Taco bake casserole. That’s essentially how we think of this easy, cheesy, crunchy, spicy beef taco bake. You’re welcome.–David Leite

Spicy Beef Taco Bake FAQs

What is Jack cheese?

Monterey Jack cheese, the base for all the other Jack cheeses, is a semi-firm, creamy, mild-flavored cheese made from cow’s milk that’s aged for a short period. The derivatives, which include pepper Jack, Colby Jack, and Cheddar Jack are a mixture of Monterey Jack, other cheeses, and flavorings. Jack cheeses have fairly mild flavors and superb meltability, making them great for recipes like this.

Why do I need to put the casserole in the fridge before cooking?

Not only does it give you the opportunity to have dinner made in advance, but letting the prepared casserole rest enriches the flavors. A little time is all it takes to let the ingredients meld and the spices mature, giving the whole thing a little more oomph. Don’t fear if you can’t wait that long, however. A few of our testers baked it up within hours of making it and still agreed that it was delish.

I can’t find Ro-Tel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies. What should I use?

If you can’t find Ro-tel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies, substitute a 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, and one 4-ounce can of chopped green chiles, drained, reserving 6 tablespoons of the tomato juice and 2 tablespoons of the chile juice.

What should I serve with this taco bake casserole?

This really needs nothing more than the suggested toppings of shredded lettuce, sour cream, onions, and salsa, but if you’d like to make it a heartier meal, serve a green salad and some rice alongside.

Will the tortilla chips get soggy if I reheat leftovers?

Nope! Our testers found that this taco casserole reheated well in the oven or microwave, and the tortilla chips stayed crispy.

Spicy beef taco bake with ground beef, beans tortilla chips, chopped onions, and lettuce in a white bowl.

Spicy Beef Taco Bake

4.80 / 5 votes
The spicy beef taco bake is essentially a Taco Tuesday casserole. Beef and onions are sautéed and then mixed with tomatoes, beans, cheese, broken taco shells, and spices, and then the whole shebang is baked until bubbly. Utterly irresistible.
David Leite
CuisineTex Mex
Servings6 to 8 servings
Calories415 kcal
Prep Time25 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Total Time2 hours


  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or mild olive oil
  • 1 medium (8 oz) onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1 1/2 pounds 93 percent lean ground beef
  • Two (10-oz) cans Ro-tel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies, drained with 1/2 cup juice reserved
  • 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
  • One (16-oz) can refried beans
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 1/2 cups Colby Jack or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 12 taco shells, broken into 1 inch pieces, or coarsely crushed tortilla chips
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Your favorite taco toppings, such as shredded lettuce, sour cream, chopped onion, and/or salsa


  • Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the onion has softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, garlic, and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ground beef and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until no trace of pinks, 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Stir in half the tomatoes, the reserved tomato juice, vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the mixture is very thick, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  • Mix the remaining tomatoes, refried beans, and cilantro together, then spread in a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle 1/2 cup Colby Jack over the beans. Spread the cooled beef mixture on the cheese and sprinkle with another 1/2 cup Colby Jack. Wrap the dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
  • Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400℉ (205℃).
  • Unwrap the dish, scatter the crushed taco shells over the top, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Colby Jack. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil slicked with oil and bake the casserole until hot throughout and bubbling around the edges, about 25 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the topping is spotty brown, about 10 minutes.
  • Let cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with scallions and serve.
The Make-Ahead Cook Cookbook

Adapted From

The Make-Ahead Cook

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 415 kcalCarbohydrates: 20 gProtein: 34 gFat: 22 gSaturated Fat: 10 gMonounsaturated Fat: 8 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 95 mgSodium: 352 mgFiber: 4 gSugar: 2 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2014 America’s Test Kitchen. Photo © 2014 Carl Tremblay. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Our family loves Mexican food any way you can get it and this taco bake recipe was no different. It’s quick and easy to put together with ingredients we always have on hand.

My question on this recipe was, “Would it be good reheated or would the chips be soggy?” The answer is, yes, it is good reheated and the chips were not soggy. I always use 93% ground beef when I make casseroles because there is no grease to drain.

I also liked the way you cook the spices for a bit before adding other ingredients. It brings out the flavors so much more. We’ll make this recipe again and again.

This taco bake casserole recipe was a family favorite. I made this for my family, and they demanded more! They loved the taste and texture of this recipe. This is so good and adaptable, you could serve it as an appetizer dip for a football game or a large gathering.

I believe this recipe is worth the work and ingredients that were involved. It was not as spicy as I expected but those I shared the recipe with thought the spice level was nice and balanced. I put out the remainder of the tortilla chips for my family to use as utensils. Again, they suggested that this dish may be more suitable as a large party appetizer rather than the main dish. My family said that this dish would be a family favorite moving forward.

