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Cowboy Casserole is the hearty, satisfying one-dish dinner you’ve been hoping for. Topped with crunchy tater tot potatoes, this easy ground beef recipe will definitely become your most requested meal.
Of all the Cowboy Casserole recipes out there, one thing’s for sure: this recipe is whatever you want it to be. To make things extra healthy, you can make it with ground turkey or ground chicken. You can add a can of beans, or leave them out. Like a little spice? Add a jalapeño–or two. It’s your rodeo.
Cowboy Casserole ingredients:
- Ground beef. (Or ground turkey, it’s up to you!)
- Mushrooms (white button or whatever you like) and onion
- Butter, milk, and sour cream
- Chicken stock.
- Canned diced tomatoes, canned corn
- Shredded cheddar cheese.
- Chili powder, chives, and S&P
Other optional (yet fabulously fun) ingredients:
- Rotel tomatoes
- Pepperjack cheese
- Hatch canned chilies
- Kidney or pinto beans
- Hash browns in place of the tater tots
- A handful of last night’s leftover fajita veggies.
How to make Cowboy Casserole:
These instructions take you through the basics without giving you specific ingredient amounts, which are all listed below in the recipe card. Let’s cook!
- It all starts with a creamy mushroom sauce. Melt some butter in a large saucepan, and cook the mushrooms until they release their liquid.
- Once that happens, add the onions and garlic and continue to cook until the onions soften—about 5 minutes.
- Next, stir in the flour and cook for about a minute. Then pour in the chicken stock and bring the whole mixture to a simmer. Cook another minute until the sauce thickens.
- Now stir in the milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer for another minute.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while you brown the ground beef. In another saucepan, brown the ground beef with onions, garlic, and chili powder. If you’re using higher fat ground beef, drain off the fat.
- Then combine the ground beef mixture into the mushroom sauce. Add the tomatoes, corn, sour cream, and some of the cheddar cheese—you’ll want to hold some cheese back for topping the potatoes.
- Now you’re ready to spoon the whole shebang into a baking dish. All you have to do is line up the tater tots over the whole top of the casserole, and top with the rest of the shredded cheddar.
- Pop the casserole into the oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes.
How to make Cowboy Casserole in a crockpot:
Unfortunately, tater tots don’t get very crispy in the crockpot. If your heart is set on Cowboy Casserole with tater tots, you’ll get the best results if you do it in the oven.
But don’t worry! You can still make a version of Cowboy Casserole in a slow cooker. Many people find that using thinly sliced red potatoes in place of tater tots works better in the slow cooker. For this recipe, use about 1 pound of thinly sliced potatoes (4 to 5 red potatoes).
- Proceed with the recipe as directed, by making the mushroom sauce and browning the ground beef.
- Then mix everything together: potatoes, ground beef, sauce, tomatoes, corn, and sour cream. Leave out the cheese.
- Cover the crock pot and cook on HIGH for 4 hours, or LOW for 7 to 8 hours.
- Uncover the crock pot and scatter the cheese across the top of the casserole. Cook for another 30 minutes until the cheese is melty and delicious.
Cowboy Casserole with cornbread topping:
Yee-ha! Cornbread is a fabulous topping for this casserole, but you have to make the cornbread batter first. Here’s how to do it a couple different ways: cornbread from scratch, and Jiffy cornbread mix.
There’s no shame in Jiffy’s game; it’s a classic, economical, delicious, cornbread mix that’s perfect in this recipe. In addition to a box of Jiffy cornbread mix, you need ⅓ cup milk and one egg.
In a mixing bowl, make cornbread mix as directed using the egg and milk.
Cornbread from scratch:
- ½ cup cornmeal
- 1 ½ cup flour
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup oil
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 ¼ cup milk
- Mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and add the oil, beaten eggs and milk.
- Whisk together until just moistened and no dry spots remain.
To assemble the casserole:
Now that you’ve made the cornbread, the rest is easy riding.
- Sprinkle the cheese over the beef and sauce mixture and pour the cornbread batter over everything.
- Using a spatula, gently spread the cornbread to the edges of the pan, evening it out over the top of the casserole.
- Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the edges are bubbly and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Let sit for 10 minutes after you remove it from the oven.
Cowboy Casserole with biscuits:
A trusty can of Pillsbury Grands is a wondrous thing, but you can make your own biscuits if you like.
- Separate biscuit dough into 8 biscuits, then cut each biscuit into 6 separate pieces.
- Next, top beef mixture evenly with biscuits. Brush biscuits with melted butter.
- Sprinkle the casserole with remaining shredded cheese.
- Bake at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown and baked through.
For the mushroom sauce:
For the casserole:
To make mushroom sauce:
- In a large saucepan over medium-high, melt butter until foaming. Add mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms have released most of their liquid, about 5 to 7 minutes. the onions, garlic and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle in flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually pour in the chicken stock, bring to simmer, and cook until thickened, about 1 minute.
- Stir in milk, season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer for additional 1 minute. Keep warm.
To make the casserole:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large saucepan, add ground beef and onion and cook until browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain well. Stir in garlic and chili powder until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- To the ground beef mixture, add the mushroom sauce, tomatoes, corn, sour cream and ¾ cup cheddar cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the mixture tto a 2-quart casserole pan. Top the mixture with the frozen potato tots and remaining ¾ cup cheddar cheese.
- Bake uncovered until the casserole is bubbly and the tots are golden brown, about 40 to 50 minutes. Allow cooling for at least 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh chives.
Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.