Forget the drive-thru, this is how to make a beef tacos recipe that tastes just like Taco Bell tacos for an easy Taco Tuesday dinner at home any night of the week.
These tacos are a nod to one of America’s favorite Mexican fast food chains (and my husband’s)—Taco Bell. I’m not much of a fast food fan, but Taco Bell tacos are pretty much the cat’s meow when it comes to drive-thru Mexican food. I have lots of recipes that satisfy our regular taco cravings, like my grilled steak tacos, blackened fish tacos with creamy avocado sauce, and my carnitas (to name just a few). But these Taco Bell tribute tacos satisfy a totally different type of craving, right up there with greasy, cheesy pepperoni pizza.
Years ago I ditched my own ground beef taco recipe in favor of my MIL’s (one that is eerily similar to our beloved Taco Bell version). She shared all her secrets with me, and these are so good, they could very well curb your drive-thru habit too.
What’s in These Ground Beef Tacos
My MIL’s ground beef tacos are revered in the family, and probably the most often requested dinner for family gatherings, next to her Curry Turkey Pot Pie (my birthday favorite!) or Hamburger Soup. She takes her ground beef tacos seriously, and while this recipe is super easy to make, there are several key ingredients and techniques that make it special, and so frigging delicious:
- Ground beef
- White onion
- Tomato juice—this is added to the ground beef and spices to deglaze the pan and pull up all those browned bits, plus adds moisture for the next super special ingredient (you could also use (V-8, or water would be fine)
- Yellow cornmeal—my mother-in-law swears this is key to making these tacos taste most like Taco Bell. It tightens up the beef mixture after the tomato juice is added, and adds another layer of maize/corn essence, combining with the Mexican flavors. If the mix feels too thick, add a bit more tomato juice to thin it and cook the cornmeal.
- Taco shells—I like hard taco shells (white corn specifically), but yellow corn or even flour tortillas make a great Taco Bell-style taco.
- Shredded cheese
- Taco seasoning
Homemade Taco Seasoning
Fortunes have been made on packaging taco seasoning, but it’s so simple to make from your spice drawer, why not make it from scratch? After you try this easy DIY taco seasoning, you’ll ditch the packet forever.
- Chili powder
- Garlic salt
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Taco seasoning is pretty salty on its own so don’t be alarmed if you take a taste and feel it’s too much.
see more: 70 Cinco De Mayo Mexican Recipes
How to Make These Ground Beef Tacos
Brown the beef. I recommend using a flat-edged wooded spatula to really chop up the beef into small pieces. I find this easiest to do once the meat has begun to brown, breaking down easier than when raw. My MIL says the flavor in these tacos comes from browning the beef really well, building crisped bits on the bottom of the pan. Watch it though, so the beef doesn’t burn or char.
Sauté the onion and garlic. Once the meat is in smaller bits, stir in the onions and garlic and continue to cook.
Add the special seasonings. Adding the taco spices to the ground beef toward the end of browning allows them to cook for a minute or two to seal flavor into the meat and also awakens the flavors of the spices as they heat.
How to Assemble Your Tacos
Two of the hallmarks of a bad taco are 1) a cold taco shell and 2) cheese that still carries the chill of the fridge. That’s why the last step of my MIL’s delicious tacos is the assembling of the tacos should not be skipped and totally worth completing this extra step.
Toast your tacos. Use a sheet pan or a casserole dish to snuggle your corn tortillas together upright, then spoon the taco meat into them and sprinkle them with shredded cheese. Toast in the oven or a toaster oven at 400°F just until the cheese melts and the shells begin to brown.
Add the fixings. Now it’s time to dress these babies up. Sour cream, shredded iceberg lettuce, avocado, diced tomatoes, and onion are my picks for classic toppings. Everyone has their favorite toppings, and since you’re making them yourself, now is the time to load them up the way you like ’em––add red onion and cilantro, and pico de gallo if you like.
see more: 31 Healthy Mexican Recipes to Make Now
What’s the Best Ground Beef for Tacos?
For this taco meat recipe, use 85% lean ground beef. You don’t want anything too lean, otherwise, you’re liable to wind up with dry taco meat.
Can I Use Ground Turkey Instead?
Technically, yes. But if you’re truly looking to make copycat Taco Bell tacos, ground beef is the way to go.
Can I Use Store-Bought Taco Seasoning?
Again, you technically can. But your homemade taco recipe won’t taste just like Taco Bell’s.
How do You Make the Best Tacos?
- To break down the taco meat really finely, use a potato masher or a meat masher. Or, use your spatula and take your time breaking up the ground beef.
- After you’ve stirred in the tomato juice and cornmeal, you’ll need to let the taco filling bubble away for a good 10 to 15 minutes. If you try to serve your ground beef tacos right away, the filling will be too soupy.
- Make your life easier by putting all the taco toppings into serving dishes and let your family top their tacos as they see fit.
What to Serve With Tacos to Make a Meal
- Easy Mexican Coleslaw Recipe
- Creamy Avocado Salsa Verde
- Chopped Mexican Kale Salad
- Mango Margarita With Chile Salt And Lime
- Chunky Citrus Guacamole
More Taco Recipes You’ll Want to Make
- Breakfast Tacos Recipe
- Blackened Fish Tacos With Creamy Avocado Sauce
- The BEST Carnitas
- Shrimp Tacos With Garlic Avocado Crema
- Slow Cooker Smoky Pulled Pork Tacos
- Stewed Chicken Tacos
- Fried Avocado Tacos Recipe
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