Looking for a Taco Bell copy cat recipe? Well you’ve found the best one on the net. I guarantee that if you follow the directions here, you’ll be making the best, Taco Bell style taco meat and I’m not even going to charge you for it. But first, let’s get a little background out of the way. I live in Japan and there is no taco bell here. To say things are a little weird here is an understatement. The yogurt tastes like sour cream and the sour cream is as thick as cream cheese. Cilantro and nearly most chiles don’t exist here so this really is Tex-mex hell! Which leads me to put a disclaimer upfront on this recipe. I love the real food from Mexico. When I lived in the states, I often went to taquerias. This recipe is not about “real” Mexican tacos but about recreating Taco Bell’s taco meat.
There are a lot of taco seasoning mixes available at the grocery store. In fact, I believe Taco Bell even puts one out. The important thing to acknowledge here though, the seasoning’s don’t really matter. I’m not saying that you can put chocolate syrup in your taco meat but if you want Taco Bell style tacos, you have to understand that Taco Bell’s secret is mouth feel. That’s all! What does taco bell do that you don’t do at home? Well for one, their hard shell tacos are a lot crispier than the ones you get out of the box from the super market. They’re not actually crispier it’s just that Taco Bell keeps theirs under a hot lamp. The ones you get from the store will tell you that you should heat them up in the oven but growing up, my parents never did that. If you want crispy shells, you must warm them up. So… get a cookie sheet and heat your oven to around 230 degrees F. Carefully remove the shells from the plastic wrapper and fan them out slightly on the cookie sheet. Now about that cardboard wedge they put in the top taco shell. You might be wondering, “Can the cardboard wedge in taco shells be put in the oven?” And the answer is yes, in fact, it’s desirable because, it’ll help the tacos shells stay open in the oven, which is also why you don’t really have to fan the shells out too much. “How long do you heat your tacos in the oven?” I usually leave the shells in the oven for about 30 minutes. I usually test one of the shells for crispiness by breaking off a piece. If it breaks off in a small piece with little effort then the shells are ready. Of course you can skip this step if you like soft-shell tacos.
It’s the Beef!
Now for the meat! Taco Bell meat is processed right. That means that they don’t go to the store and by a pound of beef and brown it and add a seasoning mix with some water and then boil the water off, which is what most seasoning packets tell you to do. You’re going to have to process the beef. The plus side is that means you can get really cheap. This site is about being frugal you know. As you know, the leaner the ground beef is, the more it costs. Don’t bother getting the lean stuff. Just get a pound/half kilogram of what’s cheapest. Where I live in Japan, they don’t even mark the meat with a fat percentage. Now throw that meat in a skillet and cook it on low until most or all of the red is gone. Don’t add anything to it. No salt, no onions, nothing! Once the red is gone, turn your sink’s faucet on as hot as it’ll go and dump the ground beef in a colander and rinse it under the hot water. This will wash away nearly all of the fat and what you’ll be left with is a very lean beef. Don’t worry that you might be washing away any flavor because well be adding it back in the next step.
The next step is probably the single most important step in getting your meat just right. If you look at Taco Bell’s meat, it’s a lot finer grind that what you can get from the ground beef in the grocery store. And I don’t care how well you break it up in the pan, you’ll never get it that fine. It’s the combination of the extremely fine grind and the crispy shell that makes Taco Bell’s taco’s so appealing. So if you’ve ever been wondering, “How can I grind taco meat small,” this is how you do it; get out your food processor, and dump the washed and drained meat into it. You can now either add your seasoning packet or whatever seasonings you like. Here’s what I put in mine:
½ tablespoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tsp chili powder (I love spicy food but we’ve got a seven-year old daughter so the wife’ll give me the smack down if I get crazy with the hotness… add more if you like.)
1 tablespoon ground cumin seed
1 tablespoons beef bullion (Very Very Important!)
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup water
Once you’ve added all of your seasonings, pulse off and on until things are well mixed and then really give it a good blending until every thing is smooth. After that, dump it back in to your skillet. Before I continue on though, I want to mention that I’ve tried various different amounts seasonings and have liked them all. Honestly, with the exception of the bullion and the flour, I don’t measure the ingredients. You could also throw an onion in there, instead of the onion powder. Anyways…
At this point, you’ve got a dirty food processor and a gray amorphous blob of meat pudding in your skillet. Measure another cup of water and dump it into the food processor and swirl it around to get all the little bits of beef that remained behind and dump them into the skillet too. Waste not want not! Now you just want to cook the meat, on medium heat, until all the water boils off. Which takes I guess around 25-30 minutes. Around the halfway mark, you’ll want to taste the meat and adjust the seasonings. The last time I made this, I added an additional ½ tablespoon of bullion. Just be careful though because what seems like not enough at the half way mark could be too salty by the time the water boils off.
Garnish Like a Master
Taco Bell’s garnishes are lettuce and grated cheese. I also like to add UNSWEETENED (remember ours tastes like sour cream) yogurt (healthy!) and hot sauce. One note about the lettuce though and that Taco Bell’s is finely shredded. You can get pretty close by doing what’s called a chiffonade cut. Basically, you take a two or 3 leaves of lettuce and stack them up. Then from the leafy end to the stem end, roll them up to make kind of a fat lettuce cigar. Then thinly slice your cigar, wash and dry and eat. BTW, good knife skills go a long way towards frugal cooking.
So there you have it, the best Taco Bell copy-cat recipe on the net. Once more though, the secret to the best Taco Bell tacos are:
1. Crispy Shells so heat yours in the over per the directions.
2. Wash your Ground Beef after browning to remove excess fat.
3. Grind the Ground Beef in the food processor for an even texture.
4. Season with Beef Bullion
5. Chiffonade cut the lettuce
Steps two and three don’t really require all the much extra effort so you’re really looking at around 15 minutes worth of prep work with a total cooking time of around 40-45 minutes. The total cost per taco, which will vary depending on where you live, is around $0.53. Note however, taco shells, and ground beef are on the expensive side (in Japan) and you may able to be able to reduce your costs further. And not only is it frugal, but it’s healthier too… unless you eat all twelve tacos by yourself.