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Hot Dish vs Casserole

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Ever wonder what the difference is in Hotdish vs Casserole? First you have to know and understand the difference. In essence, a casserole specifically refers to the cooking vessel used. Whereas, a hot dish is the actual meal itself.

tater tot casserole with blue banner and text "hot dish vs casserole"

Hot Dishes and Casseroles

Seems pretty simple, right? But that is where you can get into all sorts of trouble… Let’s go over the common terminology!

We first need to define a hotdish and a casserole.

A “Hotdish,” as referred to in the Midwest area of the United States, is talking about a specific recipe or the combination of ingredients baked in a dish. These one-dish meal offerings are popular at church suppers gatherings, family reunions, or where a large group get together.

They are also called “pot lucks or pitch-ins.” You might even go as far as to say the “Hot Dish” is the unofficial state cuisine of Minnesota.

When talking about what a casserole is, most can describe them as a one-pot meal that is baked in the oven. But where the name comes from is the type of dish itself such as a casserole pan or casserole dish.

As they have evolved, the term is used interchangeably with the food inside. I’m sure these came about from The Great Depression where nothing was wasted. Any leftover bits of food are combined and reinvented to make a whole new meal.

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red casserole dish with a hot dish inside

Hotdish vs Casserole: Similarities and Differences

Although hot dishes and casseroles possess similar traits and are both classic comfort foods, a hot dish is more rigidly defined by the types of ingredients used. As long as you are using a casserole dish, a casserole is anything you add to it.

However, the hot dishes of Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota all have specific ingredients in common.

In fact, anywhere you find hot dishes in the upper midwest, you find they all keep a few ingredients in common. Doesn’t matter if you make a Minnesota hot dish or an Illinois hot dish.

A hotdish is served as a main dish whereas casseroles can be served as the main course, like a tuna casserole, or as a side dish. Take green bean casserole served at most holidays as a side dish to that delicious roasted turkey.

close up of casserole topped with tater tots

What is a hot dish?

A hot dish is comfort food based on four main ingredients. Cream of mushroom soup, meat, veggies, and potatoes. The creamy sauce binds the meat and potatoes. The hot dish recipe is cooked in a regular baking dish or pan, but it is served to the plate.

A typical recipe is called Tater Tot Hotdish Recipe. It has all the basics and tastes delicious!

That is a bit different from a casserole, which is a dish that is brought directly to the table when serving. After those four basic ingredients layer in, then you are free to get a bit more creative.

Essential Hotdish Components

  • Condensed Cream Soup – Cream of Mushroom Soup is the most popular but they can use Cream of Chicken or Cream of Celery Soup.
  • Potatoes – Mashed potatoes, diced potatoes are great but tater tots are the most popular .
  • Meat – your choice, but ground beef is usually the most popular
  • Vegetables – Frozen vegetables, or canned ones work well. Green beans are the most popular to use.
red hot dish with ziti and a spoon

Why do Minnesotans say hot dish?

Minnesotans like to coin their own names for things. They use phrases that are pretty much dead giveaways that the person using them comes from there.

Of course, they don’t want to use a fancy french word for a serving dish when they can just get right to the point and call it a “hotdish”.

Midwesterners, especially those in the more northerly climes, tend to be very matter of fact, get to the point, don’t beat around the bush about things.

When it comes to hotdish vs casserole, they are going to say hotdish!

overhead picture of hotdish recipe in green single baking dish

Hotdish vs Casserole Tips

  • When it comes to a hot dish vs a casserole you can use any oven safe pan or dish to bake it in. If you want to get fancy, then go ahead and use a casserole dish. Just make sure you call it a hot dish if you are around upper Midwesterns.
  • Typically made in a 9×13 pan or 3 quart baking dish.
  • Vary your ground meat. Use ground beef, turkey, sausage, and even chicken.
  • The potatoes are the starchy binder that brings it all together. Don’t have potato tots? Try crushed potato chips.
  • Although fresh vegetables are best, you don’t need to chop up any veggies if you start with either frozen veggies or canned ones.
  • Cream soups are an easy way to bring extra flavor to the dish. Vary which flavor you use.
  • Always top with cheddar cheese because cheese makes everything hot dish or casserole better
  • Preheat your oven. If the dish takes 30 minutes to cook, then you don’t want to include those minutes when it is still far under actual cooking temperature.

If you love this recipe as much as I do, pin this to your favorite casserole Pinterest board and share it on your favorite social media channels!

casserole dish with text in a blue banner "hot dish vs casserole"

Time to make a hot dish! This is a great meal to make and take to potlucks or church socials. It pleases a wide swath of appetites and never fails to get finished. Which means it is also easy to take the empty bake pan or casserole dish home afterwards!

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