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Creamy Shells and Beef is an easy ground beef pasta recipe in creamy tomato sauce. Cheesy beef and shells is an easy recipe for busy weeknights and delicious comfort food the whole family loves!

ground beef pasta recipe with pasta shells in creamy tomato sauce in dutch oven

I have been making this easy creamy beef and shells recipe for over 6 years. This delicious recipe is a family favorite and reader favorite, and it’s a personal favorite, too! I’ve updated the original post with newer photos and cooking tips to make this easy dinner even easier!

I love easy ground beef pasta recipes like spaghetti and meat sauce, creamy chicken pasta and ground beef stroganoff. These easy ground beef recipes are pretty much necessary for our survival and basically homemade hamburger helper!

Even my picky eaters love when I make creamy one pot shells and beef! Best of all, you only have one pot to clean!

That’s what’s so great about one dish meals. You don’t need to put a lot of time or effort into dinner, but everyone is fed and happy, and you feel like Super Mom, even when you’re exhausted.

shell pasta, ground meat, marinara sauce, heavy cream, Parm and seasonings


You only need a few simple ingredients for this creamy ground beef pasta recipe. Look for them in your grocery store or online.

  • ground beef — use extra lean ground beef if you can so you don’t have to drain the grease
  •  olive oil
  • yellow onion or white onion — chopped
  • garlic — chopped
  • sea salt
  • ground black pepper
  • marinara sauce — or pasta sauce, tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
  • water
  • shell pasta — uncooked pasta shells. Use your favorite pasta if needed. Penne pasta and rigatoni work well.
  • Italian seasoning mix
  • heavy cream — or half and half to make creamy pasta
  • Parmesan cheese — for cheesy pasta

How to Make Creamy Beef and Shells in One Pot

First, cook the ground meat and a chopped onion in a large skillet or Dutch oven on medium heat. If you have a lot of grease and need to drain it, do that first, and then season the beef.

brown ground beef and onions in dutch oven

Next, add your seasonings to the meat, and cook until no longer pink.

Then, add your pasta shells, marinara sauce and water. Give it a good stir.

When you add the water, it will be very soupy. But, as the pasta cooks, it will absorb all of that liquid, so don’t panic!

Cover the pot until it comes to a boil, then remove the lid, stir and keep an eye on it. You’ll need to stir every so often so that the pasta doesn’t stick.

stir ground beef pasta and marinara sauce

When the liquid starts to reduce, and the pasta shells are almost done, stir in your heavy cream. Then, stir in the Parmesan cheese.

This delicious creamy shells and beef will continue to thicken as it cools, so if it seems a little thin, don’t worry.

Believe me, I’ve been making this cheesy ground beef pasta for years now, and it turns out perfect every time!

Cook Time

Total cooking time for this hearty meal is around 20 – 25 minutes. It takes about 5 to 6 minutes to cook the ground beef and about 10 minutes for the pasta to cook.

You also want to allow a little time for the pasta to thicken.

stir cream and Parmesan cheese into ground beef pasta

You can see how rich and creamy the pasta is. The shells hold that creamy rich tomato sauce and ground beef so that every bite is filled with amazing flavor!

As soon as you have al dente pasta, you’re ready to eat! You can top the tender pasta shells with more Parmesan and fresh parsley for extra flavor.

How to Store

Refrigerate leftover pasta in an airtight container for up to 4 days. You can freeze leftovers from this one-pot meal for longer storage. We do this with great results!

creamy shells and beef in tomato sauce on wooden spoon

Recipe Variations

You could make this creamy beef pasta recipe even easier by using dried onions, onion powder or garlic powder — it’s up to you. Throw in a pinch of red pepper flakes for more spice!

If you want to make this easy pasta dish with the entire box of pasta, use 3 cups of water or beef broth. You will also need a large jar of pasta sauce or diced tomatoes so the sauce isn’t too water. See the recipe card for exact measurements.

Change the protein in this easy ground beef recipe — use ground chicken or ground turkey or ground Italian sausage. You can change the cheese to cheddar cheese or American cheese for a different flavor.

