I have been trying for YEARS to come up with a homemade version of my favorite store bought taco seasoning, but could never get it quite right. I have finally nailed it! Hallelujah! Behold: the easiest, most delicious blend of seasonings for your taco meat, that makes juicy, flavorful tacos. There is a secret ingredient that makes a HUGE difference!
Table of Contents
- Tacos are life
- The Best Homemade Taco Seasoning Recipe
- Ingredients for the Best Homemade Taco Seasoning Recipe
- How to Make Homemade Taco Seasoning Recipe
- How to Store Leftover Homemade Taco Seasoning
- Taco Tuesday: stretch your taco meat for a crowd
- Meal prep: make taco meat ahead of time
- What to serve with homemade taco seasoning
- More Recipes to Love
- Taco Seasoning FAQ
- Homemade Taco Seasoning Recipe
I made a new chore chart for our kids (you know you’re feeling really hopeful about life when you decide to tackle that again, amiright?) Truman, my 9-year-old, looked it over and said, “Mooom! You have the LEAST amount of chores out of all of us!”
There were no actual daggers in the house, so I settled for shooting them through my eyes, but I don’t know if he felt it. I made sure to make a HUGE racket later on when I did the dishes, made dinner, started laundry, and scrubbed the carpet of a sticky mess made by The Threenager.
How could I have made such a terrible chore chart? No where on there does it have an assignment for who is supposed to clean up the mess from when the toddler started using a real hammer to try cracking open pistachios on the open toilet seat.
And there was no official assignment for when I found him in the yard with a rubber mallet raised high over his head, smashing my favorite mug. Or yesterday, when he used scissors to cut open several of those powdered Crystal light packets, and dumped them all into a 1/2 cup of water, and trailed what is essentially Red Dye No. 5 all over the house. (He actually tried to clean that one up himself, using the kitchen scrub brush. It looked like it had been dipped in blood. I threw it straight in the trash.)
I don’t remember seeing any of these chores on the chore chart list, not one. WHO’S GOT THE MOST CHORES NOW, TRUMAN, HUH??
I need to start making my to-do list at the end of the day. An I-did-it list? The future is too impossible to predict.
I saw a headline the other day: Marie Kondo says she’s ‘given up on tidying’ after having three kids. I’m not making this up. I died laughing. Remember Marie Kondo? She’s the one who tried to convince us that we should all meticulously fold our underwear, and color coordinate our pantries, and never keep items that don’t spark joy. She must have finally figured out that GIANT MESSES are the only things that spark joy for children. Fight me on this, I swear it’s true.
Tacos are life
So as per usual, I’m ignoring the current giant mess in my house to instead perfect my taco seasoning game. This has been a LONG TIME COMING, let me tell you. I posted this recipe for Seriously The Best Taco Salad almost 2 years ago, and tried my darnedest back then to nail a homemade version of McCormick’s Premium taco seasoning. (It’s different than the normal McCormick packets. I’ve only ever gotten this Premium kind at Costco or online.)
I love this stuff. It has an amazing ingredient list, no MSG, and makes super flavorful and saucy taco meat. When I serve tacos to guests (like for Taco Tuesday), they always ask how I make the taco meat, and I’m like, uh, it’s the store bought stuff?
But I’ve realized that not all taco seasoning packets are created equal. Even the Original McCormick brand of taco seasoning in the packet is different from this “Premium” version.
On every homemade taco seasoning recipe I see, they always claim, “you’ll never go back to store bought after you try this!” and I’m over here like oh, heck yes I will, nothing compares with this magical premium McCormick stuff. It’s SO much better than any recipe I’ve tried.
I was determined to figure out how make it at home.
You might be thinking, hold up, who even needs homemade taco seasoning? Can’t you just throw in some chili powder and be done? Well I mean, sure. If you want dry, boring tacos.
Ground beef is not to be argued with; it’s good on its own (just ask Ron Swanson or these Smashburgers.) But these are tacos we are talking about. If there is not a fiesta of flavor in my mouth with every bite, did taco night even happen??
These are serious questions, and I’ve got serious answers.
The Best Homemade Taco Seasoning Recipe
I’m CONVINCED that this is the best recipe for taco seasoning. The reason? Yellow Cornmeal is the number one ingredient. Say whaaaa?
