How To Make The Best Ground Beef Taco Meat

Sep 3, 2013 1:00 pm

Six simple steps to spicy, juicy beef for tacos

how to make taco meat
Photo: Jess Kapadia
Perfectly seasoned, impressively juicy taco meat is within reach as long as beer and tequila are, too.

There are some iconic foods here in New York: hot dogs on the street, giant slices of pizza, bagels with cream cheese. You know what we're not known for? Tacos. You can find tacos in NYC, but they're either (a) not very good, (b) kind of on the pricey side for what they are, or (c) located at the far nether regions of the five boroughs. Having grown up in Los Angeles (closer to Mexico), I crave tacos on a regular basis. And if you want something done right, do it yourself.

What's the first key to good taco meat? Don't dry it out. By using a little bit of beer and tequila, you not only add some flavor, but you keep it nice and juicy. Second key: don't dry it out. Seriously, super-important not to cook it over too high heat or for too long. Third: season, season, season that meat. It's supposed to be the star and has to stand up to toppings. Fourth: (because the second key was a repeat) good tortillas. Bad tortillas beget bad tacos, never forget that.

This recipe is for some good old fashioned taco meat, the kind that's versatile enough to let you have your choice of toppings. What you should really do is quick-pickle some vegetables — the acid cuts through the rich beef, complements the sour cream and cheese and adds a nice crunch, so let's start with that. Here's what you'll need. 

For the pickles:

  • 1 cup carrots, julienned
  • 1 cup radishes, sliced thin
  • 1 cup onions, sliced thin
  • 1 cup jalapeños, sliced thin
  • 2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons pepper

For the taco meat: 

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 jalapenos (or any other chilis, just be educated about what kind of spice you may be forcing upon yourself) chopped
  • 1 clove garlic smashed and pasted
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 4 ounces beer
  • 2 ounces tequila
  • Tortillas, shredded cheese and lettuce, sour cream and salsa for serving
Pickle the vegetables
Pickle the vegetables

Bring the liquid ingredients to a boil in a medium pot. Cook for about a minute, then remove from heat and pour over your prepped veggies in separate containers. Cover tightly and let sit for an hour, then stick the pickled veggies in the fridge until ready to use. Look at that, you just made pickles.

Sauté the onions and garlic
Sauté the onions and garlic

Get a good size skillet going on medium-low to medium heat, and throw in your butter. When it's hot, add the onion and garlic. Cook for 7-8 minutes or until translucent, then pour in a shot of tequila. 

Add tomatoes and jalapeños
Add tomatoes and jalapeños

Add the tomatoes and jalapeños and half the beer, season with salt and pepper, then turn up the heat to a fast simmer and cook uncovered for 5 minutes.

Add the beef and seasonings
Add the beef and seasonings

Once the ingredients are nice and soft, add your ground beef — break it up beforehand with your hands, or in the pan with a spatula or big spoon. Add a little more salt and pepper, then throw in the cumin and chili powder. Let that cook for a minute or two until just starting to color, and then add the rest of the beer and tequila. 

Simmer together
Simmer together

Cover with a lid or foil (works great as a lid when none can be found) and let the meat simmer until the liquid is almost gone.

Uncover, finish and eat
Uncover, finish and eat

At that point, uncover and let cook another few minutes until there is no more liquid floating around — it should still look really moist though, remember key points #1 & #2. That's what the beer and tequila applications were for. Assemble your tacos in tortillas (double-up if you're planning on overstuffing) and top with pickled vegetables, cheese, lettuce, sour cream and salsa. Oh, and hot sauce. Don't forget that. 

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