Hamburger Tater Tot Casserole (The Comfy Pants of Dinner Recipes)

June 29, 2019
Hamburger Tater Tot Casserole (The Comfy Pants of Dinner Recipes) - Over the years the casserole that's maintained a soft spot in my heart.

Happy Saturday!

What are you up to this weekend?

June 2019

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We're going to a play!  I can't think of the last time I've been to one, and I'm excited for an excuse to get dressed up and go on a date.

Also on the agenda?  We're hosting the first dinner party in our new place.  Even though they're old friends, and we've been entertaining forever, we're surprisingly nervous and fretting about the funniest things.

On the menu?  Burgers on the grill and an almond flour cake from my latest cookbook.  For sides; ring macaroni is always great, and this avocado toast salad is on my short list of things to try

Whatever you're up to, I hope you have a good one.  And as my neighbor always used to reminded me ..

“Take gentle care of yourself.”

Hamburger Tater Tot Casserole (The Comfy Pants of Dinner Recipes) - Over the years the casserole that's maintained a soft spot in my heart.

A month or so ago, my husband and moved back in together.  This is the last picture taken in my old kitchen.  My old apartment, where I lived and cooked, for nearly nine months.

The place with kind neighbors who helped me the night Lucy passed; even though they were hosting a dinner party, and I was knocking frantically on their door in my pajamas.  The place with the newly-minted attorney who told me stories of movies and bookstores; dates gone right, and dates gone wrong.

The place with the puppies who stopped to say “Hi,” knowing I always had a treat jar.  The place where, I'd lay in bed, gazing at the twinkling lights of the city, until I fell asleep.

I'm grateful life keeps moving, but I still really miss that apartment, especially at night.

Last Photo + Cookie Making, May 2019

The day after we moved in, the kitchen was hardly set up, and I felt like an alien, trying to find my way around a new planet.  I also had a craving for tater tot casserole.

The last time I ate one, the kind I’m thinking of, I'd just moved into my old apartment, and it was the special-of-the-day at one of the dive bars around the corner.  I was in a state of limbo, living amongst a sea of boxes and put-together projects; sleeping on the only sheet I could find, and searching for something that could be mine again.

And so it began.  After exercise class in the evenings, just as the sun was starting to set, I'd make that one last stop.  I'd put in my order for iced tea (two lemons, please), and tater tot casserole, extra hot and bubbly.

In the event they’d be out, I'd sometimes settle for the soup or salad.  But mostly, I'd ask how long until the next batch of tots would be ready.

“Twenty minutes, ma’am”

And so, I'd wait.  Twenty minutes, I had.  Twenty minutes, I'd use.

Hamburger Tater Tot Casserole (The Comfy Pants of Dinner Recipes) - Over the years the casserole that's maintained a soft spot in my heart. Hamburger Tater Tot Casserole (The Comfy Pants of Dinner Recipes) - Over the years the casserole that's maintained a soft spot in my heart.

After a while, I'd bring my computer and try to write about some of the other places I'd lived.

I'd lament the enormous purple bedroom in one and the family of bats in the other.  After a while, when the words wouldn't come, I'd get a little discouraged and anxious for home .. the emotion, not the place .. the casserole would arrive, steaming, and things would start to feel better

As the days passed, I started to feel stronger.  My husband and I worked toward reconciliation.  I slowly introduced him to some of the places I'd grown to love, and eventually, the tater tots in my favorite corner booth.  Where did we want to start our new life?  We had hope, and we had stamina, and we had time

  “Twenty minutes, ma’am”

Sometime that Spring, we stopped eating plates of casseroles together.  I don’t remember the last time, whether we waited for the tots or decided on soup.  There were plans to make, after all, much purging to be done, and house in need of selling.  There was the month-long rain.  We lost a bit of hope, and we lost a bit of stamina, and we lost a bit of time.

Finally, there were days of warm sunshine when the end felt near.

The paint was dry; the renovations finished, the young couple who'd made an offer, the moving truck.  Another sea of boxes and put-together projects.  A day that was chilly but sunny, filled with gratitude, and a casserole that always feels like home.

“How long until dinner?”

Twenty minutes, ma’am”

Hamburger Tater Tot Casserole (The Comfy Pants of Dinner Recipes) - Over the years the casserole that's maintained a soft spot in my heart.

Hamburger Tater Tot Casseroles

They were one of my favorite things to eat as a kid, and over the years, the casserole that's maintained a soft spot in my heart.

To page through an Iowa country church cookbook, and you'll find a few different versions of this quintessential comfort food.  It's a staple at church basement potlucks.  Many would argue that one isn't a Midwesterner until you're able to properly apply a layer of tater tots to a 9×13 casserole dish of creamed soup.

A typical tater tot hot dish is made of ground beef, cream of something soup, along with peas or green beans under a bed of store-bought tater tots.

