Baked Ground beef tacos bursting with juicy beef filling and gooey cheese are delicious, easy and all done at once which makes dinnertime a breeze!
This ground beef taco recipe will have everyone excited for taco night! The ground beef tacos get loaded with a blend of juicy taco meat, homemade taco seasoning, creamy refried beans, punchy salsa and tangy green chilies that is then smothered with cheese, baked then piled with your favorite toppings. The tacos are simple yet flavorful and the perfect addition to your easy weeknight dinner arsenal. You can make the ground beef taco recipe the old school way with hard taco shells (pictured) or you can use the incredible taco meat filling in soft tortillas as well – because you are going to want to eat the filling with a spoon! This ground beef taco recipe is also make ahead and freezer friendly so you can get dinner in the oven in minutes.
Ground beef taco recipe
With the holidays behind us, it’s time for some quick and easy dinners like Shortcut Spaghetti Bolognese, Broccoli Cheese Soup, Cajun Chicken Bowls, Shrimp Tacos, Egg Drop Soup, Chicken Stir Fry, Taco Salad, Chicken Spaghetti, Turkey Tacos, and Korean Beef Bowls, (see a full list of 30 minute meals HERE) – but nothing trumps quick, easy and DELICIOUS than ground beef tacos!
Did you grow up on baked ground beef tacos in crispy shells? While they are unabashedly unauthentic Mexican tacos, they were always one of my unabashedly favorite dinners. The intoxicating symphony of flavors and textures from the crunchy shell, to the creamy beans, to the tender, juicy taco meat, to the fresh lettuce and juicy tomatoes all married together with creamy sour cream still make my taste buds sing. Those beef tacos were good then but they are even better now!
Reasons to love ground beef taco recipe:
- DELICIOUS. I’ve elevated these ground beef tacos with my homemade taco meat you are going to swoon over. It’s packed with flavor from browning the meat with sautéed onions, garlic and homemade taco seasoning, but what really elevates the taco meat is stirring refried beans and salsa directly into the beef – drool. The filling becomes hearty yet creamy all at the same time – pure savory comfort food at its most addicting.
- QUICK AND EASY. This ground beef taco recipe takes EASY to a whole new level and best of all, you can have the whole tray of tacos prepared all at once in about 15 minutes. To make, line up your taco shells in a 9×13 casserole dish – I use the Stand N’Stuff Taco Shells which are super convenient and such an improvement over the traditional ones that fall all over the place. Next, line the tacos with cheese and bake to crisp up the shells and create a barrier so the shells don’t get soggy. While the shells are baking, make the taco meat filling, then load the shells with filling, cheese, and bake!
- PARTY TACOS. Because these baked ground beef tacos come out of the oven all at once, they’re great for serving a crowd – whether that’s your own family (no one waiting to pass around the toppings to complete their tacos) or for a potluck, tailgating party, or Cinco de Mayo. These hand-held heroes deliver all the flavor and addicting crunch without all the stress!
- TRANSPORTABLE. These ground beef tacos are also super easy to transport in their 9×13 tray to bring to potlucks or parties or to a friend or neighbor.
- EASY TO EAT. One of the perks of baked ground beef tacos is the crispy shell securely cocoons the meat so you don’t have taco meat falling out with every bite – because you’re not going to want to miss a bite of this taco meat!
- CUSTOMIZABLE. You can use the taco meat in hard or soft shells – whatever suits your palate. You can make them more or less spicy, with or without refried beans, with more or less cheese, and top them with YOUR favorite toppings.
- MAKE AHEAD. The taco meat can be made days ahead of time and then warmed when ready. You can also prep all of the toppings and store in airtight containers in the refrigerator. Now all you have to do is minutes worth of assembly then bake!
- FREEZER FRIENDLY. This ground beef taco recipe is easy to double or triple to freeze some for later. Simply use the arrows in the recipe card to scale up and it will change the measurements to exactly what you need.
What is the best meat to use for Taco Meat?
The best meat to use for taco meat is 85%-93% lean. That means 85% is lean and 15% is fat. The fat will give the ground beef juicy beefy flavor without all the dripping grease. You can also drain any extra grease before adding the rest of the ingredients.
