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Our perfect Tamale Pie recipe is a family favorite made with seasoned ground beef and topped with homemade cornbread and cheese. This hearty tamale pie casserole is family friendly and big on flavor.
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The Best Tamale Pie Recipe
A tamale pie casserole is simple, delicious and fast. It has tex-mex flavors with a dense, cheesy cornbread-like topping. Be sure to try some of our other favorite casseroles, like Tuna Casserole, Sloppy Joe Tater Tot Casserole and Hamburger Casserole.
The base for this Tamale Pie recipe is a simple, spicy ground beef mixture, including onions, diced tomatoes, olives and corn. The topping is more dense than cornbread, and similar in texture to a tamale, and is topped with shredded cheddar cheese.
Since it’s a complete meal made all in one pan, there’s no need to serve a bunch of sides with your tamale pie, just a simple Garden Salad will do.
Ingredients for Tamale Pie
- Ground beef – The less greasy, the better. I usually go with a 85/15.
- Vegetables – Chopped onions, diced tomatoes, frozen corn, olives, green chiles.
- Seasonings – Chili powder, garlic powder and salt. Other optional seasonings include cumin, oregano and cayenne for heat.
- Cornmeal topping – Cornmeal, milk, sugar, eggs, shredded cheddar cheese.
How to Make Tamale Pie from Scratch
Get a detailed list of ingredients & instructions in the recipe card below.
- You’ll need a 9-inch round or square dish for this recipe. You can also use an oven proof skillet to cook the meat and then bake the casserole in the same pan. Lightly mist it with some cooking spray to avoid the food sticking to the sides.
- Cook ground beef and onions in a big skillet, then drain any grease from the pan. Stir in canned diced tomatoes, corn, olives and green chiles with some salt, chili powder and garlic powder for seasoning. Bring the mixture to a simmer and let it cook for about 10 minutes. It’s ok if it looks a little thin, the sauce will thicken as the casserole bakes.
- While the meat is simmering, make the cornbread mixture by stirring together cornmeal, sugar, milk and eggs in a mixing bowl just until combined. Pour the meat into the baking dish or spread evenly in the skillet. Spread the cornbread mixture over the meat mixture in the baking dish or skillet and top with cheese.
- Bake uncovered for about 40-45 minutes. The top should be golden and the sauce bubbling up on the sides.
Tamale Pie tastes similar to a traditional beef tamale, without all the work. Despite tasting like it, Tamale Pie isn’t considered Mexican Food. The popularity of this great recipe has been credited to home economics classes as far back as the early 1910s and is said to have originated in the southwest. This isn’t the only comfort food to come from home ec classes – it’s where I learned how to make Million Dollar Spaghetti and Macaroni Salad, too!
To make ahead and freeze, prepare the pie as directed, then freeze unbaked and uncovered for an hour. Wrap tightly with a couple of layers of plastic wrap or foil and freeze up to 6 months. I recommend using a disposable foil pan since it’s going to be sitting in your freezer for a bit. Thaw overnight and bake as directed.
To reheat a whole casserole from frozen, thaw in the fridge overnight and warm in a 350 degree oven. I usually cover with foil to keep the top from getting too brown. Heat until warmed through; about 20-25 minutes.
Reheat individual (refrigerated) leftover portions in the microwave until warm.
Spicy – Add a pinch of cayenne pepper, or swap the green chiles for diced jalapenos.
Deluxe – Add more fresh veggies, like diced bell pepper, or fresh jalapeno. Add some pinto beans, black beans or kidney beans to bulk up the filling.
Shortcut – Use 2 boxes of jiffy cornbread mix instead of making the cornmeal topping.
Enchilada Tamale Pie – Instead of diced tomatoes, use a 10 ounce can of enchilada sauce.
Healthier – Use ground turkey or shredded chicken breasts in place of the ground beef. Add beans for more fiber.
- Jiffy cornbread mix will work if you don’t want to make the tamale pie topping completely from scratch.
