The Taco Bake Casserole recipe is an excellent, family friendly one-dish meal perfect for weeknight dinners. It is literally your favorite beef taco loaded into a casserole dish with crunchy tortilla chips and topped with gooey cheese and all of the other cool toppings your heart desires.
I love taco night (and it doesn’t have to be Tuesday) but I loathe the prep and clean up. What seems like such a simple dish ends up taking loads of time and dishes to set up a little taco bar just for the four of us.
But with a taco bake, all the ingredients you know and love are in one tasty baking dish. Less prep and less cleanup makes me a happy mama. Sometimes I do sneak in a side of refried beans.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Ground Beef – Ground beef is a magical protein that when cooked properly, has oodles of beefy flavor. Properly, of course means, to actually brown the meat. Browning any ground meat means to sear it on a high heat until a small crust forms. Ground chicken or ground turkey can be used in place of the beef.
- Vegetable oil- If you are using a seasoned cast iron skillet, then no oil is needed, but if you are using stainless or something else you’ll need a small amount of oil.
- Onion, garlic and cilantro– For flavor and seasoning. Feel free to add more or less based on your personal preferences, and of course, omit the cilantro if it takes like soap.
- Low-Sodium Beef Broth– This moisture will help build a sauce with the cheese and other flavors to make it saucy.
- Diced tomatoes with green chiles– I like the one with mild green chiles, but feel free to use plain tomatoes.
- Taco seasoning– Make your own or buy a packet at the store. This hefty little pouch is a one step way to elevate the Latin flavors.
- Sour cream– For serving and garnish. Plain Greek yogurt is an excellent swap. Crema Mexicana is also a good pick and a little thinner; better for drizzling than dolloping. Some like cream cheese for a thicker base.
- Sharp cheddar cheese– Any flavor or blend of cheese is excellent in this dish. Also a great way to use up all the odds and ends in the vegetable crisper. Pepper jack, white American, cotija, queso or any other melty is yum.
- Tortilla Chips– The quick baking time is just enough to adhere the whole dish together. The chips will stay slightly crunchy, but make a base, much like Frito Pie or Walking Tacos. Many recipes use corn tortillas or flour tortillas, but I do prefer the crunch. You can also break up larger hard taco shells.
One of the great things about this easy taco casserole recipe is its versatility. Nearly every single ingredient can be scaled up or down based on what you have on hand or personal preference.
How to Make a Taco Bake Casserole
- Preheat the oven and prep casserole dish or 9X13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
- Brown the beef over medium-high heat well in a large cast iron skillet or, if using any other large skillet, use vegetable oil or another neutral oil to prevent sticking. Make sure to visit our notes on how to properly brown beef to prevent a grey, rubbery mess. If the beef has a lot of excess grease or liquid evaporating, drain it off as you go.
- Add the onion and garlic, continuing to cook until the onion starts to soften, it won’t be fully soft.
- Add the diced tomatoes, beef broth, cilantro and taco seasoning to the meat mixture. As you stir it, the taco seasoning will thicken with the beef broth and make is a strong red color.
- Add the sour cream and 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese. Mix and remove from the heat whole you assemble.
- Start with a layer of coarsely crumbled tortilla chips on the bottom of the dish. Top with half of the beef mixture and then half of the remaining shredded cheese. Repeat these layers once more.
- Bake in the oven, uncovered, until the cheese melts.
- Remove and allow to cool before cutting to serve and topping with desired toppings.
Spicy Taco Bake
You can get your heat on several ways with this easy recipe. The first is to add more chili powder or even crushed red pepper flakes. Half a teaspoon to 1 teaspoon will do the trick. Add it with your taco seasonings.
You can also add fresh jalapenos to the onions or topping at the end. Jarred, pickled jalapenos will give a little kick, but not as much heat.
Canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce will give you a smoky heat. Simply mince up about 2 tablespoons and add with onions as well. Another tablespoon of adobo sauce will give even more smoky flavor.
You can also use a pepper jack or habanero laced cheese for half of the shary cheddar. You just top it with a ton of hot sauce!
More Variations & Taco Bake Toppings
Customize your casserole for your family! Or for each family member, although that doesn’t cut down on the dishes. Here are some of my favorite taco toppings.
- Shredded lettuce
- Sour cream or crema Mexicana
- Diced avocado
- Hot sauce
- Swap thick & chunky salsa for the canned tomatoes
- Add diced bell pepper
- Scallions (green onions)
- Kidney beans
- Diced red onions
Make Ahead & Freezing
To make a taco bake ahead of time, prepare the whole dish and assemble. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours and then bake for an additional 5 minutes (25 minutes total). Store leftovers in an airtight container and reheat in the oven or microwave. The sad news is that the tortilla chips might get a little soggy, unfortunately, you’ll never get that crunch back.
You can certainly make this ahead of time and freeze it. This is great for when you’re making a meal for someone, prepping for the arrival of a baby, or just have leftovers you’d like to freeze. Here are my tips for freezing a casserole.
More Mexican Inspired Recipes
- Mexican Street Corn
- Street Corn Salad
- Mexican Shrimp Cocktail
- Instant Pot Taco Meat
- Crockpot Taco Meat
Taco Bake Casserole Recipe
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
- 1 teapoon vegetable oil , optional
- 1 white onion , chopped
- 3 cloves garlic , minced
- 10 ounces diced tomatoes with green chiles , drained
- 3/4 cup beef broth
- 1/2 cup cilantro , leaves and stems, roughly torn
- 2 cups cheddar cheese , shredded and divided
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon taco seasoning
- 1 medium bag tortilla chips , lightly crushed
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and coat a medium casserole dish or 9X13 baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef. If using stainless steel, add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to prevent sticking. IF the beef has a lot of fat or liquid evaporating, drain it off as you go.
- Add the onion and garlic, continuing to cook until the onion starts to soften.
- Add the diced tomatoes, beef broth, cilantro and taco seasoning. Toss to coat and heat, approximately 3 minutes.
- Add the sour cream and 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese. Mix and then remove from heat to allow mixture to thicken.
- Coarsely crumble half of the tortilla chips with your hands, place in the bottom of the casserole dish. Top with half of the browned beef mixture and then half of the remaining shredded cheese. Repeat these layers once more.
- Bake in the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
- Remove and allow to cool for 5 minutes before cutting to serve and topping with desired toppings.
- If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or star ratings.