How to Season Taco Meat Beef Perfectly Every Time

Tacos are a delicious and versatile meal that can be customized in so many ways. While taco toppings like cheese, lettuce, salsa, and more get a lot of the attention, properly seasoned taco meat is what really takes your tacos to the next level.

When it comes to seasoning ground beef for tacos, you have a few options. You can use a store-bought packet of taco seasoning, make your own homemade blend, or season the meat with common taco spices. Each method has its pros and cons.

This article will walk you through the different ways to season taco meat along with tips, recipes, and suggestions for customizing the flavors.

Store-Bought Taco Seasoning Packets

Store-bought taco seasoning is undoubtedly the quickest and easiest way to season taco meat. Major brands like Old El Paso, McCormick, and Ortega make packet mixes that generally contain spices like:

  • Chili powder
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Cumin
  • Oregano
  • Salt
  • Cornstarch

To use, simply brown 1 pound of ground beef, drain off excess fat, then stir in the seasoning packet and water according to the package instructions. Continue cooking for a few minutes until the seasonings are well incorporated.

Store-bought seasoning packets provide convenience and allow you to easily replicate the familiar “Tex-Mex” taco flavor. However, they also contain added ingredients like anti-caking agents, cornstarch, sugar, artificial flavors, and MSG. The flavor can also be one-note compared to homemade blends.

Make Your Own Homemade Taco Seasoning

With just a few spices from your pantry, you can easily make your own homemade taco seasoning blend. This allows you to control the flavors and ingredients.

Some basic spices to include in a homemade blend are:

  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Oregano
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

You can adjust the proportions of each spice to suit your tastes. More chili powder and cumin gives an extra kick of heat and smokiness. For a more aromatic seasoning, increase the oregano and garlic.

Homemade blends also allow you to add or omit ingredients. For a smoother sauce, add a bit of cornstarch. To boost flavor without salt, use spices like paprika or ground coriander.

This homemade taco seasoning has a straightforward blend of chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic, and onion powder along with salt and pepper. Mix it up in just a minute.

To use a homemade blend, cook and drain the ground beef as normal, then stir in 1-2 tablespoons of the seasoning along with 1/2 cup of water. Simmer until thickened.

Making your own rub gives you control over the taste and ingredients, however, it does require a few extra minutes of prep work. You also need to have the spices on hand.

Season with Individual Spices

Instead of a pre-mixed blend, you can also build flavor in your taco meat by adding individual spices directly to the pan.

Some key spices to include:

  • Chili powder – For warmth, smokiness and essential taco flavoring. Start with 2 teaspoons.
  • Cumin – 1-2 teaspoons adds earthiness.
  • Oregano – 1/2 teaspoon provides brightness.
  • Garlic powder – Use 1/2 teaspoon or 2 minced cloves.
  • Onion powder – 1/2 teaspoon adds savoriness.
  • Salt and pepper – To taste, around 1/2 teaspoon each.

If you want to boost the spices further, you can also add:

  • Smoked paprika – For richer flavor, use instead of regular chili powder.
  • Crushed red pepper – For extra heat.
  • Ground coriander – For citrusy notes.
  • Cinnamon – A dash enhances the chili powder.
  • Cayenne pepper – Sparingly for heat.

Follow the same method of browning the beef, draining, then stirring in the spices along with 1/2 cup water before simmering until thickened.

Seasoning the meat with individual spices gives you versatility to tweak the flavors exactly how you like them. You can make it super mild for kids or extra bold for daring tastes. However, you do need to remember the appropriate amounts of each one.

Tips for Seasoning Taco Meat

No matter which seasoning method you use, follow these tips for maximum flavor:

  • Brown the meat well – Be sure to cook the ground beef over moderately high heat until nicely browned. This enhances the flavor.

  • Drain off excess fat – Pour off excess grease after browning but before adding seasonings. A small amount of fat is ok.

  • Use 85% or 90% lean beef – Fattier meats like 70% lean can turn out greasy. Go for 85% or 90% lean for the best texture.

  • Add onion – Saute 1/2 cup diced onion with the beef for extra flavor. Stir in spices after.

  • Simmer the sauce – After adding seasonings and water, simmer for a few minutes to meld the flavors.

  • Taste and adjust – Check the seasonings after simmering and tweak them according to your preferences.

  • To freeze – Allow seasoned taco meat to cool completely before freezing in airtight bags for 2-3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before using.

How to Customize Your Taco Meat Seasoning

One of the best parts about making your own taco meat seasoning is customizing it to your tastes. Here are some variations to try:

  • Make it kid-friendly – For a milder blend the whole family can enjoy, decrease any spicy ingredients.

  • Give it a smoky twist – Use smoked paprika instead of regular chili powder and add a pinch of chipotle powder.

  • Take it Tex-Mex – Accent the classic combo of chili powder, cumin, garlic, and oregano.

  • Make it savory – Include onion and garlic powders, a bay leaf, dried oregano, and a pinch of cinnamon.

  • Take it south of the border – Use more cumin, minced jalapeño, cilantro, and lime juice.

  • Give it a kick – Turn up the heat with extra cayenne, crushed red pepper and hot sauce.

  • Make it herby – Stir in fresh cilantro, parsley, oregano, basil or mint after simmering.

  • Go Greek-style – Add dried dill, ground coriander seed, lemon juice and red wine vinegar.

Top Taco Meat Seasoning Recipes

To get you started, here are some of the most delicious recipes for seasoned taco meat:

With the right seasoning, you can take basic ground beef from boring to brilliant. Experiment with different spice blends and ingredients to discover your perfect combination. Just follow the tips above for flavorful, juicy taco meat every time. ¡Buen provecho!

How To Make: Ground Meat for Tacos with Old El Paso Taco Seasoning


Do you season taco meat before or after?

Optional Instructions for Cooking Taco Meat: Add seasoning to ground meat and incorporate spices into meat, using your hands. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add lard to pan, let it melt, and swirl to coat the pan. Add seasoned meat to pan and spread meat out into a thin layer.

How do you spice up bland taco meat?

Ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and dried oregano: Pretty straight-forward. Paprika: I prefer to use smoked paprika, but you could also use standard or sweet paprika if you prefer.

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