- Keep in mind that the topping in the recipe is not cornbread – it’s similar in flavor to cornbread, but it’s more dense and has the texture of a tamale.
- We like cheese. Sometimes I’ll add at least a cup of cheese to the top of the pie or stir some into the ground beef. Usually I use cheddar but sometimes I’ll use Cheddar-Jack blend or even Pepper Jack.
- Top individual servings with sour cream and parsley or chives for garnish.
- Just like my ground beef tacos, I use 85% lean ground beef. This keeps the meat juicy without being too greasy. While any percentage will work, I tend to choose the leaner meat at 85% and above.
More Casserole Recipes to love
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- ½ cup chopped onion about ½ of a small onion
- 15 ounce can diced tomatoes drained (or 15 oz can tomato sauce)
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 4 ounce can chopped ripe olives drained
- 4 ounce can chopped green chilies drained
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup shredded Cheddar cheese
- fresh chopped chives or parsley for garnish if desired
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9”x9” baking dish or 10-inch oven safe skillet with nonstick cooking spray.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and onion and cook until beef is browned and no longer pink, stirring often. Drain any grease from the pan.
- To the beef, stir in tomatoes, corn, olives, chiles, chili powder, garlic powder and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until thickened; about 10 minutes. Pour the beef mixture into the prepared baking dish.
- In a medium sized bowl, stir together the cornmeal, milk, sugar and eggs just until combined. Mixture will be thin. Spread evenly over the beef mixture in the pan, then top evenly with the cheese.
- Bake uncovered in the preheated 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes. Top should be golden brown and the sauce should be bubbling up on the sides.
- Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving. Top with sour cream and sliced green onions if desired.
- Top individual servings with sour cream and parsley or chives for garnish, if desired.
- Jiffy cornbread mix will work if you don’t want to make the tamale pie completely from scratch.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. You can reheat individual portions in the microwave or a large portion of the pie in the oven.
- Freeze leftovers in portions or all together for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight and microwave to reheat.
- For making ahead and freezing, prepare the pie as directed, then freeze, unbaked and uncovered, for an hour. Wrap tightly with a couple of layers of plastic wrap or foil and freeze up to 6 months. I recommend using a disposable foil pan since it’s going to be sitting in your freezer for a bit. Thaw overnight and bake as directed.
Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.
Well, yours looked great so I had to try! I added 1 tbsp Taco Seasoning, 1/4 cup sliced Jalapeño, pinch of fennel seed, 1 cup black beans & can of tomato sauce with smoked paprika on top of cheese. I didn’t want it to be on the dry side. Baked in a 9×13 dish about minutes…
So happy to hear that!
cornbread never cooked what a mushy mess. I will go back to Betty crocker
Best tamale pie I’ve ever had! Was worried about the cornbread topping the first time I made this as it was so thin so I did add some additional but when I tasted it I realized why and it was the best part! Also used impossible meat but prepared the same way. Thanks for the recipe. Making it again for Christmas dinner 😊.
Thank you Lia! Awesome feedback, thanks for stopping by.
This looks so good.
I have a question.
Can I put half of the corn bread on the bottom and half on the top!
The cornbread wouldn’t bake properly if you put it on the bottom.
The directions say to use a 9×9 baking dish. I used a 9” glass pie/cake pan and was cutting it close. I wish I would have put it in a 9×13. I can’t wait until it’s done!
I’ve used a 9-inch round and it worked out fine. But a 9×9 baking dish is larger in volume than a 9-inch round. The instructions say: 9”x9” baking dish or 10-inch oven-safe skillet. So a 10-inch round would work better.
Ohhhh so delicious 😋
Thank you Sherry!
We love this recipe and are making it for the second time. I’m teaching my son to cook so I was paying more attention to the steps this time. It says twice something about the sauce (the sauce will thicken, and bake until the sauce is boiling). There’s no sauce in the recipe, though. All of the ingredients are “dry” since you drain everything. Was there supposed to be enchilada sauce in it or something?
