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How to pan fry tater tots?

Tater tots are a beloved American snack made of shredded or minced potatoes that are formed into small cylinders and deep fried. But did you know you can also pan fry tater tots to get a delicious crispy exterior and fluffy interior? Pan frying tater tots is easy to do at home with just a few simple steps.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to perfectly pan fry tater tots, along with tips for maximizing flavor and texture. Read on to learn the secrets of making restaurant-quality tater tots in the comfort of your own kitchen.

What Are Tater Tots?

Tater tots were invented in 1953 by Ore-Ida founders F. Nephi Grigg and Golden Grigg. Nephi wanted to find a way to utilize leftover slivers and shreds of potato from the French fry production line. He chopped up the potato scraps, added flour and seasoning, shaped them into cylinders and deep fried them. The tater tot was born!

Tater tots are made of a mash of potato flakes or finely grated raw potatoes, mixed with seasoning and binders like flour or cornstarch. This mash is shaped into small cylinders and then deep fried at high heat until browned and crispy on the outside.

When fried properly, tater tots become golden brown and crunchy on the exterior while staying pillowy soft in the middle. They make a quick and easy snack or side dish.

Benefits of Pan Frying vs Deep Frying

While deep frying yields the signature crispy exterior of tater tots, pan frying offers some advantages:

  • Pan frying uses less oil, making it a bit healthier than deep frying.
  • You don’t have to monitor the temperature of a deep fryer.
  • Pan frying gives you more control over browning since you can flip each tot.
  • It’s quicker and easier cleaning up just a skillet vs a deep fryer.

With just a skillet and a flipping utensil, you can make perfect pan fried tater tots right on your stovetop.

Equipment Needed

Pan frying tater tots is simple to do at home with minimal equipment:

  • A heavy bottomed skillet, preferably cast iron or nonstick
  • Neutral oil for frying like vegetable, canola or peanut oil
  • Tater tots, either store-bought or homemade
  • A spatula for flipping the tater tots
  • Paper towels for draining fried tater tots

Having the right skillet is key for even browning. Cast iron is ideal as it gets hot evenly and retains heat well. A nonstick skillet also works great for easy flipping.

How to Pan Fry Tater Tots

Follow these simple steps for perfectly pan fried tater tots:

1. Heat Oil in Skillet

Add just enough oil to coat the bottom of your skillet and heat it over medium-high heat. You’ll want about 1/4 inch depth of oil. Allow the oil to heat up until shimmering but not smoking.

2. Add Tater Tots in a Single Layer

Once the oil is hot, add your tater tots in a single layer, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Overcrowding will steam the tots instead of frying them.

Work in batches if needed to avoid crowding. Lower the heat slightly once the tots are added.

3. Fry Until Golden Brown

Let the tater tots fry undisturbed for 2-3 minutes until the bottoms are deep golden brown. Then flip each tot and fry the other side for another 2-3 minutes.

Fry them a bit longer for extra crispy tater tots.

4. Drain on Paper Towels

Once the tater tots are browned on both sides, transfer them to a paper towel lined plate to drain off excess oil. Season with salt right away.

Let the oil reheat between batches. Cook remaining tater tots in same manner.

5. Season and Serve

Season the hot pan fried tater tots with salt, pepper and any other seasonings you enjoy. Enjoy them right away for the perfect crisp exterior and fluffy interior!

Tips for Perfectly Pan Fried Tater Tots

Follow these tips for the best texture and flavor when pan frying tater tots:

  • Use a heavy pan like cast iron or nonstick for even heating.
  • Let oil fully preheat before adding tots so they fry vs steam.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan which steams instead of fries.
  • Fry in batches for even browning.
  • Flip each tot to fry both sides evenly.
  • Fry until deep golden brown for crispiest exterior.
  • Drain on paper towels to remove excess oil.
  • Season immediately with salt and any other seasonings.

Flavor Variations

Basic pan fried tater tots are delicious on their own, but you can also spice them up with different seasonings and flavors.


After frying, toss the hot tater tots in a seasoning blend. Some fun options include:

  • Chili powder and lime juice
  • Parmesan and Italian herbs
  • Cajun seasoning
  • Onion powder and paprika
  • Ranch seasoning

Spicy Tots:

For spicy tater tots, add 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or chipotle chili powder to the oil when frying.