A few notes about the recipe:

Amy's organic makes a lot of cream-of-something soups that are cleaner and gluten-free

Ore Ida Tater Tots are gluten-free

If you don't thaw the tots, this makes a great freezer recipe



~ Adapted from the Sugar ‘N Spice Cookbook (United Methodist Church Estherville, Iowa)

Hamburger Tater Tot Casserole


  • 1 ½ lb. ground beef
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 8 oz. package mushrooms, chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ package Lipton Onion Soup Mix
  • 1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can condensed cream of potato soup (or cream of chicken soup)
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 16 oz. package frozen mixed vegetables, thawed and drained
  • 1 cup french-fried onions
  • 1 -2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 package Tater Tots, thawed


  • Preheat oven to 375° F and lightly butter a 9x13" pan (or an equivalent sized vessel)
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, add the onions, mushrooms, ground beef, a strong pinch of salt, and a grind or two of black pepper. Cook until the meat is no longer pink.
  • In a bowl, combine the soups, milk, and Lipton soup mix. Add to the skillet and simmer for ten minutes or so.
  • Remove the skillet from the heat, add the mixed veggies. Stir to combine.
  • In the baking dish, layer ½ hamburger mix and ½ of the french onions. Repeat.
  • Sprinkle with cheese and top with Tater Tots
  • Bake, uncovered for 15-20 minutes, or until bubbly and the tots are golden brown
Serves: 12
Nutrition + Show
Calories 362
Total Fat 19.2g
Saturated Fat 6.8g
Carbohydrates 27g
Fiber 2.7g
Sugars 2.7g
Protein 21g
Print This Recipe

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  • Reply Brenda November 17, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    Being from MN. I grew up on hot dishes, these are the ultimate comfort food. Living in TX now, I made this once for my family and they didn’t care for it, but once I changed the name to Cowboy casserole and kicked it up a notch they instantly loved it. 🙂

  • Reply Abbie June 30, 2019 at 8:22 am

    5 stars
    This recipe is simply charming. It feels like Shepherd’s Pie turned back for grade-schoolers. Nothing could make me smile more!

  • Reply Marie July 3, 2019 at 3:07 am

    5 stars
    Oh my goodness my aunt serves this at all family functions and I LOVE it!! #Tots4Life

  • Reply Andy July 12, 2019 at 7:04 am

    5 stars
    I have never heard of hotdish in my life, and thank you ever so much for introducing me to this marvelous sounding concoction. I have a work potluck this month and I now know what I will be bringing. Mmmmm yummy!

  • Reply Stacy July 17, 2019 at 8:28 am

    Is this something that could be put into a crockpot? Most of my potlucks don’t include an oven nearby. Make everything ahead of time, put it into the crockpot, brown up the tater tots in the oven and place those on top, let warm for a couple of hours? Thoughts? This looks delicious!

  • Reply Cindy July 18, 2019 at 4:51 am

    Tator Tot Hotdish. Nothing. Better. Ever. Well maybe not ever, but close. Growing up in south-central Minnesota, this hot dish was on a weekly rotation in the winter. Easy, fairly inexpensive, and filled multiple hungry bellies. It also comforted many a person after a funeral – a classic dish for the meal at church after a Lutheran funeral. With buttered soft bread buns, jello, and of course, bars. Plates and plates of them.

    This dish was our dinner of choice when my two teenage girls were on the school basketball team. Especially in early spring when it was just plain cold out on the river.

    True confessions? I never bothered making my own cream sauce. Just opened the can of Campbell’s cream of a mushroom …😋

  • Reply Debbie July 22, 2019 at 5:42 pm

    I season each layer of the tater tot hotdish I make. For the tater tots, I season with smoked paprika and pepper. Ground beef seasoned with green pepper, onion, garlic powder, always, salt and pepper. Most church cookbook recipes say “season to taste” which doesn’t mean just salt and pepper. My mom and grandma worked for years on recipes getting the flavor just right. I’ve heard tv chefs say that midwestern recipes only season with salt and pepper, eg “simple” —. But s&p is the starting point.

  • Reply Stella August 5, 2019 at 10:57 am

    I was in LA a few years ago at an art gallery (long story) and one of the hipster assistants was fascinated I was from the midwest (lived here all my life). He had heard of something eaten only in Minnesota and wanted to know if I’d ever tried it, but couldn’t think of the name. I suggested lefsa, pork chops on a stick a the Fair, and Jello salads. Nothing rang a bell until I said “hot dish” and he shouted, “That’s it!!” I swear, he thought it was something served in a very hot or warm bowl/pan – literally, a hot DISH. When a friend told him it was actual food – he thought he had been pranked. After I explained, he asked why we just didn’t keep it simple and call it a “casserole”. I replied that when I was growing up, a “casserole” was the DISH you put the hot dish in. He stopped talking to me after that…… 🙂

  • Reply Kelsey August 28, 2019 at 2:45 pm

    5 stars
    YAS! I don’t care what anybody says – casseroles and hot dishes are the bomb and get a bum rap. And tater tot hotdish?! yummers. This does bring back some childhood comfort food feels.

