Quick and Easy Taco Meat

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Taco Meat is quick, easy, and versatile, making it perfect for meal prep. Use ground beef, turkey, or chicken and the best homemade seasoning blend for a delicious, customizable meal.

170 CAL 4g CARBS 6g FAT 25g PROTEIN 3
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Taco Meat is one of my all-time favorite proteins. It’s easy to make, quick, and super versatile. It’s great for meal prep, cost-effective, and crowd-pleasing. Use it for tacos, nachos, burritos, salads, bowls, and more.

It’s also healthy, packed with protein, and can meet virtually any dietary need. It’s seriously a powerhouse for easy, affordable, delicious proteins. Have I convinced you yet?

Today, I want to show you a simple, one-ingredient trick to make your taco meat taste amazing, whether you use homemade taco seasoning, store-bought, or anything in between. This trick ensures your taco meat is never dry, even when using extra lean ground meat.

Why This Taco Meat is Better than the Packaged Seasoning

It’s always better to make your town taco meat at home with homemade seasoning if you can. It’s better for you, more cost-effective, and you control the taste and ingredients.

  • Control your ingredients: By making your seasoning, you control the ingredients and can use fresh, high-quality spices and herbs to ensure the end product is amazing.
  • Customize the flavor: Do you ever find store-bought seasoning too salty, spicy, or bland? This is your chance to control the flavor and taste. Make it extra spicy, add extra herbs, or reduce the smoky flavor; it’s all up to you.
  • Reduced sodium, sugar, and no preservatives: Most, not all, store-bought taco seasoning is loaded with sodium, sugar, additives, and preservatives. Making it at home avoids all these common pitfalls and lets you adjust for dietary needs ( gluten-free, low sodium, sugar-free, etc).
  • More affordable: One packet of taco seasoning can cost anywhere from $1 to $3, or more for more natural specialty options. And that’s only enough for one pound. Using spices you already have on hand makes it more cost-effective per serving.

Looking for more easy taco ideas? Don't miss these steak tacos, ground turkey tacos, chicken street tacos, and fish tacos.

Ingredients for taco meat including ground beef, spices, tomato paste, and chili powder.

Ingredients and Substitutions

Here is everything you need to make this tasty homemade ground taco meat.

  • Ground beef: Ground beef is most traditionally used in tacos. However, you can substitute ground turkey, chicken, pork, or vegetarian meat.
  • Taco seasoning: For the best results, use homemade taco seasoning made with chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, kosher salt, oregano, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. You can also swap in your favorite store-bought taco spice blend.
  • Tomato paste or salsa is the secret ingredient to making restaurant-quality, moist taco meat. Its deep, slightly sweet flavor perfectly balances the spices. You could swap in salsa or enchilada sauce, but it won’t be as rich since tomato paste has a more concentrated flavor.
  • Water: Another key to ensuring the taco meat comes out moist, and every bite is infused with flavor is simmering the meat with a touch of water.
  • Make it even better: Although this recipe is for basic taco meat, you can make it tastier by adding sauteed onions, minced garlic, diced bell peppers, canned green chilies, canned beans, or corn. More on that below.

Cast iron skillet with homemade taco meat that is browned and juicy.

How to Make The Best Taco Meat

This recipe couldn’t be easier to make! Follow these simple steps to make truly delicious ground taco meat.

1. Brown the meat

Start by getting the pan nice and hot over medium-high heat. If you aren’t using super lean meat, you shouldn't need any additional oil. Add oil or some cooking spray if you use 99% lean meat.

Once the pan is hot, add the ground meat and let it cook. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, break it into a few larger pieces. Let it cook and brown for 4-6 minutes until it is nice and browned.

Then, begin breaking the meat into smaller pieces with your spoon. As you do this, continue to let the beef brown as you stir it and break it up—the beef browns when it is in contact with the hot pan. If you stir it too much, it won’t get browned and slightly crispy.

Usually, when ground beef has a grayish color, it’s because it was stirred too much and steamed instead of browned.

If you need to drain the meat (usually only necessary with higher-fat ground beef), drain the beef in a colander. For easier clean-up, place a large bowl lined with foil under the colander to catch the grease.

2. Add spices and simmer

Once the meat is nicely browned, add your taco spices. Store-bought taco seasoning requires about 2 tablespoons per pound. Add the tomato paste (or salsa) and water as well.

Give everything a good stir, then simmer over low heat for 5-10 minutes until the “sauce” thickens. Simmering the taco meat is essential to get that juicy, rich taco meat we all love.

3. Optional additions

If you want to add flavor to your taco meat, consider sauteing some diced onions and/or bell peppers until just softened before adding the ground beef to the skillet. Then, add a few minced garlic cloves when you add the beef.

Once the meat is finished cooking, consider adding a can of drained black beans or pinto beans. Corn is another delicious addition. You can also add a can of drained diced tomatoes, Rotel tomatoes, canned diced green chilies, or pickled jalapeno peppers.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

The key to making delicious taco meat is the taco seasoning. Here is our favorite homemade taco seasoning, suggestions for customizing your seasoning, and our favorite store-bought options.

