Crispy Chimichanga recipe with juicy chili braised beef made in the air fryer or oven (AKA “Skinny Chimichangas!”) are restaurant delicious without all of the calories!
This chimichanga recipe is the beef version of my wildly popular Smothered Baked Chicken Burritos! They’re stuffed with optional cilantro lime rice and black beans, sharp cheddar cheese, juicy, spoon tender shredded beef that’s been braised with a caravan of rich, earthy, fiesta seasonings, then baked or air fried to golden, crispy perfection. Finally, the piece de resistance, is the smothering of green chili sour cream sauce that will have everyone swooning! These beef chimichangas are versatile (can be made with any of your favorite proteins such as beef barbacoa, carnitas, birria, etc.), and 100% make ahead and freezer friendly for an easy walk-in-the-door dinner! Serve this recipe with chips, salsa and guacamole and a side of pina colada fruit salad and Mexican rice (pictured) for the ultimate feast!
HOW TO MAKE chimichangas VIDEO
Traditionally, a chimichanga is a Mexican dish made with a flour tortilla that is filled with a variety of ingredients such as shredded beef, chicken, or pork, beans, rice, cheese, and spices. The tortilla is then tightly folded around the filling and deep-fried until it is crispy and golden brown.
Other popular ingredients that can be added to a chimichanga include onions, peppers, tomatoes, and jalapenos. Once the chimichanga is cooked, it is typically served with a sauce and a variety of toppings such as guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and shredded lettuce.
The origin of chimichangas is somewhat uncertain, but they are generally believed to have originated in the southwestern United States, particularly in Arizona. Some stories suggest that the dish was accidentally created when a burrito was dropped into a deep fryer, while others believe that it was created intentionally as a way to preserve and transport food.
While chimichangas may not have a clear Mexican origin, they have become a popular dish in Mexican-American cuisine and are often served in Mexican restaurants in the United States. The dish combines elements of both Mexican and American cuisine, with a flour tortilla, meat, beans, and spices that are commonly used in Mexican cooking, and the deep-fried preparation method that is more commonly associated with American cuisine.
In summary, while the origin of chimichangas may not be strictly Mexican, they have become a beloved and popular dish in Mexican-American cuisine, and are often associated with Mexican cuisine in the United States.
A Texas chimichanga is a variation of the traditional chimichanga that is popular in the state of Texas in the United States. While there is no one definitive recipe for a Texas chimichanga, it is generally believed to be a heartier and more substantial version of the traditional dish.
It typically features a larger flour tortilla that is filled with a combination of spiced beef, chicken, or pork, beans, rice and cheese. In some variations, the filling may also include diced onions, peppers, and jalapenos for additional flavor and heat. The chimichanga is then deep-fried until it is crispy and golden brown, and is often served with a side of guacamole, salsa, and sour cream.
Chimichangas are not a traditional or common dish in Mexico, and are not typically found on menus in Mexican restaurants in the country. While it’s possible that some restaurants in tourist areas or in areas with a high concentration of Mexican-American residents may serve chimichangas, they are not a part of mainstream Mexican cuisine.
In fact, some Mexicans may not even be familiar with the dish, as it is believed to have originated in the southwestern United States, particularly in Arizona. However, like many popular dishes in Mexican-American cuisine, chimichangas have become a beloved and popular dish in the United States, and are often associated with Mexican cuisine in the US.
There are several stories about the invention of the chimichanga, and while El Charro Café in Tucson, Arizona is often credited with creating the dish, the origins of the dish are somewhat uncertain.
According to one popular story, the chimichanga was invented at El Charro Cafe in the 1920s or 1930s, when a cook accidentally dropped a burrito into the deep fryer. When the cook exclaimed “chimichanga,” which is a Mexican slang term that can be roughly translated to mean “thingamajig,” the name stuck and the dish became a popular menu item at the restaurant.
However, there are also other claims to the invention of the chimichanga, including stories of similar dishes being served in other parts of the southwestern United States and in Mexico.
Ultimately, the true origins of the chimichanga are likely lost to history, and while El Charro Cafe is often credited with popularizing the dish, it is possible that variations of the dish were being served in other locations around the same time.
Flautas and chimichangas are both popular Mexican-inspired dishes. Flautas are like a smaller/thinner version of a chimichanga, served without the typical chimichanga sauce and may be served as an appetizer or snack rather than a main course. Here is the breakdown:
Flautas are made by filling smaller flour tortillas (not burrito size) with a mixture of ingredients such as shredded chicken, beef, or cheese, and rolling them tightly into a cylinder shape. The filled tortillas are then deep-fried until they are crispy and golden brown. Once cooked, flautas are often served with a variety of toppings such as guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and shredded lettuce, they are not served with a a sauce over top.
