13 Ways To Upgrade Your Chef Boyardee

There was nothing quite like the Chef Boyardee you had as a kid. Maybe it was a staple meal in your household, or maybe your parents only doled it out as a treat on occasion. Whatever the case, many of us surely remember going to the grocery store, picking out a bright red can of your favorite variety, popping that lid off, nuking it (or preparing the can's contents in some other way, if you were fancy) for a few minutes, and then digging into a plate of Chef Boyardee ravioli.

Then, at some point, things changed. The magical mixture of bright orange sauce and plump ravioli with a savory filling grew lackluster. Somewhere, as you moved from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, that Chef Boyardee sauce became bland and tasteless, the meat became more mysterious than magical, and the pasta more slimy than satisfying. 

It's a shame, really. A childhood favorite was relegated to just that — a part of your childhood that you weren't eager to get back. But what if all that could change? Here are some of the best ways to upgrade Chef Boyardee from a lackluster kids' food to a convenient canned pantry staple that offers near-endless opportunities.

1. Add herbs and spices

It's a simple yet ingenious fix if your primary qualm with Chef Boyardee these days is the bland and boring sauce that comes out of the can: add more herbs and spices. It's not like there's much in the Chef Boyardee to begin with. As far as flavor goes, the ingredients list is relegated to less than 2% salt, dehydrated onion, and the oh-so-mysterious "flavoring" that you can see on many a label. The USDA says this last item could be made up of a variety of ingredients, from spice extracts to onion juice, but does it really matter when it only accounts for less than 2% of the total dish?

So, reach into your pantry or spice cabinet and pull out some of your own add-ins, starting with the typical options that go with Italian cuisine like oregano and basil. A little extra salt and pepper probably wouldn't hurt either. If you can, use fresh basil, as it's one of the herbs that is considered to be at its best fresh, not cooked. However, don't worry so much about buying fresh oregano as it holds its flavor well when dried.

2. Add garlic

Garlic makes everything better, right? So, it makes sense that adding garlic powder to your canned ravioli is a quick and easy way to bring in a new flavor, especially if you combine this upgrade with a few others on this list (fresh herbs, garlic, and cheese are practically requisites for good pasta anyway, can or no can).

You can also dress up your Chef Boyardee with fresh garlic cloves. Try mincing and sauteing the garlic before adding it to your heated Chef Boyardee (or simply heat the Chef Boyardee in the same saute pan that you use to saute the garlic). If you have a whole head of garlic, consider roasting it by trimming the top off, covering the bulb in olive oil, wrapping it in foil, and baking it. Once the garlic is roasted, you can mix the soft, spreadable garlic into your ravioli's sauce with ease.

3. Add cheese

When we say that you should add cheese to your Chef Boyardee ravioli, your brain probably immediately went to parmesan or mozzarella. After all, those are the two cheeses that you're most likely to see paired with any low-key, basic, Italian-inspired dish (especially one that comes from a can). However, we also suggest you add a cheese (or rather, a cheese-ish product) that you would probably never think to add to Chef Boyardee on your own: Velveeta.

Before you write this upgrade off completely, hear us out. Top your ravioli with Velveeta (you can add other ingredients as well, such as ground beef, onion, and garlic) and then mix it in, heating until it's melted and the mixture is bubbly. Of course, if you can't stand the thought of adding a cheese-like product such as Velveeta to your Chef Boyardee, but you're not keen on the classic parmesan or mozzarella either, you do have plenty of other options. A soft, rich ricotta can make your sauce creamier, while a harder asiago is a nice alternative to parmesan.

4. Add another pasta sauce

Okay, let's say that you just can't stand the sauce that comes in the Chef Boyardee can at all. You're not going to like it no matter how many herbs you add, no matter how much cheese you throw on top, and no matter how many cloves of garlic you peel, roast, and smash into the stuff. You simply hate the sauce. Yet, take heart, as there's still a way you can upgrade your Chef Boyardee ravioli and transform it into something you may just find scrumptious.

