir and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes.
    crumbled ground beef with seasonings and vegetables in a cast iron skillet
  • Add tomato sauce, beef stock, and pasta shells. Stir to incorporate then bring to a low simmer. Cover, stirring occasionally, cook until pasta is done.
    beef broth and dried pasta shells added to the ground beef mixture in the cast iron skillet
  • Remove from heat and add Velveeta and stir to melt and incorporate. Season with salt, to taste.
    a block of velveeta cheese added to the finished pasta dish


You may need more or less liquid depending on the size of your pasta shells or pasta shape used. I used “medium” pasta shells but “medium” is a relative term and totally dependent on what the grocery store/brand considers “medium”. You’re looking for a thick sauce covering the pasta, not a loose liquidy sauce.


Serving: 1serving (355 grams), Calories: 543kcal, Carbohydrates: 50g, Protein: 36g, Fat: 21g, Saturated Fat: 9g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 89mg, Sodium: 1097mg, Potassium: 1061mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 9g

This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.

The default measuring system for this website is US Customary. Unit conversions are provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. While we strive to provide accurate unit conversions, please be aware that there may be some discrepancies.

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Photographs by Meg McKeehan Photography

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Recipe Rating


  1. This makes a perfect meal for a busy night. It’s easy and yummy and, best of all, absolutely no fuss!

  2. I needed a quick ground beef recipe that I had all of the ingredients for and this was perfect. Full of flavor and the kids thought it was lick the plate clean, delicious.

  3. I made this last night and it is going to be a permanent favorite! It is quick and easy but most of all my family loved it. Thanks.