Chimichangas, on the other hand, are made by filling a large burrito-size flour tortilla with a variety of ingredients such as shredded beef, chicken, or pork, beans, rice and cheese. The tortilla is then tightly folded around the filling and deep-fried until it is crispy and golden brown. Once cooked, chimichangas are often smothered with a sauce. They are much fatter than flautas due to the larger tortilla.
Fajitas, chimichangas, and enchiladas are all popular Mexican-inspired dishes, but they have distinct differences in terms of ingredients and preparation.
Fajitas typically consist of grilled or sautéed strips of beef, chicken, or shrimp that are seasoned with a blend of spices and served with grilled onions and peppers in a hot skillet. The meat and vegetables are usually wrapped in a warm flour tortilla and served with additional toppings such as guacamole, sour cream, and salsa.
Chimichangas are made by filling a large flour tortilla with a variety of ingredients such as shredded beef, chicken, or pork, beans and cheese. The tortilla is then tightly folded around the filling and deep-fried until it is crispy and golden brown. Once cooked, chimichangas are often served with a variety of toppings such as guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and shredded lettuce.
Enchiladas are made by filling corn tortillas with a mixture of ingredients such as shredded chicken, beef, or cheese, and rolling them up into a tube shape. The rolled-up tortillas are then covered with a red enchilada sauce, verde sauce or creamy white green chili sauce, and baked until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Enchiladas are often served with a side of Mexican rice and refried beans.
Chimichangas are not a traditional or common dish in Mexico, so there is no specific name for them in Mexican cuisine. The dish is believed to have originated in the southwestern United States, particularly in Arizona, and is more commonly associated with Mexican-American cuisine in the United States.
That being said, some Mexican restaurants in the United States may serve a variation of the dish or have their own name for it. However, it’s important to note that these variations are often adapted to suit the tastes of a specific region or customer base, and may not necessarily reflect traditional Mexican cuisine.
Chimichangas are made with flour tortillas. Flour tortillas are larger and more pliable than corn tortillas, which makes them better suited for wrapping around the filling and folding into a burrito-like shape before frying. Additionally, the flour tortilla’s texture becomes crispy and golden-brown when fried, adding an enjoyable crunch to the dish.
chimichanga recipe INGREDIENTS
This chimichanga recipe is easy to make with everyday ingredients and spices instead of whole chilies. Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need to make this recipe (full recipe measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):
FOR THE CHIMICHANGAS
FOR THE CHIMICHANGA SAUCE
HOW TO MAKE chimichangas
- Step 1: Prepare the Mexican shredded beef. Follow the recipe instructions as written for the juiciest, most flavorful Mexican beef! In summary, you’ll spice rub the beef, sear, then add to the crockpot or InstantPot with the braising liquid ingredients. Pressure cook or slow cook on low for 8-10 hours until fall apart tender. You can prepare the beef up to 5 days in advance and it tastes even better!
- Step 2: Assemble the chimichangas. If using, layer each tortilla with ¼ cup rice and ¼ cup black beans down the center. Add a heaping ½ cup shredded beef, top with desired amount of cheese and roll up burrito style as illustrated below by first folding in the ends, then rolling the tortilla tightly over the filling.
- Step 3: Brush with oil. Brush the chimichangas lightly all over with olive oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray (olive oil works better).
- Step 4: Make the chimichanga sauce. Melt butter in olive oil in a medium saucepan, then, whisk in the flour and cook for a couple minutes. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth, followed by the spices. Bring to a simmer until thickened, then stir in the canned green chiles, shredded cheddar, and sour cream.
Step 5: Top and serve. Top each cooked chimichanga with the green chili sour cream sauce and any additional toppings you’d like, such as pico de gallo.
Topping ideas for chimichangas
The toppings you choose for your baked beef chimichangas will depend on your personal tastes and preferences, so have fun making your own ideal explosion of fresh, tangy, crunchy, and creamy! Go as simple as just the green chili sauce or some of the most traditional toppings for chimichangas include:
- Guacamole: Lusciously creamy, tangy, salty and fresh guacamole adds vibrancy to the chimichangas. You have three options: 1) go simple by picking up store-bought in the deli section; 2) mash avocados with lime juice, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper or 3) go all out with my favorite guacamole recipe made with avocados, lime juice, cilantro, jalapenos, red onions, and juicy tomatoes.
- Pico de gallo: This is fresh tomato salsa that adds a bright, punchy freshness. You can use my homemade pico de gallo recipe or store bought. You can make the salsa ahead of time and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving.
- Cilantro: If you skip the pico de gallo, load on some minced cilantro and tomatoes for a fresh, zesty flair.
