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Cowboy Casserole Recipe (Tater Tot Casserole) combines the best of hearty dinners and comfort food with a cheesy, creamy ground beef or pork filling, crisp bacon, and golden tater tots topped with melted Parmesan cheese. It’s an easy-to-make dish that promises a delicious twist on the classic tater tot casserole, making it the perfect weeknight dinner. 

A cast-iron skillet filled with cowboy casserole topped with tater tots.

With savory layers crisped to perfection, starting with bacon and ending with a cheesy tater tot crust, this casserole is bound to become a regular favorite at your dinner table. Add Skillet Cornbread and a Kale Crunch Salad, and you have the perfect well-rounded dinner.

Ever have those nights when taking time to cook a meal is just not going to happen? Cowboy Casserole has become one of my favorite solutions for a quick, easy, and delicious dinner. It’s a hearty meal for today but also doubles as a perfect make-ahead freezer meal. And perhaps one of my favorite things is that casseroles are flexible for the picky eaters in the home. 

Try this easy casserole on any busy weeknight or for a potluck. Whether you stick to the recipe or try the variations I’ve listed below, this casserole promises to deliver comfort and delicious flavor in every bite.

Ingredient Notes

  • Bacon |  Chopped bacon adds that cowboy flavor they crave!
  • Onions | Diced yellow onions are in the ground beef mixture, and green onions are sliced for the garnish.
  • Garlic | Minced garlic cloves can easily be purchased at the grocery store or minced at home.
  • Meat | Ground pork or ground beef are both great options for this hearty casserole dish.
  • Cream of mushroom soup | Use the cream soup of your choice, but I like the mushroom variety best.
  • Milk | Whole milk makes this recipe pull together.
  • Butter |  Melted butter adds richness and flavor to the creamy meat filling.
  • Salt and Pepper | Black pepper and salt season the meat.
  • Spinach | Fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped, makes this a complete meal.
  • Corn | Frozen corn adds that yummy sweetness to each bite.
  • Cheese |  Use shredded sharp cheddar cheese and grated Parmesan cheese for this dish.
  • Tater Tots | Frozen tater tots are the casserole crust that keeps the filling creamy and crisps the top just right.

Variations and Substitutions

  • Potatoes: You can use sliced potatoes or hash browns instead. Tater tots are the easiest choice since you can pull them from the freezer to the casserole.
  • Add-Ins:  For a variation on this recipe, add in canned tomatoes or diced tomatoes, other frozen veggies, green chilies, and different cheeses. 
  • Veggies: Toss in mixed frozen veggies with the meat mixture.
  • Meats: For an alternative, try ground turkey, ground chicken, or pork sausage.
  • Seasonings: Flavor the meat mixture with a packet of Ranch mix, Taco Seasoning, or Italian seasoning. 
  • Creamy Mix-in: Some recipes call for sour cream to add a tangy flavor.
  • Meatless: Use black beans, pinto beans, or firm tofu instead of meat for this recipe for a vegetarian option.

How to Make Cowboy Casserole with Tater Tots

Be sure to see the recipe card below for exact ingredients and full recipe instructions!

Step 1 | Prepare the ingredients

Begin by preheating the oven to 375°F. Remove the tater tots from the freezer to slightly thaw while you prepare the filling.

Step 2 | Cook Bacon and aromatics

Place bacon in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook until crispy and golden brown, 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove and place on a paper towel to drain. Chop the bacon into pieces when cooled and save for the topping.

Bacon frying in a skillet and then being drained on a paper towel.

Leave 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in the skillet and add in the chopped onion. Cook until slightly clear, about 4 minutes, then add in the garlic and cook for an additional minute.

Sautéing diced onions in a skillet and then adding ground sausage to the skillet to cook.

Step 3 | Brown the meat

Brown ground beef or ground pork sausage in the skillet until thoroughly cooked, breaking it into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Drain off the excess fat, leaving in as much as you prefer for flavor and consistency. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Step 4 | Add the remaining ingredients

Stir in the condensed soup, whole milk, melted butter, salt, and pepper, and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth.

Cooke ground sausage in a skillet with milk, cream of mushroom, salt and pepper added to the skillet.

Fold in the chopped spinach, then the frozen corn, and give it a good stir.

A cast iron skillet with spinach and then corn added to meat mixture.

Now, for the best part, sprinkle the cheddar cheese layer evenly across the top of the casserole.

Shredded cheddar cheese being added to the top of cowboy casserole filling.

Step 5 | Add Tater Tot Topping and Bake

Place the frozen tater tots on the top of the casserole in a single layer, arranging them in concentric circles, starting from the outside of the pan and working toward the middle. Trust me, it looks great and ensures all the tots get crispy.

Adding tater tots to the top of a cowboy casserole in a black skillet.

Finally, sprinkle the tater tots layer with grated Parmesan cheese.

Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top of tater tots in a skillet.

Then pop the skillet into the oven to bake until the tater tots are golden brown and the filling is cooked and bubbly, approx. 30-35 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the chopped bacon evenly over the top. Let the casserole rest for 5 to 10 minutes to set. Meanwhile, slice the green onions to use as garnish if desired. Sprinkle them over the top and serve.

Sliced green onions on a cutting board and then sprinkling them on top of a cowboy casserole.

Tips

  • I use a cast-iron skillet (or oven-safe skillet) to cook this in one dish. However, you can certainly transfer the filling to a casserole dish to bake if desired.
  • Allow the tots to thaw a little while you are making the meat filling for the best crispy results.
  • Take the time to arrange the tots, so they all get evenly browned.
  • Rest the casserole after baking for 5 to 10 minutes so the filling sets.

