Sheet Pan

Crispy Sheet Pan Beef Tacos

February 27, 2023
0 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

I have a confession to make: I did not grow up in a “Hard Shell Taco Night” family. As a Midwestern 90’s kid I was certainly exposed to them at school lunches and while visiting friends’ houses for dinner, but it wasn’t really a part of our weeknight dinner rotation. It probably didn’t help that I wasn’t big on ground meat in general (I was a chicken nugget girl in a sea of cheeseburger eaters), and preferred to stuff the hard shell with only shredded cheese and lettuce. Instead, my mom typically added that little ubiquitous taco seasoning packet to shredded chicken, peppers, and onions for that other 90’s staple: sizzling fajitas.

Thankfully, I’ve since come around on ground meats and worked out my own version of the perfect hard shell taco. Since ground beef tacos are more typically Tex-Mex, I couldn’t get the idea of chile con queso out of my head, and decided these tacos should also have the flavor of green chilies and lots of melty cheese.

I sought to avoid the typical Sloppy-Joe-style of simmered, tomato-heavy taco filling. It’s delicious, but there are plenty of recipes out there that already have this covered. Instead, I wanted to try something closer to tacos dorados (also known as a golden taco—the category flautas and taquitos also fall under), where corn tortillas are filled with a flavorful mixture of beef, chicken, or potatoes, then fried until cooked through and golden brown. The beauty of this style is that the shell is both crisp and just a little chewy, and the tortilla can be opened after cooking to add your favorite toppings (a limitation of brittle store-bought shells, which would shatter instead of bend).

I cooked the first batch traditionally by heating one half-inch of oil in a cast iron skillet and frying the filled tacos on both sides. While tasty, it was hard to get the temperature and timing just right for the ideal crisp-yet-bendy-shell, and the taco filling was drying out and losing some flavor in the frying process. I wanted to make sure this recipe would be easy enough for a weeknight and relatively foolproof. Next, I tried brushing the tortillas lightly with oil, filling them, and baking in a high-temperature oven. To my surprise, the shells crisped nicely, and retained more of the moisture and flavor in the filling than the fried version. The result was a crisp-edged shell with just a little chew in the center, plus juicy, seasoned beef and a bit of heat from the chilies. They were easy to open and add toppings, not overly greasy, and absolutely craveable and satisfying. Because the filling is already flavorful, you don’t need much to complement: a drizzle of thinned sour cream, a few slices of avocado, and a dash of hot sauce add a finishing touch, but your favorite salsa or shredded lettuce would work well too.

On ingredients: If you can find it, Longhorn cheddar (also known as Colby) is a great cheese to use here as it contributes a deeply cheesy flavor, but with better melting qualities than cheddar. It’s also the cheese most commonly used when Texas cooks want a more “natural” alternative to Velveeta in their queso. You’ll see that this recipe also calls for onion and garlic powder. I’m usually pretty militant about using fresh garlic and onion, but this is one instance where the powdered stuff is just better. It permeates the beef mixture more thoroughly and contributes more flavor to the outcome. Added bonus: less knife work! In case you’re a purist and still prefer to use fresh ingredients, I’ve included the alternate measurements in the list. As for tortillas, I’m lucky to live close to an amazing molino in Brooklyn that mills fresh masa to order, but you can also find good-quality corn tortillas in the refrigerated section of the grocery store (Masienda or Mission Extra Thin corn tortillas work well).
Lindsay Leopold

What You'll Need
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 ounces ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder, or ½ cup finely chopped white onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, or 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 2 to 3 cloves)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chilies
  • 3 ounces good melting cheese, such as Colby or Monterey Jack, shredded (1 cup)
  • 1 plum tomato, diced (½ cup)
  • 12 (6-inch) corn tortillas, or 16 (4-inch) corn tortillas
  • Neutral oil, such as vegetable, safflower, or grapeseed, for brushing
  • Sliced avocado, for serving
  • Sour cream, for serving
  • Hot sauce, for serving
  • Lime wedges, for serving
  • Whole fresh cilantro sprigs, for serving
  1. Heat the oven to 425°F with a rack in the top-third position. Dissolve baking soda in 1 tablespoon water in a large bowl. Add the ground beef, salt, spices, onion powder and garlic powder. Mix until thoroughly combined. Add the cilantro, chilies, cheese, and tomato, and mix gently until evenly distributed.
  2. Wrap the tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave until pliable, about 1 minute. Brush one side of each tortilla with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place tortillas oil-side down on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
  3. Divide the beef mixture between the tortillas, spreading across one half of the tortilla (the filling will be a scant ¼-inch thick). Fold the tortilla over the filling and press gently to create half-moons. If tortillas start to tear, re-wrap the tortillas in a damp paper towel and heat again until pliable. Bake until crisp and browned in places, about 18 minutes, flipping once halfway through.
  4. Let cool slightly, then lift the top flap of each tortilla like a book and fill with your favorite toppings, such as sliced avocado, sour cream, and hot sauce. Serve warm with lime wedges and cilantro sprigs.

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