Forget the drive-thru, this is how to make a beef tacos recipe that tastes just like Taco Bell tacos for an easy Taco Tuesday dinner at home any night of the week.
These tacos are a nod to one of America’s favorite Mexican fast food chains (and my husband’s)—Taco Bell. I’m not much of a fast food fan, but Taco Bell tacos are pretty much the cat’s meow when it comes to drive-thru Mexican food. I have lots of recipes that satisfy our regular taco cravings, like my grilled steak tacos, blackened fish tacos with creamy avocado sauce, and my carnitas (to name just a few). But these Taco Bell tribute tacos satisfy a totally different type of craving, right up there with greasy, cheesy pepperoni pizza.
Years ago I ditched my own ground beef taco recipe in favor of my MIL’s (one that is eerily similar to our beloved Taco Bell version). She shared all her secrets with me, and these are so good, they could very well curb your drive-thru habit too.
What’s in These Ground Beef Tacos
My MIL’s ground beef tacos are revered in the family, and probably the most often requested dinner for family gatherings, next to her Curry Turkey Pot Pie (my birthday favorite!) or Hamburger Soup. She takes her ground beef tacos seriously, and while this recipe is super easy to make, there are several key ingredients and techniques that make it special, and so frigging delicious:
- Ground beef
- White onion
- Tomato juice—this is added to the ground beef and spices to deglaze the pan and pull up all those browned bits, plus adds moisture for the next super special ingredient (you could also use (V-8, or water would be fine)
- Yellow cornmeal—my mother-in-law swears this is key to making these tacos taste most like Taco Bell. It tightens up the beef mixture after the tomato juice is added, and adds another layer of maize/corn essence, combining with the Mexican flavors. If the mix feels too thick, add a bit more tomato juice to thin it and cook the cornmeal.
- Taco shells—I like hard taco shells (white corn specifically), but yellow corn or even flour tortillas make a great Taco Bell-style taco.
- Shredded cheese
- Taco seasoning
Homemade Taco Seasoning
Fortunes have been made on packaging taco seasoning, but it’s so simple to make from your spice drawer, why not make it from scratch? After you try this easy DIY taco seasoning, you’ll ditch the packet forever.
- Chili powder
- Garlic salt
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Taco seasoning is pretty salty on its own so don’t be alarmed if you take a taste and feel it’s too much.
see more: 70 Cinco De Mayo Mexican Recipes
How to Make These Ground Beef Tacos
Brown the beef. I recommend using a flat-edged wooded spatula to really chop up the beef into small pieces. I find this easiest to do once the meat has begun to brown, breaking down easier than when raw. My MIL says the flavor in these tacos comes from browning the beef really well, building crisped bits on the bottom of the pan. Watch it though, so the beef doesn’t burn or char.
Sauté the onion and garlic. Once the meat is in smaller bits, stir in the onions and garlic and continue to cook.
Add the special seasonings. Adding the taco spices to the ground beef toward the end of browning allows them to cook for a minute or two to seal flavor into the meat and also awakens the flavors of the spices as they heat.
How to Assemble Your Tacos
Two of the hallmarks of a bad taco are 1) a cold taco shell and 2) cheese that still carries the chill of the fridge. That’s why the last step of my MIL’s delicious tacos is the assembling of the tacos should not be skipped and totally worth completing this extra step.
Toast your tacos. Use a sheet pan or a casserole dish to snuggle your corn tortillas together upright, then spoon the taco meat into them and sprinkle them with shredded cheese. Toast in the oven or a toaster oven at 400°F just until the cheese melts and the shells begin to brown.
Add the fixings. Now it’s time to dress these babies up. Sour cream, shredded iceberg lettuce, avocado, diced tomatoes, and onion are my picks for classic toppings. Everyone has their favorite toppings, and since you’re making them yourself, now is the time to load them up the way you like ’em––add red onion and cilantro, and pico de gallo if you like.
see more: 31 Healthy Mexican Recipes to Make Now
What’s the Best Ground Beef for Tacos?
For this taco meat recipe, use 85% lean ground beef. You don’t want anything too lean, otherwise, you’re liable to wind up with dry taco meat.
Can I Use Ground Turkey Instead?
Technically, yes. But if you’re truly looking to make copycat Taco Bell tacos, ground beef is the way to go.
Can I Use Store-Bought Taco Seasoning?
Again, you technically can. But your homemade taco recipe won’t taste just like Taco Bell’s.
How do You Make the Best Tacos?
- To break down the taco meat really finely, use a potato masher or a meat masher. Or, use your spatula and take your time breaking up the ground beef.
- After you’ve stirred in the tomato juice and cornmeal, you’ll need to let the taco filling bubble away for a good 10 to 15 minutes. If you try to serve your ground beef tacos right away, the filling will be too soupy.
- Make your life easier by putting all the taco toppings into serving dishes and let your family top their tacos as they see fit.
