Tamale Pie

Comforting, filling, and oh so flavorful, this tamale pie recipe is everything you want in a weeknight dinner and more! A slightly sweet cornbread topping bakes over a cheesy, spicy ground beef filling cooked with bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes. This easy-to-make tamale pie packs in all the tamale flavor with much less work.

A piece of tamale pie on a brown plate with a fork topped with tamale pie.

A few years ago, when my husband and I were flipping through one of his mom’s old cookbooks, I saw a recipe for tamale pie, and I was more than excited to make it. Astonishingly enough, I have never had, much less heard of, tamale pie before we happened upon that page. I’m living in a serious shell. What could I possibly not love about a chili-like filling baked with a layer of cornbread on top?! It’s quite possibly the most genius dish ever invented. Cornbread is the perfect accompaniment to chili, which makes this recipe all the more perfect. 

I first attempted the recipe that we found in the cookbook, but the top cornbread layer ended up a complete disaster. After looking through many variations, I never came across a recipe that sounded like the one, so I started building my own based on my favorite flavors and ingredients. The result is one absolutely phenomenal dinner. You just can’t beat all of the bright and bold flavors in the beef filling, topped off with a thick layer of cornbread. Genius and delicious.

The Background

Tamale Pie is a comfort-food casserole with all of the flavor of a tamale minus the difficulty. Tamales are made from a masa dough and filled with delicious, savory fillings that are often wrapped and steamed in corn husks or banana leaves. This process is often time-consuming and labor-intensive. 

This tamale pie recipe is like a deconstructed tamale. The flavorful beef filling bakes under a delicious cornbread topping for a casserole that has been around since the early 1900s. 

How to Make It

Let’s break this recipe down into two main parts; the beef filling and the cornbread topping.

Filling Ingredients

  • Onion+ Peppers: Finely chopped onion, green bell peppers, and seeded and minced jalapeño peppers make the vegetable base.
  • Ground Beef: Browned, crumbled, and cooked through.
  • Corn kernels: You can easily use fresh, frozen, or even canned corn in this recipe.
  • Tomatoes: Diced canned tomatoes make for an easy pantry-staple ingredient. If you don’t like big chunks of tomato, look for “petite diced” tomatoes.
  • Tomato paste: Adds a deep, rich tomato base to the filling.
  • Spices: I use a blend of chili powder, ground cumin, and salt to add a kick of flavor.
  • Sliced black olive: Optional, if you love ’em, add them! If you’re a fellow olive hater, you can totally leave them out.
  • Shredded cheese: I like to use Monterrey jack cheese in the filling but you can also easily swap it for cheddar.

How to Make the Beef Filling 

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F
  • Cook onion mixture: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil until hot. Add onion, green bell pepper, and jalapeños, and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  • Cook ground beef: Reduce heat to medium and add ground beef to the pan. Cook until browned, stirring occasionally to break up the meat, about 5-10 minutes.
  • Add remaining ingredients: Once the meat is browned, add the onion mixture back to the pan. Stir in corn, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, and salt.
  • Simmer the filling: Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Simmer 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand while preparing cornbread topping.

Side by side photos of cooking the meat filling in a skillet.

Cornbread Topping

What you’ll need for the cornbread topping:

  • Cornmeal + flour: Gives the cornbread structure as well as a corn flavor.
  • Sugar: Sweetens the cornbread just a touch.
  • Baking soda + baking powder: Allows the cornbread to rise during the baking time.
  • Salt: Flavor!
  • Buttermilk: Adds a little tang and color to the cornbread during baking.
  • Unsalted Butter: Adds flavor and helps bind the cornbread together.
  • Eggs: Binds the batter together.

To make the cornbread batter topping for tamale pie:

  • Mix dry ingredients: In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • Mix wet ingredients: In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter. 
  • Gently mix together: Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients and use a rubber spatula to gently mix together, taking care not to over-mix the cornbread.

Side by side photos of a casserole dish with the meat filling on the left and the cornbread topping on the right.

Assembling It

Now that you have your beef filling and the cornbread batter, let’s put this tamale pie casserole together.

  • Add final mix-ins to the beef mixture: Stir olives (if using) and shredded cheese into the beef mixture and pour into a 9×13-inch baking dish, smoothing the top.
  • Top with cornbread: Pour the cornbread batter over the beef filling, using a spatula to spread an even layer.
  • Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Cool: Allow the pie to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Topping Options

The beauty of this tamale pie recipe is that you can really make it your own and go all-out with the toppings. Here are a few ways you can serve up this dish.

