American Chop Suey

by Amy on 5 March 2013

American Chop SueyFirst, if you’re thinking, “what the heck is American Chop Suey?!,” allow me to explain. While this simple comfort food dish is popular throughout the United States, it goes by different names in different regions. Growing up in New England, we called it American Chop Suey. But as I learned from my facebook followers, in other regions it’s called American Goulash (or just Goulash), Chili Mac, or Hamburger Mac, to name a few.

So, what is it? Basically, it’s ground beef, onions, + peppers, sauteed with spices, tossed with macaroni + a slow-simmered tomato sauce. It was, hands-down, my favorite comfort food growing up + even though I haven’t eaten it since I was a teen, I found myself seriously craving it recently. So, I hunted down a recipe for a slightly-fancied-up version, + got cookin’.

Sweet heavens, it is SO delicious – everything I remembered from my childhood, but even better! From the slightly sweet, slow-simmered pasta sauce to the wonderfully-tender spiced beef, onions + peppers, all tossed with a generous portion of pasta, it is pure comfort food. It was so amazing that after taking my first bite, I broke into a happy dance of victory (and my husband can vouch for that.) Whether you call it American Chop Suey, Goulash, or Chili Mac, I know that you’ll be calling it your new favorite meal!

American Chop Suey

American Chop Suey

serves 6-8, adapted from


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, seeded + finely chopped
1 lb 80/20 ground beef
3 teaspoons garlic powder
3 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (this adds a tiny bit of heat – omit if you want a spicy-free dish)
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 lb large elbow macaroni – i used creamette large elbow macaroni
salt + pepper, to taste
optional: grated parmesan cheese + freshly-chopped parsley, to garnish


Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion + green pepper, + cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add ground beef, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, + red pepper flakes. cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is no longer pink, about 8 minutes.

Add in whole tomatoes (and juice), crushing the tomatoes with your hands as you add them. (wear an apron!) Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, + cinnamon, + salt/pepper to taste – stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, + simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about an hour.

When the sauce is in its final minutes of simmering, cook pasta according to package directions, reducing the cooking time by two minutes (until just barely short of al dente). Drain pasta well + transfer to pot of sauce, stirring to combine well. Add more salt + pepper to taste (if needed), + cook until flavors combine, about 10 more minutes.

Serve hot with grated Parmesan cheese + garnish of parsley, + hot, buttered bread.

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{ 97 comments… read them below or add one }

51 amy April 19, 2013 at 11:44 am

Hi Sharon, It’s just a regional difference – different areas of the country call this dish by different names. Growing up in New England, I had never heard the term “american goulash” until recently – it’s all the same thing, just with a different name!

52 Sally May 4, 2013 at 6:19 pm

What is there about this that resemles Chop Suey? It’s just cheap goulash. Or just maybe I’m senile.

53 amy May 4, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Hey Sally, did you even read the post? It appears not. If you read the first paragraph, you’ll notice that I discuss the different regional names for the dish, and yes, goulash is one of them. And sadly, with nearly 20 ingredients (especially good-quality ones), it ain’t all that cheap to make. Thanks for stopping by, though!

54 STEVEN MICHAUD May 4, 2013 at 7:27 pm


55 amy May 4, 2013 at 8:10 pm

that’s awesome, Steven!

56 Judi Hayes May 4, 2013 at 8:24 pm

I love this! My mother made a similar version in Iowa where I grew up. Think she just called it Goolash. :)

57 Judie May 5, 2013 at 10:38 am

After printing the American Chop Suey recipe, it dawned on me that one of my favorite comfort~food casseroles from the 40’s in Salt Lake City, Utah is “American Chow Mein” and is similar to the “chop suey.” My mother’s recipe also includes a can of corn, and a small can of chopped black olives. She always used flat noodles and adds in 1 c. of grated cheddar cheese!

58 amy May 5, 2013 at 10:45 am

Sounds awesome, Judie!

59 Jenn Borjeson June 4, 2013 at 2:35 pm

OMG – I just have to tell you that I grew up thinking American Chop Suey was yucky. Thank God my mom doesn’t go on the Internet, because I have to tell you that I am 41 years old and had never made this meal in my life because of how much I despised my mom’s version of it. Girl, you have helped American Chop Suey redeem itself. No, not just redeem itself – you have moved it right up to one of the top 10 meals in my house! :) I had to beat my husband away with a wooden spoon so he wouldn’t eat the entire pot of sauce/meat while the elbows were cooking! Thank you, thank you, thank you – it was absolutely delicious! :)

60 amy June 7, 2013 at 1:19 pm

That is so awesome to hear, Jenn! So glad that American Chop Suey has been redeemed in your book!! =)

61 Nealla St Clair June 17, 2013 at 11:26 am

My mom always called it “Macaroni Red”. She’s from Kansas. My MIL was also from Kansas and called it “Chop Suey”. I’m thinking it is maybe a family thing as well as a regional thing — LOL

62 amy June 17, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I think you’re right, Nealla! And i love the name “macaroni red” – too cute!

