Level up your Tamale Pie experience by using leftover pulled pork. It’s an easy substitution with maximum pay-off (and frugal, too). This simple casserole is ready in an hour and destined to become a family favorite.
Years ago, a good friend taught Cameron and I how to make truly authentic tamales at home. It’s a labor intensive process but WOW is it worth the work. Talk about a return on investment. We swore we’d make yearly tamale parties a thing.
Narrator: they did not make yearly tamale parties a thing.
This is what happens in the throws of early parenthood. Lots of wild dreaming – very little follow-through. C’est la vie.
What I did do from that day forth was commit to making tamale pie exclusively with pulled pork instead of ground beef. It makes such a huge difference! To be clear – tamale pie is not the same thing as an authentic tamale. It’s not even close, and I will not suggest this recipe as a suitable replacement. But it’s an achievable accomplishment – and small wins are, well, wins.
Tamale pie is old school comfort food, the kind that brings you back to an 80’s childhood of big bangs and playing with abandon until the street lights come on. Deliciousness awaits in the form of this seasoned pulled pork casserole topped savory cornbread. Bake it in a cast iron skillet for extra nostalgia.
What Kind of Pulled Pork Should I Use?
Almost any recipe for leftover pulled pork is going to work for this recipe. I’ve made it with leftover oven braised or instant pot pulled pork, and even leftover carnitas. Avoid a recipe that’s tossed in a heavy sauce, like BBQ sauce, or one that’s heavily seasoned with competing flavors. Or, simply reserve some pork before saucing it (you’ll need 2 cups) and tuck it into the fridge for a few days.
How to Make Pulled Pork Tamale Pie
If you’ve only ever made a tamale pie using ground beef, you’re in for a treat. Pulled pork tamale pie is a bit quicker on the prep and just a bit more authentic. It definitely feels more “tamale-ish” to me, but perhaps that’s because I simply adore traditional pulled pork tamales. Use leftover carnitas or your favorite pulled pork recipe to make this dish in just one hour.
Saute diced onion and bell pepper, a minced jalapeno and garlic until soft. Keep the jalapeno seeds (or double the amount) to add more heat.
Add cornstarch, chili powder, cumin, and salt and cook until the spices are very fragrant. Then add tomato paste and work into the vegetables.The cornstarch will help the sauce thicken a bit while it bakes so the filling portion has more integrity and is less soupy.
Add diced tomatoes, a can of black beans, two cups of leftover pulled pork, and some broth or water.
Simmer for 10 minutes – just enough time to allow the flavors to meld. Then turn off the heat and stir in some grated cheddar cheese.
- TIP: a 12″ skillet works best. Anything smaller and you’ll have an overflowing mess on your hands!
Honestly, I’d eat that straight from the pan. But just wait. It gets BETTER!
Make some cornbread batter while the filling simmers.
Combine the dry ingredients – cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt.
Combine the wet ingredients – melted butter, honey, eggs, and milk (or buttermilk).
Pour wet into dry – easy peasy, just like regular cornbread – and then mix with a rubber spatula until the ingredients just come together. Lumps are okay and all that business.
Scrape the filling into a greased 9×13″ casserole dish and smooth into an even layer.
Now comes the fun part! Dollop the cornbread batter evenly over the filling. I like to use an ice cream scooper because it helps me distribute even portions. Then, very carefully, spread the batter into an even layer over the filling. It will be a thinner layer than you expect, and it’s totally fine if bits of the filling poke through in some parts.
The most important tip is to work quickly at this point – the cornbread batter thickens quickly as the cornmeal hydrates, and the thicker it gets the harder it is to work with.
Bake the tamale pie for 30-35 minutes, until the edges are browned, the top is slightly cracked, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Rest the casserole for 5 minutes, then slice and serve with your favorite toppings – we like sour cream, sliced green onions, and cilantro.
Can I Make It Ahead of Time?
Yes! You can assemble the casserole in the morning or the night before to cut down on prep time. Cover with foil, place in the fridge, and then bake when you’re ready to serve. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 3 to 5 days; they’re best when reheated in a 350°F oven.
Can I Freeze Tamale Pie?
Tamale pie is a great freezer meal, but I don’t recommend freezing leftovers (it’s a messy situation). Assemble the tamale pie in a foil casserole dish, cover tightly with foil, then wrap in plastic wrap to avoid freezer burn. Thaw in the fridge overnight before baking as directed in the recipe card.
What to Serve with Tamale Pie?
For us, tamale pie is a complete meal all on its own. If you really need a side, you can’t go wrong with guac and tortilla chips.
Tips for Making This Recipe Perfectly
- Use a 12″ skillet to prepare the filling – anything smaller will overflow. A dutch oven also works well.
- Work quickly after mixing the cornbread topping, as it tends to thicken up and becomes harder to spread. Portion out the cornbread using an ice cream scooper to distribute even amounts.
- This can be prepared in one pan if you have a 12″ cast iron skillet that’s at least 2″ deep. I’ve made this in my 12″ Lodge cast iron skillet, and it works well. Place a baking sheet on a rack under the skillet to catch any filling that might drip over the sides.
- Leftover shredded chicken can be used in place of pork, but honestly, pulled pork is superior in both flavor and texture.
More Mexican Inspired Recipes
- Mexican Street Corn Stuffed Peppers
- Slow Cooker Cilantro Lime Chicken
- Steak Fajita Salad
- Quick and Easy Taco Soup
- Mexican Cauliflower Rice
Did you make this Leftover Pulled Pork Tamale Pie? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
Leftover Pulled Pork Tamale PiePrint Recipe Rate this Recipe Pin Recipe
Pulled Pork Filling
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, diced to ½”
- 1 bell pepper, diced to ½
- 1 jalapenos, minced (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 14.5- oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 can black beans
- 2 c pulled pork
- ½ c chicken broth, or water
- 1 c shredded cheddar cheese
- 6 tbsp butter, melted
- 1.5 c cornmeal
- ½ c all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 eggs
- 1 c milk
Tamale Pie Toppings
- sour cream
- cilantro, chopped
- green onions, thinly sliced
- jalapeno, sliced
- avocado, diced
- Heat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 9×13” casserole dish with butter or cooking spray.
- Heat a 12” skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and bell pepper and toss to coat in the fat. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, 6 minutes.
- Add the jalapenos (if using) and garlic. Saute and stir frequently until very fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the cornstarch, chili powder, cumin, and salt. Saute, stirring continuously, until the spices are very fragrant, 30-60 seconds.
- Add the tomato paste and work into the vegetables. Then add the diced tomatoes, black beans, pork, and broth (or water). Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat. Stir in the cheese.
- While the filling simmers, prepare the cornbread batter. Melt the butter in a glass measuring cup and set aside to cool. Whisk the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the honey and eggs to the melted butter and whisk until smooth. Add the butter mixture and milk to the dry ingredients, then stir until just barely combined.
- Transfer the pork filling to the prepared casserole dish and smooth into an even layer. Use an ice cream scooper to dollop portions of the cornbread batter over the filling, then smooth into an even layer using a rubber spatula.
- Transfer the casserole dish to the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Remove the casserole dish to the counter and rest for 5 minutes. Slice into squares and serve. Top with sour cream, cilantro, green onions, jalapenos, salsa, diced avocado, or your favorite toppings.
- Use a 12″ skillet to prepare the filling – a smaller skillet will overflow.
- Work quickly after mixing the cornbread topping – it will thicken quickly and become more difficult to spread.
- Make this a one-pan meal by preparing both the filling and baking the casserole in a 12″ cast iron skillet. Place a baking sheet on a rack under the skillet to catch any filling that might drip over the sides