Yes you heard me. Yellow cornmeal is what takes this recipe from regular to magical. No other taco seasoning recipe I could find had anything but spices and salt, and none of them had that special umph I was looking for.
Cornmeal serves two functions:
- It gives the taco meat a corny, rich flavor that I am a huge sucker for. I add masa harina to my favorite Chili and Enchilada Soup, and crushed Fritos to my Mexican meatballs. Cornmeal is a natural step for any Mexican inspired dish. It’s like having the flavor of a perfect corn tortilla, right there in your taco meat.
- Cornmeal acts as a thickener. Instead of dried out bits of ground beef covered in spices, you are going to end up with taco meat that is simmering in a gorgeous flavorful thickened sauce. Have you ever had a taco from a legit taqueria that didn’t drip down your hand when you ate it? Didn’t think so. This cornmeal-created sauce makes your taco meat juicy like that.
Cornmeal is what makes the premium McCormick taco seasoning (and this homemade version) stand out. (The premium ingredient list is on the left. Regular packet is on the right.) I stood in the grocery store for an inappropriate amount of time reading ingredient lists on all the different brands of taco seasoning packets. Many of them had no thickeners at all, some used flour, brown rice, or even cornstarch. None of these ingredients are going to give you that golden corny flavor that is perfect for tacos.
Aside from the wonders of cornmeal, I’m also really happy with a few other things with this recipe:
- We are using a blend of chili powders for dynamic flavor. I use regular chili powder, Ancho chili powder, and chipotle chili powder. We like chilis not only because they are spicy, but because they have amazing flavor. More chili types = more flavor.
- This recipe is not too spicy, in spite of all the chili powder types. My kids who are all under 12 ate it happily. (If yours don’t, just add more sour cream, it’s the answer to everything ;)
- It has an excellent, slightly smokey flavor from paprika and smoked paprika, as well as the chipotle (chipotle pepper is simply smoked jalapenos, did you know that?)
- Cocoa powder is the final ingredient and adds a subtle flavor that you probably wouldn’t be able to pick out without knowing. Chocolate has Latin roots, and does wonders for Mole. It adds perfect depth to this seasoning blend.
Ingredients for the Best Homemade Taco Seasoning Recipe
Here’s a quick shopping list to help you gather your ingredients. See the recipe card below for the full ingredients and instructions!
- chili powder
- ancho chili powder
- chipotle chili powder
- dried minced onion
- garlic powder
- smoked paprika
- cocoa powder
How to Make Homemade Taco Seasoning Recipe
Taco seasoning is about as simple as it gets, guys. You probably have most of these spices in your cupboard. And all you have to do is measure and dump and you’re done! The full instructions can be found in the recipe card below.
- Measure out all spices, pour them into tiny bowls and arrange them artfully on your counter.
- Just kidding. Dump them all into a medium bowl.
- Mix spices together, a whisk is handy here.
- Add it to your ground beef! With some water to keep it moist. That’s it, yo.
How to Store Leftover Homemade Taco Seasoning
The best way to store your newly made taco seasoning is an airtight container in the pantry or with your other spices. I prefer either a repurposed spice container (like an old cumin or chili powder container, if you have a big one) or a small mason jar with a fitted lid. With a good seal, your homemade seasoning should last about six months!
Taco Tuesday: stretch your taco meat for a crowd
If you have unexpected guests show up on taco night, add a can of drained black beans and a little extra salt to your taco meat. Or use pinto beans, or refried beans, or any beans.
You could add up to 1 cup cooked rice, too.
Do you do Taco Tuesday at your house? We host it every summer. I make a HUGE amount of taco meat (stretched with beans) and invite all the neighbors over for dinner. It’s meant to be a super casual drop in event, and designed to strengthen friendships rather than impress. I don’t clean my toilet or bother hiding the ever present pile of laundry.
I go into details on how to host your own Taco Tuesday on this post for 5 Minute Restaurant Style Salsa. I got the idea from this Kitchn post about How to Host a Crappy Dinner Party. Read the comments for lots more ideas for how to do this with your spin on it. We’ve been doing Taco Tuesdays every summer for 6 years now, and it’s sooo much fun!
