Love easy peasy recipes that your kids are gonna ask for again? You're going to be excited over this tamale casserole recipe! It's a tried and true family favorite, and it's so versatile, you're going to want to make this A LOT. Plus, it's the epitome of shelf cooking!

Jordan holding up tamale casserole and smiling, from Shelf Cooking

Ever look in your fridge, freezer, and your pantry and decide the only thing you wanna make for dinner is reservations? What if I told you that you can whip up an easy tamale casserole that tastes like a million bucks from ingredients you already have in your inventory — plus it's versatile enough to incorporate stuff you need to use up (I'm looking at you, ground beef in my freezer!)

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This tamale casserole dinner idea is not only easy to whip up, it stores REALLY well. Plus, you can even re-use the leftovers in different, clever ways if your family isn't keen on leftovers! We'll share those. But first…

You can watch the video online or click and watch below. I have ALL the details from the video (and many more!) beneath the video, so be sure to read on for full details! Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube Channel for new videos every Thursday! 

I really love to help families really tighten up their budgets by cooking yummy, homemade food for their family using first what you have on hand. Then you only run to the store when absolutely necessary. This allows you to use your grocery budget mostly for stocking up on items to keep on hand. Then you can supplement with fresh produce each week. This is called “Shelf Cooking“.

Pro Tip – Pair this yummy casserole with our Cool Whip fruit salad to use up even more ingredients!


Check your fridge and your freezer! Remember, shelf cooking is adapting and using what you have rather than letting ingredients go to waste and using something brand new.

For this recipe, instead of tomato sauce, I used leftover spaghetti sauce. As an added kitchen hack, I even added a little bit of water to the jar to make sure to get all of the saucy goodness out! #EveryDropCounts


A woman cooking ground beef in a skillet on the stove, from Shelf Cooking

Attention, shelf cookers and Shelftember fans: This recipe is perfect for using up your meats and even some of your veggies! But maybe you don't have ground beef like the recipe asks for… That's okay! Use what's in your fridge or freezer!

  • Hamburger Substitution – Chicken, shredded beef, ground sausage, ground turkey, and even shrimp make great swaps for ground beef. Bonus points if the meats are already cooked and need to be used up!
  • Vegetarian Option – Go meatless with pinto beans, tofu, lentils, mushrooms, or tempeh in place of the ground beef!
  • Corn Substitution – Use creamed corn in place of regular corn.
  • Tomato Sauce Substitutions – Instead of tomato sauce, try spaghetti sauce or enchilada sauce.

Pro Tip – Got a weird ingredient you need to use up? I found chili sauce while making this recipe, so I used the Favoreats App (use code “JORDAN15” to save 15% at checkout) for other dinner ideas! #WinWin


A woman rinsing kidney beans in a colander, from Shelf Cooking

When you check your food inventory, a lot of times you'll see ingredients you already have that'll take your recipe to the next level. I add kidney beans for protein and to stretch the meal even farther. Other things you can add:

  • Cheese – Shredded Monterey Jack cheese is perfect and it melts down well, but you can use Colby or pepper jack, too!
  • Cilantro – Chop it up and sprinkle it over the top.
  • Avocado – Sliced avocados add a buttery texture to your finished dish.
  • Jalapeño – Sliced up fresh (or from the jar) to turn up the heat.
  • Chives – Chopped chives on your casserole tastes amazing.
  • Black Olives – Use up those sliced black olives from pizza night!
  • Black Beans – You can also add in (or sub in) garbanzo beans. So good.
  • Salsa – Add a kick of spice and fresh flavor with pico de gallo or your favorite salsa.


Two tamale casseroles side by side on the stove, from Shelf Cooking

Not only is this tamale casserole really yummy, but the best part is that it's easily frozen! You know we're huge fans around here of making double and then freezing one batch for later when we're meal planning. It just makes mealtime so much easier!

This entire casserole can be popped in the freezer, as long as it's double-wrapped with aluminum foil. You can store it this way for up to 6 months. Then, when you're ready to enjoy, thaw it out for 30 minutes or so and pop it in the oven set at 375°F for 40 minutes!


