Best Shepherd’s Pie Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep: 20 min. Bake: 30 min.
Nothing hits the spot quite like a traditional shepherd's pie recipe when you're needing some good old-fashioned comfort food.

Updated: Mar. 14, 2024

Dinner featuring a rich, savory meat filling and clouds of fluffy mashed potatoes is guaranteed to be a hit with everyone at the table. While countless versions and adaptations of this heart-warming dish exist, a traditional shepherd’s pie recipe is the one we always come back to.

This old-fashioned version takes a little more time and love to create since the mashed potatoes are made from scratch (instead of using leftovers or store-bought), and the shepherd’s pie is baked in the oven before serving. The effort is worth it, since you end up building layers of slow-cooked flavor into this homey family dinner favorite.

What is traditional shepherd’s pie made of?

While lamb is technically most traditional for shepherd’s pie, this recipe uses beef since it is more affordable and accessible in the United States. Therefore, this recipe could also be considered a traditional cottage pie if you’re into semantics (here’s more about the difference between shepherd’s pie and cottage pie). Most shepherd’s pie recipes also contain vegetables, and the filling usually has a gravy-like sauce.

Ingredients for a Traditional Shepherd’s Pie Recipe

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For the meat filling

  • Ground beef: Beef gives this cozy dish tons of flavor and richness. An 80/20 blend will give the most flavor (fat equals flavor!), but a leaner 90/10 blend is fine, too. Here are other ground beef recipes you’ll want to keep handy.
  • Vegetables: This recipe uses a blend of sweet red peppers, onion, and corn to add flavor, color, and plant nutrients. Can you use frozen vegetables? Of course! No need to thaw before adding to the beef mixture.
  • Cream of mushroom soup: A lot of recipes start with a can of cream of mushroom soup. It’s a great shortcut ingredient that makes the filling creamy and thick with minimal time or effort.

For the mashed potatoes

  • Potatoes: Potatoes contain vitamin C, potassium and fiber, and they make a hearty topping for this old-fashioned shepherd’s pie. When it comes to what type of potato to use for mashed potatoes, we like russet potatoes for their fluffiness and Yukon Gold potatoes for their firm texture.
  • Sour cream: Sour cream makes mashed potatoes creamy and rich. You can use plain, nonfat Greek yogurt instead for a little extra boost of protein.
  • Butter: A wee bit of butter gives the shepherd’s pie mashed potato topping a subtle crust and a warm golden hue.

Directions

Step 1: Prepare the potatoes

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Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, mash the cooked potatoes and sour cream until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Editor’s Tip: Feel free to substitute the mashed potatoes in this recipe with your family’s favorite, or try different kinds of mashed potatoes for the topping.

Step 2: Make the beef filling

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In a large skillet, cook the ground beef with the onion and red peppers, breaking up the beef into small pieces as it browns. Cook until the meat is no longer pink and the vegetables are tender; drain. Add the garlic salt to the meat mixture. Stir in the cream of mushroom soup, corn and milk.

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Editor’s Tip: Draining the excess fat and water from the pan after cooking the meat and vegetables ensures the filling is not too thin or too greasy. No need to rinse ground beef, however.

Step 3: Layer everything in a baking dish

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Spread the meat filling inside a 13×9-inch baking dish. Top evenly with the mashed potatoes. Drizzle with the melted butter.

Editor’s Tip: You can’t go wrong with a good roster of recipes for dinners made in a 13×9 pan.

Step 4: Bake

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Bake, uncovered, until shepherd’s pie is heated through and the potatoes are slightly golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley (if desired), and serve.

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Recipe Variations

  • Leave out the mushroom soup: If you’re not a fan of cream of mushroom soup, you could swap it out for a can of cream of celery soup. You could also try making your own homemade cream of mushroom soup for this recipe.
  • Make it with lamb: If you’re a purist who wants to make authentic shepherd’s pie with lamb, you can swap out the ground beef for an equal amount of ground lamb. Or use a half beef-half lamb mixture.
  • Make it vegetarian: For a hearty meatless shepherd’s pie, swap out the ground beef for your favorite vegan meat crumbles.
  • Try a fusion shepherd’s pie: Make a pie that borrows flavors from other cuisines, like our southwestern shepherd’s pie or sweet potato shepherd’s pie.

How to Store Traditional Shepherd’s Pie

Store shepherd’s pie leftovers in an airtight container for up to four days. Leftovers may be warmed gently on the stovetop or in the oven until heated through. You can also microwave the leftovers. Just use a reduced power setting to prevent the filling from curdling.

Can you make traditional shepherd’s pie ahead of time?

Yes, you can traditional shepherd’s pie ahead of time (it’s one of the greatest make-ahead meals!). Prepare Steps 1 through 3 as directed, but let the filling cool almost to room temperature before topping with the potatoes. Then cover the dish with foil, and transfer it to the refrigerator. The shepherd’s pie may be stored for up to two days before topping it with melted butter and baking it as directed in Step 4.

How to Freeze Traditional Shepherd’s Pie

Traditional shepherd’s pie also makes a great make-ahead freezer meal. To do this, prepare the beef filling as directed, but do not add the milk. Let it cool slightly, then freeze the meat filling in a freezer-safe container. You can also make the mashed potatoes ahead and freeze them in a separate container. Store in the freezer up to three months. To prepare, thaw the filling and potatoes in the refrigerator overnight. Gently warm the filling in a large skillet on the stovetop until heated. Stir in the milk, then assemble and bake the recipe as directed in the main recipe.

Traditional Shepherd’s Pie Tips

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Why is my shepherd’s pie filling runny?

Your shepherd’s pie filling might be runny due to excess moisture. Meat and vegetables release water and fat as they cook. A thin shepherd’s pie filling may be due to not draining the filling well enough before adding the soup and milk. If you feel your shepherd’s pie filling is too thin, you can prepare a cornstarch slurry before layering the filling in the pan with the potatoes. To prepare a cornstarch slurry (one of the best thickeners), whisk together cornstarch and water. Add the slurry to the filling, then cook until the filling has thickened and reduced a bit.

Can I make shepherd’s pie with instant potatoes?

Yes, you can make shepherd’s pie with instant mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes made from fresh potatoes are undeniably better in both taste and texture, but if you’re unable to boil and mash fresh potatoes, you can make an equal amount of boxed instant potatoes instead. Bonus: There are many ways to make instant mashed potatoes taste better.

Best Shepherd's Pie

Prep Time 20 min
Cook Time 30 min
Yield 10 servings.

Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cooked
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 can (10-1/2 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 can (15-1/4 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Chopped fresh parsley, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, mash potatoes with sour cream. Add salt and pepper; set aside. In a large skillet, cook beef with onion and red pepper, crumbling beef, until meat is no longer pink and vegetables are tender; drain. Stir garlic salt into meat mixture. Stir in soup, corn and milk.
  2. Spread meat mixture into a 13x9-in. baking dish. Top with mashed potatoes; drizzle with the melted butter.
  3. Bake, uncovered, until heated through, 30-35 minutes. If desired, sprinkle with parsley.

Nutrition Facts

1 cup: 389 calories, 20g fat (9g saturated fat), 81mg cholesterol, 625mg sodium, 32g carbohydrate (6g sugars, 4g fiber), 20g protein.

This is the best shepherd's pie recipe I've ever had, and it comes from a friend who was a whiz at pinching pennies without sacrificing hearty flavor. —Valerie Merrill, Topeka, Kansas