How to Make Tater Tot Hot Dish—The Ultimate Midwest Comfort Food

When you need a comforting meal full of your favorites, pile meat, vegetables, condensed soup and Tater Tots into a casserole pan. Bake until bubbly, and you have yourself a Tater Tot hot dish.

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A regional icon that has appeared on hats, as a state congressional competition and in song, Tater Tot hot dish has spent decades as required fare at Midwestern potlucks and gatherings.

The key ingredients remain the standard but may vary in flavor depending on what’s in the fridge and cupboard. After all, hot dish was invented by busy, thrifty women eager to quickly feed a hungry crowd.

What Is Tater Tot Hot Dish?

Although variations abound throughout the Upper Midwest, Minnesotans claim the origin of hot dish, sometimes mashed up as “hotdish.” The name may be unfamiliar in the corners of America, where most people call the layers of protein, vegetables, sauce and starch a casserole. Purists argue that hot dish is simpler and more comforting.Also, check how to make a Minnesota hot dish.

Hot dish began with a macaroni base, and some modern versions still use pasta or rice. But after their invention in the 1950s, Tater Tots became a defining topping. Today, health-conscious cooks continue the tradition but may choose healthier hot dish ingredients like low-fat meats, dropping the cheese and swapping in soups and Tater Tots that are low in sodium, organic and even homemade.

How to Make Tater Tot Hot Dish

Tohas23 6053 P2 Md 03 14 1b Tater Tot Hot DishTMB studio

This recipe comes from Taste of Home contributor Victoria Mitchell. It yields six servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (90% lean)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup sliced celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of celery soup, undiluted
  • 1 package (16 ounces) frozen Tater Tots
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Chopped fresh parsley or chives, optional

Tools

  • Measuring cup: While you won’t need to measure out liquids for this recipe, a midsize cup shows how much onion, celery and cheese you’re adding.
  • Skillet: An 11-inch frying pan can hold a pound of meat and the veggies cooked with it. A heavy-bottomed nonstick version lets the meat brown evenly and is easy to clean.
  • Baking dish: Hot dish is usually served straight from the oven, so it looks best in a sturdy and attractive baking dish. This one holds the filling and potato topping without letting the cheese ooze over the sides.

Directions

Step 1: Cook the meat

top view of beef cooking In a skillet with onions and peppersTMB studio

In a large skillet, cook the beef, onion and celery over medium heat for about 10 minutes, breaking apart the meat as it browns. Cook until the beef is no longer pink and the vegetables are tender; drain as needed. Stir in the salt and pepper.

Editor’s Tip: You can boost the flavor by adding more seasonings at this stage, such as garlic, chili powder, thyme or cayenne.

Step 2: Fill the baking dish

filling a baking dish with cooked beefTMB studio

Grease a 2- to 3-quart baking dish and spoon in the meat mixture, spreading it in an even layer. Spread the soup evenly over the meat. Top with frozen potatoes.

Step 3: Bake the hot dish

Slide the dish into a 400ºF oven and bake, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, until bubbly. If the potatoes brown unevenly, rotate the dish halfway through the cooking time.

Step 4: Add the cheese

sprinkling cheese onto the baked tater tot casserole TMB studio

Remove the dish from the oven and sprinkle the top with the cheese. Bake for another 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted. If desired, top with parsley or chives before serving. Looking for more? Here’s our collection of super cozy hot dish recipes.

Tater Tot Hot Dish FAQs

What to Serve with Tater Tot Hot Dish

Fresh or lightly cooked vegetables make some of the best sides for this filling dish. A crunchy green salad with fresh fruit will add balance to your meal, but you could instead choose to roast broccoli or radishes while you have the oven going. For a comfort meal on a cold night, serve bread and butter on the side. True Midwesterners might even serve this casserole with a creamy potluck salad.

How to Store Tater Tot Hot Dish

After baking, let the dish cool completely before covering it and stashing it in the fridge. It will keep well there for three or four days. It’s also easy to prep and freeze hot dish for two to three months. Cook the filling ingredients, put them with the soup in the greased pan and then cover the pan and freeze. Leave the Tater Tots frozen separately until you’re ready to defrost and cook the hot dish. If you enjoyed this recipe, then you have got to try this Pioneer Woman’s tater tot casserole.

Leftovers can be frozen in small portions, but the Tater Tots may get soggy when they defrost.

How to Reheat Tater Tot Hot Dish

Thaw frozen hot dish, whether a full pan or a single portion, overnight in the fridge. Let thawed or refrigerated hot dish come to room temperature while you preheat the oven. An unbaked hot dish may need a few minutes added to the recipe’s stated cooking time.

It will likely take about 20 minutes to reheat a previously baked hot dish, but times can vary depending on portion size. Your safest move is to reheat until a probe thermometer registers 160°F in the center of the dish.

Julie Laing
Julie has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. Since 2016, her writing has focused on original recipes, the tools used to make them and the stories around them. As a writer for Taste of Home, Julie has covered the ins and outs of pickling, shared comfort food recipes and written about a lot of pie. She is the author of "The Complete Guide to Pickling," and writes the weekly "Twice as Tasty" food column for the Flathead Beacon, named after her food blog. Her writing and photos regularly appear on The Spruce Eats, The Kitchn, The Old Farmer’s Almanac and more. Julie lives in northwest Montana, where she and her husband fill every spare inch of their 500-square-foot cabin with homegrown and home-preserved food.