This Crock Pot Pizza Casserole is made with browned ground beef, tender pasta, and flavorful pepperoni. It's an easy slow cooker casserole recipe that is sure to please picky eaters, and is simple to customize to your tastes or dietary needs. Prepare early in the afternoon and avoid the dinner time rush!
If you're like me, you probably love using the slow cooker for quick and simple meals that are generally hands off. This Crock Pot Pizza Casserole is perfect for preparing in advance, for a relaxed and simple dinner time later in the day. This is perfect for weekends, or getting started on dinner while working from home.
The tender pasta is cooked right in the slow cooker, making for one less pot and one less step. How easy is that?
This crock pot pizza casserole is perfect for picky eaters, since we all know that pizza is the food that unites us all! If you like lots of veggies on your pizza, you can even add those in for extra flavor, fiber, and nutrition. I think bell peppers, mushrooms, and black olives would be a tasty additional. But that's how I like my pizza!
- Ground beef: You'll need 1 ½ pounds of lean ground beef for this recipe. You can substitute it for ground chicken or turkey if desired, but you'll need to add a little bit of oil before browning.
- Marinara sauce: Aim to find the best quality you can! I like to use Rao's or Classico, but you can use whatever you have on hand.
- Pasta: Bowties cook quickly, and don't expand too much during cooking, so I find them perfect for casseroles like this.
- Pepperoni: What would pizza be without pepperoni? Some pepperoni slices added to both the sauce and on top of the casserole give that classic pizza vibe.
- Mozzarella cheese: You may use either pre-shredded or home shredded cheese for this recipe. I prefer home shredded, but pre-shredded is ultra convenient!
- Parmesan cheese: Just a bit for topping your crock pot pizza casserole. This can be the shelf stable kind, or freshly grated parmesan. It's up to you.
- Onion: Either red or white onion works well, so whatever you have on hand is fine.
- Garlic: You'll need about 2 teaspoons of minced (or jarred garlic). This is equal to 2-3 cloves.
- Water: This helps thin the sauce and make the liquid thin enough for cooking the pasta.
- Basil: This optional ingredient really adds a punch of flavor. There's nothing like fresh basil!
How to Make Pizza Casserole in a Crock Pot
Add the marinara sauce, water, half of the shredded mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil to the crock pot.
Add the pepperoni slices, and then the pasta. Stir well to combine.
Brown the ground beef in a skillet with the onion, and crumble until browned. Drain off any excess grease, and then add the garlic, salt, and pepper, and sauté until fragrant.
Add the ground beef to the crock pot, and then top with the remaining shredded mozzarella cheese and pepperoni slices.
Cook in the slow cooker on "low" for 3-4 hours, or on "high" for 1 ½-2 hours. Check the pasta for doneness at the 3 hour mark (1 ½ for high), and if it is not tender and cooked through, add the lid and cook for an additional 1 hour (½ hour for high).
Tips for Success
- The most important thing is to keep the pasta submerged in liquid during the cooking time. It's okay if just a few corners poke out, but keeping it submerged in liquid will ensure the pasta cooks evenly and tenderly, without crispy bits.
- Once the pizza casserole has cooked for approximately 3 hours (1 ½ hours on "high"), check the pasta for doneness. If it still isn't tender, return the lid to the crock pot and cook for an additional 1 hour, or until tender.
- Fresh basil really adds to the flavor! You can absolutely leave it out if you don't have any on hand, but it's a highly recommended extra.
- If you would prefer, you can cook the pasta separately and add it into the slow cooker pizza casserole. You'll want to omit the water and reduce the marinara sauce to about 2 cups if you do this additional step.
Variations and Substitutions
- Instant Pot: Brown the ground beef and season as directed in the recipe. Add the marinara, water, pasta, basil, and about half of the pepperoni slices to the Instant pot. Stir to combine, then add in pasta and stir once again. Cook on high pressure for 9 minutes, and then do a quick pressure release. Stir in half of the mozzarella cheese. Then, top with the remaining mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, and remaining pepperoni slices. Serve or brown with the Instant Pot air fryer lid.
- Keto/Low Carb: Reduce the marinara sauce to 2 cups and omit the water and pasta. Increase the ground beef to 2lbs.
- Gluten Free: Substitute the pasta for a gluten free pasta of your choice, OR use the substitutions recommended for the low carb and keto option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Dry pasta, when submerged in liquids, will take approximately 3-4 hours to cook on low in a slow cooker. It will take 1-2 hours if the slow cooker is set to "high". The most important thing is that the slow cooker contains adequate liquid, and the pasta stays submerged during the cooking time.
Yes, you can cook pasta in sauce, as long as the sauce is very thin or has water added to it to thin it out. As long as the pasta has adequate liquid and stays submerged during cooking, it can be cooked in sauce, broth, or even the liquid from canned tomatoes.
Yes, casseroles can be made in a crock pot! Almost anything that can be made in the oven can be made in a crock pot with just a few adjustments. Most casseroles will take from 3-6 hours to cook, but that will change based on the particular recipe.
More Easy Slow Cooker Recipes:
- Slow Cooker Maple and Brown Sugar Carrots
- Slow Cooker Swiss Chicken Casserole
- Crock Pot Funeral Potatoes
- Slow Cooker Green Bean Casserole
- Slow Cooker Seasoned Chicken, Potatoes and Green Beans - The Magical Slow Cooker
Crock Pot PIzza Casserole
- 1 ½ pound lean ground beef
- ½ medium red onion chopped
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cups good quality marinara sauce approximately a 24oz jar
- 1 cup water
- 12 ounces bowtie pasta or medium sized pasta of your choice
- 32 Pepperoni slices divided
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil optional
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Add the ground beef to a skillet that has been heated to medium heat. Add the onion, and crumble until browned. Drain any excess fat.
- Add in the garlic and add salt and pepper to taste. Saute until fragrant, or for about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Add the marinara sauce, water, half of the pepperoni slices, chopped fresh basil (if using) and 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella cheese to the slow cooker. Stir well.
- Add the pasta, and stir to combine. Push the noodles below the liquids. This will help the pasta cook through, without too many crunchy bits. The more submerged the pasta, the butter the result.
- Add the ground beef and onion mixture into the crock pot.
- Add the remaining mozzarella cheese, Top the mixture in the crockpot with the remaining mozzarella cheese and pepperoni slices.
- Cook on low for 3 hours, then test the noodles to see if they are tender and cooked through. If not, replace the lid and cook for an additional 1 hour for a total of 4 hours.
- Garnish with the parmesan cheese, and additional chopped basil or parsley if desired. Serve and enjoy!
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