Tamale Pie features a zesty, flavorful ground beef filling with a delicious baked topping made of masa. The result is an easy dinner that tastes amazingly like a beef tamale...and it can easily be made gluten-free!
Today I'm excited to bring y'all a brand-spankin'-new dinner recipe that's not only quick and easy to make, but it's positively loaded with flavor. It also happens to be perfect for both busy weeknights and impending fall weather. Say hello to Tamale Pie!
What Is Tamale Pie?
If you ever decide to look up a recipe for Tamale Pie, you will most often find a taco-seasoned base of ground beef topped with a layer of cornbread.
Well, I already have a recipe like that and -- while it's definitely yummy -- I have always called it Mexican Cornbread Casserole. 😉
Because in my mind, Tamale Pie should taste like, well...a tamale. So that's what I set out to create! And I'm not trying to brag on myself, y'all, but the final result here tastes amazingly like an actual beef tamale. (Success!)
This version starts with a savory ground beef "filling" that's loaded with flavor and as mild or spicy as you prefer to make it.
And while the topping is cornbread-esque, it's actually made with straight masa harina (AKA, Mexican corn flour). Since masa is the primary ingredient in tamales, it's the reason that this recipe tastes so much like its namesake!
So let's talk about the ingredients for this Tamale Pie recipe, shall we?
- Ground beef. I prefer making this recipe with lean ground beef, but ground turkey would work as well.
- Garlic. This recipe keeps things simple on the veggie front, only calling for garlic. But if you'd like to add chopped onion and/or bell pepper to your dish, you could first cook those in your pot until soft. Then remove them to a plate and cook your ground beef in the same pot before proceeding with the recipe.
- Flour. A little bit of flour is used to help thicken the sauce. All-purpose flour works great, but I actually use a GF baking flour to make this recipe gluten-free for my kiddo that can't have it.
- Tomato sauce + beef broth (or stock). The sauce ingredients! And if you don't want to open a whole carton of beef broth for just half a cup, you can always use a little Better Than Bouillon Beef Base (I recommend the organic version to avoid icky artificial ingredients) mixed into ½ cup warm water.
- Spices. This Tamale Pie is bursting with flavor, thanks to plenty 'o Mexican-inspired spices: chili powder, cumin, coriander, garlic salt, onion powder, and Mexican oregano. If you don't have Mexican oregano on hand, feel free to substitute regular (Mediterranean) oregano.
- Chipotle chile pepper powder. While regular chili powder (listed above) is a mild blend of various spices, chipotle chile pepper powder is packed with heat. So this is the ingredient that can take this recipe from mild to spicy, and it's totally optional if you prefer to leave it out completely. This recipe calls for ¼ teaspoon, which I think keeps things pretty mild. When I make this dish for my family, I actually add ½ teaspoon, which makes it moderately spicy (because we enjoy a little heat). Adding more than that will definitely boost the heat level. Just remember that you can always start with a small amount and gradually add more...but you can't take it away once it's in there!
- Canned diced green chiles. These are typically mild. But if yours happen to be hot, be sure to adjust your chipotle chile pepper powder accordingly.
- Shredded cheese. I like to use Monterey jack in this recipe, but cheddar (I recommend sharp), a Mexican blend, or even pepper jack (for more heat!) would all be yummy.
- Masa harina flour. Also known as Mexican corn flour, this ingredient is key in giving this Tamale Pie recipe its authentic tamale flavor. If you can't find it at your grocery store, it's easy to order on Amazon. And if you need this recipe to be gluten-free, just make sure your masa is labeled GF. (Masa should be naturally gluten-free, but sometimes it's not because of cross-contamination in the factory.)
- Baking powder + salt + melted butter + milk + egg. Combined with the masa, these ingredients create a thick batter that gets spread atop the pie.
How to Make Tamale Pie
(The below photos are intended to be helpful, but please refer to the recipe card at the bottom of this post for FULL DIRECTIONS.)
First, make the filling:
- Brown a pound of ground beef, drain the grease, and remove to a plate.
- In the same pot, add some olive oil, stir in fresh minced garlic until fragrant, and then whisk in flour and cook for a minute.
- Whisk in the beef broth and tomato sauce followed by all of the spices. Simmer until thickened.
- Mix the cooked ground beef back into the sauce along with the green chiles and most of the shredded cheese.
- Transfer to your prepared baking dish.
Next it's time to prepare the topping:
- Whisk together the masa, baking powder and salt.
- Stir in the melted butter, milk, egg, and remaining cheese. The mixture will be extremely thick and that's okay!
- Spread the masa mixture over the beef mixture in the baking dish.
- Bake until golden brown. Serve hot and ENJOY!
As mentioned above in the "Ingredients" section, this recipe can easily be made gluten-free by using a GF flour to thicken the sauce and purchasing a masa that's labeled gluten-free.
I always think that warm, comforting recipes like Tamale Pie are even tastier when topped with fresh garnishes that add contrasting tastes and textures!
Here are some of our favorites:
- Sour cream.
- Pico de gallo.
- Cubed avocado.
- Chopped tomato.
- Diced onion.
- Chopped fresh cilantro.
Helpful Tips, Tricks, & Equipment
- As mentioned before, the masa mixture will be extremely thick. I find it easiest to dollop it all over the top of the beef and then use a spatula and/or wet fingers to spread it to the edges.
- If you'd like a bit of heat but aren't sure how spicy you want to go, taste your sauce first before adding any chipotle chile pepper powder. Then, if you want more heat, add ⅛-teaspoon at a time -- stirring well and tasting in between -- until the spice level is to your liking.