You can also toss them in hot sauce after cooking.

Cheesy Tots:

For cheesy tater tots, toss the hot fried tots with 1/4 cup shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack or pepper jack cheese until melted.

Chili Cheese Tots:

Combine the best of both worlds by tossing hot tots in 1/4 cup shredded cheese and 2-3 Tbsp hot chili sauce.

Ranch Tots:

Mix 1 Tbsp each dried parsley, dill, garlic powder, onion powder and 1 tsp dried ranch seasoning. Toss the hot tots in 2 Tbsp of the ranch blend.

So get creative and customize your tater tots with flavors you love!

Serving Suggestions

Pan fried tater tots pair deliciously with all kinds of meals and make a fantastic snack too. Here are some serving ideas:

  • Side dish for burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches
  • Top with chili, cheese sauce, pulled pork
  • Breakfast side with eggs and bacon
  • Top with avocado, bacon, green onion
  • Snack with ketchup, ranch or other dipping sauces

Keep a bag of tater tots in the freezer so you can pan fry them anytime for a quick side or snack. They go great with so many meals.

Storing Leftover Tater Tots

Have leftover tater tots? Here are some storage tips:

  • Let tater tots cool completely before storing.
  • Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days in the fridge.
  • Reheat in a 400??F oven until warmed through and crispy.
  • They can also be reheated in the air fryer or skillet.
  • For longer storage, freeze cooked tater tots in a single layer on a baking sheet then transfer to a freezer bag.
  • Frozen tots keep 4-6 months. Reheat directly from frozen.

With proper storage, you can enjoy pan fried tater tots all week long!

Are Pan Fried Tots Healthier?

While pan frying uses less oil than deep frying, tater tots are still considered a fried food and are higher in fat and calories. However, pan frying offers a slight advantage over deep frying when it comes to nutrition.

Here is a nutrition comparison of deep fried vs pan fried tater tots:

Nutrition Facts Deep Fried (75g) Pan Fried (75g)
Calories 220 190
Total Fat 14g 10g
Saturated Fat 2.5g 2g
Sodium 270mg 270mg
Carbs 19g 19g
Protein 3g 3g

As you can see, pan frying uses less oil so the calorie and fat content is slightly reduced, but the tater tots are still a high fat, high calorie food. For a healthier option, try baking tater tots in the oven instead of frying.

Troubleshooting Pan Fried Tater Tots

Having issues getting perfect pan fried tater tots? Here are some common problems and how to fix them:

Not Crispy:

  • Oil wasn’t hot enough before frying
  • Crowded the pan while frying
  • Didn’t fry long enough

Burnt Outside, Raw Inside:

  • Oil was too hot
  • Fried too long


  • Added too many tots at once
  • Didn’t drain on paper towels after frying


  • Used too much oil
  • Didn’t drain on paper towels after frying

Falling Apart:

  • Tots were not chilled before frying
  • Tots were handled too rough before frying

Following the recipe tips should help avoid any tater tot mishaps!

Homemade Tater Tot Recipe

While store-bought tater tots pan fry nicely, many people enjoy making them from scratch at home. Here is an easy homemade tater tot recipe to try:


  • 3 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • Neutral frying oil


  1. Boil potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes.
  2. Drain and rice potatoes while still hot.
  3. Let potatoes dry and cool slightly.
  4. Mix flour, cornstarch and seasonings in a bowl.
  5. Add potatoes and mix until a dough forms.
  6. Form dough into tater tot shapes.
  7. Chill tots on a baking sheet until firm, at least 30 minutes.
  8. Pan fry tots in batches at 375??F until browned.

Make a double batch and freeze extras to enjoy tater tots anytime! Adjust seasonings to your taste preferences.


Pan frying takes the classic tater tot to crispy, golden brown perfection in the convenience of a stovetop skillet. With just a few simple tips, you can enjoy restaurant-quality pan fried tater tots in your own home.

Fry up a batch for a fun twist on this beloved American snack or side. Put a creative spin on your tots by tossing them in fun seasonings and flavors. With minimal time and effort, you can be biting into perfect pan fried tater tots.