Crunchy Beef Tacos with Zesty Homemade Seasoning

That moment in the grocery store when you’re debating between selecting fresh ingredients and actually cooking dinner, versus buying the beloved boxed version of whatever entree you’ve got on the brain…

Vertical closeup image of three hard shell beef tacos with shredded lettuce, diced tomato, and melted sharp cheddar cheese, on a white plate, printed with orange and white text at the bottom and midpoint of the frame.

Don’t feel bad. We’ve all done it.

It’s an easy trap to slip into, especially when the idea of a from-scratch meal seems daunting. But trust me when I tell you – skip the kit.

Vertical overhead shot of beef tacos on a white serving platter, with shredded lettuce and diced tomato on top, on a brown wood surface topped with a folded multicolored cloth.

When taco o’clock hits, this is the kind of craving-satisfying meal you want to make yourself, from top to bottom. You already have to accomplish browning the ground beef (can’t get that in a box, bro), so take the extra step to sprinkle it with some homemade love.

I keep my kitchen predominantly stocked with fresh herbs, but there are certain (taco-shaped) things that simply call for dried spices that you probably already have on your rack. I don’t feel the need to “fancy up” or slap a bowtie on my signature taco seasoning.

I’ll add fresh, pungent flavors like minced garlic to whatever protein I’m stuffing in the tortilla, but for the spice mix itself, I go ground or go home.

Actually, I’m already home when I’m making this. You know what I mean…

Vertical extreme closeup image of beef tacos with melted cheese, shredded lettuce, and diced tomato on a white plate.

This taco seasoning mimics what’s in that packet that you’ll find in most grocery stores, with the exception of several elements: this one isn’t loaded with sodium, and you can control every factor of flavor.

Keep in mind that I use a combination of chili powder, which is already a blend of various herbs and spices, plus additional spice rack favorites to beef it up (pun so intended here). Don’t reach for 4 tablespoons of straight-up cayenne when you make this, or you’ll be in for a super spicy surprise!

If you can’t get enough heat, feel free to give it a kick with some extra cayenne. If you find smoky notes overwhelming, hold your horses on the cumin.

These savory spices intensify the beef with such an oomph of flavor, you could fold up this filling as-is and call it a day. But I like to go one step further by also frying my own tortillas to make those classic hard shells.

I’m not going to judge you if you reach for pre-packaged crunchy taco shells instead. But when you see how easy it is to transform corn rounds into corn envelopes, you might rethink things.

Overhead shot of three hard-shell beef tacos with lettuce and tomato, with a dollop of herb crema, and a square white dish of fresh salsa to the left, on a brown wood surface topped with a folded multicolored cloth.

Another rock star move (that’s actually a built-in step of frying at home) is that you’re given the very first opportunity to season your taco vehicles.

Think of it like this: when you get out of the shower, your pores are wide open. There’s literally no better time to slather on moisturizer, because it instantly clings to your skin.

When you extract these delicately fried-and-folded corn tortillas out of the oil, they’re in their optimal state to soak up flavor. You can slap them with some coarse salt, or go a step further and dust them in your taco spices for a double layer of yum.

Overhead closely cropped vertical overhead oblique image of several beef tacos to the right, a few fried corn tortilla shells at the bottom right, and a small pile of an orange-colored spice mixture to the bottom left, on a beige wood surface.

Want to go all Taco Bell Doritos Locos copycat and throw some bell pepper powder and some cheese powder and whatnot in there? If you’re ready to reverse engineer the brilliance of that particular variety of uber-popular taco shell, be my guest!

Did I just relate taking a shower to seasoning taco shells? Oh yes, I did.

Vertical head-on shot of three beef tacos in hard corn shells with shredded lettuce, diced tomato, and melted cheese, on a brown wood table with a folded multicolored cloth, and another cloth spread out in the background.

As far as toppings go, this is truly the part where “to each his own” comes in.

When I was little, my dad would assemble a weekly taco night meal for me and my friends. When I think back on those melted cheese memories, my most prominent visual is the bowls.

Bowls on bowls on bowls.

My dad would thoughtfully dice tomatoes, shred chilled romaine lettuce, and scoop sour cream into ramekins so that everyone could dress their tacos accordingly, to their personal delight.

