12 Chef-Approved Tricks To Make Frozen Pot Pies Taste Homemade

If store-bought pot pies are your love language, we're about to make you fluent in it. There's nothing quite like the nostalgia of popping the green-hued Marie Callender's personal-sized chicken pot pies in the oven for an after school snack or a quick and easy weeknight dinner. But the meal can become pretty underwhelming if you have it the same way each time, no matter how many flavors you try from the grocery store's frozen section.

The lazy person's solution is to meet halfway; not quite making the pot pie from scratch every time, and not having it frozen every time either. With some tweaks to store-bought pies, you can transform them from a frozen dinner to a homemade delicacy. Small changes like brushing the crust with egg wash before baking for a glossy top, and bigger ones like re-doing the filling will help elevate your pot pie. You can also use simple ways to upgrade your chicken pot pie according to TikTok foodies.

For the best ways to revamp your frozen chicken pot pies, we took some expert tips from Chef Nic Vanderbeeken, Executive Chef at Apéritif, a Bali fine dining restaurant, and a culinary professional with 20 years of experience. Below you'll find his top tricks for turning your frozen dinner into a wholesome meal with little adjustments.

1. Add fresh herbs and spices

One bland frozen pot pie is all it takes to distance yourself from the dish altogether. Between dry chicken pieces, mushy vegetables, a questionably thick cream of chicken soup gluing the two together, and a crust that gets soggy at the drop of a hat, a lack of seasoning would be the final straw. Fortunately, you won't have to suffer the fate of a tasteless pot pie, as Chef Nic brings his culinary expertise to the table, suggesting a simple addition of herbs to upgrade the pie's flavor. "Incorporating chopped parsley, thyme, or rosemary can brighten the flavor profile and add a burst of freshness," he says, adding that small changes like this can make a big difference to the overall flavor.

If you don't have fresh herbs on hand, dried ones added to the filling have a similar effect, as they deepen the sauce's flavor, while fresh ones serve to brighten it. Another simple addition that's often lost on consumers is adjusting the salt level in the filling to their preference, or spicing it up with cayenne, black pepper, or garlic salt. Adding a non-traditional touch with South Asian spices like garam masala, cumin, or coriander can serve to transform your dish into a butter chicken or chicken tikka pot pie.

2. Thicken the sauce to your liking and flavor with bouillon cubes

Now, we have nothing against Ms. Callender's pot pie fillings, but there's nothing like a homemade touch to take that frozen pie to the next level. Our suggestion would be to re-do the sauce into something more indulgent and creamier. Start by picking out the solid pieces of chicken and vegetables, and place them in a separate bowl. For the new sauce, make a simple roux by melting butter in a pan and adding flour, whisking to combine, followed by your choice of chicken or vegetable broth. You don't want a sauce that's too thin, to risk making your pie soggy. To adjust your sauce's consistency, Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman) suggests adding a slurry of cornstarch and water to the thinned sauce, and adjusting the consistency to your liking with more broth or milk.

If you really want the chicken flavor to shine through in the sauce, just chicken chunks and broth won't do. For this, Ina Garten's pot pie recipe suggests adding chicken bouillon cubes to your filling as it's cooking. This trick will add a savory tang to your sauce, and limit the need to add any additional salt as well. Now just mix in the bowl of chicken and vegetables to your newly prepared, rich sauce, and bake with the packaged crusts.

3. Incorporate fresh vegetables

As much as we'd like to devour a pie consisting solely of chicken and flaky, buttery pastry, paying the vegetable tax is a must for pot pies. However, don't let the standard veggies in a store-bought pie hold you back from making innovations, as fresh vegetables add a bite to the seemingly homogenous texture of the frozen varieties. Chef Nic suggests adding sautéed vegetables to enhance the filling, such as mushrooms, bell peppers, or diced butternut squash. "These additions not only improve the texture but also introduce new flavors that make the pie feel more homemade," he says, bringing a much-needed change in consistency that pot pies need.

If you're open to experimenting with vegetables, try ones from the root family like parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or even corn, which can soak flavor from the sauce well, and also complement the pie's texture. Seasonal vegetables can also be thrown in, either by pan-frying or roasting in the oven beforehand to release their juices. Whichever ones you choose, don't make the error of adding raw, uncooked vegetables to your pot pie filling, as it's one of the classic pot pie mistakes everyone makes, and a sure way to downgrade the dish.

4. Enhance the sauce with dairy additions

Not sure about you, but we've often fantasized about a pot pie with a creamier filling, like your standard alfredo sauce, instead of the glob-like chicken soup that usually makes it up. Chef Nic tells us this idea isn't far-fetched, and easily achievable by making small tweaks to your frozen pot pie filling. He recommends enriching the sauce by stirring in a bit of cream or a dollop of crème fraîche — a practice he often engages in with his own pot pies — which makes for a creamier and more indulgent filling.