63 Joanne June 19, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I’m from Massachusetts and we have American Chop Suey as a weekly meal. If you add a 1/2 pound of ground Chourico it will make it nice and spicy but not overpowering

64 amy June 19, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Great tip Joanne – thank you!

65 Barbara July 6, 2013 at 4:57 pm

That is not the regular chop suey. It was made in San Fransico and by my husband and it was never made with maccaronni. Who in the world thought of this and who in their right mind would name this “American Chop Suey”.

66 Liz August 12, 2013 at 6:29 pm

I’m here in my kitchen using your recipe for the second time. I was born and raised in New England. My mom made American Chop Suey for our family of nine. But I don’t remembering it tasting as good as your’s. Thank you for sharing!

67 kellie eizensmits November 24, 2013 at 12:33 pm

I grew up in Ohio. We called it Johnny Marzetti, and I’m making some now!!

68 amy November 25, 2013 at 8:55 am

Awesome, Kellie! Hope you love it. =)

69 Linda January 2, 2014 at 1:16 pm

am 71 years young and our family in New Hampshire called it American Chop Suey.. equal to southern goulash I guess. Our goulash was a meal concocted from
Sometimes I used Sweet Sausage instead of beef burger for the meat…gave the meal a different taste all together..either way it’s tasty and I’m making some today…yum!

70 amy January 2, 2014 at 2:20 pm

I love the idea of using sweet italian sausage in it, Linda! Hope it turns out great for you — and stay warm with that crazy winter storm you’re having up north (if you still live in New Hampshire, that is). =)

71 Kelly March 7, 2014 at 3:35 am

Hi Amy,

I came across your site accidentally, but I wanted to comment on your recipe AND the name – or more honestly my Dad’s version of the name.

My Mom would make this dish as a way to use the rest of her spaghetti sauce. We as kids LOVED it! Keep in mind my Dad was hard of hearing and English was not his first language. He always referred to it as “gollah” most likely his misunderstanding of goulash.

Also, her sauce was always made with equal amounts of ground beef and Italian sausage she would then mix all well and add cheese. It was PURE heaven
Looks like we will be having spaghetti tomorrow, followed up with gollah over the weekend!

Thanks for making me think of this… And making me a give my family a childhood favorite!

All the best,

72 amy March 7, 2014 at 9:07 am

I love your dad’s version of the name! That’s what makes home-cookin’ recipes like this awesome – they are wonderfully customizable in both ingredients AND name, to best suit your family. =) Your mom’s version with beef and sausage sounds fantastic! And I hope you enjoy your spaghetti meal, followed up with gollah over the weekend!! Cheers, Amy

73 Dennis March 10, 2014 at 11:17 am

I remember my mom making this in the winter. Oh, it was so good, but the recipe was not as elaborate. I’ve decided to embrace the newer recipes as the old classics we grew up on were often limited out of necessity due to lack of funds. Today’s simple is yesterday’s elaborate. So I’ve followed your recipe to the letter, but have added about 1/4 lb of chopped bacon. Everything is better with the pig!
My son who is home for spring break and his buddy are already drooling over the smell! Well. so am I. My wife’s weight watcher’s diet may take a brief sabbatical.

74 amy March 10, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Hi Dennis! My mom’s version of this was not nearly as elaborate, either, but it was still oh so good. Some of the most delicious, satisfying meals can be the simplest … especially when they’re made by our moms. =) I can’t wait to hear how your twist with the bacon turned out. Hope you, your son, + his buddy loved it! And hope your wife took a break from her diet for at least a few minutes to try it. Cheers!

75 kristen March 17, 2014 at 8:35 am

making this for a friend who is having surgery..thought it would be the perfect comfort food for her family! what do you think is tthe best way for them to re-heat it? I made the sauce last night and was going to combine it all today and bring it to them for tomorrow dinner.

thanks for the yummy recipe!

76 amy March 17, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Hi Kristen! So sweet of you to bring this to your friend. =) This actually microwaves really well, but if they want to heat it all up at once, I’d heat it covered in the oven. Probably 30 minutes or so, covered with foil, at 350 degrees. Hope that helps!

77 Floy Fetty April 26, 2014 at 2:02 pm

In Ohio we called it Johnny Marzetti. That ‘s what it’s called in the old Good Housekeeping cookbook that I have. I used to make it all the time in the 50s. Delicious.

