Stuffed shells with meat is my go-to recipe when I want a dinner that’s hearty, kid-approved, and that yields plenty of leftovers. (And they’re just as delicious the second time around!)

Recipe Overview

Why you’ll love it: Many stuffed shells recipes are made with a blend of ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella, but don’t include meat. This recipe is a heartier version of the classic stuffed shells recipe.

How long it takes: 30 minutes of prep, plus 40 minutes of cooking
Equipment you’ll need: large pot, baking dish
Servings: 4

Stuffed shells in a casserole dish, one removed.
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Traditional stuffed shells are fantastic, don’t get me wrong. But there’s not much there there. I’ll never turn down pasta, cheese, and sauce, but if you want something a little more substantive for dinner, stuffed shells with meat are your answer.

I love this meal because it’s a good balance of indulgence and nutrition. Yeah, it’s still pasta and cheese but you’re also getting lots of protein in there too. It feels more like a full meal although a side salad is definitely a welcome addition too! (Maybe this cucumber salad?)

And although stuffed shells with meat do take a little prep time—you have to spoon or pipe the filling into the pasta shells —using a jar of store-bought sauce makes it a lot easier, and I promise as long as you use a quality brand, you won’t notice the difference.

About this Stuffed Shells With Meat Recipe

  • The heartiest stuffed shells. Between the cheese, the pasta, and the browned ground beef (or turkey), these stuffed shells are seriously satisfying. If your family loves pasta with meat sauce, they’ll flip for this recipe!
  • Lots of leftovers. If you’re serving young kids, you’ll definitely end up with leftovers to bring with you to work the next day. While I figure about 5 shells per adult, if you have kids in the family, you’ll likely have 5 or 6 shells to pop in the fridge for later. And they’re just as good the next day!
  • Easy to meal prep. You can brown the beef in advance, make the sauce a day or two before, mix the filling ahead of time, or even assemble everything and refrigerate the casserole until you’re ready to bake it.
  • Versatile. There are plenty of options when you’re making stuffed shells with meat! I share some ideas below but feel free to make this recipe your own.
Meat sauce being spooned over cheese stuffed shells.

Ingredients Needed

  • Jumbo Pasta Shells: Look for the big shells that meant for stuffing. The Italian name for jumbo pasta shells is conchiglioni. As an alternative, you can use cannelloni pasta tubes but they are a little trickier to fill.
  • Lean Ground Beef: If you’d rather, ground turkey or ground Italian sausage can be substituted. A plant-based meat would also work.
  • Yellow Onion and Garlic: These two aromatics add extra flavor to the sauce which makes it taste more like homemade!
  • Italian Seasoning: Another secret to doctoring up a store-bought pasta sauce.
  • Spaghetti or Marinara Sauce: Use a decent one! You don’t want to use a sauce that’s thin, watery, or bland.
  • Ricotta Cheese: Whole milk, part-skim—whatever kind of ricotta you prefer.
  • Shredded Mozzarella Cheese: Freshly shredded will give you the best results!
  • Parmesan Cheese: I also recommend shredding your own Parm. It will melt much more smoothly!
  • Fresh Parsley: If you don’t have fresh, substitute 1 tablespoon of dried parsley. If you use fresh, reserve a few sprigs for the garnish, too.
  • Egg: Lightly beat the egg so it mixes evenly into the filling.
  • Coarse Ground Pepper: Fresh, coarsely ground black pepper doesn’t just add flavor but also a bit of texture to these stuffed shells with meat sauce. It’s much more aromatic than store-bought ground pepper too!
Overhead view of ingredients needed for recipe.

How to make Stuffed Shells With Meat Sauce

Preheat your oven to 375°F and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Cook the pasta. Follow the package directions. Drain and rinse the pasta with cold water until the shells are cool enough to handle. Set the shells on a baking sheet lined with paper towels or a lint-free kitchen towel to dry.

Cooking Tip

Boil the shells in a very large pot, larger than you think you need. This will help keep them from sticking to each other, then tearing.
Cooked jumbo pasta shells ina. drainer.

Make the meat sauce. Brown the onion and meat in a large skillet set over medium-high heat until the meat is cooked through and no longer pink, breaking it up as you go.

Stir in the garlic and Italian seasoning . Cook for 1 minute, or until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the spaghetti sauce and stir to combine. Remove from heat.

Make the filling. In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, a half cup Parmesan, parsley, egg, and pepper until well-combined. 

Fill the shells. Choose the method that works best for you: a spoon, a piping bag or a zip-top bag with the corner cut off. It’s up to you! Fill the shells as evenly as possible.

Assemble the casserole. Spread about one third of the sauce in the bottom of a 9 × 13 inch baking pan or dish coated with nonstick cooking spray. On top of the sauce, arrange the stuffed shells.

Pour the remaining sauce over the tops. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella and a half cup Parmesan cheese.

Bake. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Then, carefully uncover the pan and continue to bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese is browned, the shells are heated through, and the sauce is bubbling.

