Old School Lunch Lady Hamburger Gravy

A few weeks ago while sitting at work I had a strange craving.  It was a lunch I had remembered from elementary school. Hamburger gravy with mashed potatoes.  I decided right then and there I had to have it for dinner. I looked up a recipe and found what I thought was a decent one on Allrecipes.com .

Needless to say, it was an epic fail. Not quite how I remembered it tasting back in the day. All I could envision was a hair netted lunch lady dancin’ round the school cafeteria singing into her wooden spoon MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This.”

It tasted horrible. I was so let down. Maybe it was just operator error?

Tonight I thought I’d give it another go. I tweaked it to my liking and it turned out and tasted just how I remembered it.  It’s a savory hearty, but more importantly, easy meal after a long day at work. Whips up quickly and you can take short cuts thanks to the miracle of pre-made mashed potatoes and Pillsbury biscuits.

Ingredients: (Feeds 3-4)

1 lb of beef 80/20 fat content

1 10 oz. container Swanson’s beef stock

1 container Simply Potatoes Traditional mashed potatoes

1 small can Pillsbury Biscuits

Pillsbury All Purpose Flour 3-4 Tablespoons

1/4 Cup 2% milk

Salt, Pepper, Onion Salt

Directions: Brown hamburger in skillet. Salt and pepper to taste. Add Onion salt to your liking. Do not drain fat. Add 3-4 tablespoons flour until all juices are absorbed. Then add milk and beef stock. You can add stock to your liking until you get the consistency of gravy you want. Don’t add too much because you don’t want it watery. Then turn on low and let simmer for half hour.

Bake biscuits according to package directions and right before they are brown microwave mashed potatoes according to directions.  Dish up and serve.  The family will love this quick hearty meal. It’s a great comfort food. I think I gave the Lunch Lady a run for her money today.

This isn’t a meal for everyone. My boyfriend doesn’t really enjoy it, so I’ll make it when he’s not around. More for me! I often wonder what went wrong in his life that he doens’t like hamburger gravy.

***** Update: I also no longer use packaged or processed foods, (no judgement if you do) so I’ll take the extra time to make homemade mashed poatatoes and biscuits. Sometimes, I’ll just ladle it over some mashed potatoes.

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  1. avatar

    Talk about your comfort food! I just licked the screen. I did!

    • avatar

      Jean, that’s funny! 🙂 I literally licked the plate clean and had to stop myself from having seconds. I’ve been eating like crap lately and it’s swimsuit season. Yikes! Better get out there walking, and riding my bike.

  2. avatar

    I love making this! It`s among my favourite of all “Comfort Foods”. It truly is. It’s also great ’cause I can make this, and my husband will actually eat it, so if I’m home alone, I can cook – and I don’t have to worry about the left overs ’cause he can re-heat and have a good home cooked meal.

    I usually add some peas and corn into it – cooked separately then added later. ^_^

    • avatar

      Hi Sladie, thanks for stopping by. Sorry it took me a bit to respond. I was on vacation last weekend and had a super busy week.

      My boyfriend still refuses to eat this 🙂 Which suits me just fine b/c it means all the more for me. I’ve never been a fan of peas, (used to feed them to my dog under the kitchen table)but it would be great with corn. Sorta like a Sheppard’s pie.

      Hope to see you again. Thanks for your comment.

  3. avatar

    How in heck did you get this to look so good? YUM!

  4. avatar
    Tiffany M

    I have been looking for the school lunch mashed potatoes & gravy recipe since I was pregnant with my daughter in 2009. I never found it and when I got pregnant with my 3rd I was craving the same thing. You have saved me!!! The only thing I do differently is I make the rhodes rolls instead of the kind in the can. they fluff up perfectly like the kind that you got at school. This is World Class and I can’t thank you enough!!

  5. avatar

    Is it possible to use 90/10 ground beef? I usually use 93/7. My husband has had heart surgery so I need to be careful on the grease.

    • avatar

      Connie, yes of course. Just maybe add less flour. Or add more beef stock to substitute the grease fat to soak up the flour. This recipe is very forgiving so just taste and add to your liking as you go. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  6. avatar

    My mother used to make hamburger patties, dredge them in flour, then fry until done. She would then make the gravy using same skillet returning the hamburger patties to the gravy before serving.

  7. avatar

    one can campbells french onion soup
    one can campbells golden mushroom soup
    one package brown gravy mix
    water to dilute a little
    ground beef salt and pepper to taste, fast easy, delicious, we eat this all the time

    • avatar
      Jolene Davis

      Thats all fine and good if you dont mind all the sodium, and preservatives. I prefer feeding my family food that I can pronounce all the ingredients 🙂

  8. avatar

    I thought about this cafeteria meal for years! This and the rubbery grilled cheese sandwiches were my favorite! Thank you for posting!! Yum!