  • 1 tbsp chili powder (double for more spice and smoke)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin (skip for less smokiness)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder (double for extra garlic flavor)
  • 1 tsp onion powder (double for extra onion flavor)
  • 1 tsp paprika (sweet paprika for mild, smoked paprika for intensity)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp oregano (optional)
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes (skip for less spice; use cayenne for more heat)

Best store-bought taco seasoning: If you opt for store-bought, we like Siete Foods (most natural ingredients), Old El Paso (classic childhood flavor), and McCormick Low Sodium (for lower sodium). Trader Joe’s also makes a tasty seasoning, and Mrs Dash offers a salt-free option if needed.

Ground taco meat in a bowl with tortillas, lime wedges, and green salsa on the side.

Ways to Serve Taco Meat

It’s called taco meat for a reason!

More Ways to Use Homemade Taco Meat

There are many ways to use this meat in quick dinners, meal-prepped lunches, and more. We always double or triple the recipe.

Meal Prep, Freezing, and Storage Tips

Taco meat is excellent for bulk cooking and meal prep, making it a convenient and versatile option for busy weeks. Here are some tips to help you effectively store, freeze, and reheat your taco meat.

  • Storing leftovers: Allow the taco meat to cool to room temperature. Place it in an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Divide the meat into individual portions before storing. This makes it easier to reheat only what you need.
  • How to freeze taco meat: Ensure the meat is completely cooled before freezing to prevent ice crystals and freezer burn. Place the cooled meat in a freezer-safe container or a zip-top freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible from the bag to prevent freezer burn. Press the bag flat so it is easy to store. It can also be frozen in individual servings. Store for up to 3 months.
  • Meal-prep taco bowls: Start with a base of rice, quinoa, or cauliflower rice. Add a layer of taco meat, then top with your favorite vegetables and toppings like lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and salsa. Store these bowls in individual meal-prep containers. They can be refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Add fresh toppings like avocado or cilantro just before serving.
  • Reheating leftovers: It is always best to defrost cooked taco meat overnight in the fridge.
    • Microwave: Place the taco meat in a microwave-safe dish. Cover it with a damp paper towel to retain moisture. Heat on high for 1-3 minutes, stirring halfway through, depending on how much you reheat.
    • Stovetop: Reheat the meat in a skillet over medium heat. Add a splash of broth or water to prevent it from drying out. Stir occasionally until heated through.
    • Oven: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Place the taco meat in an oven-safe dish, cover with foil, and heat for 10-15 minutes or until warm.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the most common questions about making taco meat.

Yes, you can use various types of meat for taco meat. Ground beef is traditional, but you can use ground turkey, chicken, pork, or vegetarian meat substitutes. Each type will give a slightly different flavor and texture. You can also make this with chopped chicken breast, chicken thighs, 

To keep your homemade taco meat moist and flavorful, follow these tips:

  • Use Tomato Paste or Salsa: Adding tomato paste or salsa while cooking the meat helps maintain moisture and infuses the meat with rich flavor.
  • Simmer with Water: After browning the meat and adding the seasoning, simmer it with a small amount of water. This allows the flavors to meld and keeps the meat juicy.
  • Avoid Overcooking: Cook the meat just until it's browned and fully cooked. Overcooking can make the meat dry.
  • Include Vegetables: Adding vegetables like onions, bell peppers, or tomatoes can add moisture and flavor.
  • Use Fatty Meat or Add Oil: If using very lean meat, consider adding a small amount of oil to keep it from drying out during cooking.
Ground beef tacos with homemade taco meat, cilantro, red onion, and guacamole.
The Recipe
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Quick and Easy Taco Meat

170 CAL 4g CARBS 6g FAT 25g PROTEIN 3
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  • 1 lb 95% lean ground beef (or turkey or chicken)
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup water

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Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the ground beef and cook for 6-8 minutes, breaking up the meat as it cooks, until it is cooked through. Drain any excess fat or grease from the pan.

Ground beef in a cast iron skillet.

Add the spices, tomato paste, and water. Stir together and simmer for 5-7 minutes.

Ground beef for tacos in a skillet with tomato paste and spcies.

Serve in crispy corn tortillas, soft corn tortillas, taco salad, and more.

Ground beef tacos in a plate with crispy taco shells.


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Nutritional Facts
Serving Size: 4 oz
Amount Per Serving
Calories 170
Calories from Fat 5
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 6g
Saturated Fat 3g
Monounsaturated Fat 2g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 70mg
Sodium 764mg
Total Carbohydrate 4g
Dietary Fiber 1g
Sugars 1g
Protein 25g

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.


Follow the same instructions to make this with ground chicken, ground turkey, ground pork, or vegetarian ground meat.

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About the author Meet Kristen McCaffrey
Hi, I’m the cookbook author, recipe developer, and food enthusiast behind Slender Kitchen. I am obsessed with making healthy food that is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Meal planning is my secret weapon and I hope I can make meal time easier for you with our tried and tested recipes and foolproof meal plans. Learn More
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