Slow Cooker Tamale Pie Casserole

Slow cooker tamale pie casserole has all the flavor of an actual tamale without all the work. Seasoned ground beef is topped with tender masa harina.

serving of tamale pie in a blue ceramic dish

Homemade tamales are awesome. Making homemade tamales, however, is not.  I tried it once and I’m not really excited by the notion of doing it again.  I’m reminded of my clam-shucking experience – a lot of work for little pay.

If The Husband has been blessed with a successful hunting season, often we will splurge and have some of our deer meat made into venison tamales.  But at almost $40 a box, that can get quite pricey.

One evening I was flipping through the pages of my Bell’s Best cookbook {affiliate link}  when I noticed a recipe for tamale pie.  Just so you know, it’s not an actual pie.  The Husband had a hard time wrapping his brain around that.  He thought I was actually going to slap some of our precious venison tamales into a pie crust and bake it in the oven.  No, it’s actually more of a casserole.  But casserole has such a negative connotation to it.  Like meatloaf or jello salad.

serving of tamale pie in a blue ceramic dish

As I read through the directions, it didn’t really meet my expectations for what I thought a tamale pie should taste like.  First, the recipe called for cornmeal, while traditional tamales use masa harina.  Just so you know, cornmeal and masa harina are not interchangeable.  While both are made from ground corn, masa harina is ground very fine and treated with lime (as in calcium oxide, not citrus fruit).  The result is a type of flour that absorbs liquid and cooks up to a soft, dough-like consistency.

The directions also instructed you to bake the “pie” in the oven.  Traditional tamales are steamed, making the dish in my cookbook more like cornbread.

That got me thinking, what if I could make something that tasted just like a tamale without all the work?  My search began and I found this recipe.  I liked the basic framework, but wanted something with considerably fewer steps.  Rather than fooling with a water bath, I figured I could achieve the exact same effect with my slow cooker.

I could not have been more pleased with the result.  Even The Husband, who was skeptical from the moment he thought his venison tamales were in imminent danger, admitted that it really did taste like an actual tamale.

I made this with ground venison, only because we have a lot on hand right now.  But this would also taste great with ground beef.

serving of tamale pie in a blue ceramic dish

Slow Cooker Tamale Pie -

Tamale Pie

Slow cooker tamale pie casserole has all the flavor of an actual tamale without all the work. Seasoned ground beef is topped with tender masa harina.
4.89 from 9 votes
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Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 4 -6
Author: Lisa B.


Tamale Dough:

  • 2 cups instant Masa Harina
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds ground venison or beef
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 10 oz. can red enchilada sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup beef broth


  • Whisk together masa, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add broth and oil and stir to combine until dough becomes soft paste. Cover bowl let dough rest for at least 15 minutes at room temperature.
  • In the meantime, preheat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add ground venison or beef and onions. Cook until meat is no longer pink, being sure to break up any large chunks. Add minced garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in enchilada sauce.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Stir in chili powder, cumin, and broth. Add mixture to meat and stir to combine.
  • To assemble, spread meat in an even layer over the bottom of the crock of a slow cooker. Gently spread tamale dough over the top of the meat mixture. Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours until dough is set.

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  1. Yes, my husband has been reminding me a lot lately that deer season is approaching. But I’m not complaining be I DO love some free meat!

  2. 5 stars
    Perfect_) Exactly what I was looking for ! I just thawed out the rest of our ground deer! Keep the ideas coming – I’ll be checking back- Deer season is only a few months away! Don’t you just LOVE free meat????

  3. 5 stars
    I have been looking for a great tamales recipe, I think today may just be my lucky day. Thanks for the post!

4.89 from 9 votes (3 ratings without comment)

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