Shipwreck Casserole – Dinner in the Slowcooker

shipwreck casserole

Are you responsible for feeding a horde of hungry ghouls, princesses and pirates before they go out raiding, er . . . trick-or-treating this week? Are you working all day and wondering how to get a meal into their bellies before they head into the sugar overload zone? Are you a busy person wanting to feed yourself or your family a healthy meal on any given day? Have you got a slowcooker? Or oven? And five minutes you can squeeze out of your morning?

This casserole is for you.

Versions of this recipe, under many different names, have been passed around for decades. It’s been called Shipwreck Casserole, 7 Layer Casserole, Cowboy Casserole, Hobo Dinner, 7-in-1 Casserole. No matter what the name, the simplicity is what keeps people coming back to it. Layers of ground meat and vegetables soften and meld together with tomatoes during a long slow simmer in the slowcooker. No browning or stirring or fiddling required. The recipe is flexible and can be adapted to ingredients in your pantry. Try adding other vegetables, or a sprinkling of fresh or dried herbs to make it your own. The amounts listed here are just guidelines.

Why rely on processed or prepackaged food when you can feed your family an economical, whole-food, home-cooked meal you put together in minutes?

Assemble the casserole in the morning and let it simmer all day in the slow cooker. To save time, slice the carrots, onions and garlic the night before. The potatoes can be washed and ready to slice in the morning, so they don’t discolour, or slice them into a bowl of water and keep them in the fridge overnight. Have the meat defrosted, and the chickpeas and tomatoes set next to the slowcooker with the can-opener ready, so if your eyes are still half shut when you stumble into the kitchen to put the ingredients into the slowcooker, you won’t need to resort to cursing. It will take no time to put the casserole together before you head off to work.


The savoury aroma of Shipwreck Casserole as it cooks will drive your family crazy. It is a delicious smell that makes coming home at the end of a long day doubly rewarding.

Maybe a pirate made this from supplies that washed ashore in a long-ago shipwreck. Maybe it’s what you’d crave if you were stranded on a deserted island after a shipwreck. Or maybe it’s what you’ll feed your family to prevent the shipwreck that occurs if they eat too much candy on an empty stomach.


Shipwreck Casserole

(gluten free, dairy free)

  • 1 or 2 onions, sliced into rings
  • 1 lb. (454gms) lean ground beef, chicken or turkey
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 -1½ lbs (450-700gms) potatoes,  (about 3-4 cups, sliced unpeeled)
  • ½ lb (250gms) carrots (about 2 cups, sliced)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • a sprinkle of pepper
  • 1-14 oz. (398ml) can chickpeas, corn, or other beans, drained (or 1½ cups/360ml frozen or cooked)
  • 1-14 oz. (398ml) can diced tomatoes with their liquid

Layer half the onions in the bottom of a slow cooker. (For oven baking, use a large casserole dish, small roaster or deep 9×13” baking dish.) Crumble the uncooked ground meat over the onions.

ingredients for shipwreck casserole with cornfirst, half the onions and then the meat

Thinly slice the garlic cloves and sprinkle them over the meat. Then layer over the sliced potatoes.

IMG_9575apotatoes next

Add the carrot slices and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Layer the chickpeas or corn over the carrots.

and carrotsIMG_9578a

Then layer with the remaining onion slices. Pour the tomatoes and their juice over all, spreading the pieces  evenly over the top.


Cover and cook in the slow cooker on low for 6 to 8 hours.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, cover tightly with a lid or foil, and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 2 to 3 (or more) hours. It’s done after 2 hours, but is at its melting, flavourful best with an hour or two more than that.

Serves 6. (Leftovers are wonderful.)

Serve the casserole with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese, or to be really retro, with a good squirt of ketchup (I won’t tell, since that’s how I prefer it, too).

It’s comfort food for a chilly pirate-and-ghoul-filled night.

Guten Appetit!


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13 Responses to Shipwreck Casserole – Dinner in the Slowcooker

  1. monika case says:

    This was one of Bobs favorite dishes and I still make it. I add a little rice and have never made it with chickpeas. Sounds so good Love Auntie M

    • Margaret says:

      I love how food memories connect us so strongly to people. Now I will think of him, too, when I make it. It’s one of those super-simple yet timeless dishes, isn’t it?

    • sue says:

      Monika, what is the Serbian name for this dish? I grew up with it being layered and baked. First thin sliced onions, thin sliced potatoes, then ground beef (browned), then kidney beans, then rice (uncooked) and then tomato sauce/beef bullion pored over and covered. (salt and pepper each layer.)

  2. Looks YUMMY!
    Similar, in some ways, to the Serbian Moussaka that I have learned to make for my husband that is on my site.

    • Margaret says:

      Oh, my – I checked out your Serbian Moussaka, and it looks like my type of comfort food. Heavenly. My mom always made scalloped potatoes almost like that (but with no meat) using only lots of heavy cream as the liquid. It cooked and thickened to custardy perfection. I love how the Serbians add the cream and egg to their potato-meat mixture, too. Me thinks that is a must-try recipe for our household this coming winter!

  3. Margo says:

    This one of my favorite recipes. I add a layer of rutabaga and put ketchup on it. It reminds me of pasties from the UP of Michingan where we used to live.

    • Margaret says:

      Rutabaga would add a lovely earthy/sweet flavour – I’ll have to give that a try, too. I love how easy and tasty this casserole is. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Baby Kato says:

    We really enjoyed this quick and easy to make meal. I made it exactly as written and let it cook away in the slow cooker for 8 hours. I did use black eyed peas in place of the chickpeas which I couldn’t find in the pantry. They worked well with the rest of the vegetables. Perfection, flavorful, tender and very tasty. Thank you for sharing another recipe that my husband & I enjoyed.

    • Margaret says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the casserole. I love that it’s so easy to customize with whatever is in the cupboards. The slow cooker is a lifesaver for those busy days, and coming home to the smell of dinner cooking is such a treat, isn’t it? Now if only there was an appliance to clean the kitchen for us, too!

  5. John says:

    Shouldn’t the ground meat be pre-cooked if it is going in the slow cooker? Other than that love the recipe. Haven’t seen this with chickpeas. Looking forward to trying it. Thanks for sharing.

    • Margaret says:

      Hi John,
      Nope – the beauty of this recipe is that the meat goes in raw – it’s so quick and easy! The meat is well-cooked by the time the casserole is finished. I’ve made it many times this way and it’s always worked perfectly. Hope you enjoy it! Happy cooking!

  6. Laura says:

    Found it ok but blah. Garlic and salt and pepper isn’t enough. Next time would add some oregano and Worcestershire sauce. Maybe even a bit of tomato paste to thicken it up.

    • Margaret says:

      The beauty about cooking is that we can customize recipes to our own taste. Our family really likes this casserole just as it is, with the simple comfort-food flavours of the ingredients shining through, although I do like to eat it with a good squirt of ketchup, which gives it enough of a flavour boost for me (I know – ketchup! But it seems to fit with the retro-food theme of this dish). I find it reminds me of the simple, homey but delicious, dishes of my farm childhood. But you’re right in that adding some seasonings would definitely make it even better. And I can see that some kind of heat, like a bit of hot sauce or cayenne, would also be a good variation. Have fun with creativity in the kitchen!

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