This ground beef taco recipe successfully uses lean ground beef because the beef gets flavored with additional salsa and green chilies which will also add some moisture back into the meat.
What spices are in Taco Meat?
This ground beef taco recipe is seasoned with a delectable homemade taco seasoning consisting of chili powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika, dried oregano, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.
I love making homemade taco seasoning because you can customize it to your palate – like cumin? Add more cumin. Like chili powder? Add more chili powder. Like heat? Add more cayenne pepper. I also love that you can whip up a big batch of homemade taco seasoning and keep it on hand. It’s not only perfect to season these ground beef tacos but so many other recipes like my Beef and Bean Burritos, Taco Pasta, Cheesy Taco Soup or Taco Spaghetti.
If you are short on any of the spices for the homemade taco seasoning, you may also use pre-made taco seasoning. I have not experimented with this so I can’t tell you an exact amount, but I’m guessing 1 packet taco seasoning would be about right.
INGREDIENTS FOR GROUND BEEF TACO Recipe
In addition to the ground beef and seasonings, you will need these additional pantry friendly ingredients to elevate your ground beef tacos to the next level:
- Onion: one small yellow onion will do the trick or you may substitute with 1 ½ teaspoons onion powder. Add the onion powder when you add the rest of the seasonings.
- Garlic: 4-6 garlic cloves or you may substitute with 1 teaspoon garlic powder.
- Refried beans: adds an irresistible creaminess that is heavenly with the beef. You may also substitute with pinto beans or black beans, but the taco meat won’t be as creamy and cohesive.
- Salsa: adds liquid to blend the refried beans and ground beef together while also adding tons of flavor. You can use mild or medium salsa and then adjust the cayenne pepper to taste. I use medium and also use ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper for a little kick.
- Chopped green chiles: these come from a can and add a subtle tang to the ground beef tacos. Take care you choose MILD chopped green chiles because the hot can is HOT. Mild green chiles, however are more tangy than hot so you don’t have to worry about them making your beef tacos spicy.
Can I use ground turkey?
Yes! This ground beef taco recipe works fabulous with turkey as well! The salsa adds moisture and the beans add creaminess so you won’t even notice you are using a lean protein.
If you really want the turkey to taste like ground beef, then I also suggest adding 2 teaspoons beef bouillon. I use this trick in my turkey tacos and turkey chili and it is AMAZING! It infuses the turkey with rich, beefy flavor that will blow your mind!
If you do use beef bouillon, then omit the salt called for in the recipe and add salt to taste after the filling is combined with the beans and salsa. Beef bouillon contains salt so you will likely need less salt than the recipe calls for.
Can I use other protein?
Although this recipe is called “Ground Beef Tacos,” the baked taco method works well for virtually any protein. If making with a different protein, simply follow the directions for that recipe. When ready to assemble, evenly divide the refried beans between the taco shells, then top with the desired protein. Some favorite Mexican proteins are:
- Carne asada: juicy, marinated and spice rubbed steak
- Carnitas: slow cooker pulled pork with glorious caramelized crispy ends
- Chipotle Sweet Pulled Pork: juicy, saucy, sweet and spicy pulled pork
- Beef Barbacoa: slow cooker tangy, smoky, rich, spicy juicy beef
- Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken: is an all-time reader favorite for classic, flavorful Mexican Chicken
- Honey Lime Salsa Verde Chicken: sweet and tangy slow cooker pulled chicken
- Mexican shredded chicken: boasts robust fiesta seasonings made with rotisserie chicken
- Cilantro lime chicken: zesty, tangy and citrusy
- Salsa verde chicken: tangy, flavorful with just the right amount of kick
- Chipotle chicken: smoky, robust and spicy
- Chili lime chicken: smoky, robust and tangy
WHAT ARE THE BEST TORTILLAS FOR BEEF TACOS?