Let the stuffed shells rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Finished baked dish of

Ways You Can Change this Stuffed Shells Recipe

  • Make this recipe even easier: If you want to streamline this recipe a little bit, buy a high-quality jar of meat sauce and use that instead of browning your own meat. If you prefer a vegetarian casserole, simply omit the meat.
  • Make the shells without ricotta: If you’re not crazy about ricotta, substitute cottage cheese. I like to purée it first for an ultra silky texture.
  • Skip the stuffing step: You can stir small cooked pasta shells into the sauce, then layer them in a baking dish with the ricotta filling and cheese for an unstuffed shells with meat recipe, somewhat similar to lasagna.
  • Substitute cheese ravioli: For an even easier dinner, pour the meat sauce over cheese ravioli, sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan on top, and bake that until bubbly and golden. Yum. Note: If you use frozen ravioli, there’s no need to thaw them first. Add 10 minutes to the first baking time.
  • Add vegetables: Spinach is an easy addition to the filling. Thaw a block of frozen spinach, squeeze all the moisture out, then stir it into the ricotta mixture. You can also replace half of the meat in the sauce with diced mushrooms.

What to Serve With Stuffed Shells

A salad—like this classic arugula salad—is an excellent accompaniment to stuffed shells with meat. You can also work some veggies in with an easy side dish like air fryer green beans, grilled zucchini, or roasted cauliflower.

Of course, you can’t go wrong with Texas toast garlic bread either!

Make Ahead Ideas

Make stuffed shells with meat ahead of time and refrigerate the casserole until you are ready to bake it. It makes a large casserole so if you want, divide it into two dishes and freeze one to bake and eat later.

Storage & Reheating Tips

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. Reheat stuffed shells with meat in the microwave or covered tightly in a 350ºF oven until warmed through.

You can freeze these stuffed shells in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating according to the instructions above.

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Stuffed Shells with Meat

5 from 8 votes
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Total: 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Stuffed shells with meat is my go-to recipe when I want a dinner that's hearty, kid-approved, and that yields plenty of leftovers. (And they're just as delicious the second time around!)
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  • 20 jumbo pasta shells pasta (about ½ of a 12 ounce box)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, ground turkey, or ground Italian sausage
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small (about ¾ cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 jar (24 ounces) spaghetti or marinara sauce
  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon coarse ground pepper
  • Fresh parsley for garnishing, if desired


  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the pasta shells to al dente according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool them enough to handle. Place shells on a paper-towel (or lint-free kitchen towel) lined baking sheet to dry.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add ground meat and diced onion. Cook until meat is cooked through and no longer pink, breaking it up as you go.
  • Add garlic and Italian seasoning and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute or until garlic is fragrant. Add spaghetti sauce and stir to combine. Remove from heat.
  • For the filling: In a medium bowl, mix together ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, ½ cup parmesan, parsley, egg, and pepper until combined.
  • Fill the shells evenly with the cheese mixture (use a piping bag or a zip-top bag with the corner cut off to make this process easier!).
  • Spray a 9 × 13 inch baking dish or pan with nonstick cooking spray. Spread about one third of the sauce in the bottom of the dish. Arrange the stuffed shells on the sauce. Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the shells. Top with 1 cup mozzarella and cup parmesan cheese.
  • Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Carefully uncover and continue to bake for 10 minutes or until browned, heated through, and bubbling. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.


  • You may wish to boil 1 to 2 extra jumbo pasta shells in case one tears. Our 12 ounce box had 42 shells which allows you to make this recipe twice, each with an extra pasta shell, just in case.
  • Recipe retested and updated February 2024.
  • Nutrition information is calculated using lean ground beef and full fat ricotta cheese.


Serving: 5stuffed shells, Calories: 874kcal, Carbohydrates: 48g, Protein: 65g, Fat: 47g, Saturated Fat: 25g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 15g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 236mg, Sodium: 1746mg, Potassium: 1229mg, Fiber: 5g, Sugar: 9g, Vitamin A: 2177IU, Vitamin C: 19mg, Calcium: 875mg, Iron: 6mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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5 from 8 votes (8 ratings without comment)

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  1. Allison Della Bella says:

    Can I freeze and reheat these? Should I cook and then freeze or freeze before cooking? Thank you!

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      I think that would work well! I’d leave them unbaked and then thaw overnight and bake.

  2. bev @ bevcooks says:

    Oh my gosh I may die if I don’t make this yesterday.

  3. Lori @ Foxes Love Lemons says:

    This looks absolutely delicious! I love that it’s packed with veggies and still seems a little indulgent and cheesy!

  4. denise says:


  5. says:

    This looks so good. I’m all about adding as many veggies as possible!
    p.s. Your daughter is ADORABLE!

  6. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says:

    The more vegetables, the better!! Dying for this!

  7. dawn says:

    Just curious the nutrition information for this… Seems like it could be high because of the cheese.. but all those veggies may balance it out???

  8. Medha @ Whisk & Shout says:

    These shells are stuffed with some seriously yummy goodness! My mouth is watering… :)

  9. Kari@Loaves n Dishes says:

    Yum Rachel! Pasta is my one of my faves, love how this is loaded with veggies so that I can eat a giant serving and not feel guilty!

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      Yes! Love any excuse to eat a giant serving ;)

  10. Kristy says:

    I love any recipe that includes a ton of veggies :) And I agree it helps clean out the fridge before veggies go to waste!

    1. Rachel Gurk says:

      Me too! I almost always default to throwing vegetables in pasta sauce.