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Baked Spaghetti Casserole

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Baked Spaghetti Casserole starts with an amazing, meaty homemade sauce and emerges hot and bubbly from the oven with a layer of crusty cheddar cheese. Comfort food at its best, there’s no better way to describe this delicious baked spaghetti other than absolutely terrific!

Although you *could* save yourself some time and make this recipe with a jar of marinara sauce, trust me when I say making this spaghetti sauce from scratch is very much worth the effort.

As the sauce simmers, the flavors meld into a rich, hearty sauce that has depth of flavor that you won’t get from a jarred marinara sauce.

That’s why this Baked Spaghetti Casserole is so popular with my family and gets rave reviews at pot luck dinners, too!

Pop the casserole in the oven, add a tossed green salad — like my copycat Bravo’s Insalata Della Casa or my hubby’s favorite Wedge Salad with Crispy Fried Shallots — and a loaf of this amazing cheesy bread to complete the meal.

Then serve it up and sit back as you watch everyone swoon!

baked spaghetti on a white plate with a fork and red checkered napkin on a table.

5 reasons you’ll love Baked Spaghetti Casserole

  • It’s simple to put together
  • It’s versatile — make it with almost any kind of pasta
  • It uses easy-to-find ingredients
  • It freezes well and can be made ahead of time
  • It’s a crowd pleaser!

Behind the recipe

Last year, after my Easy Chicken Cookbook launch, a dear neighbor who was recently widowed invited me over to peruse his wife’s cookbook collection.

He generously offered that I should take any that appealed to me and one treasure I came home with was the anniversary edition of Starr Recipes from Greystone.

Mary Starr, the beloved host of the local Homemakers Show at WATE-TV’s Greystone Studio in Knoxville, Tennessee, shared thousands of recipes on the show from 1955 until 1970-ish.

Many of the recipes included in her cookbook were submitted by her faithful viewers. Mary tested each one in her Homemakers kitchen and gave them a STAR rating: *CHOICE! **GREAT! ***TERRIFIC!

Today’s recipe, originally titled Ann’s Spaghetti in the book, was appropriately labeled with 3 stars and it is indeed TERRIFIC!

Ingredients for spaghetti sauce for baked spaghetti.

Ingredient breakdown

NOTE: The original recipe also included “sliced olives” in the sauce, which I did not include in my rendition.

  • ground chuck — the higher fat percentage in ground chuck means more flavor, but you can use a leaner ground beef 
  • extra-virgin olive oil — for cooking the onions and peppers
  • butter — adds flavor when cooking the ground beef
  • onions — I like using sweet onions as opposed to white or red onions
  • green bell peppers — sautéed with the onions first, almost like sofrito
  • San Marzano Peeled Whole Tomatoes — plum tomatoes known for their sweetness, intensity and just the right amount of acidity
  • ketchup — I thought ketchup instead of tomato sauce seemed unusual, but it may be in place of the sugar you find in some traditional marinara recipes.
  • tomato paste — for added flavor and to thicken the sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce — again, an unexpected ingredient
  • paprika — I used sweet paprika, but smoked paprika is fine, too
  • dried oregano — may substitute dried basil or Italian seasoning
  • garlic cloves — Can you make any Italian dish without garlic?!
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper — flavor enhancers
  • spaghetti noodles — angel hair, bucatini, rigatoni, or penne pasta also work
  • sharp cheddar cheese — for a cheesy crust!
Sauteed ground beef with cooked bell peppers and onions in a pot.

The secret is in the sauce

Sauté the aromatics. Some Italian chefs make sofrito — a mixture of slow-cooked, caramelized onions, carrots, and celery — as a flavor base when making sauces. In the same vein, for this spaghetti sauce recipe, onions and green peppers are slow cooked in extra-virgin olive oil until soft and flavorful.

Brown the meat in a hot pan… and butter. In order for ground beef to brown, rather than steam, start with a hot pan. After cooking the onions and peppers, remove them to a plate with a slotted spoon. Melting a pat of butter with any remaining oil in the pan aids in better browning of the meat.

Adding a can of whole tomatoes to a pot of spaghetti sauce.

Use the right tomatoes. Don’t pick up just any can of whole tomatoes at the grocery. Make sure the label indicates San Marzano tomatoes, even if you use the store’s private label brand, for the very best flavor. It will make a difference, I promise!

Spaghetti sauce in a pan for baked spaghetti.

Simmer, simmer, simmer. Combine the caramelized onions and peppers with the ground beef, tomatoes, and remaining ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover the pot, stirring occasionally, and simmer for an hour, preferably two.

