What is a Hotdish?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Hotdish is a type of casserole which is very popular in the American Midwest. Although hotdish is not terribly prepossessing to look at, it is a very beloved dish in its native lands, and it has also won some converts in other regions. Like other casseroles, hotdish is composed by mixing an assortment of ingredients and baking them in a large heat-proof dish. There are numerous hotdish recipes, incorporating everything from ground beef to frozen tater tots, and church cookbooks are an excellent source for interesting hotdish recipes.

The origins of the word are a bit murky. Many Americans use the term “hot dish” to refer to any sort of casserole, lasagna, or one pan oven baked dish. The Midwestern hotdish certainly falls into this family of foods. Some people have suggested that hotdish may be a translation of the Norwegian varmrett, or “warm dish.” Norwegians definitely settled and spoke Norwegian in the Midwest, so this is certainly possible.

There are four primary constituents to a hotdish: starch, protein, vegetables, and a binding. Noodles are a common choice of starch, as are potatoes and sometimes biscuits as well. Common choices of protein include ground beef, chicken, and tuna, while creamy soups like cream of mushroom are common bindings. Usually only one or two vegetables are used, with options such as green beans, corn, peas, broccoli, onions, or carrots being very common.


Tater tot hotdish is one of the most well known and beloved hotdish recipes. Typically the cook sautes a meat such as ground beef with onions and other vegetables of choice, before mixing it with cream soup and ladling this mixture over a layer of tater tots in a casserole dish. Cheese may be mixed in as well, to make the dish even more rich. The hotdish is baked, covered, for around 45 minutes, and it may be left briefly uncovered to finish, so that it has a crispy top. Tuna hotdish is also very common, typically made with noodles as a starch.

Since hotdish involves only one baking dish and a cooking pan, it is rather convenient. Some versions also freeze well, so cooks can make a large batch of hotdish and then cook it as needed. The casserole pan can also be used as a container and serving dish for potlucks, and hotdish is a common feature at Midwestern potlucks as a result. Depending on the ingredients, the dish can also be relatively cheap and nutritious to assemble, making it a good choice for cooks on a budget.


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