Super Easy Weeknight Tacos
Simple and authentic ground beef tacos, revealed! Here’s how to make the best ground beef tacos, including seasonings and options for your favorite toppings.
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When it comes to an easy weeknight meal that the whole family loves, you can never go wrong with perfectly seasoned ground beef tacos. I like to use a Mexican preparation called picadillo, which translates as “hash.” In my taco recipe that just means ground beef cooked with chopped tomatoes, onion, chilies, and a couple of pantry seasonings. It’s not a lot of effort to make, and you get such a big payoff in flavor you may never go back to packaged taco seasoning.
I learned the versatility of picadillo early on from my mother. Carne molida, or ground beef, was the most inexpensive type of beef, and her go-to. She would prepare a large batch of her picadillo and refrigerate or freeze it. (Sometimes she would incorporate leftover carrots, potatoes, peas, squash, or black beans in addition to the basic seasonings.) When the dinner dilemma popped up, my mom would pull out the picadillo and turn it into tacos, tostadas, nachos, quesadillas, you name it. Picadillo served with rice and beans and scooped up with a flour tortilla was another way to go.
Now I like to make picadillo for my own family’s taco night. Following my mother’s tradition, I freeze the seasoned ground beef in batches and thaw as needed. Then I’m ready for whatever the week throws my way.
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Beef tacos Q&A
If you’re looking to improve your taco game, start here.
Which kind of ground beef is best for tacos?
Lean ground beef such as ground sirloin (90 percent lean) is my choice for the best tacos. Many like to use 80-85 percent lean because you get more flavor with more fat. That’s a great choice as well, but just remember not to add any oil when browning the meat. The beef will release its own fat which you’ll remove with a large spoon.
How to season ground beef for tacos
I start with chopped vegetables for the picadillo, including onion, garlic, tomatoes, and chilies. (See more details below.)
In terms of dry seasonings, salt and oregano make great, simple seasonings for ground beef tacos. You could use a little store-bought taco seasoning if you prefer. Or to make homemade taco seasoning for taco meat, combine equal parts ground cumin, salt, chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder , oregano, black pepper, and cayenne pepper (optional).
How to cook ground beef for tacos
If you’re using lean ground beef, add a little vegetable oil to a skillet. (For higher fat ground beef, skip the oil.) Add onion and cook to soften. Then add oregano, garlic, tomatoes, and serrano chili and season with salt. When the tomatoes have released their liquid, it’s time to add the ground beef. Use a wooden spoon to break the meat apart into crumbles and continue cooking the beef until browned. Add canned green chilies, then cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.
How many tacos does a pound of ground beef make?
My recipe uses 1 1/2 pounds ground beef and makes 12 tacos (4 servings). So 1 pound of ground beef makes 8 tacos.
Can you make beef taco filling ahead?
Yes! You can store the beef mixture in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. Or you can freeze cooked ground beef taco meat up to 3 months. Reheat the thawed filling on the stovetop or in the microwave.
How to make easy ground beef tacos
My easy ground beef tacos recipe with picadillo doesn’t take long to make. And if you prep the meat ahead, you’ll be able to serve up tacos in no time.
1. Prep the ingredients
Start by dicing onion, tomatoes, garlic, and serrano chili. Slice iceberg lettuce if you’ll be using it as a topping.
2. Season and cook the vegetables
Photo by Ericka Sanchez
Next heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until it’s soft and translucent. Follow with oregano and the remaining fresh vegetables including garlic, diced tomatoes, and serrano chili. Season with salt. Cook so the tomatoes release their liquid and then the liquid evaporates.
3. Brown the meat
Photo by Ericka Sanchez
Now add ground beef and canned chilies. Cook the meat, breaking it up into small crumbles, and let it simmer about 12 minutes.
4. Warm up taco shells
While the beef is cooking, heat up store-bought taco shells in the oven. They’ll be nice and crispy in about 7 minutes. Or if you’re going with regular corn tortillas or flour tortillas, heat them in a skillet or on a comal and keep them warm wrapped in a clean kitchen towel or tortillero (a tortilla holder with a lid).
5. Assemble your tacos
Before serving the tacos, spoon off any excess liquid from the filling in order to keep your tacos shells from getting soggy.
For an epic and easy taco night or taco Tuesday, serve tacos family-style in a taco bar so everyone can make their own. Simply set out the ground beef filling and the taco toppings, including iceberg lettuce, shredded Mexican cheese, tomatoes, and sour cream.
Taco variations and more topping ideas
You can always vary the ground beef filling like my mom does by adding peas, tomato sauce, or chopped fresh carrots, potatoes, or squash as the meat cooks. If you don’t eat beef, replace the ground beef with ground chicken, ground turkey, or with a plant-based meat.
Feel free to mix up the toppings with Mexican crema instead of sour cream, or cheddar cheese, crumbled queso fresco or cotija instead of the Mexican cheese blend. Other great toppings include thinly sliced radishes, pico de gallo or other salsa, red onion, red pepper, sliced avocado or guacamole, shredded cabbage, and cilantro leaves. Want your tacos extra spicy? Add slices of serrano or jalapeño chili.
Get the easy taco recipe
I hope your family enjoys this taco recipe as much as mine does.
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