Of course, that's not the only form of dairy you can incorporate, so try mixing in cream cheese, butter, half and half, and shredded Cheddar or mozzarella cheese in your next attempt, as they serve to make the filling even richer. However, if you're low on cream or don't want to splurge on different varieties of cheese, a good alternative which serves the same purpose is plain milk. Once added to your pie's premade filling and cooked over a low flame, it achieves a similarly creamy texture as cream would, and is just as delicious. To experiment, try making the filling from this creamy 30-minute chicken pot pie recipe for your next weeknight dinner, topped with either puff pastry, the frozen pot pie crust, or a baked biscuit — and thank us later.

5. Brush the crust with egg wash

The glossy sheen on bakery pies isn't just from the expertise of a pastry chef, but comes from a pretty simple ingredient — eggs! According to Chef Nic, the secret to making your frozen pot pies look great is to use an egg wash on the surface before popping them in the oven. "For the crust, I like brushing it with an egg wash and sprinkling it with a mix of sea salt and herbs before baking. This gives the crust a beautiful golden color and a satisfying crunch," he says, adding that such small touches make the pie look like it came from a high-end bakery.

Egg wash isn't only for the top, it's also a great tool to prevent your crust from sinking on the filling while baking. This happens when the butter in your crust melts faster than the pastry has had time to cook, usually a result of using a hot filling straight out of the pan. You could always let the filling cool before baking to avoid this mistake, but Ina Garten introduces a fool proof technique to avoid sinking crusts. Simply brush the sides of your pie dish with egg wash and stick the crust to them as you lay it on top. Put the remaining egg wash on top and you have a gourmet-like crust ready to bake. Garten uses a single egg and a tablespoon of water for her egg wash, which is enough to coat the sides and top of four pie dishes.

6. Prevent a soggy crust by blind baking or using a glass dish

Tired of a soggy crust in your pies? You're not alone. This singular error can ruin a perfectly good crust, and the frozen ones found in chicken pot pies seem especially prone to suffering this ordeal. End all your crust-related woes once and for all with two simple tips that ensure the pastry bakes all the way through, and at the same time as the top crust. The first way is to blind bake your crust before a final bake with the filling and top crust. Simply lay out your rolled dough in your dish, place a sheet of baking paper on top weighed down by raw beans or pie weights so the crust doesn't rise while baking. Bake for 12-15 minutes with the weights, and for 5 minutes with the weights removed, until the bottom looks dry (via The Kitchn).

Another relatively easy way to avoid an uncooked bottom crust is to monitor the pie as it bakes. The soggy bottom issue often arises when we remove the pie from the oven after a set baking time, not checking to make sure it's done all the way. By baking your frozen pot pies in a glass dish, you can monitor its progress with quick and careful peeks, and watch as the bottom gains color before removing it from the oven.

7. Make your filling rich by adding spirits like cognac

If an indulgent filling is what makes you inclined to bake and eat more pot pies, we bring the ultimate indulgence — alcohol. Although wine is often used in cooking, especially red and white varieties in Italian cooking, and Shaoxing rice wine and sake in much of East Asian cooking, you might not have seen it used in a pot pie before. Well don't just take it from us, alcohol is Martha Stewart's secret ingredient for a rich chicken pot pie, that in her words, makes a lovely filling "even lovelier." Her spirit of choice is cognac, which she uses to deglaze the pan after sautéing the vegetables. Stewart says cognac adds a depth of flavor to the sauce, owing to its sweet, spicy, bitter, or fruity flavors with notes of vanilla, orange, and caramel.

If you don't have cognac, or it's not your preferred alcohol, Chef Nic suggests adding a splash of white wine to the filling, which gives the filling a similar depth of flavor. Quantity is key here, as you don't want to add too much to overpower the filling, or too little to go unnoticed. Stewart uses a ½ cup in her recipe for six large ramekin-sized servings of pot pies. Of course, you don't have to make the filling from scratch for a frozen pot pie. Simply heat up the prepared filling and once bubbling, add your choice of alcohol in small quantities, tasting as you go until it's to your liking.

8. Reconstruct the pot pie

It's arguable which part of a frozen pot pie is worse, the crust or the filling, but whichever seems less appealing to you, we suggest dumping it and making your own anew. If the crust on a store-bought pie seems too plain, try making one of your own to achieve that buttery pastry and shiny, golden top. Homemade pie crust is usually more flavorful and holds well while baking, and is less-prone to suffering the soggy bottom fate of the frozen variety. Just remember to use The Pioneer Woman's trick for perfectly flaky pie crust and chill your dough in the freezer for a minimum 15-20 minutes wrapped in plastic (or until ready to use), before rolling it out and baking. This helps the dough remain firm while cooking and retain structure from the chilled fat.