  9. avatar

    Oh yeah! You nailed it! Just like in school….30 something years ago. 😉 And no chemicals or preservatives. Yummmm!

    • avatar

      Con, LOL you made my night! Thank you! Believe it or not, I rarely use the pre-made mashed potatoes anymore and I have learned to make my own biscuits. Soooooo much better. I cringed when I learned all the chemical and poisons they hide in our food. I’m mostly a from scratch girl now and avoid processed foods whenever I can.

  10. avatar
    Jutta Museus

    I like this hamburger gravy over flour dumplings.
    Just mix flour, eggs, water and seasonings (salt and pepper) until a stiff dough forms. Drop by teaspoon (first dipped in the water) into large pot of boiling water, Dumplings are done when they float, takes just a minute or two.
    We call them Wasserspatzen where I come from.

    • avatar

      Hi Jutta. Talk about coincidence! I just posted a recipe on these very noodles. My maternal grandmother was Pennsylvania Dutch and my mom made these all the time when we were growing up. I loved them. She used to add them to a roast broth. Very delicious!

      She called them “rubbs” but I researched them further and found the Pennsylvania Dutch called them rivels or rivlets.

      However, you gave me a great idea to use them with the hamburger gravy. I definitely going to try that!

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

    • avatar

      My mom made them and we called them “sinkers”

  11. avatar

    So happy to know others like hamburger gravy as much as I do!It is a great way to have an economical meal that is tasty and filling for a family.My favorite is to brown ground beef,drain,then mix cream of mushroom with milk to desired thickness.Green beans and/or corn for me!

  12. avatar

    I made this by using a beef bouillon cube and a packet of onion soup mix as a substitute for beef stock and fresh onion. Turned out great! I like adding peas right before serving, too!

  13. avatar

    Gosh, I thought i was the only one who liked this!
    I do & I remember it very well.
    Glad to find recipe 😉

    • avatar

      Sherri I was going to make h.b. gravy tonite and thought I’d check the interwebz to see if there was something that sounded better than my regular recipe.I had to laugh when your blog came up cause I replied to your Dicarlo’s pizza recipe awhile ago.Our recipes are similar except I add some worcestershire sauce to the gravy .I don’t know if it’s because we are from the same area ,but we must like the same things. Take care and keep blogging Ohio valley recipes.

      • avatar

        LOL Steve. Yup, I remember you. Hahaha Small inter web! I’m going to try the worcestershire sauce. I think I need to revisit this recipe in general because someone was kind enough to share some secret ingredients that came straight from a lunch lady!

        Hope to see you again!

  14. avatar
    Linda Staley

    My mom worked in the school lunch program. We LOVED the hamburger gravy. There were a few secrets to that great flavor….finely minced onion, finely sliced celery, and Kitchen Bouquet…found at the store in gravies, sauces, etc. 2T per pound of meat.

    • avatar

      Hi Linda. I’m totally jealous you had a mom that worked in the school cafeteria. Thanks for sharing the secret ingredients!!!! I might just try to make Kitchen Bouquet from scratch. Back when I wrote this, I was still eating processed foods, not knowing just exactly what toxic ingredients they use. Now, I mostly make everything from scratch. What a difference fresh ingredients make!

      Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and we thank your mother for feeding us hungry kids day in and day out. Lunch ladies don’t get nearly enough credit for the hard work they do.

    • avatar

      I am a retired teacher and our cooks shared the same ingredients with me. Such great memories from my school days and teaching days.

  15. avatar
    Mark Farmer

    This was one of my favorite meals back in the 60’s at school for lunch, But I also added a large amount of butter (at that time they made there own butter so it was fresh made). my wife re-introduced it to me one day and called it “Wet Meat” her mom made it all the time. she does not use the milk however.

  16. avatar

    Thank you! This is how I remember hamburger gravy, the way my dad used to make it. I’ve been searching the web for a recipe like his because I could never quite get it right by winging it. Most of the other recipes I found were made with all milk instead of mostly broth–more like a creamed hamburger, and not what I was looking for.

  17. avatar

    I was in grade school in the late 1950’s. Mash potatoes with hamburger gravy was my favorite meals for lunch.

  18. avatar
    Marlene Jeleniewski

    I have been searching for this recipe. I was in high school in the sixties and this was my all time favorite comfort lunch food. I loved the huge rolls with butter that they served with a big scoop of mashed potatoes along with the hamburger gravy over top. It carried me through the afternoon and I wasn’t even hungry for dinner after I got home!

