How to Make Minnesota Hot Dish

So you call it a casserole? Everyone knows that in Minnesota, we call it hot dish. Here's how to make this specialty at home—wherever you are.

Minnesota hot dish: It’s hot and creamy with a hint of crunch. If you live in St. Louis or Cedar Rapids, you’ll call it a casserole. But Minnesotans give it the most straightforward of names. Who needs a word derived from Middle French to describe a mixture of canned and frozen ingredients baked until bubbly?

Whatever you call it—and whether you bake it in glass, ceramic or enameled cast iron—let’s all agree that it’s simple, filling and easy on the budget.

What Is a Hot Dish?

You’ll surely want potholders to slide it out of the oven. Beyond that, there’s a lot of room for creativity.

Classic versions often use ground beef, corn, cream of mushroom, tater tots and cheddar cheese. But you can swap out the beef for another protein, like sausage, chicken or tuna. Peas, carrots and tomatoes can replace or accompany the corn. The filling can have macaroni or spaghetti.

Any cheese that melts well will do—how about pepper jack or fontina? And you can get your crunchy topping from fried bacon, onion rings, corn flakes or potato chips.

Western Wisconsinites have been known to call a casserole a hot dish, too. We’re sure it’s delicious with smoked brats and squeaky cheese curds.

Check out more must-try recipes from Minnesota to get your fill of Upper Midwest cuisine.

How to Make a Hot Dish

Quick tater tot bake in a casserole dishTMB studio

To make hot dish, you’ll need three key ingredients: meat, canned soup and a starch. Some Minnesotans will insist that it’s only hot dish if it’s topped with frozen tater tots, but others allow rice or noodles to fill in. The exact combo is up to you. We’ll walk you through how to make this easy, classic tater tot casserole recipe.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 to 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2/3 cup 2% milk
  • 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 package (16 ounces) frozen tater tots
  • 1 cup shredded or freshly grated cheese (Our Test Kitchen likes a sharp cheddar with this recipe, but Swiss, Colby or jack would also be good.)

Directions

Step 1: Preheat the oven

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Step 2: Cook the meat

Break out your Dutch oven or a large skillet—cast iron works great here. Heat it over medium heat, then add the ground meat and onion. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the meat and onions are golden brown. Drain any excess grease.

Editor’s Tip: You can add more seasonings at this stage if you like. Garlic powder, thyme or cayenne would work well.

Step 3: Fill your baking dish

Transfer the cooked ground meat and onion mixture to a greased, two-quart baking dish—preferably a shallow one—and spread in an even layer. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the milk and condensed soup, then pour it over the meat and onion mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and top with frozen tater tots.

Step 4: Bake and serve

All that’s left is to pop this dish into the oven and bake it uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes or until the tots are toasty.

Serve it up with a quick side salad and some homemade rolls and you’ve got dinner. If you really want a full Midwestern experience, try these Midwestern desserts right from the heartland. They’re just the way to finish off this meal!

Minnesota Hot Dish FAQs

How do I store hot dish leftovers?

Once the dish has cooled, cover it and pop it into the fridge. You can safely refrigerate the leftovers for 3 to 4 days.

Can I freeze a hot dish?

Yep. We have great instructions for freezing any casserole. You can freeze this one after assembling, but before baking. (In other words, don’t freeze it before you cook the meat and onions.) We recommend keeping the tater tots separate so they don’t get soggy.

You can also freeze the leftovers. Transfer them to the smallest freezer-safe container they’ll fit in to minimize ice crystal formation and freezer burn. To reheat, thaw in the fridge overnight, then bake in a 350º oven until the internal temperature reaches a safe 165º. However you freeze it, eat it within 2 to 3 months.

Whatever you do, don’t stick the actual hot casserole dish into your freezer. At best, it will raise your freezer temperature; at worst, the dish will shatter.

How can I make this hot dish my own?

One way is to make it vegetarian or vegan. Use plant-based meat substitutes and dairy-free condensed cream of mushroom soup.

Another way is to change up the mix-ins. Do you have marinated, grilled artichokes on hand? How about roasted red peppers or frozen spinach? A soft goat’s milk or sheep’s milk cheese would also be interesting.

Think about condiments, too: Try adding a splash or two of Worcestershire sauce to the meat or squirting sriracha atop the tots before digging in.

Find More Hotdish Recipes from the Midwest
1 / 17

Amy Fontinelle
Amy Fontinelle has been an online content creator since 2006. Her work has been published by Forbes Advisor, The Motley Fool, Business Insider, Investopedia, International Business Times, MassMutual, Credible, and more. Amy cares about making challenging personal finance topics easy to understand so people feel empowered to manage their finances and don't get taken advantage of. She wants everyone to experience the peace of mind and freedom that come from financial security. Amy spends much of her free time in the kitchen making her own pizza dough and ricotta cheese.