This ground beef taco recipe is specifically for baked tacos, but you can use the meat in soft tortillas as well. Here’s the breakdown:
HARD TACO SHELLS
You will want to use hard taco shells if making baked beef tacos. I highly recommend the “stand and stuff” taco shells. They didn’t have these when I was growing up, and the tacos would slide all over the place unless they were packed in! The standing hard taco shells do just that – they stand up completely on their own for stress free assembly and containment. If you can’t find the stand and stuff taco shells, you certainly can use traditional hard taco shells – then pack them in so don’t fall.
This taco meat is also delicious in soft taco shells. You’ll want a brand that is thick and soft such as Guerro tortillas which is probably the easiest brand to find at your local grocery store.
Corn tortillas aren’t as common with ground beef tacos, but they can certainly be used. You’ll want to make sure you use a high-quality corn tortilla that won’t break, crumble or tear when piled with your beef. I love La Tortilla Factory Corn Tortillas. They are thicker, homemade tortillas that never break or tear even when charred and piled with toppings. I find mine at Sprouts. They come in 8 per package which means you will need 2 packages for this ground beef taco recipe. They are definitely more expensive BUT less than dining out! Please be aware that this brand of corn tortillas is not gluten free as it does contain corn AND wheat.
How do you make Taco Meat?
You can make the taco meat and either serve it in hard taco shells for baked beef tacos or soft tortillas, but the method for cooking the meat is the same:
- Cook beef and onions: Cook up the beef and onions, crumbling the beef as you cook over medium heat. When the beef is almost cooked through, add the homemade taco seasoning and the garlic. When the beef is cooked, drain any excess grease.
- Add beans: Stir in the refried beans, green chilies and salsa. Stir over medium-low heat until the beans are completely incorporated into the beef mixture. The beans help thicken the meat up and add a delightfully creamy texture. You will never go back to taco meat without beans again!
HOW TO MAKE BAKED BEEF TACOS
These baked ground beef tacos are SO easy, they can be on your table in 30 minutes! Here’s how easy they are to make:
- Bake taco shells with cheese: Line a 9×13 baking dish with standing taco shells. Evenly divide 1 cup cheese between taco shells. Bake the taco shells for 8 minutes.
- Cook taco meat: Cook the taco meat mixture while the shells are baking – that way you don’t waste any time!
- Assemble: Evenly divide ground beef taco filling between taco shells followed by 1 cup remaining cheese. See instructions below on warming tortillas if not baking tacos.
- Bake: Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-18 minutes or until cheese is completely melted.
- Toppings! Top tacos with lettuce and other desired toppings such as tomatoes, sour cream or guacamole.
How To Keep Baked Tacos Crispy
Baked ground beef tacos can become soft if the meat is too wet or if it’s allowed to sit in the tacos for an extended period of time. Here are my tips and tricks to keep the shells as crispy as possible:
- Use standing taco shells. Stand N’Stuff taco shells stand up on their own so there is some space around the shells for the hot oven air to circulate and crisp up the shells.
- Bake with cheese. Lining the bottom of the hard taco shells with cheese and baking for 8 minutes creates a barrier between the meat mixture and the taco shell which prevents the shell from becoming soggy as quickly.
- Bake shells first. Baking the shells first with cheese also crisps up the taco shells even further.
- Cooking meat with refried beans. Cooking the beef with the refried beans prevents the meat mixture from becoming “wet.” Instead, the beans soak up any extra liquid. If you choose to omit the beans or use pinto or black beans, you will want to reduce the amount of salsa and cook until the moisture is evaporated.
- Fill just before serving. You can bake the taco shells with the cheese at any point, but you’ll want to wait and add the ground beef taco filling just before baking then serve immediately.
- Prep toppings ahead of time. While the tacos are baking, take this time to prep the toppings, that way you are ready to serve as soon as the beef tacos come out of the oven.
Can I double this recipe?
Yes! This ground beef taco recipe is ideal to double or triple for later use. Just use the handy up or down arrows in the recipe card next to the servings and it will calculate the exact measurements. You can freeze leftovers in portion size bags for a quick thaw and heat dinner.
HOW TO WARM OR CHAR TORTILLAS FOR BEEF TACO RECIPE
If you opt to skip the baked beef taco route and go the soft tortilla route, then I highly recommend warming the tortillas first. Soft, warm tortillas elevate any taco recipe. Not only are the tortillas – whether corn or flour – softer and the ideal non-jarring, melt-in-your mouth temperature, but the flavors are accentuated when warmed. Lower quality corn tortillas are also likely to break if not warmed.
