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The 7 Absolute Best Ways to Thicken Hamburger Helper

Found yourself in a watery Hamburger Helper situation? Here’s how to make it thick, rich, and hearty.

Yes, you know what we’re talking about! Betty Crocker’s Hamburger Helper is a boon when you want to whip up an easy, quick, and delicious meal for yourself and the family.

Just brown the beef in a hot skillet, add bone broth and/or whole milk, throw in the contents of the Hamburger Helper packet, add the pasta, and mix it all together. Turn down the heat, let the whole thing simmer for 12 minutes, and you, my friend, are pretty much done.

But what happens if you add too much cooking liquid and the sauce gets all runny? I’ve had that happen to me too, you know. So here’s a guide on how to handle the whole situation.

To thicken Hamburger Helper, remove the lid and simmer for longer. Adding flour or cornstarch slurry will also help thicken the sauce, as will instant mashed potatoes, broken up stale bread, and pureed vegetables.

The instructions on the Hamburger Helper package are clear about the amount of liquid to add, and about when to add it. If you follow them, the sauce will usually have the right consistency.

With that being said, what’s stopping you from trying out a new recipe or from improvising? In this case, your sauce may not turn out as thick as you want (and need?) it. Fear not; it happens to the best of us.

When you made Hamburger Helper and ended up with a watery sauce or, worse still, a pot of pasta soup, these fixes will rescue your dinner:

#1. Simmer It Down

One reason why your Hamburger Helper may be too thin is that you haven’t cooked it for long enough or allowed it to rest for a few minutes after it’s done cooking.

Once you have browned and drained any extra fat off your beef, add the pasta, the sauce, and the liquid. Stir all of the ingredients together and then bring them to a boil, stirring every now and then to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of your skillet or pot.

When the Hamburger Helper starts to boil, turn down to heat to medium-low, cover with a lid, and allow it to simmer. The dish needs to simmer for 12 to 20 minutes to cook the pasta thoroughly and to reduce the sauce.

Once the noodles are tender and cooked through on the inside but firm and stick to your teeth when you bite into them on the outside (a level of doneness that the Italians fittingly call al dente, meaning “to the tooth”), take the pot off the heat.

Don’t dig into the dish immediately, though. Rest your dish for a few minutes, and the Hamburger Helper will continue to thicken in the residual heat of the cooking vessel.

#2. Thicken With Flour

If you’ve cooked your Hamburger Helper enough and you don’t want to overcook the pasta, you can thicken your dish up by adding all-purpose flour.

Many cooks use flour to thicken their sauces because flour contains starch. When starch is added to the cooking liquid, it absorbs moisture, swells up, and adds a certain powderiness to the texture of your dish.

The thing is that, if you add the flour directly to your Hamburger Helper meal, it can become lumpy. What you want to do instead is to combine 2 tablespoons of flour with ¼ of a cup of hot water, mixing it in to form a smooth slurry.

Once you’ve made a lump-free slurry, add it to the Hamburger Helper and cook, with the lid off and stirring continuously, over medium heat until the sauce gets to the thickness you’re looking for.

#3. Thicken With Cornstarch

Cornstarch is another great thickening agent that can save just about any sauce. It’s practical, as A) it thickens quickly, B) it won’t make your sauce cloudy, and C) it won’t impart a floury taste to your dish.

Make a cornflour slurry by putting equal amounts of water and cornstarch in a bowl and whisking the whole thing together. It is also easy to do this in a tall jar or food storage container with a tight-fitting lid, shaking the cornstarch slurry to remove lumps.

Add the slurry to your Hamburger Helper sauce and cook, stirring frequently, until it thickens. If you add cornstarch to a cold or already cooked dish, it won’t thicken because the cornstarch must be heated, just like flour.

#4. Thicken With Instant Mashed Potatoes

A packet of instant mashed potatoes to thicken a sauce, soup, or stew—as long as you don’t mind imparting your dish with the flavor of potatoes—is a handy trick to have in your back pocket.

Add a tablespoon or two of instant mashed potatoes (potato flakes will also do) to the Hamburger Helper, mixing to combine. Keep adding instant mash and stirring over medium heat until you get the desired consistency.

Problem solved! The outcome is a thick, velvety sauce that the kids will absolutely love.

#5. To Thicken Hamburger Helper: Add Veg

A great way to thicken Hamburger Helper and add flavor and nutritional value to your dish is to add pureed cooked veggies.

If you have leftover cooked potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, celery, or cauliflower, throw them in the food processor and blend until smooth. For a chunkier consistency, use the potato masher or ricer.

If you don’t have any ready-cooked vegetables, “roast” a potato in the microwave for about five minutes. (Remember to pierce the potato and to wrap it in a couple of damp paper towels first.)

Stir in the pureed vegetables into the Hamburger Helper and heat them through. The sauce will almost instantly become more substantial.

#6. Thicken by Adding Canned Beans

Chili Hamburger Helper, anyone?

Adding a can of beans, whether navy, lima, red kidney, or black, can help thicken up Hamburger Helper, especially if you’ve got a Mexican flavor, like taco or enchilada, going on.

You can puree the drained beans before adding them, or just add the beans and simmer. The beans add substance and also absorb some of the additional liquid. Whether to drain the beans or not is a matter of choice; you may want to do so to get rid of the excess salt.

#7. Thicken by Adding Broken Up Stale Bread

A convenient and low-cost way to thicken your hamburger helper is to add breadcrumbs. Everyone has bread in the kitchen, and this is an ideal way to use up bread that’s already starting to go stale.

Broken up old bread (or breadcrumbs) is also practical as it doesn’t change the flavor of your dish. The bread will absorb the liquid and, with a little simmering down, disappear almost without a trace into the sauce.

To thicken your Hamburger Helper with breadcrumbs, measure about a third of a cup of crumbs per cup of sauce. Stir the crumbs into the sauce and allow it to simmer until the bread has absorbed the liquid and thickened the dish.

Is Hamburger Helper Supposed to Be Watery?

Hamburger Helper is supposed to be thick and gooey, like mac and cheese, and not watery. Put simply, when you lift the pasta and ground beef with your fork, the sauce should stick to the food rather than run down.

If your Hamburger Helper keeps turning out soupy, you may be adding in too much water or not letting it simmer down enough. See our tried-and-tested tips below on how to make Hamburger Helper less watery, so that you won’t need to thicken it after it’s done.

How to Make Thicker Hamburger Helper?

If you’ve made Hamburger Helper before and it’s come out runny and watery, here are some ideas to make thicker Hamburger Helper from the start.

Use less liquid. For those who have made Hamburger soup before by accident, try using a bit less liquid than instructed. To avoid the dish being dry, replace some liquid with butter.

Use whole milk or heavy cream. If you haven’t made the Hamburger Helper yet, but you’re worried that it will turn out too thin, substitute whole milk or heavy cream for water.

Milk and cream contain fat, which will help your Hamburger Helper to thicken as it cooks. It will also taste rich and delicious and be more nutritious.

Summing It All Up

Hamburger Helper should result in a creamy, luscious meal rather than a soggy puddle of sauce. To thicken Hamburger Helper, allow it to cook for longer and make sure it stands before serving.

Adding flour or cornflour will thicken the sauce, while instant mash, breadcrumbs, and pureed vegetables will do the same. Make your Hamburger Helper with milk and butter rather than water to ensure a thick, hearty dish.

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Written by

Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.