First, ditch the sauce by tossing your Chef Boyardee in a colander and rinsing off the tomato sauce that covers it. Then, replace the sauce with one of your own. You can use your favorite canned, jarred, or homemade marinara sauce for something basic. Or, branch out a little and try other pasta sauces, like alfredo. While the creamy sauce not a typical companion to beef ravioli, we won't judge you if you give it a whirl. Or, take a page out of Chef Boyardee's book and put together a simple butter sauce, something that the company offers paired with shaped pasta. Butter sauces for pasta really are as simple a mix as butter and a couple extra ingredients, whether that be herbs, garlic, truffles, a little lemon juice, or salt and pepper.

5. Add a protein

Depending on which type of canned ravioli you purchased, it may benefit from adding extra protein to the mix. Not only will adding new proteins to your Chef Boyardee add flavor to the overall dish, but it also help add texture as well. There are lots of options.

If you purchased Chef Boyardee's cheese ravioli, your options are the most varied. To start, you can add ground beef or sausage (or really any favorite ground protein) to the mix. Pancetta, bacon, and meatballs are also possibilities. If you purchased Chef Boyardee ravioli that already features a protein, like the Italian sausage ravioli or classic beef ravioli varieties, stick with complimentary proteins. For example, you're most likely not going to want to add relatively lean ground turkey to your beef ravioli dish, but richer bacon and beef are always a fun combo. Just make sure to fully cook whatever protein you end up adding to the ravioli before you combine the two.

6. Bake it into a casserole

If there's any type of food that shows the ingenuity of the American home cook and how creative they can get with a couple of canned goods, it's the casserole. If a Chef Boyardee casserole sounds odd at first thought, just think of how many pasta-based casseroles you likely have already eaten in your life, like baked ziti or tuna noodle casserole.

Just as when making any casserole, the steps and ingredients that go into your own Chef Boyardee casserole are really up to you. Casseroles are versatile, after all. However, for the best results, treat this casserole similarly to baked pasta. Simply put a few cans of Chef Boyardee into the bottom of a greased casserole dish, then layer it with other ingredients for extra texture, such as fresh basil, pepperoni, or ground beef. Cover it all with cheese and pop it into the oven until the cheese turns bubbly.

7. Layer it into a lasagna

Along the same lines as turning your Chef Boyardee into a casserole, you can also turn your can of Chef Boyardee ravioli into a lasagna-like dish by simply swapping Chef Boyardee ravioli for lasagna noodles. Layer your typical lasagna ingredients like you normally would, only with ravioli instead of noodles: sauce, ravioli, ricotta cheese, shredded mozzarella, and repeat, finally topping it all with more mozzarella.

Of course, just as is the case when making a Chef Boyardee casserole, you have lots of room for creativity here. Throw in some veggies, if that's your preference, such as spinach or zucchini (though you'll probably want to pre-cook these to get some of the moisture out). Use a meat sauce instead of a marinara. Use cottage cheese instead of ricotta, or add in some parmesan. It's really up to what you want and what you have on hand.

8. Thicken the sauce with tomato paste

If you're not so terribly worried about the Chef Boyardee flavors, and you're more so not a fan of the sauce's texture — because, let's face it, it's a little on the thin and watery side — there's an easy upgrade for that.

To improve that sauce, first grab a can of tomato paste and a can of diced tomatoes. Next, bring your ravioli to a gentle simmer in a saucepan. Add in the diced tomatoes (or crushed, if that's your preference), bringing in extra texture. Then, add the tomato paste until the texture is to your liking. Tomato paste is an excellent ingredient for thickening any sauce, soup, or stew, and likewise, it'll thicken your canned ravioli's sauce right up. Be careful with how much you add, though, as it is possible to over-thicken your sauce. Go with a tablespoon at a time, incorporating it slowly until you reach your desired sauce consistency.

9. Use it as a base for ravioli soup

Who doesn't love ravioli soup? An Italian soup filled with flavors, it's a warming comfort food that is just right for winter. Many ravioli soup recipes call for frozen or fresh ravioli, so in your favorite Chef Boyardee variety. You won't even need to worry about the sauce's extra liquid. Just open the can and toss it in.

