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This Sloppy Joe casserole recipe is an easy, cheesy, and totally comforting family meal that’s budget friendly! Tender ground beef is smothered in the best homemade sauce, and it’s baked with tater tots and golden melty cheese.
Why you’ll love it
This easy Sloppy Joe casserole is the crossover you didn’t know you needed in your life (but absolutely deserve). It’s got all the best elements of a classic tangy, savory, and sweet Sloppy Joe Sandwich combined with the irresistible crispy, cheesy quality of a Tater Tot Casserole. That means it’s a kid-friendly meal that’s sure to satisfy a crowd of even the pickiest eaters.
Because this Sloppy Joe tater tot casserole is very hands off once you’re done the sautéing part, that leaves you more time on busy weeknights for the things that really matter while it’s baking away. It’s also inexpensive to make this perfectly seasoned ground beef casserole, so it’s an obvious choice for a cozy family meal.
Who invented tater tots?
- The history is actually really interesting. They were invented in the 1950s by one F. Nephi Grigg, a frozen food company owner, when figuring out how best to utilize potato scraps. He travelled with his newly invented tater tots to the iconic beachside Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, where they made their debut in the hearts of Americans and have been adored ever since. Genius!
What goes into it
- Ground beef – I like to use at least 90% lean
- Onion – sweet (Vidalia) are my go-to, but yellow will also work
- Green bell pepper – for added crunch and to sneak in a veggie
- Ketchup and yellow mustard – for the base of the Sloppy Joe sauce
- Garlic powder and smoked paprika – seasonings to infuse it with plenty of savory flavor
- Red pepper flakes – totally optional, but this small amount adds a gentle warmth, not making it spicy
- Worcestershire sauce – it’s a great flavor enhancer for many recipes. I always have a bottle on hand.
- White vinegar – for a touch of acidity and to add balance
- Beef broth – it adds deeper, richer flavor and moisture
- Cheddar cheese – I prefer to grate my own from a block since it tastes and melts really well, but the bagged kind works too
- Tater tots – the crispy, fluffy star of this casserole. Use your favorite brand.
- To make clean-up even easier, you can use the same oven-proof skillet from start to finish if it’s big enough instead of transferring to a baking dish. This 12″ Staub skillet is one of my favorites.
How to make Sloppy Joe casserole
This is an overview with step-by-step photos. Full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.
Preheat the oven. In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown the beef, and drain excess fat if necessary. Add in the onion and green peppers, and cook for another few minutes, giving it a stir every so often. Reduce the heat, and stir in the rest of the sauce ingredients. Warm through.
Transfer the beef mixture to a 9×13 baking dish, and spread it in an even layer. Sprinkle about one cup of the grated cheddar over top.
Arrange the tater tots on top. It’s totally fine if the entire quantity doesn’t fit. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Take it out of the oven and top with the remaining cheese. Pop it back in for a few minutes until the cheddar has melted, and serve right away!
Can I make it ahead?
- You can! Do everything up until adding the tater tots. Cover and refrigerate overnight, and add them just before baking to prevent them from getting soggy. Bake for a couple more minutes if it’s going into the oven right from the fridge.
- You could also make it ahead and freeze for up to three months. In that case, I’d add the tater tots when you’re ready to cook it as well.
Substitutions and variations
- The crushed red pepper flakes add a gentle heat, but feel free to omit them if you’re feeding younger kids, for example.
- Some frozen peas would be a great addition. Just stir them in at step 4.
- If you’re feeling adventures, you could try a different melting cheese blend like Tex-Mex or Monterey Jack.
Leftovers and storage
- Leftovers of this casserole will keep in a covered container for 3-4 days in the fridge.
- Note that the tater tots will soften up over time, so you may want to reheat in the oven vs. the microwave to restore some of their crispiness. You could even use an air fryer if you’ve got one.
- Leftovers can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
Let me know if you made this simple Sloppy Joe casserole or have any questions! I love hearing from my readers. You can also find me on Instagram to show me your creations.
Sloppy Joe Casserole
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1 green bell pepper chopped
- 3/4 cup tomato ketchup
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/2 cup beef broth or water
- 2 cups cheddar grated
- 32 ounces frozen tater tots see note
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Preheat your oven to 375F and move the rack to the top third of the oven.
- Add the beef to a skillet and cook over medium-high heat until browned, breaking it up with your spoon as you go along (about 10 minutes). I don't drain the fat if using lean beef, but feel free to drain some if you're using regular and there's a lot of excess fat.
- Stir in the onions and peppers and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add in the ketchup, mustard, garlic powder, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and beef broth. Give it a good stir and let it warm through (about 2-3 minutes – don't let it get too dry).
- Transfer the mixture to a 9×13 casserole dish and spread it out in an even layer. Optional: if you have a large oven-safe skillet, feel free to make the casserole entirely in the skillet.
- Top with one cup of the cheddar.
- Arrange the tater tots on top and bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is nice and melty. Serve immediately with extra salt & pepper if needed.
- Tater tot package sizes can vary, so anything around 32 oz. will work, but you may use a bit less depending how you arrange them in your baking dish.
- Ingredients in this dish can be somewhat salty, so be mindful of that before adding any extra salt (and you may want to use reduced sodium broth if you’re sensitive to salt).
- Serves 6-8.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
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