Make it a Meal

While this casserole can easily stand alone as a stick to your ribs, comfort-food dish, here are a few sides to serve with it to make it a full meal:

Storing and Freezing

This comforting tamale pie is a great make-ahead meal. Here are a few ways you can make the casserole in advance to save some time on busy weeknights.

  • Storing: Keep your baked tamale pie in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Freezing baked tamale pie: If you baked the dish all the way through, allow it to cool completely before storing and freezing in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat in the oven.
  • Freezing unbaked pie: Follow the recipe through the assembly and instead of baking freeze uncovered for about an hour to allow the cornbread topping to freeze. Then wrap in plastic wrap and top with foil. Store in the freezer for up to 3 months.  When you are ready to bake, thaw overnight in the refrigerator and follow baking instructions.

Other Mexican-Inspired Recipes

A brown plate topped with a serving of tamale pie in front of a casserole dish.

Grab your fork and come hungry, this filling and flavorful tamale pie recipe is a comforting casserole everyone will enjoy. Top with sour cream, guacamole, or a little salsa for a delicious dinner you’ll keep coming back to!

If you make this recipe and love it, remember to stop back and give it a 5-star rating – it helps others find the recipe! ❤️️

Tamale Pie

Servings 8 servings
Prep 30 minutes
Cook 1 hour
Total 1 hour 30 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Mexican
Author: Michelle

Sweet cornbread tops a cheesy, spiced ground beef mixture in this comforting and filling tamale pie recipe.

Ingredients:

For the Filling:

  • 1
    tablespoon
    vegetable oil
  • 1
    medium onion
    (finely chopped)
  • 1
    green bell pepper
    (finely chopped)
  • 2
    jalapeño peppers
    (seeded and minced)
  • pounds
    ground beef
  • cups
    corn kernels
    (fresh or frozen)
  • 14.5
    ounces
    canned diced tomatoes
  • 3
    tablespoons
    tomato paste
  • 2
    tablespoons
    chili powder
  • 4
    teaspoons
    ground cumin
  • 2
    teaspoons
    kosher salt
  • ½
    cup
    sliced black olives
    (optional*)
  • 4
    ounces
    Monterey Jack cheese
    (shredded (about 1 cup shredded))

For the Cornbread Topping:

  • 1
    cup
    cornmeal
  • ¾
    cup
    all-purpose flour
  • 1
    tablespoon
    granulated sugar
  • teaspoons
    baking powder
  • ½
    teaspoon
    baking soda
  • ¼
    teaspoon
    salt
  • cups
    buttermilk
  • 6
    tablespoons
    unsalted butter
    (melted)
  • 2
    eggs
    (lightly beaten)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

  2. Making the Filling: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil until hot. Add the onion, green pepper and jalapeños, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the ground beef to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally to break up the meat, until browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Once the meat is browned, add the onion mixture back to the pan. Stir in the corn, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin and salt. Stir well to ensure that the spices and the tomato paste are evenly distributed. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand while preparing the cornbread topping.

  4. Make the Cornbread Topping: In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter. Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients and use a rubber spatula to gently mix it together, taking care not to overmix the cornbread batter.

  5. Assemble & Bake the Pie: Stir the olives (if using) and shredded cheese into the beef mixture and pour it into a 9x13-inch baking dish, smoothing the top. Pour the cornbread batter over the filling, using a spatula to spread it into an even layer. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the pie to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes:

  • Storing: Keep your baked tamale pie in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • Freezing baked tamale pie: If you baked the dish all the way through, allow to cool completely before storing and freezing in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat in the oven.
  • Freezing unbaked pie: Follow the recipe through the assembly and instead of baking freeze uncovered for about an hour to allow the cornbread topping to freeze. Then wrap in plastic wrap and top with foil. Store in the freezer for up to 3 months.  When you are ready to bake, thaw overnight in the refrigerator and follow baking instructions.
Nutritional values are based on one serving

Nutrition:

Calories: 547kcal
Fat: 25g
Saturated fat: 13g
Cholesterol: 131mg
Sodium: 1381mg
Potassium: 936mg
Carbohydrates: 51g
Fiber: 6g
Sugar: 9g
Protein: 30g
Vitamin A: 1375%
Vitamin C: 23.7%
Calcium: 269%
Iron: 6%

Did you make this recipe?

Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!

Photography by Lauren Grant.