Vertical closely cropped image of a small white dish of homemade tomato, cilantro, and onion salsa, on a white surface with a black background.

Today, I like to up my toppings game a touch. I strongly suggest at least raising the stakes when it comes to the cheese. Steer clear of the pre-shredded yellow bagged stuff, grab yourself a block of quality sharp white cheddar or creamy jack, and get to grating.

A thin zig-zag of cool, slightly tangy sour cream will achieve that refreshing note the fatty beef calls for – but if you’re in the mood to show off, whisk up a fresh green onion and cilantro crema. The gentle garlicky notes of scallion bring out the red onion flavor in the beef, and people will be impressed that you used the word “crema.”

You could easily twist the top off a salsa jar, but you’ve already gone to the trouble of mixing your own spices. Might as well whip up some citrusy pico de gallo

Horizontal image of a small pile of homemade taco spice mix in the foreground, with several beef tacos in hard corn tortilla shells in soft focus in the background, on a white surface.

However much you think you’ll need, make double. This addictively fresh condiment (exploding with lime and crunchy jalapeno) pairs with everything.

Except maybe cereal.

Now that you’re armed with a few scratch-made secrets to give classic crunchy beef tacos the simple, yet glorious makeover they deserve, you can skip the kit.

And stand back for the applause.

Print
Horizontal overhead shot of three beef tacos with lettuce and tomato on a plate, beside a pile of greens topped with a dollop of scallion and cilantro crema, on a brown wood table with a multicolored cloth and a small square dish of pico de gallo.

Crunchy Baked Beef Tacos with Zesty Homemade Seasoning


  • Author: Fanny Slater
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 8 tacos 1x

Description

Turn Taco Tuesday into tacos every day with this classic crunchy beef version, enhanced with smoky homemade seasoning and sharp cheddar.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cups vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 corn tortillas (street taco size)
  • 2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups shredded lettuce
  • Homemade Pico de Gallo
  • 1 cup Green Onion and Cilantro Crema

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together 3 teaspoons of the salt, 1 teaspoon of the black pepper, chili powder, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and dried oregano. This will make around 1/2 cup of homemade taco seasoning.
  2. In a large cast iron skillet or saute pan, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and season it with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Using a slotted spoon to break up the meat, cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low.
  3. Add the red onions and minced garlic, and sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon of the taco seasoning. Cook, stirring occasionally to incorporate the spices, for about 3-5 minutes. Season to taste, stir, and keep the beef mixture on low heat.
  4. In a separate heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the remaining vegetable oil (fill the pan to about 1 inch) over medium-high heat. Using tongs, carefully drop one tortilla at a time into the oil. Let it sizzle for about 15 seconds, and then flip it over; fold the tortilla in half to create a shell, and hold in place with the tongs until very lightly golden, for another 15 seconds. Place the fried taco shell on a paper towel-lined plate to drain, and immediately sprinkle with salt (or additional taco seasoning). Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  6. In a deep baking dish, arrange the freshly fried taco shells so they stand upright. Evenly divide the beef mixture among the shells and then top with the cheese. Bake until the cheese is bubbly and melted, about 10 minutes.
  7. Garnish with shredded lettuce, salsa, and crema.

  • Category: Tacos
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Tex-Mex

Keywords: tacos, beef tacos, Taco Tuesday, taco spice mix

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Make Spice Mix

Overhead closely cropped image of a small pile of chopped purple onion to the left, and a white bowl with piles of several different types of spices, salt, and ground black pepper to the right, on a wooden cutting board.

In a small bowl, stir together 3 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and the chili powder, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and dried oregano.

Closely cropped overhead horizontal shot of a white bowl of homemade taco spice mix to the right, and two piles of chopped red onion and minced garlic to the left, on a wooden cutting board.

You will have extra taco seasoning mix left over, so save it in your spice rack for use in other recipes, or pull it out when you want to make this delicious meal again.

Step 2 – Chop Vegetables and Measure Ingredients

Dice the red onions and mince the garlic.

Measure out all of the remaining ingredients, so they will be ready to go.

Step 3 – Brown the Beef

In a large cast iron skillet or saute pan, heat a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil and add the ground beef.