If you have a pressure cooker, make Instant Pot Creamy Shells and Beef.

Pro tip – What really saves time is having chopped onions waiting in the freezer. If I cut a whole onion, I’ll try to freeze half for later, and eventually, I’ll have a nice stash of onions when I need them!


I’m  happy to report that the whole family loved this creamy one-pot shells and beef. It’s the ultimate comfort food!

I served a simple side salad and homemade garlic bread, which was just enough to make this easy weeknight dinner a complete meal.

4.99 from 52 votes

Creamy Shells and Beef

By: Dee
Creamy Shells and Beef is an easy ground beef pasta recipe in creamy tomato sauce. Cheesy beef and shells is an easy recipe for busy weeknights and delicious comfort food the whole family loves!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 7 servings



  • 1 ½ pounds fresh extra lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup yellow or white onion chopped
  • 2 tablespoons garlic chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cups marinara sauce, pasta sauce, tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups medium shells uncooked (about 1/2 of a 1 pound box)
  • 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning mix
  • 1 cup heavy cream or half and half
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese optional
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  • In a large pot or skillet, saute the onions in olive oil until soft
  • Add ground beef, and cook until brown
  • Add the garlic, salt and pepper
  • Stir in the tomato sauce, pasta and water
  • Cover and bring to a boil, then remove lid, and cook for about 10 minutes or until pasta starts to soften
  • Add the Italian seasoning, reduce heat to medium low, and stir in the cream
  • Cook on low heat until sauce begins to thicken
  • Add the Parmesan cheese, and serve



To cook 1 pound of pasta, use 3 cups water and a large jar of marinara sauce (32 oz jar) or pasta sauce. You can add a 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes if you want more tomato flavor.


Calories: 546kcal, Carbohydrates: 33g, Protein: 32g, Fat: 31g, Saturated Fat: 16g, Cholesterol: 135mg, Sodium: 1040mg, Potassium: 779mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 5g, Vitamin A: 1009IU, Vitamin C: 8mg, Calcium: 160mg, Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Like this? Leave a comment below!

I hope you enjoy this comforting pasta dish as much as we do. My entire family is crazy about it!

If you do make this easy dinner, please leave a star rating and/or comment.

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This easy ground beef recipe was originally published in May 2016 and updated for pictures and cooking tips in 2022.

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Recipe Rating


  1. Julie says:

    Quick and easy recipe for a delicious comfort food dinner. I made recipe as written other than swapping shells for penne (what I had on hand), and throwing in a few handfuls of chopped kale. I’ll definitely be making this one again!5 stars

  2. Al says:

    Great, simple recipe with lots of flavor. I used 1 lb of ground beef and found it to be more than enough. Also pre-boiled my pasta (I used rotini) and increased it to 3 cups. Adjusted seasonings to taste.5 stars

  3. Jeff says:

    This is now my kid’s favorite meal! So easy to make and on the stove so much more flavor! You have to try this!5 stars

  4. Coco says:

    Five stars for how simple & tasty this meal was but had to subtract a star for the annoying ads and interruptions on the page. This was so easy, you had me at one pot. I also like that this recipe allows flexibility with what you have on hand & what you like in your pasta. For example I added cinnamon for an additional flavor profile. I feel fresh Rosemary at the end would have also been equally delish. Want greens? Add spinach at the end or green pepper at the beginning with your onions. Staple recipe! Thank you for sharing!!! I also used elbow macaroni since it’s what I had on hand. Perfection!4 stars

    1. Dee says:

      Nobody likes ads, but they pay for the ingredients to make these recipes. I’m glad you enjoyed the pasta!

    2. KH says:

      Use brave browser to avoid ads or download an ad blocker. You’ll probably have to pay $2-3/month for a good one that works well but it’s worth it. It sounds like you’re using Google where it’s impossible to load a webpage without constant add interruptions and the page takes a lot longer to load because of them. I despise what Google has become and try to avoid using it as much as possible.