The Ultimate Guide to Homemade Tacos
We take Taco Tuesday seriously. Here’s everything you need to know to make homemade tacos, from the tortillas to the toppings.
Homemade tacos are one of the most reliable and easy weeknight dinners, with endless variations to keep things interesting. Just check out some of our favorite taco recipes for proof.
If you want to step up your homemade taco game, stock up on essential taco tools, learn how to make from-scratch corn tortillas, and perfect your pico de gallo. Read on for our ultimate guide to homemade tacos. Soon you’ll be putting together an elaborate taco board for Taco Tuesday.
How to Make Homemade Tacos
Tools You’ll Need
There are several Mexican cooking tools that are useful to have in the kitchen. The following are great items to start with if you’re building your collection.
- Tortilla Press: This handy kitchen tool will lead to uniform, perfectly sized tortillas with minimal effort.
- Tortilla Warmer: If you’re not warming up your tortillas before you serve them—and making sure to keep them warm—you’re missing out. A tortilla warmer means you can count on a soft, pliable tortilla the whole evening, even when going back for seconds (or thirds).
- Taco Stand: Make it easy to load up your hard or soft tacos with a taco stand. It’ll keep things neat and easy while you build the tacos, and it’s also a fun way to serve them.
Step 1: Start with your taco shells
Securing the perfect taco shell is the first step towards making an incredible taco.
For many taco nights, it’s as easy as buying a bag of soft corn or flour tortillas (or hard shells, if you want to add some crunch), since most taco fillings pair nicely with either—though if your filling is particularly heavy, sturdier flour tortillas are the wisest choice.
Learning how to make corn tortillas or homemade flour tortillas from scratch is worth the effort at least once. You can even make them a day ahead of time and simply warm them up in the oven or microwave before serving, or make them toasty by heating some oil on the stovetop and frying each side for about a minute.
Corn and flour tortillas aren’t the only kind of taco shells that you can make from scratch. Knowing how to make keto cheese taco shells will make enjoying this Mexican meal possible for those on a keto diet. If you’re looking to skip the tortillas and cheese, Bibb lettuce works as a taco shell, too, as long as your filling isn’t too juicy.
Step 2: Gather your spices and seasonings
The spices that you need for your taco filling depend entirely on the recipe you choose to make—but some typical spices you’ll see are cumin, garlic, oregano, chili powder and cayenne.
If you keep the classic ground beef taco in your regular rotation, you’re no stranger to taco seasoning (here’s what our Test Kitchen named the best taco seasoning). Or, skip the extra sodium usually found in taco seasoning packets and make your own homemade taco seasoning. If you’ve got some left over, keep these recipes that start with taco seasoning in mind.
Step 3: Pick your filling
When it comes to taco fillings, the sky is the limit. Beef, pork, chicken, fish, shrimp, tofu, jackfruit and vegetables of all kinds can add up to the perfect taco—it just depends on what you’re in the mood for.
Consider the amount of time you have to prep. If you know you’ve got a busy day ahead, go for a slow-cooker recipe, and if you’ve got some extra time, experiment with something new.
A ground beef taco made with seasoned taco meat is a classic. But beef doesn’t have to be that basic (or even ground): You can make short rib tacos, beef brisket tacos or grilled steak tacos. Elevating a soft ground beef taco is easy when you make this fried tacos recipe.
For an extra special meal, check out our guide on how to make beef birria tacos, served with a bowl of red chile broth for dipping.
Carnitas tacos, chorizo tacos and tacos al pastor (one of several authentic taco recipes you should have on your radar) are all delicious options. Pork also works in several other recipes, like Korean pulled pork tacos or barbecue pork tacos.
Fish and Seafood
There are so many kinds of fish tacos to love! Mahi mahi, cod and halibut soft tacos are all popular types of fish to turn to when looking for fish taco recipes. These seafood soft tacos use flounder, so don’t limit yourself on the fillets you go for.
Fish can be baked, grilled or fried, and served shredded or in whole fillets. You can dress it up with a drizzle of chipotle aioli, avocado sauce or even with a fruit salsa. These easy fish tacos with a tangy slaw would be a great recipe to start with if you’ve never made fish tacos.
Shrimp can also be fried, grilled, or sauteed for your tacos, and done up with many of the same toppings that you’d put on fish.
Chicken tinga is a filling you’ll find at most Mexican restaurants—and slow-cooker chicken tinga will quickly become an easy weeknight favorite. Try pressure-cooker tequila salsa chicken or beergarita chicken tacos if you’re looking to branch out and incorporate several Mexican flavors into your meal. Here’s how to shred chicken for your tacos.
Vegetables and Other Plant-Based Options
Taco Tuesday should be for everyone, including vegetarians and those looking to consume less meat. Jackfruit, seitan, tofu and tempeh are some common meat substitutes you can dress up and put in your tacos. Otherwise, veggies make great fillers, too! Fried avocado, lentils, black beans, squash and mushrooms are all hearty and delicious choices.
Step 4: Add toppings
Of course, your taco toppings will depend on the meat or vegetable filling you choose, but there are plenty of options that pair well with several types of tacos. Consider the trifecta of shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and a dollop of sour cream. Or go for sliced avocado, thinly sliced radishes, black beans and pickled or freshly sliced jalapenos. Just don’t forget to take out the seeds, unless you want the heat!
When it comes to cheese, shredded cheddar, mozzarella or a Mexican blend will do the trick, or try cotija, queso fresco or Oaxaca cheese. Pickled onions, a sprinkle of cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice are great with most taco fillers.
Don’t forget the saucy toppings, whether it’s salsa verde or salsa roja, homemade guacamole, pico de gallo or taco sauce. If you’re not going the homemade route, here are our Test Kitchen’s picks for the best store-bought salsa and the best queso dip in a jar.
Step 5: Serve with sides
What would taco night be without chips and dip? Our Test Kitchen tested several brands and found the best tortilla chips for dips and salsas.
Rice and beans are always welcome, whether you go with these Instant Pot black beans, pinto beans or refried beans. Once you learn how to make refried beans from scratch, you’ll never buy another can of beans again.
Tips for Making Homemade Tacos
What’s the best way to assemble homemade tacos?
Start with your base: the tortilla. Scoop your protein or veggie filling on top, then add cheese and other toppings like pickled onions, diced tomatoes, and sliced avocado. Finish with the runnier sauces, salsas or sour cream.
Editor’s Tip: Put down an extra tortilla on your plate to catch everything that falls out of your taco. You’ll have another taco built for you by the time you’re done with your first!
What else can you put on homemade tacos?
Feel free to pull inspiration from anywhere when choosing and making taco fillings. If you like Greek flavors, make Greek tacos with chopped kalamata olives, feta cheese, lemon juice, sweet red peppers and cucumbers. Toss some Thai peanut sauce with shredded chicken for Thai tacos. And don’t confine tacos to dinner—breakfast tacos filled with scrambled eggs, melty cheese and sausage are a great way to start the day.