The lean ground beef worked great. In the future, I may substitute turkey, which has the same texture with that same lean quality of the beef. There were 3 to 4 tablespoons of fat that I did drain off prior to putting it into the baking dish. I really enjoyed the Ro-Tel ingredient. It had that semi-homemade component and saved some dicing in the end.

For the chip topping, I used approximately 24 chips for the top. I served the remainder as a utensil for picking up some of the dish from the plate. We really enjoyed the aromatics that the spices brought to the kitchen when cooking the spices with the onion. Once I finished the dish, I set up a nice bar of pico de gallo, onions, sour cream, chips, cheese, and cilantro for folks to add their own spin to the baked dish.

I also served with the remaining tortilla chips, which brought up the appetizer suggestion. Again, I loved this dish and will definitely be serving this again as both a main dish and an appetizer for future events.

I had some trepidation about this beef taco bake because it’s much more of a burrito than a taco, but what’s in a name? I found it just as easy as making tacos but tacos made ahead of time. The recipe is very good and easy to understand and uses ingredients that are readily available.

I used a 12-pack of taco shells as directed but didn’t measure. It was a sufficient amount. You can use tortilla chips also the end result is a layer of crunchy goodness. As the recipe suggests, use the 93% beef I only drained off 1/4 cup with pressing on it with the back of a spoon. The timing is accurate give or take a couple of minutes so keep an eye on it as every range can vary.

This recipe may sound like a lot of trouble but it’s very simple and it will keep in the fridge for several days if necessary so you can make it in advance. Leftovers keep well, but you need to reheat the dish in the oven as the chips may lose the crunch.

I found this taco bake casserole to be very flavorful and would make it often. As a base and some creativity, it is a start to a home-cooked night out. This recipe invites creativity so experiment a bit.

This was a delicious casserole with traditional taco flavors. It doesn’t replace your favorite taco recipe but if you’re looking for a make-ahead casserole this is a great choice.

I’d never make this instead of tacos. The whole point of tacos—for my family, at least—is that everyone gets to build the taco as they please. Plus, tacos are pretty kid-friendly but refried beans are not a favorite for my kids. Tacos come together fairly quickly. This casserole doesn’t. It’s still a convenient recipe, though, because it’s make-ahead. It’s a different recipe for different needs.

Since the recipe indicated that you could let the casserole sit for up to 24 hours, I took that to mean that I didn’t HAVE to let it sit that long. I let it sit for 6 hours because my family was eager to try it for dinner. The flavors had developed plenty by then and we loved the taste. I covered the whole casserole with tortilla chips, not taco shells. Taco shells are a bit thicker and harder than chips and I thought the chips would taste better.

This spicy beef taco bake was fantastic. Everyone in the house raved about it, and there is definitely something to be said for having a dinner in the fridge you can just pop in the oven! I’d definitely make it again, and although the description seems long, it really didn’t take any extra time to put together than regular tacos, and I loved that it was all ready to bake whenever and then there were no dishes after dinner!

Supposedly, this serves 6 but probably not more. We were two adults and two kids and there were a couple of small servings left. I used 2 cups of crushed tortilla chips.

My only issue was the dish size—I found that when I started to spread the refried bean mixture into the 9-by-13-inch baking dish, it seemed like the layer was really thin. In the end, I move it to a smaller 2.8L oval dish (approximately 8-by-10-inch baking dish) where the layers seemed to be thicker.

I worried that when spread so thinly they’d either burn or disappear into each other. In the end, this worked well, and after baking, the bean layer was bubbling away (with a little peeking up on the sides), and everything was hot all the way through but nothing burned (or stuck to the pan!).

This beef taco bake recipe works and can easily take the place of making regular tacos. It’s really easy to do the whole thing in the oven and eating it (as an adult) is a whole lot neater. Probably kids would find eating an individual taco more fun.

The one change I would make would be to use a bit more cheese. The cheese pretty much disappears into the casserole. To remedy this, I would add more cheese throughout the layers and/or have some extra cheese on hand as a topping. I served sour cream, avocado, chopped tomatoes, some extra cilantro, and shredded lettuce as additional toppings.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    Loved it! And my curmudgeonly father for whom I cook dinner, daily, said I could serve this every day! I halved the recipe and it was enough for us for 2 nights. Served it on top of shredded lettuce with a blob of sour cream on the side, plus sliced avocado’s on top with the scallions. Not sure the necessity of putting in the fridge overnight–I just put it in for 2 hours and it seemed fine. My sauce didn’t thicken up–it was just beef, onions and tomatoes. So tonite for part 2, I’ll dump some tomato sauce in.

    1. Thanks, Dana! We’re so pleased that this was a hit for both of you. We can’t wait to hear what you try next.