Hamburger Helper is barely edible as it is, but by changing the cooking directions a bit and adding a few basic ingredients you can make it taste good. Different kinds of Hamburger Helper have different quantities of water, milk etc., so I'll try to keep these instructions as generic as possible.

Step one: Brownin' da Beef

  • When browning the ground beef, add salt, pepper, basil and (depending on the variety of 'Helper) crushed red pepper. Other spice choices include thyme or oregano, but I've found the above combination works best.
  • Halfway through the browning add a clove of fresh minced garlic. Don't add it with the other stuff, it'll burn. If you've only got garlic powder (shame on you!) add it at the very end of the browning - it burns really fast.
  • When the beef is browned drain and rinse it. The major thing that makes this stuff unsettle your stomach is all the grease. Don't rinse it too well, it'll dry it out. Just enough.
  • Wash out your pan, for the same reason listed above.

Step Two: Mix it up

  • After you've added all the stuff the box tells you to, bring it to a boil. It'll take longer that usual because you washed (and therefore cooled) the pan.
  • Cover the pan and THEN reduce the heat. The drop in heat with cause the food to steam and the cover will trap that steam, cooking it faster.
  • The firmer the pasta the less gross it'll feel sliding down your throat. Cook it for 3/4 of the time they tell you to and taste it to see if it's still crunchy. Stir it once while it's cooking.

Finishing Touches

  • The cheese in the mix isn't great and the stuff in some varieties they direct you to reconstitute with milk is even worse. Add some real cheese before you eat it. Mozzarella and Parmesan seem to work best. please note, if it came in a can or as individually wrapped slices it's not real cheese. Cheese comes in bricks and you grate it yourself.
Hamburger Helper® was launched by General Mills in 1970, the year after Pringles came unto us. At the time a recession and President Nixon's economic policies had conspired to produce shortages of grain and meat, causing the price of both to rise; Hamburger Helper® was thus designed to 'help' a pound of ground hamburger meat become an entire family meal of itself. People ate a lot more meat in 1970 than they do nowadays. 'H' was a big hit, especially in the enviro-conscious 70s, and remains a staple of busy housewives and, just as likely, lazy college students.

Hamburger Helper® is sold under the Betty Crocker brand and consists of a cardboard box containing a sachet of pasta and a sachet of tomatoey or cheesy sauce, both of which are supposed to be heated in a pot with some water and meat. The resulting mixture forms a delicious meaty casserole, although meat-less Hamburger Helper® can be eaten on its own, or with an infinite variety of other things, as detailed in Betty Crocker's cookbooks. The economic reasons for buying it have long since passed, and Hamburger Helper® is now actually more expensive, relative pound per pound, than hamburger meat.

From 1977 the product has been advertised on television with a giant white-gloved Helping Hand™, with a face on it. The hand was killed off in 1991, but - as one might expect from a talking, singing, disembodied hand - it rose again, in 2001, and is still extant.

Hamburger Helper® was very much a forerunner of microwave meals, boil-in-the-bag convenience food, MREs and so forth, and is therefore very symbolic of a certain image of America, being artificial and slightly pointless. It is not sold in the UK and is entirely obscure; the British equivalent in terms of sociological positioning would be Pot Noodle. Hamburger Helper® has subsequently been followed by Tuna Helper® and Chicken Helper®.

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