What Is the Difference Between Hotdish and Casserole?

Hotdish was a holiday staple in our household growing up.

My brothers named the piece de resistance hotdish in our family, Tater Puffs and Cheez Whip, aka, funeral potatoes. This legendary hotdish filled our stomachs and souls with butter, potatoes, and all the cheese you can imagine. By family credence, one can only make it around Christmastime – adding to the nostalgia of the dish. For us, hotdish was more than just a meal.

The history of hotdish.

Hotdish’s creation started as a way for farmers’ wives to feed their families or a large group of people on a budget. Essentially, hotdish is potatoes, cream of mushroom soup, ground meat (usually beef), and frozen vegetables; the dish’s cost is minimal. It can be a main meal for family dinners or as a side dish for large gatherings such as weddings, funerals, or church suppers.

Variations of hotdish in Minnesota range from using rice or pasta instead of potatoes, cooking with venison or other types of game for the meat, mixing in large amounts of butter and cheese, and adding a different kind of soup – not too distant, stick with the “creams of.”

Isn’t hotdish just casserole?

Ha! NO!

If you grew up or are from Minnesota, you can spot a hotdish from miles away. It calls to you.


However, if you aren’t sure whether you are about to consume hotdish or casserole, here are some ways you can tell the difference:

  • Does it look like four items were found in a pantry and randomly put together in a dish? Hotdish.
  • Are there spices in this dish such as oregano, cumin, garlic, or anything other than salt? Casserole.
  • Upon looking at the dish, can you vaguely smell your Uncle Dean’s cheap suit? The one he only dons at funerals? Hotdish.
  • Can you identify what kind of meat it is because of its color or lack of “groundness”? Casserole.
  • Is there enough butter in there to even make Paula Deen say, “Oh. Wow.”? Hotdish.
  • Can you spot vegetables that have nutritional value? Casserole.
  • When you finish eating the dish, do you automatically want to say “Uff Da”? Hotdish.
  • Does the recipe call for any “fancy” words to make the dish, such as florets, Provolone, sprinkling, or fresh? Casserole.
  • Do the instructions say: “Combine ingredients and bake for 45 min” and nothing else? Hotdish.
  • Can you make a Whole30, keto, or a low-carb friendly option? Casserole.
  • Does the top layer consist only of tater tots with or without cheese? Hotdish.
  • Do you get the “Midwest Sweats” after consuming the dish? Hotdish.
  • Once served, does the meal require any topping once, like sour cream, avocado, salsa, or parsley? Casserole.
  • Does it make you feel at home? Hotdish or Casserole.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mike McGuinness says:

    Well it was always somebody else calling it a hot dish, Church etc but we always called it a casserole.
    I know a Foodies group that would get a kick out of this.

    1. Yes, casserole for us was more of a regular meal. Chicken and rice casserole, broccoli and chicken casserole, tuna casserole (which I think can also be a hotdish). Hotdish was a specialty. Simple comfort food that showed up from time to time. Thanks!

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