Raw, pink ground beef is cooking in a cast iron pan. Horizontal image with selective focus.

Season with salt and pepper and use a slotted spoon to break up the mixture. Saute until lightly browned, and then reduce the heat.

Horizontal image of browned ground beef with a pile of raw chopped red onion and minced raw garlic on top, on a large cast iron frying pan, on a gas stove with black metal grates.

Add the red onions and minced garlic, and generously season the beef mixture with the taco seasoning.

Browned ground beef cooked with onions and garlic is spread in a large frying pan, with a homemade taco spice blend sprinkled on top, on a gas stove.

Saute for several more minutes so that the flavors can meld with the meat.

Closeup closely cropped horizontal image of ground beef cooking in a large cast iron pan.

Taste for additional seasoning, and keep the beef mixture on low heat.

Step 4 – Fry the Tortillas

In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat about 1 inch of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. If you’re using a thermometer, the optimal temperature of the oil should be 360°F, but anywhere in the 350-375°F range is fine.

Vertical image of a pair of metal tongs dipping the corner of a corn tortilla beneath the surface of the hot vegetable oil that is in a large cast iron pan below, on a gas stove with metal grates.

If you don’t have a thermometer, you can tell when the oil is ready by slowly dipping in an edge of one of the tortillas. If the oil immediately bubbles around the tortilla, it’s hot enough.

Metal tongs are being used to pinch a corn tortilla into a taco shell shape while holding it under the surface of about an inch of hot vegetable oil in a large cast iron pan, on a gas stove with a red metal tea kettle in the background.

Using tongs, carefully drop one tortilla at a time into the oil. It will puff up and bubble. Let it sizzle for about 15 seconds, pushing it back into the oil when it floats to the top.

Vertical image of a corn taco shell frying in hot oil, in a black cast iron pan.

Flip it over, fold the tortilla in half to create a shell, and hold it in place with the tongs to make sure that it’s being evenly submerged in the oil.

Closeup overhead horizontal image of fried homemade corn taco shells sprinkled with salt, on a piece of paper towel on top of a gray countertop.

When it’s very lightly golden, place the fried shell on a paper towel to drain, and sprinkle with salt or additional taco seasoning.

Fried corn tortillas that have been shaped to make taco shells are resting on a piece of paper towel on top of a gray and white speckled granite counterop, with a small white bowl of a red spice mixture at the top left corner of the frame.

Repeat with the remaining tortillas, one at a time.

Step 5 – Fill and Bake

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Closely cropped overhead horizontal image of three hard-shell tacos filled with a spiced ground beef mixture, arranged so they are standing upright in an orange ceramic baking dish.

In a deep baking dish, arrange the freshly fried taco shells so they stand upright. Evenly divide the beef mixture among the shells, and then top with the shredded cheese. Bake until the cheese is bubbly and melted.

Horizontal closely cropped overhead shot of an orange ceramic baking dish filled with hard shell tacos standing upright, with shredded whtie cheese on top, on a gray surface.

Garnish with assorted toppings of your choice.

Toodle-oo Tex-Mex Packet, Hello Freshly Blended Spices

You’d better believe you’ll want to double (or triple) up on the quantity of this taco seasoning, to have it on hand at all times.

This snappy, smoky, versatile mix can be sprinkled over everything from cheesy scrambled eggs that need a bold boost to any other protein you want to slip into a tortilla shell.

I also hang onto extra corn tortillas (popping them in the freezer for safe keeping) because nothing beats freshly fried chips dunked into, well, pretty much anything. For a quick crispy salad (or soup) topping, slice them into thin strips, and bake or fry until golden. While they’re still hot, shower them with the taco seasoning and a few tart pinches of lime zest.

Horizontal overhead shot of three beef tacos with lettuce and tomato on a plate, beside a pile of greens topped with a dollop of scallion and cilantro crema, on a brown wood table with a multicolored cloth and a small square dish of pico de gallo.

For more inspired twists on the traditional taco, check out these inventive handhelds:

What creative condiments do you put on your taco bar? Charred corn? Pickled veggies? Share your go-to garnishes in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.

Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on December 8. 2013. Last updated: September 20, 2019 at 19:22 pm. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

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About Fanny Slater

Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”

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