Hi Ashley, I’m sorry it was confusing! The tomatoes and the meat will give off juices as they cook, even though you drain them. The will create a sort of “sauce” that you can simmer, and that will bubble up as it bakes. Hope that’s helpful!
I’m going to make this today, I’m adding cumin, bell pepper and Mexican oregano with the other seasonings, adding more cheese too.
We only had Las Palmas green enchilada sauce so we used that. The flavors were off of the charts! That was just tasting the meat mixture too! It’s baking in the oven now, but I already know it’s going to be a winner!
That’s awesome Mary! Thank you so much for stopping by to share some kind words.
The recipe was pretty good and very easy to make.
Despite using Rotel instead of plain diced tomatoes and southwestern corn with peppers and adding extra spices and sprinkling the topping with a bit of cayenne pepper (mostly for appearance) ours seemed a bit on the bland side until I added a bit of mild hot sauce.
Our spices are/were excellent quality and we don’t usually eat spicy foods but ours just lacked much flavour. The next time we’ll try adding a bit of chili powder to it.
Hi Patricia, I appreciate your feedback. The recipe does have chili powder – did you miss that ingredient?
1 cup corn meal
1 cup milk
Way too thin!
It’s supposed to be thin. It’s not cornbread, it’s a tamale like topping. Most recipes you see use cornbread mix but I prefer to cook from scratch when I can. Did you try it?
Very good, Made as written the first time. I made a few changes the second time. The topping was a tad sweet so I reduced the sugar to 1 Tbs and added 1/4 tsp salt. I had a can of enchilada sauce that needed to be used so I used it instead of the tomatoes.
It’s really a recipe you can do anything with as long as you keep the liquid amounts the same. Im going to try leftover chicken next.
The topping does not have too much liquid and is not missing leavening. Be careful not to overcook. The topping isn’t a cornbread, its more of a tamale consistency. Its dense and moist..like a tamale. The way to tell if its cooked is the liquid is gone, a knife inserted comes out clean and the cornmeal is tender. If you feel like the filing needs to cook longer I would cover it with foil.
Mine was done at 45 min, I removed a sliver of a bit from the center to test doneness. I cut it into squares and no one suspected I had a sample. ?
What did I do wrong? The filling was amazing but I did something wrong with cornbread. It was runny and when I poured it out of the bowl it covered the pie. I doubled the recipe but the cornbread came out about an inch tall and firm like a slab of something. Over stirred maybe? I don’t want to use a box mix. We eat pretty much organic. Any ideas? Great recipe. Loved the filling!
Hi Mary, We have been making this recipe for 40 years – it’s my moms’s – and I can assure you it really does work! Cornbread batter is usually more on the thin side, like cake batter. It’s possible that it was overmixed, or that in doubling something was missed. If you double it though, you’d need to use either a larger pan or two pans; that could also be the issue. I hope you give it another try!
Thank you so much for your response! You bet I’ll be making it again. Pretty sure I mismeasured or overstirred! Definitely not your mom’s recipe!
The filling was amazing and I baked it in a 9 X 13. I’m going to make just the cornbread before I make the casserole again.
Thank you again for your personal touch!!
You’re welcome! Please let me know how it turns out.
Mary, Sounds like it was overcooked. The topping isn’t a cornbread, its more of a tamale consistency. Its dense and moist..like a tamale. The way to tell if its cooked is the liquid is gone, a knife inserted comes out clean and the cornmeal is tender. If you feel like the filing needs to cook longer I would cover it with foil.
Mine was done at 45 min, I removed a sliver of a bit from the center to test doneness. I cut it into squares and no one suspected I had a sample. 😉
Delicious! Exactly what we needed.
That’s awesome Margaret! Thank you for stopping by.
OMG! I love this recipe. It was absolutely delicious.
Trying to see if matches my mom’s. Used cornbread mix. One I am lazy and old, almost 70. I did not have any cornmeal skso