Easy Chili Cheese Tater Tot Casserole Recipe

We love chili all year round, especially during the cooler months when we really want something warm to dig into. This chili cheese tater tot casserole is a great option for cooler weather and especially for football season. (Though we absolutely have made and eaten this in the middle of summer, because it's just that good.) Recipe developer Michelle McGlinn created this recipe for exactly that purpose, to provide a little extra warmth and a whole lot of comfort. 

This recipe combines a few of our favorite comfort foods — chili and tater tots — and it's sure to be a big hit on game days. Whip it up the morning of your big party and you'll be everyone's best friend come food time. This recipe is actually a whole meal all in one, too, so all you need to add is your favorite beverage and you're set. 

Ahead, find all the instructions you need to whip this comfort food classic up in your own kitchen. You can thank us later for giving you your new favorite chili recipe!

Gather your ingredients

To make this chili cheese tater tot casserole, you need to first gather all your ingredients and get them prepared — that's a handy chef's trick called mise en place, if you're looking to impress someone with your culinary lingo. This recipe requires 1 pound ground beef, 1 yellow onion, 5 cloves garlic, 3 tablespoons tomato paste, 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce, 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes, and 1 15-ounce can dark red kidney beans. For spices, you'll need 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 1/2 tablespoons paprika, 1 tablespoon ground or dried thyme, and salt and pepper. Finally, of course, you'll want to secure 1 32-ounce bag of frozen tater tots, 1 8-ounce bag colby jack shredded cheese, and 1/2 cup sour cream for topping. 

Get the onion and garlic ready by dicing both of them up and setting the results to the side.

We made this recipe using ground beef, but if you're trying to cut back on red meat or if you just plain don't want to use beef, you could also use ground turkey or ground chicken instead. Those will cook up in practically the same way. It's up to you which you opt to use, depending on your taste and dietary needs.

Brown the meat

The first step of the creation process is to make the chili. And the first step in many chili recipes is to get the ground meat properly browned and full of flavor. 

To start, place a large pot or Dutch oven on the stove and turn your heat to medium. Put the meat in the pot and start to brown it, using a wooden spoon or similar utensil to break up the meat as it cooks. Once it's browned and cooked through, safely drain any excess grease that remains in your pot. Place the pot back on the stove for the next step.

Add onions and garlic

With your pot still on medium heat, add the diced onions and garlic. Stir them around the pot with the beef and cook until the onions are soft and fragrant. This should take only about 3 minutes. 

Next, add in the tomato paste and stir it around the pot to thoroughly combine it with the meat mixture. As it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, move onto the next step in making this chili.

Add tomatoes

Now that your tomato paste is sticking and adding to the fond at the bottom of the pot, it's time to add the tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes to the mix. Stir that all up until it's fully combined, then bring the mixture up to a simmer. 

Once it's all simmering, add in the beans — making sure they're drained — along with the chili powder, paprika, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir it all together and lower the heat to medium-low. Keep the chili gently simmering for 10 minutes. If it starts to boil, turn your heat down a bit more to keep the liquids from boiling away entirely.

Finish off the chili

Allow the chili to keep simmering on low while you get ready to finish this casserole. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. 

When the chili has thickened slightly, it's ready to be made into a casserole! Remove it from the stovetop and either pour it into an 11-inch by 13-inch baking dish or keep it in the pot you cooked it in if it's oven-safe. Keep in mind, though, that you want plenty of surface area on top for the tater tots, so spreading it out in a dish is ideal for maximum crispy, cheesy potato goodness.

Add the tater tots

Grab your bag of frozen tater tots and start layering them on top. You want them to be neatly lined up, as this ensures even baking and a prettier casserole. Don't underestimate the dish's final visual impact on your diners, after all. While this recipe calls for a 32-ounce bag of tater tots, you may not actually need the whole bag. The number of tater tots you'll need depends on the size of the baking dish you use.

Pop the casserole dish in the oven for 20 minutes or until the tater tots are golden brown and crispy. Take the dish out, sprinkle the top of the tots with cheese, and put it back in the oven. Bake for another 5-7 minutes or until the cheese is melted. 

What to do with chili cheese tater tot casserole leftovers

If you don't eat your chili cheese tater tot casserole all in one fell swoop, don't worry, as it reheats really well. You can keep this casserole in the fridge for up to a week, too. Either put it in an airtight container or just place your whole covered casserole dish in the refrigerator. 

You can also make this ahead of time by preparing the whole dish, except you will skip the final cheese step and put the dish in the freezer. When you're ready to make it, pull the casserole out of the freezer and put it in the oven to warm through. Then, about five minutes before it's ready to leave the oven, add the cheese, let it finish cooking, and enjoy!

Easy Chili Cheese Tater Tot Casserole Recipe
5 from 33 ratings
This chili cheese tater tot casserole recipe combines a few of our favorite comfort foods, like chili and cheese. It's sure to be a big hit at game day parties.
Prep Time
Cook Time
Chili Cheese Tater Tot Casserole
Total time: 50 minutes
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can dark red kidney beans
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground or dried thyme
  • 32 ounces tater tots
  • 1 8-ounce bag colby jack shredded cheese
  • ½ cup sour cream, for topping
  1. Brown the beef in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, crumbling as it cooks. Once browned, drain excess grease.
  2. In the same pot, add the onions and garlic and combine with the beef. Cook until onions are softened and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato paste to the pot and stir well to combine. As the tomato paste begins to stick to the bottom of the pot, add in the tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer.
  4. Once the chili is simmering, add in the beans, chili powder, paprika, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 10 minutes. If the chili starts to boil, turn the heat down further to achieve a simmer.
  5. While the chili is simmering, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the chili has thickened slightly, pour the chili into an 11-inch by 13-inch baking dish. You can also keep the chili in your pot if it is oven-safe.
  6. Place frozen tater tots on top of chili, covering the top completely.
  7. Place casserole in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until tater tots are golden and crispy. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the shredded cheese over top. Return to the oven and bake for another 5-7 minutes, until cheese is completely melted.
  8. Remove from the oven and top with sour cream, if desired.
Calories per Serving 538
Total Fat 33.4 g
Saturated Fat 15.5 g
Trans Fat 1.3 g
Cholesterol 102.2 mg
Total Carbohydrates 31.4 g
Dietary Fiber 8.3 g
Total Sugars 11.2 g
Sodium 1,037.9 mg
Protein 31.3 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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