Don't have a favorite ravioli soup recipe on hand? Most are pretty easy and feature a tomato and chicken, beef, or vegetable broth base, plus a mix of vegetables, protein, and herbs and seasonings typical for Italian cuisine. Consider adding ground beef or ground sausage to your ravioli soup, or vegetables such as diced tomatoes, onions, baby spinach, or squash. Throw in herbs and seasonings like oregano, basil, and garlic or onion powder. Don't forget the sprinkling of parmesan on top and, if you find that you need to thicken your ravioli soup a bit, don't be afraid to use some of that handy tomato paste.

10. Add frozen or canned vegetables

When it comes to Chef Boyardee's classic ravioli, while you might not need to worry about a high number of calories per serving (at just 180), you may raise an eyebrow at the sodium in each serving (780 milligrams, or 34% of your daily recommended intake), as well as the fact that there's just not much else in the food by way of vitamins and nutrients. You'll get 10% of your daily recommended iron, but that's about it — and this is why adding frozen or canned vegetables to your Chef Boyardee is an excellent upgrade.

Not only will you get the extra flavor and texture that veggies can provide, but you'll also get the added nutrients. Don't forget the added convenience of frozen and canned vegetables versus fresh veggies that require washing, slicing, dicing, and other preparation methods (though you're free to use fresh if that's your thing). Good options include frozen spinach, onions and bell peppers, or canned spinach, tomatoes, or mushrooms.

11. Fry it

Whether you call it fried or toasted ravioli, the concept is the same. In this cooking method, ravioli is breaded, deep-fried, and served much like mozzarella sticks, often with marinara for dipping. However, while restaurant-quality fried ravioli may feel difficult to pull off at home (even if you make it in your air fryer), you can make the process easier by frying your favorite variety of Chef Boyardee ravioli in an upgrade that completely transforms this pantry staple.

The process of frying Chef Boyardee is very similar to frying any ravioli. Drain off the Chef Boyardee's excess sauce, coat the ravioli in breadcrumbs (the residual sauce will make the bread crumbs stick), then drop them into a few inches of hot frying oil. Once the raviolis are golden-brown and toasted, place them on a paper towel to cool and sprinkle with the seasoning of your choice, like garlic salt or Italian seasoning.

12. Put it on a pizza

While Chef Boyardee does offer a pizza-making kit that comes with a dough mix and pizza sauce (in the past, Chef Boyardee has also offered pizza-flavored canned pasta), this hack takes the ravioli you know and love and incorporates it into your favorite pizza recipe. Making a Chef Boyardee ravioli pizza is pretty straightforward. You don't even need any extra pizza sauce, as the canned ravioli comes with enough to cover a small pizza. Once your dough is ready, just spread the ravioli and sauce across it in an even layer, then throw on your mozzarella before baking until done.

You may find that you prefer this hack with Chef Boyardee's mini raviolis rather than the standard size, as the miniature variety is easier to enjoy in one bite of pizza. If you've got the time, consider toasting the raviolis before adding them to your pizza for more texture.

13. Serve it on mashed potatoes

While it might not be the most common combination in American cuisine, pasta and potatoes are a likelier pair than you might think. Italian cuisine boasts a traditional dish known as cucina povera, which translates to "poor kitchen." It combines potatoes and pasta for a rustic, comfort food dish that's sure to stick to your ribs. The dish requires cooking those potatoes until they become soft and mash-able, then adding pasta and cheese. If you need more convincing, then what is potato pierogi other than mashed potatoes that have been perfectly encased in a pasta shell?

So, don't pass up on this tasty combo. For a simple hack, consider adding your ravioli to a base of mashed potatoes. Some social media users have even lauded this combo as a childhood meal option that's cheap, convenient, fast, and sure to fill you up. For the best results possible, take the time to make your mashed potatoes from scratch and consider adding extra cheese for more flavor.