The tomatoes will break down and the sauce will turn into a rich, meaty, delicious sauce that you won’t be able to resist!

layering sauce and cheese on top of spaghetti in a casserole dish for baked spaghetti.

Assemble the casserole

Make this recipe your own by experimenting with your favorite pasta noodles. I had a package of bucatini in my pantry and used those in place of the spaghetti noodles in the original recipe.

  1. Cook spaghetti noodles just until they are al dente (they will continue cooking in the oven). Drain the noodles and layer in a lightly greased baking dish.
  2. Spoon the sauce on top, completely covering the noodles.
  3. Add a generous layer of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.
  4. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes at 375 degrees until the casserole is hot and bubbly and the cheese has melted.
baked spaghetti on a white plate with a fork and red checkered napkin on a table.

FAQs

Can you make the spaghetti sauce in a slow cooker?

Instead of simmering the sauce on top of the stove for two hours, you may add the cooked onions, peppers, and ground beef to a slow cooker and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cook on LOW for 8 hours or on HIGH for 4 hours.

Can you freeze baked spaghetti casserole?

Absolutely! Assemble the casserole (cooked noodles, sauce, and cheese) before baking and wrap in plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 3 months.

How do you reheat a frozen baked spaghetti casserole?

To reheat from frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then bake as directed in the recipe instructions.

How long will baked spaghetti casserole leftovers keep in the fridge?

Store tightly wrapped leftovers in the refrigerator up to 4 to 5 days.

What’s the best way to reheat leftover baked spaghetti casserole?

To reheat from refrigerated, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and heat until bubbly, about 25 minutes.

close up of baked spaghetti on a fork.

Recipe tips

  • Making the spaghetti sauce for this baked spaghetti casserole is a commitment of time, so you may wish to make it ahead beforehand and refrigerate or freeze until ready to bake.
  • Cool cooked spaghetti sauce completely before storing or freezing.
  • Thaw frozen spaghetti sauce overnight in the refrigerator.
baked spaghetti on a white plate with a fork and red checkered napkin on a table.

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Yield: 8 servings

Baked Spaghetti Casserole

baked spaghetti on a white plate with a fork and red checkered napkin on a table.

Baked Spaghetti Casserole starts with an amazing, meaty homemade sauce and emerges hot and bubbly from the oven with a layer of crusty cheddar cheese.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 45 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups diced onion (about 3 medium)
  • 2 cups diced green bell peppers (2 large)
  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck
  • 1 28-oz. can San Marzano Peeled Whole Tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 pound spaghetti, cooked
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Instructions

  1. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the diced onions, green peppers, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until tender and slightly caramelized. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the veggies to a plate.
  2. Melt the butter in the same pan and crumble in the beef. Cook and stir until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain off any excess grease, leaving some for flavor.
  3. Return the onions and peppers to the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, ketchup, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic. Season with the salt, pepper, paprika, and oregano.
  4. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. (See below for slow cooker sauce instructions).
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish with cooking spray.
  6. Cook the spaghetti noodles in a pot of boiling salted water as directed on the package until al dente. Drain and layer in the casserole dish.
  7. Pour the sauce over the noodles, then sprinkle the top with the cheese.
  8. Bake uncovered until the cheese has melted and the casserole is hot and bubbly. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Notes

  • You may cook the sauce ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze to use later.
  • Store leftovers tightly wrapped in the refrigerator up to 4 to 5 days.
  • To reheat from refrigerated, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and heat until bubbly, about 25 minutes.


Slow Cooker Sauce Instructions

Instead of simmering the sauce on top of the stove for two hours, you may add the cooked onions, peppers, and ground beef to a slow cooker and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cook on LOW for 8 hours or on HIGH for 4 hours.

Freezing Instructions

  • Assemble the casserole (cooked noodles, sauce, and cheese) before baking and wrap in plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 3 months.
  • To reheat from frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then bake as directed in the recipe instructions.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 686Total Fat: 42gSaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 132mgSodium: 801mgCarbohydrates: 36gFiber: 4gSugar: 10gProtein: 42g

Did you make this recipe?

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ABOUT SHEILA
Sheila Thigpen, author of Easy Chicken Cookbook and The 5-Ingredient Fresh and Easy Cookbook, is a recipe developer, food photographer, and food writer. She spent 20+ years as a business manager in the publishing industry before she retired in 2018 to focus on her passions — cooking, photography, and writing. Living near the beautiful Smoky Mountains, Sheila and her husband have two adult daughters and two fine sons-in-law, are active in their church, love to travel, and have a precious little granddaughter who has stolen their hearts. Follow Sheila on YouTubePinterestInstagramFacebook, and Twitter!

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