Red Chile Frito Pie Recipe

A Frito pie is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, assuming you aren't imagining a pie tin filled with gooey cherries and corn chips. Frito pie is a casserole much like a shepherd's pie, involving saucy ground meat, vegetables, and spices underneath a layer of carbs. In the case of Frito pie, the topping is made up of crispy, crunchy corn chips, making the casserole similar to a burrito bowl. If you're familiar with the midwest's iconic walking taco (taco fillings piled into a Fritos bag), this isn't very different and in some parts of Texas is served the same way. In much of the southwest, though, a Frito pie is served more like a casserole, by the piece in a bowl or on a plate. 

In New Mexico, Frito pies are paired with the region's red chile, a bright pepper with mild heat but a lot of flavor. This recipe written with developer Michelle McGlinn is a nod to the New Mexico style of Frito pie, complete with a simple homemade red chile sauce that adds serious flavor and a good amount of heat. It's delicious, easy, and loaded with crispy Fritos chips; a winning dish no matter the crowd.

What you need for red chile Frito pie

To make the red chile sauce, you'll need dried New Mexico chiles, dried chiles de árbol, chicken broth, garlic, onion, cumin, oregano, coriander, salt, and pepper. Dried chiles are usually available in the produce sections of grocery stores, but if you're having trouble finding them, try your local Latin American market. For the filling of the pie, you'll need ground beef (lean will save you time draining grease), kidney beans, and tomato sauce. From there, you'll need a bag of Fritos, lettuce, tomato, and shredded cheese to sprinkle on top. Fritos are the star of the show here, but for something a little different, swap in Doritos.

Soften and blend the chiles

The peppers have to be softened in warm water or broth before blending, so carefully fill a saucepan with peppers and water and bring to a simmer. The chiles will soften, making them easy to blend into a sauce. To make the sauce smooth, strain the blended chiles with a fine strainer, removing any thick unblended skins or seeds. If you're pressed for time, you don't have to strain the sauce; but the texture will be much more palatable if you do.

Prepare the filling

Crumble the beef as it browns, then add in the kidney beans to warm through. Because the grease will make the filling too runny, drain any excess grease before adding the sauces. Add the strained red chile sauce and tomato and bring to a simmer, turning the heat down as needed to avoid splattering. The mixture will look liquidy at first — don't worry. Keep simmering for a few minutes to thicken the mixture. It should look like a thick, hearty chili.

Assemble the casserole

Divide the Fritos bag in half (this doesn't have to be exact, you can just eyeball it) and arrange the first half at the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Pour the meat mixture over top, then sprinkle with cheese. For now, your Frito pie might resemble a giant portion of Cincinnati chili — the other half of the Fritos are added after baking. Pop the casserole into the oven and bake until the cheese is completely melted, about 10 minutes. The meat mixture will continue to thicken in the oven.

Top with Fritos and serve

Layer the remaining Fritos on top of the now-melted, gooey cheese, then layer with lettuce, tomato, and more cheese. These fresh toppings are technically optional, but are commonly found on top of the New Mexican versions of Frito pie and add a deliciously refreshing crunch on top of the casserole, not unlike a taco. Frito pie pairs excellently with other southwestern favorites like tamales or posole, and is the perfect dish to serve with prickly pear margaritas (another signature in New Mexico). It saves pretty well, too, though the Fritos may lose their crunch after being stored in the refrigerator. To retain some of the Fritos crispness, reheat in the oven or airfryer; or save a few extra in a small bag to add to reheated leftovers. 

Red Chile Frito Pie Recipe
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Make this New Mexico-style red chile Frito pie with with crunchy corn chips, creamy cheese, savory beef, and other toppings.
Prep Time
Cook Time
piece of frito pie on plate
Total time: 1 hour
  • 5-6 dried New Mexico red chiles, stemmed and de-seeded
  • 3 chiles de árbol, stemmed and de-seeded
  • 2 cups chicken broth or water
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
  • ½ teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (2-ounce) bag Fritos corn chips
  • 8 ounces finely shredded mild cheddar cheese
  • 2 roma tomatoes, for topping
  • 2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce, for topping
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Toast the chiles in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, onion, and broth and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer, submerging peppers as much as possible, until chiles are softened and bright red, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the chiles, garlic, onions, broth, and seasonings to a blender and blend until completely smooth. Strain to remove seeds and solids.
  4. In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the ground beef, crumbling while it cooks. If needed, drain excess grease. Add the kidney beans.
  5. Add the tomato sauce and red chile sauce to the meat mixture and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.
  6. Arrange half the bag of Fritos chips in a single layer on the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Layer with the meat mixture, then sprinkle on half the cheese.
  7. Bake in the oven until cheese is melted, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  8. Remove from the oven and add the remainder of the Fritos. Top with lettuce, tomato, and the remainder of the cheddar cheese.
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