The reason I’m bringing this up on my post about taco seasoning is because I want to point out how easy it is to feed a crowd with tacos. When taco night is over, any leftover meat goes into ziplocks in the freezer, and pulled out again the next week.
My best friend Sarah calls it “The Mother” taco meat. 😂 Like a sourdough starter, you just keep adding more. Maybe I’ll even give my new batch a name this summer, like how everyone names their sourdough starters, ha!
Meal prep: make taco meat ahead of time
Meal prepping for tacos is so easy and the payout is worth it. Make a ton of taco meat. Portion each pound into a quart-size ziplock and seal. Flatten out as much as you can (so it thaws fast later). Freeze until later!
When you want tacos, you can let your taco meat thaw in the fridge, or you can toss the whole thing frozen into a pan with a 1/2 cup of water and heat on low. It will take a few minutes, but eventually it will thaw out and heat up just fine.
Having frozen, pre-made taco meat on hand at all times is one of my mom secret weapons. Easiest last minute meal ever. Even if you thaw it first, always add in some water when you heat it up so it doesn’t dry out.
What to serve with homemade taco seasoning
There are so many things you can add this Taco Seasoning to! Ground beef is a classic, as well as the healthier but similar staples of ground chicken or ground turkey. You can add the seasoning to a pound of beans (refried or whole beans, drained and rinsed) following the same method. If you are using a meatless option, such as mushrooms, walnuts, or meat replacements (like impossible meat or beyond burger), just prepare as directed and then add the seasoning as called for in this recipe, pound per pound.
Now, once you have your seasoned meat or alternative, the sky’s the limit for how to use it! Here are some of my favorite ways:
- Tacos >>> Don’t skimp on the toppings – cheese, sour cream, thinly sliced lettuce, cilantro, salsa, etc.
- Burritos >>> stuff those tortillas with your seasoned meat, beans, cheese, sour cream, and more
- 5 Minute Restaurant Style Salsa << so much better than the store bought stuff!
- Seriously The Best Recipe for Taco Salad >>> This is a SHOW STOPPER, I’m telling you. I’m heading over to edit this post right now because when I wrote it, I was bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t nail a homemade taco seasoning recipe! I finally got it!
- Carol’s Legendary 7 Layer Dip >>> Add a taco meat layer to this dip to take it to the next level!
- Ultimate Chili Nachos with Queso and Guacamole >>> swap out the chili for some taco seasoned meat for an easier (and still super delicious) nacho night
- Killer Red Enchilada Sauce That’s Done in 10 Minutes >>> Fill your tortillas with your seasoned meat and some cheese, and then top with this super simple enchilada sauce
- Coconut Jasmine Rice with Cilantro >>> With some rice and taco meat, you’re half way to a burrito bowl!
- Spanish Cauliflower Rice >>> A great, low-carb alternative to serve with your taco meat!
- Simple Beef Taquitos >>> from Five Boys Baker
- Taco Lasagna >>> The Girl Who Ate Everything
More Recipes to Love
- How to Make Authentic Pico de Gallo >>> don’t even bother with store bought, this stuff is amazing!
- Traditional Tejano Pinto Beans (Slow Cooker Mexican Beans) >>> pretty much the best beans in the world and perfect with tacos or burritos
- Mexican Cucumber Salad with Cilantro and Lime >>> super easy and light, a perfect compliment to any Mexican-style meal
- Mexican Street Corn Dip (Elote) >>> the perfect combo of sweet corn and savory tart cheese
- Mexican Coleslaw >>> Make this coleslaw to go with your taco meat for an amazing burrito bowl
- Mexican Quinoa Salad >>> from Fit Foodie Finds
- Green Chile and Roasted Tomato Guacamole >>> from Two Peas and Their Pod
Taco Seasoning FAQ
Taco seasoning is a blend of spices and thickeners to flavor meat or meat alternatives for tacos. Typically, that classic taco flavor depends heavily on chili powder, as well as other warming spices like onion, garlic, paprika, etc. There is almost always a thickening agent as well to help coat the meat. In prepackaged taco seasoning packets, this often comes in the form of maltodextrin and cornstarch. In our recipe we use cornmeal (QUEEEEEN CORNMEAL), which not only thickens everything up perfectly but also serves as a huge flavor boost. Bring on the corny.