What to Serve With Tacos to Make a Meal
- Easy Mexican Coleslaw Recipe
- Creamy Avocado Salsa Verde
- Chopped Mexican Kale Salad
- Mango Margarita With Chile Salt And Lime
- Chunky Citrus Guacamole
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
Just Like Taco Bell Tacos
- 1 pound 85% lean ground beef
- ½ white onion , diced
- 2 cloves garlic , pressed or minced
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoons garlic salt
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoons pepper
- 2 cups tomato juice
- ¼ cup yellow cornmeal
- 12 taco shells
- 2 cups cheddar cheese , shredded
- sliced lettuce
- chopped tomatoes
- sour cream
- Add the ground beef to a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook until browned, about 10 minutes, breaking into small pieces as it browns.
- Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the beef is well browned and the onion is translucent.
- Add the cumin, chili powder, garlic salt, kosher salt, and black pepper and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring often.
- Stir in the tomato juice and cornmeal and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the juice has cooked down and the cornmeal softens, stirring occasionally. Add more tomato juice or water if the mixture clumps.
- Place the taco shells on a sheet pan or in a baking dish and spoon about ⅓ cup taco meat into each shell and sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Broil in a toaster oven or oven until the cheese melts.
- Garnish the tacos with fixings and serve.
- I like white corn taco shells, but yellow corn or even soft shells make a great Taco Bell style taco.
More Taco Recipes You’ll Want to Make
- Breakfast Tacos Recipe
- Blackened Fish Tacos With Creamy Avocado Sauce
- The BEST Carnitas
- Shrimp Tacos With Garlic Avocado Crema
- Slow Cooker Smoky Pulled Pork Tacos
- Stewed Chicken Tacos
- Fried Avocado Tacos Recipe
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Looks good, but do you drain the grease off the meat at any time, or just leave it as is?
Ashley @ Foodie Crush
Sounds great! I would say 4 servings
That was awesome! Totally tastes and has the same mouth feel as a taco bell taco!! Thank you! You made my son really happy! :). (And the rest of us). We’ll definitely do this again and again!
Ashley @ Foodie Crush
Thank you so much!
Hi-the 2 cups of tomato juice, that is 16 oz, correct? Wanted to make these next few days, and 16 oz seems a bit of a large quantity. Thanks you for the recipe. Will try for sure.
Hi-what type or brand taco shells do you use. I’ve tried different brand and most are decent but have not found one that tastes good. Taco Bell shells are good, but the ones they sell in stores are not the same recipe of what they sell in restaurants.
Any recommendations? Thank you for the recipe.
I like white corn tortillas the best, but really, I haven’t been too particular about it.
I’ve been making tacos since I was a kid and have tweaked my own recipe several times over the years, can’t wait to try out this recipe! After reading the recipe it sounds amazing and I’m eager to see how they compare with my own. My question is my husband and I actually prefer a soft flour shell and I was wondering if you would recommend the baking process with these or just prewarm the shells as I do now?
Ashley @ Foodie Crush
Thanks Rachel!! I can’t wait to hear. I just pre warm them a little
what brand of taco shells do you recommend?
Yum! Gonna make a veggie version this. Do you think cornmeal will be needed if we use tofu or soy crumbles instead of beef?
Ashley @ Foodie Crush
Yes Situ! I would still use the cornmeal with Tofu
Awesome Situ. I haven’t tried it with meat substitutes so I can’t say for sure, but in my head I am thinking it would work just fine and add even more flavor because of the low flavor of meat substitutes. Let us know how it works!
We used this recipe with soy meat and it was so good! We also used vegan cheese and they still tasted just like taco bell tacos. Thank you!
Made these tonight – my husband couldn’t get over how good they were! Definitely a repeat!
I’m dying to eat some Mexican food. Surely gonna try it today. Thanks for the recipe.
Hope you give them a try!
Can’t wait to try this. Can you share your MIL’s recipe for hamburger soup also? Thanks…..love your blog.
Thanks Jeannie, I added the link where I mentioned it at the top of the post. Hope you give it a try.
Ha. That doesn’t look like anything that Taco Bell has. Looks a million times better. Looks more like Taco John’s.
Ha! Thanks Connie, they’re just as addicting though. My daughter ate 5 of them the other day!
Thanks, they look easy and delicious! But, I do have a quick question please—-what kind of knife is that is the photo with the onions? Is that an illusion in the photo or is there some kind of indentation that follows the curve of the blade? I’ve never seen anything like it. If it is in the design, to what purpose? Thanks for your time.
Thank you Marianne! The knife is an 8″ Pro Chef’s Knife from Zwilling. I suppose the ridge is there so the food doesn’t stack when chopped? I love all of the Zwilling knives!
We love an easy taco night at our house so I will be trying these soon!
I think you’ll love them too Reagan. Thanks for the comment.
would never have guessed that secret ingredient and cooking tweak, de-glaze and extra baking, I’ve always wanted to know how T Bell tacos were made, so thank you for cracking the code
Thanks Sabrina, and while this may not be the exact Taco Bell recipe, they sure taste a lot like them. Hope you give them a try :) p.s. baking the shells with the cheese and meat makes them extra delish.