In Defense of Stouffer’s Frozen “Macaroni & Beef”

Enough tiptoeing around the issue. I’m going to come right out and say it. Stouffer’s brand Macaroni & Beef with Tomatoes is the best godamned frozen dinner you can ever eat. Ever. All right, naysayers, I hear what you’re saying, with your wailing protests of Hungry Man XXL “Backyard BBQ,” and Kid Cuisine “Fiesta Beef Taco Dippers,” but no. You’re wrong. Stouffer’s hearty mix of tomatoes, beef, and elbow macaroni is the only acceptable thing that could ever come out of your microwave. Ready in just four minutes, and weighing it at only 330 calories and 700,000 grams of sodium, this one is a delight to all the senses. I like to microwave mine a little too long, so I get a nice crust around the rim. Mix in some red pepper flakes, crack a Shipyard Pumpkinhead, and you’ve got a delicious ten minutes in front of you, my friend.

It is important to always keep a backup box on the bottom shelf in the freezer, what my Dad used to refer to as his “emergency” stash of macaroni and beef, for a delicious emergency that he never explained, and that never seemed to arrive. Always, always, always have at least two boxes on hand. Why two? Because you need one as a liferaft. You can even write “For Emergency Use Only” on it in black Sharpie, but that’s just me. If you only have one, then you will never eat it. Because if you eat it, it will be gone. And then you won’t be able to eat it.

On the surface, this may look like that “American Chop Suey” made-up food, that government-issued canned gruel that used to get ice cream-scooped onto your tray in the fourth grade. But it’s not, and I dare you to try and make it from scratch. It can’t be accomplished. “Oh, but Malcolm,” I imagine you saying, “You can just mix some hamburger into a box of macaroni and cheese!”

Well, sir, such an imaginary response makes me want to smack your imaginary face. You think I haven’t tried that? It’s not the same thing, not by a long shot. I’ve looked at the attempted recipe knockoffs online. I’ve even tried buying every item on the ingredient list (except, of course, for the dextrose, cultured whey, and other items generally unavailable to home cooks), in an effort to bulk-replicate the results found in this tiny plastic tray.

But no. There is no replicating this synthetic food magic, this mix of flavors, the zip of the tomatoes, the hearty chunks of beef. It’s bliss in a tiny red box.

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the taco-centric blog "Eat More Tacos," and the junk food-centric "Spork & Barrel." His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.


  1. My nine year old loves box mac n cheese. Some of them are very good.

    This macaroni and beef dish is what I call beefaroni. A friend’s Mom would make a vat of it from scratch and feed scores of us. One fall day I was fondy remembering this and made a batch. It was easy and delicious. Another bulk dish she would make in the cold weather was corn chowder. Oh and they were Mainers.

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    1. I just ate a box. It was delish. The secret ingredient is chili sauce. This is not what it sounds like, it’s kind of a sweet ketchup, old fashioned – it was a goto condiment for my Grandmother, who was born about 1890.

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  2. I couldn’t agree more, although I think the chili sauce may be on the rite track………
    We usually have some in the frige or on the shelf but of course, when it really counts, it’s not there. Oh the frustration of it all.
    Here’s to frozen magic and our attempts to duplicate it!

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    1. Actually you can order it through food service companies (Sysco or US Foodservice). It comes in huge aluminum trays like the lasagna. You just need a restaurant connection to buy it.

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  3. i’m sitting here eating my favorite u know what and grinning from ear to ear. i’m from michigan and fell in love w/it in MY grade school cafeteria. it was Wednesdays and i made my mom give me 35cents to ‘buy’ that day. i was 7 in 1957! i too have tried to duplicate with no luck….boo hoo. i am glad to see there are some traditions that are being passed on! lol.

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  4. I absolutely love the stuff, too. I make my own version, but Stouffer’s is totally different. I had to write. Idon’t think it has chilli powder, however. I have a sensitivity to chili powder and really can’t tolerate it. No problem with Stouffer’s Mac and Beef. By the way, I’m also from Michigan same era.

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  5. OMG!! I had no idea that there were so many of us! I used to think that the only time I could have this special meal was when the rest of my family had other plans for dinner. I thought i had to eat Stououffer’s Macaroni and Beef in secret. Now that I know there is no shame I can’t find any in Wal Mart or Publix!! REALLY?!?!?!

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  6. No truer words have ever been spoken. And your dad would slap the SH!7 out of you if he knew you were trying to replicate the impossible. The point of this is that its frozen and ready to go during an EMERGENCY, M#(@*#$#r. Oh, you say, what possible emergency could necessitate an extra box of Stouffer’s Macaroni & Beef ™? OH, you don’t want to know. NO. YOU DON’T. Your dad does, tho. He, likely survived the tripped up 70’s & trickle down ’80’s and experienced a withdrawal or two. I trying not to LMAO at the thought of mass producing this. Some things are just not to be trifled with. I thought you understood, but after reading the comments, I think you are still on a journey, my friend… still walking down that path of hope. Foolish human.

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  7. I live in Manhattan ( native )and it’s damn near impossible to find Stouffers mac n beef here….REALLY? In N.Y.C. really? Yes, really. Malcolm.. I’m in love you Stoufferboy, let’s get married and eat mac n beef every hour of every day…OR..I can do what kids used to say..if you like Stouffers mac n beef so much..why don’t you marry it? I DO, I DO!!!

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