- Salsa: Go with traditional restaurant style salsa, or salsa verde or chunky salsas with varying textures and flavors like my black bean corn salsa, avocado corn salsa, charred corn salsa, pineapple salsa, or mango salsa– all SO good!
- Sour cream or Greek yogurt: The refreshing, bright, silky creaminess of the sour cream or Greek yogurt compliments and cut through the crunchy, cheesy, earthy richness.
- Lettuce: Use shredded iceberg lettuce to add a refreshing crunch to the chimichanga and helps balance the richness of the other ingredients.
- Cheese: Sharp cheddar adds a savory and melty layer to the chimichanga. You can also add a showering of cotija for a salty finish. It is traditionally found with the specialty cheeses and should be readily available.
- Jalapenos: Fresh jalapenos or pickled jalapenos for their fabulous pickled tang are both great options. I particularly love these sweet and spicy pickled jalapeños from Trader Joes. They are similar to candied jalapenos but a little less sweet AKA perfection.
- Hot Sauce: Pass around the hot sauce for an easy, delicious way to customize heat.
chimichanga recipe variations
Chimichangas can be made differently every time! Use any type of protein you like, just take care it’s well seasoned because it will lose potency when combined with the cheese and cocooned in the tortilla. Also, take care it’s not wet or the tortillas will have a difficult time becoming crispy. Here are some ideas to play with:
- Beef Barbacoa (Crockpot): Crazy juicy beef slow cooked until melt-in-your-mouth tender infused with a tangy, chipotle sauce. Barbacoa Beef is known for its intense flavor and perfect balance of chipotle peppers, cumin, oregano and lime juice.
- Beef Birria: This viral beef boasts an explosion of complex earthy, smoky, savory, slightly spicy, juicy, addictiveness in each and every saucy bite. The beef is stewed until fall apart juicy tender in a from scratch adobo sauce made from chilies, onions, garlic, tomatoes and toasted spices including peppercorns, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon.
- Taco meat: It’s packed with flavor from browning the meat with sautéed onions, garlic and homemade taco seasoning, then combined with refried beans and salsa – the filling becomes hearty yet creamy all at the same time – pure savory comfort food at its most addicting.
- Shredded Mexican Chicken (Crockpot): This is one of my most popular recipes! Chicken simmered with Mexican spices, salsa and green chilies for amazingly flavorful chicken that’s dripping with flavor and SO tender.
- Honey Lime Salsa Verde Chicken (Crockpot): This is another all-time reader’s favorite. It’s bright, tangy, zesty with just the right amount of kick all balanced by a hint of honey.
- Chicken Adobado: Use the chicken portion of my Chicken Birria Tacos. The chicken is braised with homemade adobo sauce made with dried chilies, onions, garlic, tomatoes and toasted spices for complex, rich flavor that is out of this world.
- Quick Mexican Chicken: This shortcut Mexican chicken is done in 10 minutes! It seasons rotisserie chicken with robust spices, fire roasted tomatoes, tomato paste and green chilies.
- Chicken Tinga: This option is also super quick and easy made with shredded rotisserie chicken tossed in a saucy, smoky, spicy tomato chipotle sauce.
- Quick Ground Turkey (from my tacos): It’s quick, easy, healthy and packed with flavor – you won’t even miss the beef with my secret ingredient!
- Carnitas (Crockpot): Juicy pork smothered in a dynamic fiesta spice rub then slow cooked with orange juice and lime juice all finished in the oven to create glorious caramelized crispy burnt ends.
- Chipotle Sweet Pulled Pork: A Café Rio Copycat that’s juicy, tender, melt-in-your-mouth with the perfect balance of saucy sweet heat.
- Salsa Verde Pork (Crockpot): This recipe is inspired by the aforementioned chicken but in a juicier pork version. It is tangy, flavorful with just the right amount of kick all balanced by a hint of honey.
- Tofu: Use extra firm tofu that is well drained; you will need 3 cups. To drain tofu, place it in a pie plate, top with a heavy plate and weigh down with 2 heavy cans (to release water). Set aside for 10 minutes then sauté with the taco seasonings while crumbling. You can add a little enchilada sauce or salsa for moisture.
- Veggies: Use any combo of your favorite veggies such as cooked sweet potatoes, black beans, zucchini and/or corn. Sauté them with taco seasonings. You can add a little enchilada sauce or salsa for moisture.
- Beans: Mix black beans or chickpeas with any of your favorite cooked veggies to equal 3 ½ cups.
I wouldn’t swap out the sharp cheddar as its robust flavor compliments the richness of the beef, but you can combine it with:
- Pepper Jack: a derivative of Monterey Jack, flavored with sweet peppers, rosemary, garlic, habanero chilies and jalapeños – yum! Like Monterey Jack, it also melts well.
