Living in Texas, we appreciate a really good beef taco. Until recently, however, we didn’t bother trying to make them at home, believing that the home-cooked version couldn’t possibly be as good as the tacos we get at our favorite Tex-Mex joints. Turns out we were quite mistaken. We found a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated that is even better than what we had previously considered the best tacos around. Although these tacos require more ingredients and steps than the home version made with the store-bought flavor packet, the beefy end result is well worth the (minimal) extra effort.
Update: We’ve made these tacos with ground turkey (93% lean) instead of beef, and honestly cannot tell the difference. So if you’re craving beef tacos, but trying to eat less red meat, this is the recipe for you.
Heat a couple of teaspoons of vegetable or canola oil over medium-high heat, add a chopped onion and a dash of salt, then cook until the onion begins to soften — about 5-6 minutes.
While the onion cooks, prepare the seasonings: combine 3 cloves of minced garlic, 2 tablespoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl; and mix together 1/2 cup tomato sauce, 1/2 cup chicken broth, 2 teaspoons cider vinegar and 1 teaspoon brown sugar in another bowl.
Add the garlic and spices to the onions, stir together and cook until fragrant — about 1 minute.
Add a pound of lean (90% or less) ground beef to the onion and spice mixture and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the beef is no longer pink — about 5 minutes.
Add the tomato sauce mixture to the meat, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often and breaking up any big chunks of beef, until the liquid reduces (but not completely — there should still be a bit of liquid in the pan) — about 10 minutes. Taste and add salt & pepper if necessary.
Set up your taco-building station with whatever garnishes you prefer. We like chopped lettuce and tomato, sour cream, cheddar cheese and sliced avocado. Homemade taco filling is as “from-scratch” as we felt like doing on a weeknight, so we used store-bought taco shells, warmed in the oven.
Stuff the taco shells with meat and garnishes and enjoy your new favorite taco! And save the trip to a Tex-Mex restaurant for something with a higher degree of difficulty — like mole sauce.