In a rush, you can also top the pot pie with other frozen doughs like a puff pastry, phyllo pastry, biscuits, or crescent roll dough, and forgo the bottom crust altogether. However, the best way to amp up this dish is by re-doing the filling. Additions like noodles or a thin pasta such as fettuccine, alongside vegetables, a rich sauce, or even canned soup can quickly transform the pre-made meal into a homemade one of your own.

9. Use rotisserie chicken in your filling

Although there's nothing easier than throwing a store-bought pot pie in the oven for a quick dinner, some less simple but equally easy changes can turn this frozen dinner into a homemade meal. For example, leave the dry and bland bits of chicken breast used in most pot pie fillings behind for a more flavorful alternative like rotisserie chicken. Not only is rotisserie chicken juicy but also much more well-seasoned than the one used in pie fillings. Simply break up pieces of it and mix them into the premade filling either with the existing chicken remaining or removed.

You can always use leftover rotisserie chicken from an at-home attempt but some store-bought varieties trump all, like the Costco rotisserie chicken. Other delicious alternatives that can upgrade your pot pie include whatever leftover protein you have on hand, whether it's a roast chicken, turkey from a Thanksgiving dinner, a beef mince, and even vegetarian or vegan options like tofu. Basically, anything other than the chicken that comes with the frozen pot pie!

10. Top the pie with cheese or breadcrumbs

Admittedly, the top crust is what puts the ”pot” in pot pie, but that doesn't mean you need to limit yourself to the upper crust. Frozen pot pies can sometimes offer an imbalanced crust to filling ratio, resulting in more pastry per bite than creamy filling. A simple way to elevate the flavor in the frozen variety and give it better texture is to alternate the top crust with shredded cheese or breadcrumbs. Cheeses like your usual Cheddar can give a pretty evenly dispersed top that's reminiscent of a lasagna, but try other varieties like Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, fresh mozzarella, Havarti, or provolone for an even richer flavor.

For breadcrumbs, there's few better than panko, made from crustless white bread which gives it a lightness and results in a crispier crumb. Top your pie filling with a layer of panko to replace the top crust, which will give a crunchy bite to your pie. Another way is to brush the top crust with egg wash and sprinkle the panko on top. This helps avoid the brittle texture that top crust can acquire during baking while waiting to develop color, and also cuts down on any burnt bits.

11. Flip your pie upside down

If you're a chicken pot pie enthusiast like us and grew up on the frozen kind, even the little details will matter. Such as the personal-sized pot pie and its uneven filling to crust ratio. The pie's aluminum foil packaging makes it convenient to bake and eat all in one, but disrupts the proper bite with an even amount of pastry and filling. You end up scooping up a spoonful that's either too much filling or vice versa.

The solution is to do what the folks at Eater suggest for a fool-proof bite. After the pie is done baking, simply flip it upside down on a plate and eat it this way (much like a cake) for an evenly cut slice with the perfect balance of crunchy crust and creamy filling in every bite.

The upside down cooking technique can also be applied to larger frozen pot pies to avoid a dry upper crust. Since the top crust is usually thicker than the bottom one, it doesn't crisp up much while baking, while the thin lower crust gets soggy from the filling. If you flip the pie in its pan before baking, the filling will sink to the bottom, allowing the top crust to get crispy while the bottom soaks the sauces and results in an evenly textured pie. Problem(s) solved!

12. Serve with sides that complement the pie

Simple sides and salads are a great way to uplift any meal. Store-bought items like a pot pie can seem lacking on their own, but paired with sides that complement the pie's flavor, they can round out the meal and serve to enhance presentation. That's what Chef Nic tells us on the different ways to make a store-bought pie all the more appetizing. He suggests serving it with easy sides like a simple Caesar salad, as it adds a brightness to your meal.

Other great sides include roasted vegetables like asparagus, carrots, potatoes, or whichever ones are seasonally available. Ideally, you want something that won't clash with your pot pie too much, like mashed potatoes, which are too similar in texture, or any biscuits, which will be much like the crust. A Reddit thread on this same topic suggested serving store-bought pot pies with a zesty side salad and agreed on avoiding sides that clash with the pie. Some interesting sides users shared included cranberry sauce, freshly cut fruits, corn on the cob, spiced apples, and even applesauce. Ultimately, you should pair it with whatever you like or have available, the idea is to have fun with the dish.