Skip to main content

How to make better tacos at home: 5 can’t-miss tips

Want better tacos? Here's how to make them

Tacos
Creative Headline/Unsplash

This is going to sound somewhat blasphemous, but hear me out. Until I was well into my teen years, I didn’t think I liked tacos. It’s hard to believe now, but I insisted that this beloved food just wasn’t for me. This is because, like many American children, I had only been exposed to ground beef tacos, seasoned with a grocery store spice packet, topped with bagged lettuce and pre-shredded cheddar. Not to bash this classic culinary staple of my fellow ’80s babies, but those aren’t true tacos, and I will die on that hill.

It wasn’t until a high school class trip to Mexico that I had the real thing, and I realized I’d been duped. It was love at first bite. This certainly isn’t to say that all tacos must be strictly authentic or even Mexican-inspired. Heavens no. When I discovered my love for what tacos could be, I couldn’t experiment enough with new ingredients and flavors. Having only had the one (rather lazy) version, I didn’t realize how much potential these beautiful little flavor pockets had.

So if you, too, have a little childhood taco trauma, these are some of the best ways to recover.

Chicken in a marinade
ivabalk/Pixabay

Marinate your meat (and stop using ground beef)

My hatred for ground beef tacos may be a controversial take, and at the end of the day, there might be a nostalgic attachment that draws you back to this ingredient time and time again. That’s fair. But if you do decide to branch out (and you should), marinating your meat – no matter what kind it is – is a step you shouldn’t skip.

Good marinades are made of three simple components – oil, acid, and flavoring agents. Using a 3:1 ratio (3 parts oil to 1 part acid), these elements work together to tenderize and amp up the flavor of your protein. Get creative with your flavors and consider what you’ll be serving with and on your tacos for marinade flavor inspiration.

Oil options: Olive, canola, vegetable, peanut, etc.

Acid options: Citrus juices, wine, vinegar, soy sauce, etc.

Flavor options: Garlic, dried or fresh herbs, spices, etc.

Person warming tortilla on stovetop
Usman Yousaf/Unsplash

Make your own tortillas

This step may seem daunting, but homemade tortillas are truly one of the easiest things to make and taste so much better than the packaged version. There’s really nothing better than a warm, homemade tortilla straight out of the skillet. Make a big batch and fry the leftovers for homemade tortilla chips!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Method

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine masa harina and salt.
  2. Slowly stream in the hot water a little bit at a time, stirring until a dough begins to form.
  3. Keeping the dough inside the bowl, knead until smooth and springy, about 2-3 minutes. If it feels too dry, mix in a little bit more hot water.
  4. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and rest for 10 minutes at room temperature.
  5. Portion the dough into 2-inch balls, rolling to form evenly in your hands.
  6. Working one at a time, place each ball between two pieces of plastic wrap, and press into a flat tortilla using either a tortilla press or a heavy skillet.
  7. Over medium heat, cook the tortillas for about 45 seconds per side.
  8. Enjoy!
Pickled onions
Ekologiskt_Skafferi/Pixabay / Pixabay

Use pickled onions instead of raw

This is one upgrade that takes almost zero additional effort. Raw, chopped onions are a favorite topping on most taco buffets, and for good reason. We love the added crunchy zip of a crisp, fresh onion. But if you’ve ever tried a pickled onion on a taco, you’ll never want anything else. The added vinegar punch and zesty flavor of a pickled onion are beautiful on tacos and really take them to another level. Of course, you can buy pickled onions, but making your own is ridiculously simple. You can learn how to do it here.

Shrimp tacos
Daniel Arriola/Unsplash

Consider different proteins

Now that we’ve set aside the ground beef (for the love of God, stop using ground beef in your tacos), have fun with all of the creative choices you have! Of course, there are the standards we all know and love – chicken, shrimp, and fried fish all make exceptional taco fillings, but why stop there? Get creative with dishes like barbecue pulled pork tacos or Korean barbecue tacos. We really love the idea of a fresh and citrusy poke bowl taco. Don’t limit yourself!

Tacos are also a great way to get in a vegan or vegetarian meal without missing out on flavor. Ingredients like beans, chickpeas, roasted squash, and meaty mushrooms all make delicious taco fillings.

Taco
t Kaiser/Unsplash

Think beyond the bagged lettuce

In our humble opinion, shredded iceberg lettuce has no business inside a taco, but we’re not here to topping shame. Instead of iceberg, try green cabbage or even coleslaw to top your taco. You’ll still get a fresh, green crunch, but with a whole lot more flavor. And instead of that bagged, pre-shredded cheddar, try a crumbled cheese like feta or even gorgonzola. Cheese is a great way to pack a punch and bring that delicious funk.

For a little added bulk, try roasted vegetables like carrots, potatoes, or bell peppers. This will add not only flavor but beautiful color and a whole lot more vitamins and nutrients than just some lackluster lettuce.

Open your fridge and check out those jars inside the door shelves. That’s the place you’ll find some great taco topping inspiration. Fruit salsas, kimchi, chili oils, and even salad dressings are all great ways to give your tacos a little pizzazz.

Lindsay Parrill
Lindsay is a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, San Francisco, from where she holds a degree in…
There’s an ancient art to making great soy sauce
Soy sauce is an ancient tradition
Soy sauce next to a plate of food

Like any number of staple food condiments, soy sauce is often overlooked. But the delicious umami liquid deserves more attention, especially as some of the best stuff out there is both meticulously crafted and full of complexity. Turns out, there's an ancient art to soy sauce.

Industrialization has made food-making a more efficient process but we're increasingly returning to the tried and true methods of old. When it comes to soy sauce, that means a patient process that honors tradition and produces maximum flavor. Read on to see how the stuff is made and why the approach of old is the way to go.
Low and slow

Read more
These are the 5 hottest peppers in the world
It's probably not what you think it is
Row of peppers

We love peppers for their spicy, sweet intrigue and character, for their ability to transform a dish with their signature heat and flavor. Poblanos, jalapenos, serranos, and even firey habaneros give us that bit of kick we need every now and then in our food, that fun little zing that makes our brow sweat a bit when we bite into a truly delicious chicken wing. But there's a certain personality that loves to push the limit here. A certain streak of what some might call insanity. This person loves to push that line as far as possible, taking peppers from an ingredient that provides a fun little kick to one that all but catches your insides on fire and sends you to the hospital in a screaming ambulance.

If you ask us, food is meant to be an enjoyable experience, not a painful one. But we're not here to judge. To each their own, we say. Live and let live and all that. So, if you're in the camp that loves to cross that line of insanity, then the peppers on this list are for you.
The Scoville Scale

Read more
How to build the perfect charcuterie board for your date night
Check out these charcuterie board ideas to top off your evening
Charcuterie board and glasses of wine on a wooden table

The art of the charcuterie board goes far beyond the fancy ones you’ve seen on your screen. These Instagram-worthy adult Lunchables have ancient origins and meticulous methods that make them an even more appealing option for your dinner party. From the authentic to the adventurous, here’s how to take a pedestrian cheese plate and turn it into sensational charcuterie.
How to make a charcuterie board

Charcuterie boards should offer an array of flavors and textures that offer contrasting and complementing tastes in each bite. How the board elements are displayed is quintessential to its allure, but there are no specific rules to follow. Be as whimsical as you wish, playing with colors and layers, adding as much or as little as you think your guests will enjoy.

Read more