8 Tips for Making the Perfect Casserole

From choosing the right sized dish to prepping your casserole in advance, you'll want to follow all of these tips.

Loved for their convenience, versatility, and ability to feed a crowd, casseroles have been a standby dish for home cooks since the better part of the 20th century. But a dish doesn't need to be called a casserole to be a casserole. When you make side dishes like scalloped potatoes, brunch dishes such as baked French toast, or entrées like shepherd's pie or baked pasta, you're in casserole territory.

In case you've been living a casserole-deprived existence, a casserole is "a dish that is baked and served in the same baking dish," says Vered DeLeeuw, recipe developer and founder of Healthy Recipes. "It typically contains a protein component, vegetables, some type of sauce, and a starch." The dish is often topped with shredded cheese and/or breadcrumbs, and then baked uncovered until browned and bubbly.

Home cooks love casseroles because they're versatile, and an excellent way to use up whatever ingredients you might have in your kitchen. "They're typically large enough to feed a crowd, and the leftovers keep well and can be frozen for later use," DeLeeuw adds. "And they are hot and comforting, making them ideal for winter."

Inspired to cook one for yourself? Here are eight tips to help you master the art of casserole making.

Yunhee Kim

Use the Right Casserole Dish

A casserole dish is an oven-safe vessel typically made from glass, ceramic, or enameled cast iron. It may have a lid and/or handles, but it doesn't need either to qualify as a casserole dish. Casserole dishes are often rectangular, though they can also be round or square. They come in many sizes, but dishes that measure 9 x 13 x 2 inches are the most popular.

Choosing the right sized dish is essential when making a casserole. "A casserole should be filled to around three-quarters of the height of the dish to avoid over or under cooking," says Casey LaClair, cook and co-founder of Viraflare. With this in mind, be sure to choose a dish that is the correct size for your ingredients.

Par Cook Pasta and Vegetables

A common issue with casseroles is soggy overcooked pasta or vegetable components. "Partially cooking these ingredients is the only way to make a casserole with a satisfying texture," says LaClair. She stresses you should undercook rather than overcook them, as they will continue to cook in the oven—and will dry out quickly if already fully cooked.

Don't Use Frozen Vegetables

Much as we tout cooking with frozen vegetables for ease, we advise steering clear of them when making a casserole. "They tend to release quite a bit of water, which will make the casserole soggy," says DeLeeuw.

Always Cook Meat Before Adding

Don't add raw meat to a casserole. Cooking the meat before adding it, or using up leftover cooked meat in a casserole, is the way to go. DeLeeuw says this is important for food safety because it makes sure the protein is fully cooked—especially key when making a chicken casserole. Plus, precooking prevents the meat from releasing liquids as it cooks, which would result in a watery casserole. "Just make sure not to overcook the meat—remember, it will continue cooking once inside the casserole," DeLeeuw says.

Use Spices Liberally

"Casseroles are wonderful, but they can be a bit bland," says DeLeeuw. "Make liberal use of spices and herbs. You almost can't overdo it when it comes to a casserole—err on the side of adding more rather than being conservative with your spices."

Let It Rest

Allow the casserole to cool on the counter for 15 minutes after it comes out of the oven. Doing this means "the boiling juices have time to settle, and your casserole won't be served as a drippy soup," says LaClair. Similar to how a steak needs to rest once cooked, this time allows the casserole to cool to a temperature suited for serving and also allows it to become firmer and easier to serve.

Prep It in Advance

You can freeze a casserole once it's prepped, and enjoy it at a later date. "Freeze the entire dish covered in a layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of foil," says DeLeeuw. "Defrost it overnight in the refrigerator. Then remove the wraps and place it in the oven while it is heating up."

She shares another good tip: Instead of freezing an entire casserole, freeze individual servings and reheat as many as you need in the microwave directly from frozen.

Don't Toss the Leftovers

You can store the casserole in its baking dish, covered, for up to four days, says DeLeeuw. "Reheat it uncovered in a low oven (300 degrees Fahrenheit). Place the cold casserole in the oven as it heats so that you don't place a cold ceramic dish in a hot oven," she says.

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