How to Make Cowboy Casserole Recipe into a Freezer Meal

This family favorite comfort food is perfect to pop in the freezer and save for another night or even take to someone in need of an easy recipe for dinner. Here is all you need to do. 

Start with an aluminum pan instead of a baking dish. After the casserole is completely assembled as directed, cover the casserole dinner with plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil. Then, place the pan in the freezer for up to two months. 

On the day you want to serve it, remove the casserole from the freezer and allow it to thaw completely. Then bake as directed on the recipe card and enjoy!

Removing a scoop of cowboy tater tot casserole from the skillet with a wooden spoon.

Recipe FAQs

Can I make Cowboy Casserole in a slow cooker?

The convenience of a slow cooker meal is divine! And yes, you can assemble and cook this dish in a crock pot. Just follow the same recipe and layer in the slow cooker bowl. Cook on low for 5 hours with the lid on. Then, I suggest taking the lid off and removing the slow cooker dish to brown in the oven. Nothing beats a crispy tater tot, after all.

Should I cover this casserole when baking it? 

For this cowboy casserole with tater tots, you’ll want to remove the foil so the tots get that crunchy layer on top.

Can you make Cowboy Casserole ahead of time?

My Cowboy Casserole is the perfect recipe to assemble ahead of time. Just make the casserole in the casserole pan, cover and store it in the refrigerator. You can keep it in the fridge for 24 hours before baking. 

A white dinner plate with a brown rim with a helping of Cowboy casserole.

Storage

Storage: Store leftover casserole in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Freeze: Cool the dish to room temperature, wrap it well in plastic wrap and foil, and keep it in the freezer for 2 to 3 months. 

Allow Tater Tot Casserole to thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating.

What to Serve with this Easy Casserole Recipe

This recipe has your meat, veggies, and potatoes all in one. So, sides can be whatever you like. I serve Butter Swim Biscuits Recipe, Homemade Dinner Rolls, or Air Fryer Texas Toast Garlic Bread with mine.

Another Hearty Casserole Dish to Try

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A cast-iron skillet filled with cowboy casserole topped with tater tots.
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Cowboy Casserole Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Author: Nikki Lee
Cowboy Casserole Recipe (Tater Tot Casserole) is savory layers crisped to perfection, starting with bacon and ending with a cheesy tater tot crust. 

Ingredients 

  • 4 strips bacon, chopped
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground pork or beef
  • 10 ounces cream of mushroom soup
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 cups fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 32 ounce bag of frozen tater tots
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 green onions, (sliced) for garnish

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove the tater tots from the freezer to slightly thaw, while you prepare the filling
  • Place bacon in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook until crispy and golden brown, 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove and place on a paper towel. Chop when cooled.
  • Leave 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in skillet and add chopped Onion. Cook until slightly clear, about 4 minutes. Add Garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  • Add in ground pork sausage or ground beef and cook, breaking it into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook until it browns and is cooked through (about 10 minutes). Drain off the excess fat, leaving in as much as you prefer for flavor and consistency. Remove the skillet from the heat.
  • Stir in the soup, milk, butter, salt, and pepper, and blend with a wooden spoon until smooth.
  • Fold in spinach, then corn, and stir.
  • Sprinkle cheddar cheese evenly across the top of the casserole.
  • Place the frozen tater tots on the top of the casserole in a single layer, arranging them in concentric circles, starting from the outside of the pan and working toward the middle.
  • Sprinkle the tater tots layer with Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake until tater tots are golden brown and filling is cooked and bubbly, approx. 30-35 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and sprinkle the chopped Bacon over the top. Let the casserole rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Garnish with sliced green onions, if desired, and serve.

Notes

Make Ahead: Place filling and layers in aluminum pan or freezer safe dish. After the casserole is completely assembled as directed, cover the casserole dinner with plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil. Then, place the pan in the freezer for up to two months. When ready to serve, remove the casserole from the freezer and allow it to thaw completely. Then bake as directed.
Storage: Store leftover casserole in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Freeze: Cool the dish to room temperature, wrap it well in plastic wrap and foil, and keep it in the freezer for 2 to 3 months.  Allow the casserole to thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating.
 
TIPS:
  • I use a cast-iron skillet (or oven-safe skillet) to cook this in one dish. However, you can certainly transfer the filling to a casserole dish to bake if desired.
  • Allow the tots to thaw a little while you are making the meat filling for the best crispy results.
  • Take the time to arrange the tots, so they all get evenly browned.
  • Rest the casserole after baking for 5 to 10 minutes so the filling sets.

Nutrition Information

Serving: 1serving Calories: 500kcal (25%) Carbohydrates: 40g (13%) Protein: 26g (52%) Fat: 27g (42%) Saturated Fat: 11g (69%) Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g Monounsaturated Fat: 9g Trans Fat: 0.3g Cholesterol: 75mg (25%) Sodium: 1363mg (59%) Potassium: 753mg (22%) Fiber: 4g (17%) Sugar: 2g (2%) Vitamin A: 1513IU (30%) Vitamin C: 14mg (17%) Calcium: 299mg (30%) Iron: 3mg (17%)

Nutritional Disclaimer

Soulfully Made is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is only an estimate. We recommend running the ingredients through an online nutritional calculator if you need to verify any information.

©️Soulfully Made

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