  • Reply Angie September 5, 2019 at 9:22 am

    Just wanted to pop in and say this recipe is wonderful thank you, Ali! This has been on my “to make” list for years and after seeing your fargo hotdish story I finally I had the chance to make it tonight. It’s delicious – my husband even went back for extra 😉 And as a bonus, we packed away the leftovers for meals for the rest of the week!

  • Reply Kim September 17, 2019 at 12:43 am

    5 stars
    Our family loved this. Doubled recipe. Sprinkled a little bit of steak spice on the beef for flavor and a tbsp of Worcestershire sauce and some garlic and onion. I also used one cup of cheese in the beef mix and added another 1/2 cup of cheese on top. I used bean and bacon soup because that’s what my mom used when I was a kid. Added frozen avocado instead of corn. I also only put tater tots on the top layer and the cooked better and were crisp. Everybody asked for it again this week. Thanks, Ali!

  • Reply Nancy September 19, 2019 at 10:39 pm

    This seals the deal….I must get on the tater tot casserole bandwagon!!!

  • Reply Lisa September 30, 2019 at 5:15 am

    Yum! I’m a born and raised in Saint Paul and love any hotdish that doesn’t contain cream of crap soup. This will definitely go for a spin in our meal rotation! Thanks for the wonderful recipe!

  • Reply Paula October 1, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    5 stars
    Being a Minnesota transplant from the Chicago area as a pastor’s wife 30 years ago, the tater tot hotdish was new to me. But, being the good Lutheran girl that I am, I knew that this new name for casserole was just that-a new name. I’ve also learned that hot dishes are very forgiving: add or subtract ingredients to your preference. Just don’t skip (or scrimp) on the tater tots!

  • Reply Barb October 1, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    5 stars
    Fall used to be ‘sweater weather’ for me, which is the loveliest time of year. From now on it will always be hot dish weather for me, the best, coziest comfort food ever.

  • Reply JoAnna October 5, 2019 at 5:24 pm

    5 stars
    This looks like the ultimate comfort food dish! I’m thinking about tinkering with a veggie version, and I know the tater tots will please my tot-loving husband who says they always remind him (in the best way possible) of his grade school cafeteria days. Have a fun snow day – I’m jealous! It’s only just begun to get really chilly in Indianapolis 🙂

  • Reply Meg October 7, 2019 at 10:30 am

    5 stars
    This was killer good. I reheated the second night and cooked the tots more- it was much better. Get those tots well done and it will rock your world.

  • Reply Amber October 7, 2019 at 11:37 am

    5 stars
    This looks incredible! I will have to make it for dinner one evening. I’ve always loved tater tots. And I love comfy pants 😉

  • Reply Tammy October 7, 2019 at 4:14 pm

    5 stars
    OMG I’m making this weekend’s football game! As the only Minnesotan attending the Brooklyn-based party I need to rep the home/host state! I’m excited to try this version that doesn’t include 3 cans of Campbell’s ;D Thanks as always for your stellar recipes!

  • Reply Stacie October 7, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    Tator tot hot dish is what we call this dish and it is a staple in the Midwest. We’ve been eating this for years but I like your spin on the recipe.

  • Reply Theresa October 7, 2019 at 10:01 pm

    5 stars
    I’m from the Midwest and have never heard of a tator tot hot dish, but I’m glad you put it on my radar. This looks like a comforting meal that will surely hit the spot on a chilly autumn evening. I can’t wait to try it. And thanks for the GF tips on Amy’s soup!

  • Reply Rhian Westbury October 8, 2019 at 7:43 am

    I know the feeling about moving and not feeling quite right in your own kitchen. When we move next year I know I’ll have this feeling. This recipe looks great, lots of comfort food x

  • Reply Rachel October 8, 2019 at 10:34 am

    Your cat looks just like mine. I had a casserole like this when I went to see family in Minnesota.

  • Reply Ana October 8, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    5 stars
    Hi Alison,

    So glad to hear that you both are back together. I’m happy for you! 🙂

    I love casserole and this hamburger tater tot casserole looks incredibly delicious in your pictures. I bet it tastes divine and a perfect dinner recipe!

  • Reply Jackie October 10, 2019 at 10:09 pm

    Oh my goodness!!! I am really excited to try this one. I was born and raised in Iowa and tater tot casseroles were a staple. Now I live on the east coast and whenever my husband and I miss the Midwest we whip up a tater tot hot dish.

  • Reply Kendra October 12, 2019 at 9:17 am

    Seriously this looks amazing and I’m definitely going to try it! I am from Montana where “hot dishes” are a staple (along with anything white and creamy) at Lutheran functions! 🙂

  • Reply Lynn October 13, 2019 at 5:13 am

    Love a casserole or hot dish and I am going to give your spin on the old tater-tot stand-by a try. Thanks so much for posting this and I can’t wait for the monthly recipes. Casseroles and Fall just go hand in hand.

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