You’re in luck. This homemade taco seasoning makes four batches and will last in a sealed container for up to six months! But honestly, name the last time you didn’t make 4 batches of tacos in a 6 month time span. If not, you need more tacos in your life. I’m just trying to keep you mentally healthy.
No need to buy seasoning packets with this homemade recipe!
Psshhhh. Who am I kidding. That’s not real life! I get it, sometimes there is no time for homemade spice mixes. Buy McCormick’s Premium Taco Seasoning mix. It’s the only one I like, and is what today’s recipe is copied from. I have some in my cupboard right now.
It’s quite easy to improvise homemade taco seasoning. Don’t have all these ingredients? That’s okay, you probably have some of them! Wing it, my man. Try it out with what you have on hand, and then you can buy any of the missing ingredients for a more epic version the next time!
Use 1/4 cup, or a quarter of the recipe, per 1 pound of meat. This is the equivalent of using one store bought taco seasoning packet (which are usually 1 ounce, or about 3-4 tablespoons.)
Unlike many other foods, your taco seasoning will actually do best if left at room temperature in a sealed container. Humidity in the refrigerator or freezer can affect the flavor of the spices, and could even cause mold or bacteria over time. If you really need to freeze it for some reason, make sure it is vacuum sealed so no moisture can penetrate at all. Given the shelf life of spices, I would say just avoid freezing altogether.
I’m excited to share my next recipe with you guys: Chicken tacos, using this taco seasoning blend. You can make it on the stovetop OR in the slow cooker. And it’s not dry as a bone! Miracle of miracles. Coming soon :) Until then, enjoy this seasoning on some beefy ground beef!
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Homemade Taco Seasoning
For the dry spice mix:
- 6 tablespoons cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons chili powder*
- 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
- 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder
- 2 tablespoons cumin
- 2 tablespoons oregano
- 2 tablespoons dried minced onion
- 4 teaspoons garlic powder
- 4 teaspoons sea salt, or kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
When you make taco meat:
- 1 pound 80/20 ground beef
- 1/4 cup homemade taco seasoning
- 1 & 1/4 cups water, for each single batch of taco meat
- 1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon Beef Base, for each single batch of taco meat
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 6 tablespoons cornmeal, 2 tablespoons chili powder, 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder, 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder, 2 tablespoons cumin, 2 tablespoons oregano, 2 tablespoons dried minced onion, 4 teaspoons garlic powder, 4 teaspoons sea salt, 2 teaspoons paprika, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, and 1 teaspoon cocoa powder.
- Makes 1 cup taco seasoning. Store mixture in an airtight container (mason jar, tupperware, zipolock baggie, we not fancy)
- Use 2 tablespoons seasoning for 1/2 pound of ground beef.Use 1/4 cup seasoning for 1 pound of ground beef.Use 1/2 cup seasoning for 2 pounds of ground beef. Use 3/4 cup seasoning for 3 pounds of ground beef. Use 1 cup seasoning (all of it) for 4 pounds of ground beef.
To make 1 pound taco meat:
- Cook 1 pound ground beef in a pan over medium heat, crumbling. Drain the grease. (Or don't!!)
- Add 1/4 cup of taco seasoning to the meat. Add 1 and 1/4 cups water. If you love yourself even more, add in 1 teaspoon Better than Beef Bouillon. (this ingredient is optional but soo tasty. Adds great beefy flavor.)
- Stir well and cook over medium heat until liquid has reduced somewhat but for heavens sake, not all the way. JUICY tacos, please! Your sauce should be nice and thick. It shouldn't take more than a couple minutes.
So excited about this recipe, Karen! I ordered some of the premium taco mix because I couldn’t find it at the store and it is fantastic. Now I never have to order it again! Thanks for all your excellent research and detective skills to puzzle out this recipe! Taco lovers everywhere owe you a huge debt of gratitude!,🙏🙏🙏😉
The premium stuff really is amazing right? I’m just so glad I figured out that the answer is not just cornmeal, it’s a LOT of cornmeal!! Thanks Kris!