Demystifying Hotdish: A Culinary Exploration of Minnesota’s Iconic Casserole

Hotdish, a culinary staple of Minnesota and North Dakota, holds a place of honor in the hearts and stomachs of many Midwesterners. This hearty casserole boasts a unique history, a flexible definition, and a nostalgic charm that sets it apart from other casseroles.

Hotdish vs. Casserole: A Tale of Two Dishes

While often used interchangeably, hotdish and casserole are distinct entities. A casserole, derived from the French word “cassole” meaning saucepan, encompasses a diverse range of baked dishes with no specific set of ingredients. Lasagna, shepherd’s pie, and mac and cheese all fall under the broad umbrella of casseroles.

Hotdish, on the other hand, is a more specific term with a distinct set of characteristics. It typically features ground beef, canned or frozen vegetables, a starchy component like pasta or potatoes, a creamy soup base, and a crispy topping such as tater tots, chips, or chow mein noodles.

The Essence of Hotdish: A Culinary Legacy

Hotdish emerged during the Great Depression as a resourceful way to stretch limited ingredients into a satisfying meal for families. Canned goods and affordable cuts of meat formed the foundation of this versatile dish, ensuring sustenance during challenging times.

The name “hotdish” first appeared in a 1930 community cookbook published in Mankato, Minnesota. The recipe, contributed by Mrs. C.W. Anderson, called for ground beef, canned tomato soup, peas, celery, and Creamette macaroni. However, the flexibility of hotdish allowed for improvisation based on available ingredients, solidifying its reputation as a resourceful and adaptable dish.

Beyond Ingredients: The Nostalgia Factor

Hotdish transcends its culinary components to evoke a sense of nostalgia and comfort for many Midwesterners. It represents family gatherings, potlucks, and the warmth of home cooking. This emotional connection adds another dimension to the enjoyment of hotdish, making it more than just a meal.

Hotdish: A Culinary Icon of the Midwest

Hotdish has become an integral part of Minnesota’s cultural identity. Its popularity is celebrated through the annual Hotdish Competition, where members of Congress compete to create the most delectable version of this iconic dish.

Hotdish, with its unique history, flexible ingredients, and nostalgic charm, holds a special place in the culinary landscape of the Midwest. It is more than just a casserole; it is a symbol of resourcefulness, comfort, and a deep connection to the region’s heritage. So, the next time you encounter this hearty dish, remember the stories it carries and the generations it has nourished.

Why Do Minnesotans Call Casserole ‘Hotdish’?


What is the difference between hotdish and casserole?

A hot dish can be made of one vegetable or one meat or one carb source. A casserole is normally made with several ingredients in combination.

What makes something a hotdish?

According to Eater, the elements that are absolutely necessary to include in hotdish are a starch, protein, and vegetable bound together by a creamy sauce, usually cream of mushroom soup. It’s all baked in one dish and served piping hot.

What do Southerners call hotdish?

When I searched it out, I found that in North Carolina, and a good part of the South at least, what you call a “hotdish”, we call a “casserole”. There are many types of casseroles, my favorite is chicken casserole.

What is the difference between a casserole and A hotdish?

The only difference between a casserole and a hotdish is where you’re from. If you’re from Minnesota, a cozy casserole dish with a mixture of protein, starch, cheese/condensed soup/sauce, and sometimes vegetables is a hotdish. If you’re from anywhere else, including Minnesota-adjacent states, the exact same dish is called a casserole.

What do you eat in a casserole dish?

The name is easy to explain — it’s a hot meal prepared entirely in a casserole dish — but exactly what goes into that dish can vary significantly. The basic elements are meat, vegetables, starch, sauce, and toppings, but the specifics are up to each cook. The meat is typically ground beef, though you could use chicken, turkey, pork, or even tuna.

What do casserole recipes have in common?

There are countless casserole recipes, and the only thing they all have in common is the dish they are baked in. In fact, the word “casserole” comes from the French “cassole,” which roughly translates to “saucepan.” Outside of the cookware itself, casserole has no firm definition.

What makes a good casserole?

It’s cherished for its ease of preparation and clean-up, better-the-next-day leftovers, and the ability to put pretty much anything in it and it will be goshdarn delicious. Some definitions of casserole say it has to have a protein, starch, vegetable, cheese, and sauce.

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