The Best Ground Beef Taco Meat only needs ground beef, pantry ingredients, and 25 minutes. You can keep it mild or make it spicy—Taco Tuesday will never be the same.
You will never buy taco seasoning packets again. This is the absolute best taco ground meat recipe you will ever make. It's perfect for easy weeknight dinners, but it is also great for a party taco bar everybody will love.
Has many uses in addition to traditional tacos. Use it for nachos, taco salad, or many other places. So make a large batch, and it freezes well for fast meals later.
Cook some great Mexican recipes in your crock pot with Mexican Shredded Chicken, Mexican Shredded Beef, or Chili Nachos. And is featured in Cinco de Mayo Recipes Tailgating Recipes, and Game Day Recipes roundups.
This is a modified and simplified Cooks Illustrated recipe (Subscription required) and tastes better than any ground beef taco meat you've ever eaten.
- The Meat— standard 80/20 ground beef will produce the best moist and juicy results. Lean ground beef, ground turkey, or ground chicken can be used but tends to be a bit dry—the fat adds taste and moisture.
- Aromatics— fresh onion and garlic, but you may substitute powdered if you must. One clove of garlic is ⅛ teaspoon of powder, and one medium onion is 1 tablespoon of powder.
- Seasoning—chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper (optional), salt, and black pepper
- Tomato—good quality tomato sauce, but crushed or diced tomatoes could be used. The cheaper generic sauce tends to be very acid-tasting, and you might need a teaspoon or two of sugar to counter that.
- Optional additional vegetables—Black beans, chopped pepper, or shredded carrots can be added to the raw meat to cook.
- Spiciness—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.
👨🍳How to Make the Best Tacos
- Add the ground beef and chopped onion and cook until no pink—usually 8-10 minutes.
- Add garlic to cook for 1 minute to bloom the garlic, which releases the flavor and drain excess grease.
- Add the spices and tomato sauce. Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for another 5 minutes until the sauce is incorporated and the mixture is thick.
- Serve as tacos, nachos, or any way you like.
🍽️How to Use Taco Meat
Tacos—use hard taco shells or make soft tacos with corn 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 them for easier serving. Top with cheese and traditional toppings.
Nachos—Spread nacho chips over a plate or pan. Top with taco meat and shredded cheese. Melt in the microwave for about a minute or 10 minutes in a 400° oven. Top with traditional toppings.
Taco Salad—On a bed of lettuce, Top with taco meat and then add some diced tomatoes, sliced green onion or olives, salsa, pico de Gallo, shredded cheese, and sour cream. Add slices of avocado, corn, black beans, or toasted tortilla strips.
Taco Pizza— Make your homemade taco pizza. Start with Homemake Pizza Dough, lay a base of refried beans, then taco meat with anything else you want that is OK to bake. Top with cheese and bake. Cover with fresh shredded lettuce, dice tomatoes, and other toppings to serve.
Taco Casserole—use in my Easy Taco Casserole with lots of pasta and other good things.
Taco Chili—my Taco Chili is a personal favorite. Make it on the stovetop or crock pot. So thick; you can call it taco chili if you want; it is thick and delicious.
Many other uses—traditional Mexican dishes like burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas- come to mind, but I'm sure I missed some great uses for this versatile ground beef taco meat.
🍴Toppings and side dishes
Everybody will have their favorite taco toppings. I'm a fan of shredded cheddar or Mexican cheese mixture. Add some sour cream and salsa or pico de Gallo.
If I have them on hand, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, jalapeno slices, slices of avocado, and sliced green onions or olives are good additions.
Cilantro is frequently added, but some people (my wife and I) will find cilantro tastes like licorice.
I always estimate ¼ pound of meat per serving. The number of savings per individual will vary—I triple or quadruple for teenage boys. Plus, I always want leftovers.
The recipe calls for ¼ to ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper. ¼ teaspoon will be 3/10 heat, while ½ teaspoon will be 5 to 6 out of 10. Feel free to eliminate the cayenne pepper if kids are involved.
You can also substitute a jalapeno pepper for ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Add it to the meat with the onion.
No, this is not a powdered mix. The tomato sauce will provide moisture.
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 to have leftover taco meat in the freezer.
It is good in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days and reheated in the microwave.
Leftovers will freeze well for 3 months. I divide the leftovers into meal-size portions and freeze them with the names and dates in freezer ZipLock bags. Thaw before reheating.
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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 in the center aside, add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute to bloom the garlic, which will release more flavor. 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 Tacos—Quick and Easy
- 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 in the center aside, add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute to bloom the garlic, which will release more flavor. 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.
Your Own Private Notes
- Adjust to the amount you want in the serving area of this recipe card.
- 80/20 ground beef gives the best results.
- To use powdered instead of fresh garlic and onion, the substitute is 1 clove of garlic is ⅛ teaspoon of powder, and 1 medium onion is 1 tablespoon of powder.
- 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.