You can easily warm your tortillas for these ground beef tacos in SECONDS using any of my below methods: open flame, skillet, microwave or oven. I am partial to the open flame method and is how I achieve the satisfying char on my tortillas.
- Open Flame (gas stove or grill): add the tortillas directly to the burner of your gas stove then flip with tongs once they are charred on one side. You can also accomplish this on the grill as well. If you are using lower quality tortillas, you will want to take special care not to over-char or they will become brittle and break. You still want the tortillas soft and pliable.
- Skillet: heat a skillet (or griddle if you have one) to medium high heat (do not grease). Working with one tortilla at a time (more for a griddle), heat each side of the tortilla for approximately 20-30 seconds until warm and soft. You are not looking for char marks with this method.
- Microwave: working with about 5 tortillas at a time, stack tortillas on a microwave safe plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 20 seconds on high, then repeat at 10 second intervals if needed until warmed through.
- Oven: create separate stacks of about 5 tortillas each, then wrap each stack in foil. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until heated through (you can bake all stacks at once).
HOW TO KEEP TORTILLAS WARM
Once your tortillas are warmed (with any method), keep them warm and pliable by stacking on a plate and covering with a slightly dampened, paper towel or kitchen towel.
What TOPPINGS FOR BEEF TACO Recipe?
The ground beef taco meat is lick-the-spoon scrumptious but what really elevates these tacos are the TOPPINGS! You can load your ground beef tacos with as little or as many toppings as you like. Classic toppings for baked beef tacos are lettuce, tomatoes, and either sour cream or ranch, but don’t let that limit your imagination!
There really is no right or wrong way to add toppings as long as you add something creamy to marry all of the flavors together – sour cream, Greek yogurt, guacamole, avocado crema, Greek yogurt, Cilantro Lime Dressing or Tomatillo Avocado Ranch.
- Lettuce: chopped Romaine lettuce or iceberg lettuce – anything with a nice crunch and neutral flavor. You can also purchase pre-chopped lettuce.
- Tomatoes: quartered cherry tomatoes or seeded, chopped Roma tomatoes or skip the plain tomatoes and use pico de gallo.
- Pico de gallo: is fresh tomato salsa that adds a vibrant, punchy freshness. You can use my homemade pico de de gallo recipe or store bought. You can make the pico de gallo 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, you can load on fresh cilantro and tomatoes instead for a fresh, zesty flair.
- Avocado Crema: if you’ve been following me for long, you know I top practically all of my tacos with avocado crema – AKA my addiction. Avocado crema is a marriage of avocados, sour cream and lime juice. It is wonderfully silky, tangy and just takes minutes to make in your blender. The luscious, refreshing tanginess cuts through and compliments the robust, chili flavors of the ground beef taco meat.
- Guacamole: is what you see in these baked ground beef taco pictures – and is fabulous! I used the guacamole recipe I shared in my Street Tacos recipe or you can use your favorite recipe or even use store bought. When I am feeling lazy, I will even omit the red onions and garlic and substitute with garlic and onion powder.
- Avocados: chopped or sliced avocados are the easiest avocado option and add a wonderful creaminess. You might want to add a splash of lime juice if you use plain avocados.
- Sour cream: you can use easy sour cream or you can get creative and use the Crema I use in my Baja Fish Taco recipe here.
- Greek yogurt: is a great creamy alternative to sour cream if you are trying to save some calories.
- Ranch: my Mom used to drizzle ranch on our baked beef tacos. It is delish but definitely changes the flavor profile – so just expect a distinctive ranch taste.
- Hot Sauce: spice up your chicken tacos with your favorite hot sauce.
- Jalapenos: you can also amp up the heat with chopped or sliced jalapenos or pickled jalapenos.
- Pickle onions: I can’t believe I haven’t shared a recipe for this yet, but I love pickled onions on tacos! Tangy, punchy fantastic.
