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. has anyone tried to put the masa on the bottom of crock pot like a real tamale as well as the top. how is the texture of masa. im even thinking about putting the corn husks under masa n on top so masa no get hard or wet from crock steam. whatcha think crock pot club. I have to use pork butt sorry.

  2. Could corn meal be substituted? I have plenty of cornmeal and don’t want to go buy masa too.

  3. I am making this to take to a pot luck on the 16thfor the red hots club I belong to and will be using ground beef. Yes – I have eaten venison. My grandpa was a hunter and brought home venison a lot. Gram soaked it in milk to cut down on the gamey taste. It was okay – but I will stick with beef.

  4. this is delicious, but unsure whether to try this recipe or another (galley wench) that also looked delicious but like a lot more work…i took some of her ideas and substituted here-namely i put 2 cups of whole corn into the cuisinart and ground, and with 1 cup of shredded cheese, added to the masa mixture.
    then for the filling i cut back on the meat, and replaced with one cup of mashed pinto beans, used green canned enchilada sauce because that’s all i had handy, and left out the water and 1/2 the cornstarch.
    i ate it topped it with sour cream and chopped tomatoes, i’m sure i’ll be making this again!!

  5. Yes, I did transfer it to a casserole dish for the picture. My crock pot is not that pretty and I didn’t think it would photograph very well. 🙂 You could certainly try using a water bath.

  6. The picture shown is not a crock pot dish. Was it transferred? What about in the oven using a water bath approach to mimic steaming of the masa? Am looking to reinvent a chicken and Poblano tamale with green sauce but in a casserole version to feed more people easily.

  7. 5 stars
    Made this for dinner tonight and loved it! I, too, have read many recipes for tamale pie that are basically Jiffy cornbread on top of chili. I searched specifically for recipes using masa harina and luckily found yours–it’s terrific! I will be making this OFTEN. I don’t have ready access to venison, though, so I used half ground turkey and half ground beef.

4.89 from 9 votes (3 ratings without comment)

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