If you’re craving a mouthwatering dish that’ll come together in less than an hour and is sure to impress the whole family, this taco casserole is the recipe for you. Although this dish "is more involved for sure," according to chef, food writer, and registered dietician Kristen Carli of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness, it’s truly worth the effort. "I love this dish for a family-friendly meal that many people will enjoy," Carli adds.

Despite the fact that the prep work for this recipe is hands-on and not a quick process, it’s an easy enough dish to assemble, so even someone who might not think of themself as a master chef can pull this recipe together. Served with a fresh chopped green salad or roasted veggies, taco casserole makes a complete meal that’s absolutely perfect for dinner. Served with fried eggs, it makes a fancy breakfast. And served exactly as-is, it’s great for lunch or used as a side dish for a large Southwestern feast.

Gather your ingredients for taco casserole

"This is a dish that uses classic southwest ingredients," says Carli. So, you can expect it to be on the spicy side. If you and your family don’t like things spicy, leave out the cayenne pepper. If you like the heat, you can add more cayenne pepper, use a hot salsa, or even add some sliced jalapeños.

The first time you make this dish, your best bet is to follow the recipe exactly. To do that, you’ll need 1 pound of ground beef, ½ an onion (diced), ½ teaspoon of pepper, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of chili powder, 2 teaspoons of ground cumin, ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon of paprika, 14 small corn tortillas, a 15-ounce can of black beans (drained), 2 cups of shredded Mexican cheese, 15 ounces of mild red salsa, and a 4-ounce can of sliced black olives. For optional toppings, Carli recommends chopped green onions, fresh cilantro, guacamole, queso fresco, and extra salsa.

Season and cook the beef, and prep your oven and pan

Lightly grease or oil a skillet (or use a reliably nonstick skillet), and put it on the stove at medium heat, then add the ground beef. Break up the meat and cook it, stirring regularly for about 10 minutes until it has browned evenly.

Then, add the pepper, salt, cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and paprika, and stir to mix the spices into the beef. Next, add the diced onion, and stir to combine with the spiced beef.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, then spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Layer your taco casserole

Begin layering up the casserole by placing four corn tortillas on the bottom of the casserole dish. Atop those, evenly spread out half of the beef and onion mixture. Top that with half of the black beans and ⅓ of the cheese, then add half of the salsa and ⅓ of the black olives.

Then, repeat everything, starting another layer of tortillas, then the spiced beef and onion, then the beans, cheese, salsa, and olives. When you’re done with this step, you should still have ⅓ of both the cheese and the olives, and a half dozen tortillas.

Top off your casserole, then bake it

For the final layer, add six corn tortillas, overlapping them to create maximum possible coverage of the ingredients below. Top those half dozen tortillas by evenly spreading out the remaining cheese and black olives. Then, pop the completed taco casserole into the oven, and bake it for 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the casserole is done baking, remove it from the oven, and top it with any variety of great toppings, keeping in mind Carli’s suggestions of green onions, cilantro, guacamole, queso fresco, and even more salsa.

Then, it’s time to dig in ASAP. "This one does not keep well," Carli says, so you should definitely enjoy it while it’s fresh.

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ an onion, diced
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 14 small corn tortillas
  • 15-ounce can of black beans, drained
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese
  • 15 ounces mild red salsa
  • 4-ounce can of sliced black olives

Optional Ingredients

  • green onions
  • cilantro
  • guacamole
  • queso fresco
  • extra salsa
  1. In a greased/oiled skillet over medium heat, brown beef for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add ½ teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 tablespoon chili powder, ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 1 teaspoon paprika. Add the diced onion and stir to combine, then cut the heat.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  4. Begin layering the casserole by placing four corn tortillas on the bottom of the casserole dish. Top with half of the beef and onion mixture. Top with half of the black beans and ⅓ of the cheese. Add half of the salsa and ⅓ of the olives.
  5. Repeat with another layer of tortillas, beef, beans, cheese, salsa, and olives.
  6. For the final layer, add six corn tortillas and top with remaining cheese and olives.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes. Then, remove from oven and top with optional toppings.