If you ever come over and I say we’re having tacos please don’t expect authenticity. You’re gonna get Crispy Tacos: my slightly-elevated version of the tacos my gramma made when I was growing up in Goldsboro, North Carolina. If it’s a different kind I will call them by their full title, not just tacos. I’d be like “hey, you wanna come over for some Spicy Chicken Tacos?”
Obviously, I didn’t create this method of cooking Crispy Tacos, only adapted it. It’s very common in Mexican and Central American cooking. I built this recipe my gramma’s; around the textures and flavors I got from the Old El Paso Taco Dinner Kit I grew up on.
I’ve been making my tacos like this for at least a full decade now, and I can’t tell you how many folks have made my day by telling me they tried my method and have never looked back. It’s one of my very favorite things to eat and to make and I’m happy to have introduced it to your family if I did.
This written recipe for María’s Crispy Tacos was originally in my mini-ebook “Got an Hour?” It’s been fleshed out and expanded a bit, but overall the same. In case you missed it, all my ebook recipes will be here eventually! Just give me some time.
María’s Crispy Tacos Ingredients
Feel free to jump to the full recipe, but here are useful notes about the ingredients you will need to make this María’s Crispy Tacos recipe:
- Lean ground beef: I use Butcher Box, always. Their grass-fed and finished ground beef is 85/15 and their ground sirloin is 90/10. I recommend that you use ground beef that’s no fattier than 80/20. You’ll want to drain off the excess grease after the meat is browned, too.
- Taco seasoning: I make my own (it’ll be for sale, soon) and you can use your favorite. The traditional store-bought packets of taco seasoning hold about two tablespoons and they contain cornstarch. If you’re using a packet, use the whole thing and if you’re using taco seasoning you must measure out check to see if it contains cornstarch. If it does, increase the amount of taco seasoning by one half tablespoon. This is all to taste, of course.
- Water: This is a personal decision you have to make for yourself. If you’re using a packet flip it over: you’ll see it likely calls for water right there in the package instructions. If the seasoning you’re using has a thickener (like cornstarch) you’ll need it, or if you just like a saucier filling, like me.
- Chunky salsa: My grandmother used to mix things like pinto beans or rice into the taco filling to make the meat stretch a little further but even when she didn’t, there was always some Pace Chunky Salsa in Medium stirred in. I love the flavor and texture it provides. Use your own favorite salsa, or subtitute a small can of diced tomatoes and chiles or a cup of taco sauce.
- Corn tortillas: I don’t care for corn tortillas unless they’re fried. If you don’t like crunchy corn tortillas at all, this recipe works with flour tortillas but you must reduce the cooking temperature and time for every step in which they’re in the pan. They cook and burn much more quickly than corn. Look for small or street taco sized tortillas, around 4-5″ in diameter. Unless you want super sized tacos, which I totally approve of.
- Extra sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded: This is the cheese that melts inside of the taco, not that it’s topped with – although I usually like to use more of this one there, too. I played with a few different types of cheese before deciding on extra sharp white cheddar. It adds a real punch that goes well with the heavy corn and meat experience.
- Oil: I use regular vegetable oil for frying, usually. You’ll only need a few tablespoons to fry up the entire batch of tacos. Any type of oil will work here, just don’t use too much.
- Pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, pickled onions, more shredded cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, guac, whatever: Also known as toppings! Scroll down to ‘How to Top María’s Crispy Tacos’ for more on this.
How to Make María’s Crispy Tacos
Full instructions are included in the recipe below, but here is a basic overview of what you’ll need to do, along with some important tidbits to help you make the most of this María’s Crispy Tacos recipe:
- Sear the beef. Place a 10″ cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and let it preheat for 1-2 minutes. Add the ground beef and don’t touch it. You’re going to let it sear like a steak on that side before disturbing it. After 3-4 minutes you can either flip the ground beef over with a spatula and sear the other side for 3 more minutes, or go ahead and immediately start breaking the ground beef up with a wooden spoon or potato masher. Sprinkle the kosher salt over the ground beef if using, and continue stirring as it cooks until no more pink remains.
- Make the filling. Once the meat is browned pour the meat into a strainer or colander to drain off the excess grease completely. Reduce the heat to medium and transfer the ground beef back to the skillet. Stir in the taco seasoning and salsa, then taste the filling. Add more salt or taco seasoning if you think it needs it. Turn off the heat and cover with a lid until you’re ready to make the tacos.
- Prepare the tortillas. The process from here is identical to the one used for my Birria Quesatacos. Pull out a griddle or the widest skillet you have (cast-iron is best) and preheat it over medium heat. Drizzle a tablespoon of oil over the surface, then lay down as many tortillas as can fit comfortably. Let them cook for 20-30 seconds before continuing with the next step.
- Build the Crispy Tacos. When you can hear the tortillas sizzling and see them starting to bubble around the edges, add your desired amount of cheese to the center of each tortilla, followed by a couple of tablespoons of filling. You can finish off with more cheese, if you like. Allow the tacos to cook for about 30 seconds to a minute, undisturbed. Montior the heat so they don’t brown too quickly or burn.
- Fold the tacos. When the tortilla seems to be getting a bit wrinkly and lifting around the edges use a spatula (or whatever you feel comfortable using) to fold one side of the tortilla over onto itself into a taco shape, using a second spatula to hold the filling inside. Shove back in any excess that falls out (or pop it in your mouth because yum).
- Fry until crispy. Let the taco continue frying on that side for a minute, then flip. Continue frying and flipping until your desired crispiness and color is reached: for me it’s about 2 minutes per side, twice. Keep the tacos on a wire rack over a baking sheet in a 175°F oven while you continue cooking, and repeat until all the tacos are cooked.
- Top ’em. Keep reading for my thoughts on how to maximize the potential of these Crispy Tacos. Enjoy!
How to Top María’s Crispy Tacos
If we make María’s Crispy Tacos the María way specifically they’ll be topped with extra sharp white cheddar, very hot sauce, shredded lettuce, and pico de gallo. That doesn’t sound appealing to you? Well first of all how dare you and second of all that’s fine: tailor to suit your own tastes!
For my tacos that would be shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, a smidgen more shredded cheese, and a drizzle of very hot sauce. For my kid, it would be all of the above minus the pico, plus sour cream. For my other kid (and her fake meat tacos) it would be shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, Taco Bell shredded cheddar cheese, and Taco Bell Fire sauce (pictured below). For my cousin Chris it would be just shredded lettuce and ketchup. To each their own.
Top yours how you like, and allow your family to do the same. Matter of fact, if it’s a crowd just set up a toppings bar and walk away!
OK, that’s all folks. Let me know what you think if you make them! Here are the Pins: