How to Make Taco Meat

This quick taco meat recipe is unparalleled in juicy, flavor fireworks – you’ll be eating it with a spoon! It’s made with dynamic homemade taco seasoning, salsa, green chilies and my secret savory ingredient in 15 minutes! This taco meat can be made with ground beef or is equally fabulous with ground turkey or chicken too!

Watch How To Cook Taco Meat

top view of taco meat recipe being served on a tortilla


Why You’ll Love this Taco Meat Recipe

  • BEST DIY TACO SEASONING: This is the backbone of the recipe! It boasts perfectly spiced proportions without any sugar, anti-caking agents, or other additives. Make a big batch and keep it on hand!
  • SUPREMELY JUICY: Adding salsa, green chilies, and water to the recipe create the most flavorful and juiciest taco meat EVER!
  • SECRET INGREDIENT: Granulated or crushed beef bouillon adds a savory, complex depth that elevates this recipe above the rest. It also makes ground turkey or chicken taste extra fabulous.
  • QUICK AND EASY: Make the recipe from scratch in 15 minutes, or keep some DIY taco seasoning handy and make it in less than 10!
  • NOT JUST FOR TACOS: Homemade taco meat isn’t just for tacos – it’s divine in burritos, nachos, quesadillas, enchiladas, taco salad and more!
  • MAKE AHEAD FRIENDLY: Make for meal prep lunches or dinners throughout the week or freeze for later!
top view of best taco meat recipe in a pan showing how juicy it is
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Best Taco Meat Ingredients

(measurements in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Seasoned ground beef:  I recommend 90% lean ground beef. The fat will give the ground beef juicy flavor without dripping grease. 
  • Salsa:  Instead of using all water, salsa adds liquid to keep the ground beef juicy while also infusing it with another dimension of flavor. You can use mild or medium salsa and then adjust the cayenne pepper to taste. 
  • Chopped green chiles: These mild chilies come from a can and add a subtle tanginess to cut through the earthy richness.  Take care you choose MILD chopped green chiles because the hot can is HOT.
  • Homemade taco seasoning:  The ground beef is further seasoned with a delectable homemade taco seasoning consisting of chili powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika, dried oregano, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.  You are welcome to use more or less of any of the spices to make it your own.  You can also use store-bought taco seasoning but it’s not as good!
top view of taco meat ingredients in a bowl

Taco Meat variations

  • Vegetarian Taco Meat: Swap in plant-based alternatives such as crumbled tofu, textured vegetable protein (TVP), or a mixture of beans (such as black beans or pinto beans) and omit the bouillon. Season with additional salt to taste, if needed.
  • Spice it Up: Add cayenne pepper, diced jalapeños, ground chipotle pepper or minced chipotle peppers in adobo for those who enjoy a kick of heat in their tacos.
  • Add Cheese:  Add any melting cheese from sharp cheddar to Monterrey Jack, Pepper Jack, Colby Jack, Habañero cheese, etc. Sharp will be the most flavorful while Monterrey will melt into the background while still providing cheesy pleasure.  A sprinkling of Cotija would finish the taco meat with a salty bite.
  • Add Cheese Sauce:  Instead of shredded cheese, use nacho cheese sauce!  You can use my sensational queso blanco, or nacho sauce sold in the jar.  I particularly like the Tostitos brand queso that comes in a variety of flavors such as salsa con queso, queso blanco and southwest cheese corn dip.
  • Add Fresh Aromatics: Sauté half an onion and 2 garlic cloves for an additional aromatic depth.
  • Add Beans:  Add black beans, pinto beans or kidney beans for a hearty, textural bite or add refried beans for delightful creaminess like in my beef, bean burritos and nachos.
  • Add Corn: Add fresh, frozen or canned sweet corn for pops of juicy sweetness.
  • Add Grains: Add any type of cooked rice, quinoa, cauliflower rice, etc. for extra heartiness.
  • Add Black Olives: For the olive lover!
  • Use Salsa Verde: Swap the salsa rojo for salsa verde to mix up the flavor profile.
top view of best taco meat lined in tacos

How to Make Taco Meat

Let’s take a closer look at how to make taco meat with step-by-step photos (full recipe in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post).

a collage showing how to cook taco meat by browning in a skillet, breaking up clumps as it cooks
showing how to season taco meat by making homemade taco seasoning
a collage showing how to cook taco meat by adding taco seasoning, salsa and green chilies
up close of taco meat in a pan showing the texture

 Best Taco Meat Recipe Tips

Follow these tips for the best taco meat recipe that’s sure to impress your family and friends.

  • International Chili Powder Warning: Chili powder is where most the flavor comes from so, please use a quality brand such as McCormick.  Note that American chili powder is NOT cayenne pepper which it can be confused with internationally.  Chili powder is a blend of seasoning and 8X less spicy than cayenne pepper. If you aren’t sure if you’re picking up the right one, check the ingredient label.
  • Make Bulk Taco Seasoning: Use the arrow next to the servings in the taco seasoning recipe card to make the taco seasoning in bulk. Measure once for multiple uses!
  • Crumble to Desired Texture: Cook the ground meat until it’s well browned, breaking up the meat thoroughly while cooking for a finer texture, or break up less for larger pieces.
  • Drain Excess Fat: If there’s excess grease in the pan after browning the meat, carefully drain it off using a spoon or by tilting the pan and blotting with paper towels. This helps reduce the fat content and prevents the tacos from becoming too greasy. Don’t worry about getting every last drop – some fat is good for flavor!
  • Don’t Overcook: After the meat is browned, don’t cook too long with the salsa and water, just enough to reduce slightly, but you still want it a little saucy. This will ensure the beef is juicy instead of dry.
  • Taste and Adjust: Once the meat is cooked and seasoned, taste and adjust the seasoning as needed with more salt, pepper, or cayenne to suit your taste preferences.

What to Make with Taco Meat

This taco meat recipe can be used in so many ways! Here are some ideas:

  • Soft Tacos: Top warm tortillas with taco ground beef and desired toppings such as lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, cotija cheese, cilantro, pico de galloblack bean corn salsaavocado corn salsa, etc.
  • Baked Tacos:  Line stand-up taco shells in a 9×13 baking dish.  Sprinkle some cheese on the bottom of each taco shell and bake at 350 degrees F for 8 minutes (baking crisps up the shells and the cheese prevents the shell from becoming soggy). Add the beef then top with additional cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-18 minutes or until cheese is completely melted.  Top with your favorite toppings such as lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, salsa, etc.
  • Burritos: Layer a burrito size tortilla with cheese, cilantro lime rice or Mexican Rice, black or pinto beans, taco meat, guacamole, sour cream and salsa.  Fold and toast in a nonstick skillet until golden on all sides.
  • Wet Burritos:  Place burritos (filled per above) on lightly greased, foil lined baking sheet.   Lightly brush the tops and sides with olive oil (or spray with nonstick cooking spray). Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden then remove from the oven. Fold the sides of the foil up around the burritos (to keep the sauce from escaping) and evenly pour enchilada sauce over burritos then evenly top with one cup cheese. Bake an additional 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.
  • Enchiladas:  We love this beef enchilada recipe.
  • Burrito Bowls: Layer cilantro lime rice or cauliflower rice with cheese, black beans or pinto beans, homemade taco meat, chopped lettuce, and your favorite toppings such as tomatoes, corn, and crushed tortilla chips. I also love adding roasted sweet potatoes and roasted cauliflower. Top the bowls off with sour cream/Greek yogurt, Avocado Crema, Tomatillo Avocado Ranch or Cilantro Lime Dressing.
  • Quesadillas:  Layer a burrito size tortilla with cheese and ground beef and grill until golden, cheesy perfection.  Top with guacamole, sour cream, chopped lettuce, hot sauce, etc.
  • Loaded Nachos:  Pile thick restaurant style tortilla chips with cheese and beans and bake.  Top with warm taco ground meat and toppings such as guacamole, sour cream, jalapenos, cream, hot sauce etc.
  • Flautas or Taquitos:  Roll beef in corn (taquitos) or flour (flautas) tortillas along with cheese and beans if desired. To pan fry, heat 1 cup vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until 325 degrees F. Once hot, add 2-4 flautas/taquitos seam side down in oil. Fry, turning as needed until golden brown on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes, adjusting burner as necessary to maintain oil temperature so they don’t fry too quickly. To bake, place taquitos/flautas on a wire rack placed on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Brush the taquitos/flautas with olive oil and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Broil for extra crispiness.
  • Tostadas or Sopes:  Layer a tostada or sope with refried beans or avocado mash, top with taco ground beef, lettuce or slaw, cilantro, avocados, sour cream, cotija cheese or queso fresco etc. and corn salsa.
  • Tortas:  Slice French-style bread in half horizontally, spread refried beans on each side, top with taco beef, cheese, avocado slices or guacamole, tomatoes slices, pickled red onions, pickled jalapenos, etc. 
  • Taco Salad:  Pile ground beef over a bed of chopped Romaine lettuce and add your favorite toppings such as black beans, tomatoes, corn, red onions, avocados, sunflower seeds cheese and crushed tortilla chips. Serve with Tomatillo Avocado Ranch or Cilantro Lime Dressing.
  • Huevos Rancheros: Top your layers of creamy refried beans, runny, sunny side up eggs and cooked salsa over warm tortillas with taco beef then garnish with cilantro, avocados, and Cotija cheese.
  • “Empanadas:” Swap the chicken for ground beef in this easy empanada recipe using puff pastry. 


  • Taco Pizza:  Use your favorite pizza dough recipe or store-bought and layer with pizza sauce or try this amazing Tomato Black Bean Sauce used in my Pulled Pork Taco Pizza (please excuse the super old, ugly photos)!  Top with Monterrey Jack cheese and taco beef then pile on your toppings of choice such as lettuce, tomatoes, avocados, cilantro, diced onions, Tomatillo Avocado Ranch, tortilla strips, etc.
  • Taco Stuffed Peppers:  Stuff bell peppers with taco meat and top with cheese before baking. See this Stuffed Peppers recipe to see the exact technique.
  • Taco Baked Potatoes: Poke holes in washed, dried potatoes. Place on a foil lined baking sheet and lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 1 hour or until potatoes are tender and the skin is crispy.  Slice open the potatoes, top with beef and cheese then place back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese melts. Top with sour cream, cilantro, onions, etc.
homemade taco meat in tacos on a cutting board

What Should I serve with TAco Meat?

This homemade taco meat brings the protein, finish it off with grains, veggies and carbs! Here are a few side serving ideas:

Best Taco Meat Recipe FAQs

What to do with leftover taco meat?

Leftover taco meat can be repurposed in various delicious ways. See the post for more ideas, but here are a few popular uses:

-Nachos: Scatter the meat over tortilla chips along with cheese, jalapeños, and other desired toppings, then bake until cheese is melted.
-Taco Salad: Serve the meat over a bed of lettuce or mixed greens, topped with salsa, cheese, avocado, and sour cream.
-Quesadillas: Spread the meat between tortillas with cheese, then grill or pan-fry until golden and crispy.
-Stuffed Peppers: Fill bell peppers with the meat mixture, top with cheese, and bake until peppers are tender.
-Burritos or Enchiladas: Wrap the meat in tortillas with beans, rice, and cheese, then bake with enchilada sauce for enchiladas or enjoy as burritos.
-Loaded Baked Potatoes: Top baked potatoes with the taco meat, cheese, sour cream, and green onions for a hearty meal.
These ideas offer a variety of ways to enjoy leftover taco meat, ensuring that it doesn’t go to waste and providing tasty meals for days to come.

How much taco meat per person?

The amount of taco meat per person can vary depending on factors such as appetite, other accompanying dishes, and personal preferences. As a general guideline, you can estimate about ¼ to ⅓ pound (4 to 5 ounces) of cooked taco meat per person for tacos. It’s always better to have a little extra taco meat than not enough, as leftovers can be enjoyed later or used in other dishes.

What can I add to tacos to make them taste better?

Experiment with different combinations of these toppings to customize your tacos and create a delicious flavor profile that suits your taste preferences:

-Fresh Herbs:
Add chopped cilantro, parsley, or green onions for a burst of freshness and color.
-Lime Juice: Squeeze fresh lime juice over the tacos to add a bright and tangy flavor.
-Salsa: Choose from a variety of salsas, such as pico de gallo, salsa verde, or mango salsa, black bean salsa, corn salsa, to add depth and heat.
-Avocado or Guacamole: Creamy avocado or guacamole adds richness and a delicious texture to tacos.
-Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt: Creamy toppings like sour cream or Greek yogurt balance out the flavors and add a cooling element.
-Cheese: Sprinkle shredded cheese, such as cheddar, Monterey Jack, or queso fresco, over the tacos for extra flavor and creaminess.
-Hot Sauce: Drizzle your favorite hot sauce or salsa picante for an added kick of heat.
-Pickled Vegetables: Add pickled jalapeños, onions, or carrots for a tangy and crunchy texture.
-Beans: Include refried beans or black beans as a filling and protein-rich addition to your tacos.
-Seasoned Rice: Serve seasoned rice, such as cilantro lime rice or Mexican-style rice, alongside the tacos for a complete and satisfying meal.