78 amy April 27, 2014 at 9:23 am

I’ll have to look up the Good Housekeeping version of the recipe, too – I love trying different versions of it. Thanks for popping by, Floy!

79 Valerie May 6, 2014 at 11:58 am

I grew up in New England, and we had this ALL the time!!! I will be making this…so looking forward to it…

80 amy May 6, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Do report back what you think of it, Valerie! I hope you love it as much I do, and that it totally takes you back to your childhood. =)

81 Penny May 6, 2014 at 12:29 pm

My bf is from Massachusetts and he told me he made American Chop Suey. I tried it and liked it not realizing it was basically the same as the Goulash my family has always made for years. My bf is the one that pointed out that it was the same lol. It is funny how various areas call things that are the same by a different name.

82 amy May 6, 2014 at 2:27 pm

It is funny, isn’t it? =)

83 Lynn May 19, 2014 at 2:11 pm

My Connecticut version isn’t much different from yours. My father always made it with spaghetti (elbows were much more expensive back then), broken into 8 pieces and I’ve continued with his tradition. The spaghetti doesn’t seem to suck up the tomato sauce as much as the elbows do.

84 amy May 21, 2014 at 6:29 am

I love your father’s tradition of using broken spaghetti, Lynn, and how neat that you’re continuing that tradition!

85 sharon June 29, 2014 at 7:40 pm

been making this for 50 years.

86 amy June 30, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Neat, Sharon! Isn’t it a great meal?

87 Sandy March 17, 2015 at 4:12 am

I’m gonna make this tonight, sounds tasty!

88 amy March 17, 2015 at 9:05 am

Report back how you like it! We just made it again a couple weeks ago and I loved it again SO much. Reminds me so much of my favorite childhood meal!

89 Mary March 19, 2015 at 6:54 pm

My husband, who was raised by parents from Boston but is a military brat, has spoken of this dish many times in the 16 years we have been married. I was raised in Atlanta and did not grow up eating this dish. After 4 tries (other recipes I found on-line) I finally got it RIGHT…with your delicious recipe!!! Thank you so very much for re-storing a lovely childhood memory for my husband. Also I must add that we have lived in Europe for 7 of the last 10 years, and this is so delicious! Wonderful, comfort food!

90 amy March 19, 2015 at 7:55 pm

Oh Mary, I am SO thrilled to hear that! This is one of my fondest childhood meals, and I’m so happy that it brought back good memories for your husband, and happy tummies for all of you. 😉 And most of all, it totally makes my day that you took the time to comment and tell me – thank YOU for brightening my day!

91 Rhonda May 14, 2015 at 1:42 am

My mom made this quite often and we all loved it, the bunch of us would do our happy dance. With a bit of difference she would fry salt pork to a crunch and the sautéed onion pepper and garlic with red pepper. There hasn’t been one individual that has tried this dish that didn’t ask for this simple but yummy recipe. Thanks Mom

92 Amy May 14, 2015 at 8:27 am

Oh, your mom’s version sounds absolutely delicious, Rhonda! I’m not surprised that it made everyone do their happy dance. =)

93 Angelina March 15, 2016 at 10:14 am

Hi Amy: I’m (also) originally from New England (CT), so I distinctly remember this dish . My mom never made this for us because she was Eastern European, so I grew up eating many delectable European dishes. I attended a private girls’ school (Yeah, Ms. Porter’s), which served up the best food ever…. and this was just one of our favorites. We called it “Chili Mac”. We also received a nice & healthy tossed salad with a garlic breadstick on the side. There were several (healthy) dessert options to choose from. Thanks for the recipe, since I’m now very excited to once again be able to re-create and enjoy this incredibly simple, yet delicious dish.

94 Amy March 15, 2016 at 9:42 pm

I hope you love it, Angelina! Isn’t it amazing how one meal can totally transport us back to a different place and a different time?! One of my favorite things about cooking — the memories it conjures up. =)

95 Anne April 2, 2016 at 10:40 pm

I ALWAYS eat a slice of buttered bread and JIFF PEANUT BUTER WHEN EATING THIS OLD RECIPE OF MINE TOO !!! Lol. Just doesn’t seem right not to eat it with !!! Maybe because in Beallsville they gave us buttered bread with peanut butter with our spaghetti every time we had it :-)). Lol. ENJOY Y’ALL !!!!!

96 Michelle April 14, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Hi Amy….My mom made it my entire childhood! I always loved it and still do. Your recipe looks great and I am going to try it. Thanks for sharing.

97 BrettGably August 28, 2017 at 5:01 pm

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