Great Mexican for all—taco Tuesday will never be the same. Once you have the best taco meat, make the best tacos or excellent nachos, or use it in many other ways.
The best beef tacos require the best ground beef taco meat—and it doesn't come in an envelope or ever dry homemade taco seasoning—you need some tomato and aromatics to get the best flavor. There is nothing like taco Tuesday or a full plate of nachos.
This is a modified and simplified Cooks Illustrated recipe that tastes better than any ground beef taco meat you've ever eaten.
You will never open commercial taco seasoning packets again. You can make tacos in less than 25 minutes for weeknight dinners or parties in about the same work and use what you already have in your pantry. Just follow the easy step-by-step instructions.
👨🍳How to make this recipe
- Chop a medium onion.
- Add the meat and the onion to a large non-reactive skillet over medium-high heat. While the meat and onion are cooking, prep garlic, and measure spices.
- Cook until the burger has no pink which is usually 8-10 minutes. Push the meat aside in the center of the pan and add the garlic and cook 1 minute to bloom the garlic. Drain excess grease.
- Add the spices and tomato sauce. Turn the heat to medium and simmer another 5 minutes until the sauce is incorporated.
- Serve as tacos, nachos, or any way you like.
This recipe uses standard 80/20 ground beef. Lean ground beef tends to be a bit dry—the fat will add taste and moisture. The fat is mainly rendered during cooking and drained before adding the spices.
Since the spices are intense in this recipe, if you use another ground meat like turkey or chicken, most people will not know unless told.
This is about a 3/10 spicy when using one teaspoon of cumin and ¼ teaspoon of cayenne. Adjust to your taste. Go to 2 teaspoons of cumin, and ½ teaspoon of cayenne will get you to 6/10.
I suggest using fresh onion and garlic if you can for this recipe. If you must, use onion powder, about 1 tablespoon for a medium to a large onion. And ½ teaspoon of garlic powder for the 4 cloves of garlic.
Excellent taco meat needs some tomato taste, and a good quality tomato sauce is the best choice. Crushed or diced tomatoes could be used. Some recipes will use salsa, but you must account for the spicing.
The cheaper generic sauce tends to be very acid-tasting, and you might need a teaspoon or two of sugar to counter that.
🍽️How to Serve
For tacos, use the hard taco shells, but usually, soft tacos are made with corn tortillas or soft flour tortillas. With corn tortillas, I like to give them a short sear in hot oil to add a slight browning and soften for easier serving.
Everybody will have their favorite taco toppings. I'm a fan of shredded cheddar or Mexican cheese mixture. Add a good dab of sour cream along with some salsa or pico de Gallo.
If I have them on hand, chopped tomatoes or shredded lettuce, slices of avocado, and sliced green onions are good additions.
Cilantro is frequently added, but some people (my wife and I) will find cilantro tastes like licorice.
Mexican rice, guacamole, refried beans, and black beans are favorites. The usual chips and salsa are also a great side dish, especially Pineapple Mango Salsa.
Cast-iron is "reactive," and heating an acid like tomatoes will lead to the metal reacting with the food. A non-reactive skillet like non-stick or stainless steel is the better choice.
It is an easy recipe to adjust to the amount you want, but I frequently do 3 pounds, but it stores well.
It is good in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days and freezes well for 3 to 4 months.
This recipe is listed in these categories. See them for more similar recipes.
🖼️Step-by-Step Photo Instructions
Note: Images are from several days, so the pans may vary.
This is what you need, plus your meat, fresh garlic, and onion. Garlic powder and onion powder can be substituted.
Chop a medium onion.
Add the meat and the onion to a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
While the meat and onion are cooking, prep the garlic and measure the spices.
Cook until the burger has no pink, usually 8-10 minutes. Push the meat aside in the pan, add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute to bloom the garlic. Drain the fatty drainage well.
Add the spices and tomato sauce. Turn the heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes until the sauce is incorporated.
Serve in tacos, nachos, or on a salad.
The Best Ground Beef Taco Meat in 25 Minutes
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 1 onion-medium diced - Use powered if needed
- 2-4 cloves garlic-crushed - Use powdered if needed
- 4 tablespoons chili powder
- 1-2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ¼-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper - optional
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 8 oz tomato sauce
- Chop a medium onion.
- Add the meat and the onion to a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
- While the meat and onion are cooking, prep the garlic, and measure the spices.
- Cook until the burger has no pink, usually 8-10 minutes. Push the meat aside in the pan, add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute to bloom the garlic. Drain the fatty drainage well.
- Add the spices and tomato sauce. Turn the heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes until the sauce is incorporated.
- Serve in tacos, nachos, or on a salad.
My Private Notes
- Adjust to the amount you want in the serving area of this recipe card.
- 80/20 ground beef gives the best results.
- You may use ground turkey or chicken. Of course, there will be a slight taste difference but the spices in this meat will dominate.
- I suggest making a large amount and freezing it.
- This is about a 3/10 spicy when using 1 teaspoon of cumin and ¼ teaspoon of cayenne. Adjust to your taste.
- Good in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and freezes well for 3-4 months
My Old MethodThe previous version of this recipe. Fussier with only a slightly different taste.
- Cook onion in 2 teaspoons of oil until clearing.
- Add the garlic and dry spices. Cook for 1-2 minutes to bloom the spices.
- Add the meat, break up and cook until no pink. Use lower-fat meat to decrease drainage.
- Add tomato sauce. 2 teaspoons brown sugar and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Cook for about another 5 minutes until incorporated.
To adjust the recipe size:
You may adjust the number of servings in this recipe card under servings. This does the math for the ingredients for you. BUT it does NOT adjust the text of the instructions. So you need to do that yourself.
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Originally Published May 6, 2011. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.