How to get finely ground beef for tacos?

To achieve finely ground beef for tacos, you can follow these steps:

1. Break Up the Meat: In a skillet or frying pan over medium heat, add the ground beef. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to break up the meat into smaller pieces as it cooks.
2. Stir Frequently: Continuously stir and break apart the meat with the spatula or spoon to ensure even cooking and to prevent clumping.
3. Use a Masher: As the meat cooks, you can also use a potato masher or similar tool to further break down the meat into finer pieces. Press down and mash the meat to achieve a finer texture.

Do you drain ground beef before adding taco seasoning?

Whether or not to drain ground beef before adding taco seasoning depends on personal preference and the desired texture of the final dish. Here are some considerations:

-Draining: If you prefer a leaner taco filling with less grease, you can drain the excess fat from the cooked ground beef before adding the taco seasoning. This can help reduce the overall fat content of the dish.
-Retaining Flavor: However, some cooks choose to retain some of the fat for flavor and moisture, especially if using lean ground beef, which may be less flavorful than fattier cuts. In this case, you can leave some of the fat in the pan when adding the taco seasoning.
-Seasoning Adherence: Draining the excess fat before adding the seasoning allows the seasoning to adhere more evenly to the meat, ensuring that each bite is well-seasoned.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. If you prefer a leaner taco filling with less grease, then draining the ground beef before adding the seasoning is a good option. If you prefer a richer flavor and don’t mind the extra fat, you can leave some of the fat in the pan.

showing how to serve taco meat in a taco shell with avocados, tomatoes and cilantro




©Carlsbad Cravings by

Homemade Taco Meat Recipe

This quick taco meat recipe is unparalleled in juicy, flavor fireworks – you'll be eating it with a spoon! It's made with dynamic homemade taco seasoning, salsa, green chilies in less than 20 minutes! This taco meat can be made with ground beef or is equally fabulous with ground turkey or chicken too!
Servings: 4 servings
Total Time: 15 minutes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

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  • 1 pound lean ground beef, chicken or turkey
  • 1 recipe Taco Seasoning <click for recipe
  • 1/2 cup salsa (we like Mateo's)
  • 1 4 oz. can mild diced green chilies (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tsp beef bouillon (granules or crushed cube)


  • Whisk the taco seasoning spices together in a small bowl (click for recipe); set aside.
  • Brown beef over medium heat in a large skillet, breaking up any clumps. Drain any excess grease.
  • Stir in homemade taco seasonings, salsa, green chilies, water and beef bouillon (don't dissolve bouillon in water first).
  • Simmer over medium for 1-2 minutes until thickened and warmed through. Add cayenne and salt to taste (optional).



  • Storage:  Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months. 
  • How to Use:  See post for lots of ways to use this recipe!

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Reader Interactions

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  1. Elena says

    This looks amazing! My family (including two kids under 7) haven’t found a recipe of yours that we don’t love and this looks like another home run. Question, I see in the instructions it says to add salsa, but it doesn’t give an amount in the ingredient list. How much salsa do you recommend? Thank you!

    • Jen says

      Thanks for making my day Elena! I’m honored you are all making and loving my recipes! I’m so sorry for the oversight, all fixed now. It is 1/2 cup salsa. Enjoy!!!

  2. Maureen says

    How much salsa do you add?…it is not shown in the ingredients list but referred to in the text. Thanks

    • Jen says

      Sorry Maureen, it’s 1/2 cup. Fixed!

  3. Mac says

    How much salsa is added to cooked ground beef? It’s not included in ingredients list.

    • Jen says

      Sorry about that, fixed! It’s 1/2 cup.

  4. Laura D says

    Hi! This looks delicious, but I see salsa in the instructions but not in the recipe card. How much salsa should be added? Thx

    • Jen says

      Thanks for catching that, sorry, all fixed! It is 1/2 cup salsa.

  5. Cheryl Carafa says

    this was great! and we love your taco seasoning recipe. I have passed it on to 10 people!!

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much! I appreciate you sharing the recipe!

  6. Stephanie says

    This looks so easy and I know it will be good if it’s from you. Can I use the Better than Bouillon base, or does it have to be the powder or cubes?

    • Jen says

      That’s the ultimate compliment, thanks Stephanie! I find Better Than Bouillon more difficult to combine in this recipe, but yes it will work with some patience. Enjoy!