  19. avatar

    Thank you. Have been looking for this hamburger gravy for a long time. Just like the one we all liked so well for school lunch. I think the cooks probably made double batches because so many kids wanted seconds. (That was when it didn’t require another lunch punch as long as there was some left after all had eaten). Also when schools were smaller and everyone ate pretty much the same lunch shift.

  20. avatar

    Sherri my m.i.l made this all the time .Now that she’s gone my wife or I make it .We always add a little gravymaster for color and a good dash of worcestershire .Over mashed potatoes with peas on the side and a good dinner roll and we are in comfort food heaven.Love your blog.

  21. avatar
    Diane Smith

    This is a really great recipe. I did add 1tsp of beef bouillon to the mixture for added flavor and I think next time I will double the gravy. We had it over rice and really enjoyed it. Thank you.

  22. avatar

    I’m going to give this a try! I was a picky little thing when I was in elementary school (1970s), and usually brought lunch from home. But on days when they served pizza or “Snoopy Special” which is what they called ground beef & gravy on mashed potatoes, I ate school lunch. I’ve been wanting to make this for years and hopefully this will be the dish I remember. Thanks for sharing!

  23. avatar
    Contessa Timmerman

    I’ve been looking for this recipe for years. Do you know how to make Hamburger Surprise? I remember that from school she would hamburger on the inside? Thanks for your time

  24. avatar

    Sitting here at 3am and this school lunch favorite popped into my head. I knew there had to be a better way to make it than making white gravy (poor man’s gravy back in the day) and can’t wait to try your recipe. At our school the gravy was always darker brown like yours and not too thick. A friend of mine ran the school cafeteria for years so i am going to contact her and see if she has any tips for the recipe. This also made me think of the tamale pie they used to make. Yum good!
    I am so happy to have happened onto your blog. Thanks!!

  25. avatar

    When I was a child -before dinosaurs lived, water was evented, and mountains had formed -my elementary school lunch would sometimes be mashed potatoes (totally fake ones!) covered with a hamburger gravy and served with a side of canned spinach or green peas (both of which I loved).

    Now if that wasn’t heaven, let me add I got everyone’s sides without having to trade my applesauce…could life get better for a child? I think not!

    I’ve been craving that lunch for the longest time. But one needs to understand that “THAT” gravy was not just any ole hamburger gravy. It had a distinctive (which means wonderful) taste to it. A taste that made a child who got s glimpse of the weekly menu dream about that lunch…so imagine my surprise when I came across this recipe. I was hopeful but not believing, well, that is, until I took my first bite!

    You nailed it! I am in lunch heaven and, as such, thought it only fair to take the time to say thank you for posting this recipe.

    Absolutely GOOD EATS!!!

  26. avatar

    OoooooMyyyyyyGoooosh!!! I made this last night. I am 59 and had a craving for one of my favorite school lunch foods. It tasted exactly as I remembered. I didn’t have onion salt so added onion powder and garlic salt and used Better Than Bouillon. I could have eaten it all. Thank you so much for your recipe. Yummmmm!

  27. avatar

    Man, this was spot on! It was really nostalgic for me and really tasted great. Remember there was a chicken one similar to this with yellow gravy and chunks of chicken? Those were the good ol’ days!

  28. avatar

    OmG! This is exactly what I needed. I have been wanting this dish for weeks and your picture is the only one that looked like the consistency I remember from school. So I made it tonight and it was just as I remembered! Thank you so so much!

  29. avatar

    It was called mashed potatoes with meat blanket in the 60’s at my grade school, and it was one of very few lunch meals I liked. I hated everything! But I loved this. Will have to try it soon – thank you so much for posting. It’s embarrassing how much I loved this school lunch.

  30. avatar
    Colleen Mcmillen

    Making this tonight!!!
    Oh my goodness it’s only 10:30 am and my mouth is watering!!!
    I thought I was the only one that liked this!
    I remember the first time it was served to me .
    I looked at it like it was dog food.
    Well needless to say I was hungry so I tried it and that’s that! 35 years later here I am searching for the recipe.
    Can’t wait for dinner!

    • avatar

      Colleen, Hello and thanks for commenting. I’ve made a few adaptions since I first posted the recipe. Now, I alway make homemade mashed potatoes and biscuits. Sometimes, I just have it over mashed potatoes. I also add a few dabs of Worcestershire sauce and a tsp of brown sugar to the gravy. Someone left me that tip and it makes all the difference. My boyrfriend doesn’t really like this meal, so when he’s not around is when I like to make it. I often wonder what’s wrong with him.

      I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed reading your comment!


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