This is truly one of the easiest meals to throw together with ingredients from your pantry. You can go keep things super simple with the tried-and-true recipe, but why don't be afraid to get creative with your own variations.

Want to take your shelf cooking a little farther? Make your very own taco seasoning recipe instead of store-bought and use up some of those spices in your cabinet! I also love to add a little extra cheese on top of the casserole prior to baking (cheese is life!).

Cooking for one or meal planning for two people? You can halve this recipe if you don't want to freeze two pans of food. That said, why not use smaller loaf pans or ramekins for smaller serving sizes that are easy to thaw and enjoy later? That way you still get the benefits of one cook for multiple meals!

Pro Tip – Add water to your ground beef while browning it on the stove to make it leaner. (You can even use the liquid from your canned corn.) Once the hamburger is browned, scoot the hamburger to the side and spoon out the liquids with a spoon.


In the very unlikely event that you have leftovers, you can easily store the rest for later. Simply cover the cooled baking dish with an airtight lid or plastic wrap and then store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Then reheat in the microwave and serve.


If it's something we love, it's repurposing leftovers! Have tamale casserole leftovers? Here are some easy ways to use them up:

  • Tamale Casserole Scramble – In a large skillet over medium heat, heat a cup of chopped casserole and scramble it with 5 eggs. Serve it up with sour cream and cholula sauce!
  • Tamale Topper – Reheat the casserole in a skillet over medium heat, chopping it apart with a spatula. Then serve over cooked noodles or rice!
  • Tamale Goulash – In a slow cooker, add the remaining casserole. Then toss in some cooked noodles, sour cream (or cream cheese), and some shredded cheese. Heat until warmed completely through and enjoy (again)!


Ready to see just how easy this recipe can be?!

Jordan holding up tamale casserole and smiling, from Shelf Cooking

Tamale Casserole

Double this recipe and freeze half for later! This recipe is a family favorite and really knocks our socks off.
4.60 from 10 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 8


  • 3/4 cups water
  • 1 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 cup whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp taco seasoning
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 15-oz. can kidney beans, drained
  • Sour cream, optional

Tamale Corn Meal Topping

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 4 Tbsp butter


  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Brown ground beef in a medium pan over medium heat. Drain any excess grease.
  • Add the onions and peppers; cook until the onions are soft and translucent.
  • Add the tomato sauce, corn, salt, and taco seasoning. Add 1 ½ cups water and stir. Then turn the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Add in the cheese and stir until melted.
  • Add kidney beans.
  • Divide the mixture into two 9 X 13 baking dishes (you're going to freeze one for later).

Prepare the Topping

  • Place cold water, salt, and cornmeal in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
  • Once the mixture has thickened, remove the pan from the stove and add butter. Mix.
  • Spread the mixture evenly on top of the casseroles. Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes until golden and bubbly.
  • Serve immediately. Top with sour cream (optional).


How to Freeze/Thaw
Once your second dish has cooled, triple wrap with foil. Write “Tamale Casserole” on top with a permanent marker, along with the baking instructions. Stick in the freezer for an easy meal!
When you're ready to eat the frozen meal, stick it in the fridge the day before to give it plenty of time to thaw and bake like normal. You can also cook it from frozen, you'll just need to add some extra cook time. Cook covered for an hour, then uncover and cook an additional 10-15 minutes until golden brown and cooked all the way through.
Keyword family-favorite, use leftovers, versatile

Once that yumminess comes out of the oven, serve it up warm with our homemade refried beans or some of your leftover rice! It’s oh so comforting and delicious. Go for that second helping. We won’t judge.

Our mouths are watering just thinking about this casserole recipe! Grab some ground beef today and serve up some warm, homemade yumminess at your next family dinner.

I hope you guys enjoy this recipe and see that by using the ingredients you have, you can make some awesome meals without having to run to the store.

What do you like to add to your casserole? How do you use the leftovers? Tell us in the comments below or in our Facebook Shelf Cooking community!

Image with text that reads "cook with me - tamale casserole" from Shelf Cooking

Looking for more delicious homemade goodness? Try these ideas.

Enjoy and have fun with your shelf cooking!

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