- Colby Jack: produced almost identically to Monterrey Jack but is seasoned with annatto (derived from seeds of the achiote tree) so its mild, slightly sweet and nutty.
- Oaxaca cheese: has a mellow, buttery flavor similar to Monterey but melts more easily with a mozzarella-like texture.
- Asadero: is Oaxaca’s cousin that isn’t quite as moist. It’s a mild, excellent melting cheese with a creamy-smooth, velvety texture.
Tools Used in This Recipe
Beef Chimichangas (Baked or Air Fried)
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GREEN CHILI SOUR CREAM SAUCE
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or regular and reduce salt)
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 tsp EACH cumin, chili powder
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 tsp EACH pepper, garlic powder, onion powder
- ½ 4 oz. can mild chopped green chilies, or more to taste
- 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- Hot sauce or cayenne pepper to taste
- Prepare Mexican Shredded Beef according to recipe directions (click HERE for recipe). The beef can be made ahead of time and refrigerated in the juices, then reheated before using (tastes even better this way!). Drain any excess liquid from beef before using.
- If baking: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil and add a baking rack on top.
- Assemble: If using, layer each tortilla with ¼ cup rice and ¼ cup black beans down the center. Add a heaping ½ cup shredded beef, top with desired amount of cheese and roll up burrito style (fold in the ends then roll over filling). If baking, place burritos seam side down on the prepared baking sheet. If air frying, place seam side down on parchment paper (or any flat surface will work).
- Add oil: Brush the chimichangas lightly all over with olive oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray (olive oil works better).
- To bake: Bake for 18-20 minutes at 400 degrees F or until golden. Broil to desired crispiness, flip over and broil the other side until golden. Meanwhile, make the sauce.
- To air fry: Working in batches, line chimichangas in the air fryer basket seam side down without touching. Air fry at 375 degrees F for approximately 5-6 minutes, or until golden and crispy on the top, flip over, and air fry an additional 2-3 minutes or until golden and crispy. Meanwhile, make the sauce.
- Melt butter in olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low, then gradually whisk in the chicken broth and spices. Bring to a simmer until thickened, about 2-3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in the green chilies, followed by the cheese a handful at a time, followed by the sour cream and lime juice. Add hot sauce to taste (optional).
- Top chimichangas with Green Chili Sour Cream Sauce and desired toppings. Dig in!
- To meal prep: You’ll want to start layering the tortilla with cheese (instead of beef) so it can shield the tortilla from any moisture to help prevent it from becoming soggy before cooking. Also, take care the beef is well drained/not wet before adding, otherwise it can make the tortillas soggy. Tightly wrap the chimichangas individually in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Cook as directed, adding an extra minute or two.
- To store: Let the beef chimichangas cool completely before packaging to prevent them from becoming as soft. Line them in a single layer in an airtight container or wrap them individually in foil. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or place foil-wrapped chimichangas in a freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months (instructions to follow).
- To freeze: Freeze uncooked chimichangas for meal prep, or freeze cooked leftover chimichangas. Let the cooked chimichangas cool completely in a single layer. Wrap them individually in foil, then transfer to a large freezer bag and squeeze out any excess air. Freeze for up to 3 months. Reheat per instructions, FROM FROZEN, adding an additional few minutes as needed.
- Air fryer: Place your chimichangas in the air fryer basket and air fry at 375 degrees F for 4-6 minutes, flipping halfway through.
- Oven: Place chimichangas on a baking rack placed over a baking pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F for 10-12 minutes or until warmed through.
- Microwave: This is my least favorite method because the exterior doesn’t crisp up, but it’s convenient for hands-off reheating. Transfer chimichangas to a microwave safe plate and microwave on high or 45 seconds then at 15-second intervals as needed. To crisp up afterwards, transfer to a nonstick pan and pan fry each side until crispy (don’t use any oil).
Ingredient Prep AheadIf you don’t have time to assemble the chimichangas at once, you can get a jump start on the prep:
- Season beef: The beef can be seasoned, seared and stored in the slow cooker insert with the braising ingredients in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before cooking.
- Cook beef: Alternatively, go one step further and cook the beef. Shred, then store in the juices for up to 5 days. When ready to use, reheat in the crockpot or stove.
- Filling ingredients: The rice can be cooked and the cheese shredded and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Green chili sauce: The sauce can be made and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat the sauce in a saucepan over medium-low heat. You may need to a splash of milk if the sauce has thickened up too much after it’s warmed.
- The toppings such pico de gallo and guacamole can be prepped and refrigerated up to a couple days in advance. The guacamole will keep for up to a day without changing color very much – just make sure to press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface to prevent oxidation/browning. I also find stirring a little sour cream into the guacamole when making works wonders at keeping it vibrant green.
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