- A substitute for chipotle chile pepper powder would be canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. You can puree a pepper or just use some of the sauce...but again, keep in mind that this product is very spicy and one small can goes a long way. So I find it easier to just use chipotle powder, since I can use a small amount without any leftovers to worry about refrigerating.
- If you prefer a slightly sweet topping, you may mix a tablespoon or so of honey (or maple syrup) into your masa mixture. However, I don't really think this recipe needs it, as masa has an underlying natural sweetness.
And there you have it! Tamale Pie is a hearty, cozy dinner that will wake up your tastebuds and warm your tummy.
My middle child adores tamales (he literally asks to have them on his birthday), so you can imagine the home run that this recipe was at my house! But actually, the whole family loved it so much that every bit was demolished with ZERO leftovers.
Next time, I'm going to have to double the recipe. 😉
I hope y'all love it just as much!
More Tex-Mex Dinners
- Chicken Enchilada Casserole
- Mexican Meatloaf Muffins
- Taco Pasta Skillet
- Homemade Beef Taco Hamburger Helper (copycat)
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- ½ cup beef broth OR stock
- 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 ½ tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- ¼ teaspoon chipotle chile pepper powder, optional (more or less, to taste)
- 1 (4-ounce) can mild diced green chiles
- 1 ½ cups (6 ounces) shredded Monterey jack cheese, DIVIDED
For the Topping:
- 2 cups masa harina flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, melted & cooled
- 1 ½ cups milk, at room temperature
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- sour cream, salsa, pico de gallo, diced avocado, diced tomatoes, diced onion, chopped cilantro
- With rack in center position, preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 2.5-quart baking dish (mine was 10.5- by 7.5-inches) or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
- Set a large skillet, sauté pan, pot, or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook until no longer pink, breaking apart and stirring as the meat cooks. Drain grease and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove cooked beef to a separate plate or bowl and return the pot to the stove.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add olive oil and minced garlic; stir for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Whisk in flour and stir continuously for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in beef broth and then tomato sauce, followed by chili powder, cumin, coriander, garlic salt, onion powder, dried oregano, and chipotle chile pepper powder (if using), to taste.
- Bring the sauce to a simmer. Reduce to a low simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook for a couple minutes or until thickened. Turn off the heat.
- Stir the cooked ground beef into the sauce as well as the diced green chiles and 1 CUP of the shredded cheese. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the masa harina, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the melted butter, milk, egg, and the remaining ½-cup of shredded cheese until all ingredients are just combined. The mixture will be extremely thick.
- Dollop the masa mixture over the beef mixture in the baking dish and spread to the edges, covering completely. Bake, uncovered, for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and tests done with a toothpick inserted in the center. Serve immediately, plain or topped with your favorite garnishes.
- Nutrition information calculated for ⅙ of recipe. However, if you have big, hungry eaters, this recipe will probably make closer to 4 servings.
- Since the masa mixture is so thick, I find it easiest to dollop it all over the top of the beef and then use a spatula and/or wet fingers to spread it to the edges.
- If you'd like a bit of heat but aren't sure how spicy you want to go, taste your sauce first before adding any chipotle chile pepper powder. Then, if you prefer more heat, add ⅛-teaspoon at a time -- stirring well and tasting in between -- until the spice level is to your liking.
I've been looking for a recipe using mesa. I love it and my local market just started carrying it. In fact, I only use the meat for flavor, as I'm not a big fan of the texture of ground beef.
Question: Is it feasible to put a layer of the topping on the bottom, under the meat, and the top? How would that impact the cooking time/temp?
Hello! I haven't tried making this recipe with a masa layer on the bottom so, unfortunately, I'm unable to advise on whether or not it would work. It certainly sounds like a tasty experiment, though, so please let us know how it goes if you decide to give it a try! 🙂
Very good and super easy to pull together.
The meat mixture and cornbread ratio was off for me. I used the suggested pan size. There was so much more cornbread. Not a bad thing b/c we loved it.
Next time I would use a 12x8 pan and double to meat part of the recipe. We’d have left overs but what is wrong with that. Right?
I'm so happy this recipe was a hit, John! And I appreciate your feedback on the baking dish size. After a similar comment before yours, I retested and edited the dish size in the recipe. 🙂
This was an entirely new kind of recipe for me. I don't usually make casserole type recipes. It was delicious though! It is going in our monthly rotation! I'm going to make one change for next time. I make 'refried beans' using a crockpot recipe, and I'm going to add some of the whole beans to this next time to see how it tastes. I'm sure it will go amazing with it!
There was too much topping for making this in our 8x8 baking dish. Next time I'll half the topping recipe.
Wonderful recipe with great flavor! Thank you!
I can't find masa harina in my store. What can I substitute?
Hi Angie! The topping for this particular recipe was specifically developed using masa, and since I haven't tested it, I'm afraid that swapping cornmeal might not have the same results. I found my masa on Amazon (there's a link in the post), but if you would prefer to use cornmeal instead, I would suggest using a cornbread topping (like the one from from my Mexican Cornbread Casserole) on top of the tamale base from this Tamale Pie recipe. Hope that helps! 🙂
This has always been my favorite but this was the first time making it! It is absolutely amazing, thank you!
I have always wanted to make something like this but did not know how to begin. Thanks for the step by step photos.
Such a really satisfying meal! My family was impressed!
I made it using leftover mole from our Christmas tamales and it was a huge hit!! Doubled the recipe and made a freezer tray for my dad to enjoy when I go back home. He's tickled spicy!!
Thanks for a great recipe.