- Salsa: so many salsa recipes to choose from! Store bought salsa is always an easy topping (I love Mateos from Costco) or get fancy with my homemade restaurant salsa, salsa verde, black bean corn salsa, avocado salsa, charred corn salsa, mango salsa, or pineapple salsa.
GROUND BEEF TACOS VARIATIONS
Ground beef tacos traditionally allow the beef to shine, but that doesn’t mean we can’t mix things up! Here are some tasty add-ins:
- Add Beans. You can skip the refried beans and instead add in your favorite beans such as pinto or black beans. Add them directly to the beef mixture so they have time to soften. Make sure to drain them very well so they don’t make your taco meat wet.
- Add Veggies. You can add any veggies your heart desires from corn, bell peppers, zucchini, sweet potatoes, etc. You can sauté the veggies separately or add them to the skillet with the beef.
- Add Fajita Peppers. Stir fried bell peppers are always tasty. You can follow the instructions for the peppers in my Pork Fajitas recipe.
- Add Jalapenos: If you like heat, add a chopped jalapeno to the taco meat with the onions or add a few tablespoons canned jalapenos to the cooked filling.
- Swap cheese. Cheese definitely add distinctive flavor, so you can play with different cheeses to mix up the flavor profile. This ground beef taco recipe calls for sharp cheddar, but you can try Mexican cheese blend, pepper Jack or Monterrey. You can even get a little crazy and pour some homemade or store bought queso over the ground beef.
- Add rice or quinoa. Stir in cooked rice or cooked quinoa for added texture. If you do this, you may also want to add additional salt and salsa as well.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH BEEF TACOS?
- Rice: is a must-have-side in my book for almost every taco recipe. We love serving these ground beef tacos with cilantro lime rice, Mexican rice, or avocado rice. You can also serve with quinoa, or low carb cauliflower rice.
- Salads: salad is always a win and a great way to stretch your tacos if you’re serving a crowd. These ground beef tacos pair well with a big green salad, southwest salad, corn salad, or southwest orzo salad.
- Veggies: I HIGHLY encourage you to go with authentic elote (Mexican Grilled Street Corn) – you will not regret it! Other alternatives include grilled corn on the cob, baked asparagus, roasted broccoli, roasted potatoes, roasted cauliflower.
- Fruit: you can keep it simple and serve these baked beef tacos with cantaloupe, or grapes or any of these fabulous options: pina colada fruit salad, fruit salad with honey lime vinaigrette, grape salad, winter fruit salad, or caramelized grilled pineapple.
- Carbs: corn casserole is a tasty, easy, creamy win or add some green chiles and or/ jalapenos to my sweet cornbread recipe and watch it disappear. Mexican Street Fries are also a favorite served with salsa ketchup.
Can I make Ground Beef Taco recipe ahead of time?
This ground beef taco recipe will become soggy if assembled ahead of time but you can prepare all of the ingredients, keep them separate, then just assemble when ready to eat.
- The beef: Prepare taco meat according to recipe directions, cool, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When ready to use, simply reheat over medium heat in a skillet until warmed through.
- The toppings: You can also prep all of your toppings ahead of time by chopping and storing in airtight containers or baggies. The guacamole and avocado crema (if using) 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 of the guac/crema to prevent oxidation.
HOW TO FREEZE GROUND BEEF TACOS
The taco meat freezes very well so all you have to do is heat it up, add to the taco shells or tortillas and dinner is served! To freeze:
- Prepare taco meat according to directions.
- Cool to room temperature.
- Add filling to a freezer size plastic bag.
- Press bag flat and squeeze out excess air to prevent freezer burn.
- Seal, label and freeze for up to 3 months.
HOW TO REHEAT TACO MEAT
- When ready to use, defrost taco meat in the refrigerator overnight.
- Transfer filling to a skillet and warm over medium heat.
- If the filling seems dry, stir in some water or salsa.
LOOKING FOR MORE MEXICAN DINNER FAVORITES?
- Chicken Fajitas
- Chicken Fajita Soup
- Creamy Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas
- Cilantro Lime Chicken Taco Salad
- Tacos Al Pastor
- Caldo de Pollo
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