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Slow Cooker Beefy Mac is a super simple, super delicious, hearty meal that the whole family will love! Chunks of chuck roast and pasta are cooked in a beefy tomato sauce.
A ‘Set it and Forget it’ Slow Cooker Recipe
Our Slow Cooker Beefy Mac was inspired by my husband Jack eavesdropping on a conversation when he took our daughter Emma to dance class. Some of the moms waiting outside the classroom started talking about slow cooker recipes – and Jack listened in.
While everyone loved the convenience of their slow cookers, the biggest complaint seemed to be that many recipes are written for just a few hours of cooking time. So, when you leave the house in the morning for work, and don’t get home until 8 or 10 hours later – sometimes the dish can be overdone!
So this recipe – our Slow Cooker Beefy Mac – is meant to cook during a long day away from home. It’s also super simple to prepare – just place all of the ingredients (except for the pasta) in the slow cooker and set it to low for 10 hours.
When you get home from a long day at work – you’ll end up with super tender beef in a rich tomato sauce. You can add already cooked pasta – but we cook the macaroni IN the sauce so every bite is loaded with beefy tomato flavor.
Why You’ll Love Slow Cooker Beefy Mac
- It’s an easy recipe to pull together, then you can set it to cook – and go about your day.
- Cooking the pasta right in the sauce means that every bite is loaded with rich tomato and beefy flavor.
- This recipe feeds a crowd – great for potlucks, family meals, or enjoy leftovers for another meal.
Key Ingredients and Substitutions
- Beef – Beef chuck is the best option for this recipe because it is a very flavorful cut of beef, and benefits from a long, slow cooking process to make it tender. (It’s also friendly on the budget!) Since the beef is cut into two-inch pieces, you can buy chuck steaks or a roast – whichever cut has the best price at your supermarket.
- Onion – We chose yellow onion, but white or red onion could also be used if that’s what you have on hand. Sweet onion may be a bit mild for this dish. A Spanish onion might be too harsh.
- Tomatoes – You’ll use canned diced tomatoes, canned or jarred tomato sauce (or even homemade sauce – see our recipe here), as well as canned tomato paste.
- Flavorings and Seasonings – We included Worcestershire sauce, fresh garlic, kosher salt, black pepper, dried oregano, and dried basil.
- Stock – Use canned or boxed beef stock or vegetable broth. (We used beef.)
- Pasta – We used small Ditalini pasta but any similar shaped small pasta is fine such as elbows, mini shells, Rotini or Gemelli. Depending on the pasta shape you choose, the pasta cooking time may vary.
- Parmesan Cheese – For the best flavor, we will always encourage you to buy a chunk of aged Parmesan and shred your own. (Please don’t buy the fake jarred stuff!) Parmesan is added to the pasta before serving, and you can also sprinkle more on top if you’d like.
Special Tools Needed
- 6 Quart Slow Cooker – This recipe is ideal for making in a multi-cooker slow cooker like this with a simmer setting. (If you just have a regular slow cooker with high/low settings, don’t worry – you can still make this recipe!)
- Medium or Large Saucepan – To cook the pasta if you don’t have a multi-cooker.
- Cutting Board and Sharp Knife
- Various Measuring Spoons and Cups
How do I make Slow Cooker Beefy Mac?
- Place all of the ingredients – except the pasta and Parmesan – into a slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or high for 4 to 5 hours.
- Cook pasta (see Pasta Cooking Options below), then add back to the slow cooker.
- Reserve some of the cooking liquid to use as a sauce for serving, or when reheating any leftovers.
- Stir in the Parmesan cheese.
- Serve immediately with reserved sauce and more Parmesan cheese (optional)..
Pasta Cooking Options
We give you a few options for cooking and adding the pasta to this dish:
- You can cook the pasta right in the slow cooker. If your slow cooker is a multi-cooker with a sear/simmer setting, use that setting and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook the pasta right in the sauce. If your slow cooker doesn’t have that setting, you can also just add the pasta and set to high until the pasta is cooked, but it will take a few more hours for the pasta to cook.
- Alternately, you can transfer some of the sauce to a medium pot and simmer on a stove-top to cook the pasta right in the tomato sauce. (Once the sauce is simmering, dittalini pasta will take about 10 minutes to get tender. When you do this, the pasta will absorb the delicious sauce).
- A third option is to add already cooked pasta – just note that you will have more sauce than needed, and the pasta won’t have as much flavor as if it had cooked in the sauce and absorbed some of it. If you go this route, you’ll likely need to spoon out some of the sauce.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What do I do if this dish still seems very soupy after I’ve cooked the pasta? Don’t worry – every slow cooker is different and some may allow more or less liquid to evaporate while this cooks. One of the steps in this recipe is to remove about two cups of the cooking liquid (before adding the Parmesan cheese) to use as a sauce when serving and reheating. If yours seems extra soupy – remove three or four cups, then stir in the Parmesan. You can always add more of the sauce back to loosen it up again.
- Can I make Slow Cooker Beefy Mac ahead of time? Sure! (It reheats nicely.)
- How do I reheat this dish? We microwave individual portions in the microwave, or you can reheat larger quantities in a sauce pan on the stove. If you have extra sauce on hand, you might want to add some of that during the reheat.
- Can I freeze this dish? You can, but just note that sometimes pasta gets mushy after being frozen and thawed. If you’d like, you can freeze some of the beefy sauce before you add the pasta, then once thawed, add cooked pasta.
- Could I make this dish in the oven instead? Yes! Add all ingredients (except pasta and Parmesan) to a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven with a lid. Bake at 325 degrees F for about three hours or until beef is fork tender. Add pasta and return to the oven for another half hour or so, until the pasta is tender. Remove excess liquid as noted in the original recipe – then stir in Parmesan cheese. (Please note that baking times may vary depending on the pot you use.)
Slow Cooker Beefy Mac originally appeared on A Family Feast in 2015. We’ve updated the photos and post, and made some adjustments to the recipe instructions to make it easier to follow.
Click here to see more delicious Slow Cooker Recipes!
2 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into two-inch pieces (cut off any excess fat)
1 1/2 cups yellow onion, cut into large dice
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2 cups tomato sauce, see here or use your favorite jarred sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry oregano
1 teaspoon dry basil
1 quart beef stock (canned or boxed is fine)
3 cups water
1 pound (16 ounces) Ditalini pasta
1 cup Parmesan cheese plus more for serving, grated
- In a large slow cooker, place beef, onion, garlic, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, stock, and water. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours, or until beef pieces are tender.
- If you are using a slow cooker that also has a sear/saute function, raise the heat to 350 degrees F and once the mixture is bubbling, add the pasta, cover and cook until the pasta is tender, stirring a few times so it doesn’t stick.
- If your slow cooker only has low and high, ladle some of the cooking liquid into a non-stick medium pot (strain the mixture and place the solids back into the slow cooker). Heat the pot of sauce to boiling, then add the pasta and cook until tender on medium heat. Add pasta and sauce back to the slow cooker. The pasta should be tender and there should still be liquid in the pot.
- Note that the pasta/sauce mixture in your slow cooker should still be a little loose. Ladle out about two cups of the liquid and set aside. (This will be used to serve over portions as a sauce and to reheat any leftovers – pasta always absorbs sauce as it sits.)
- Once the two cups of liquid/sauce have been removed, stir the Parmesan cheese into the slow cooker and mix with the pasta and beef.
- Serve immediately with some of the sauce spooned over each portion and additional Parmesan cheese, if you’d like.
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