How to Make Mexican Tacos

Quick Answer

Wanna taco 'bout how to make authentic Mexican tacos? Live every day like it's Taco Tuesday and try out these seven types of tacos!

mexicantacos

Choose a Meat

Save that pound of carne molida(ground beef) in your freezer for burgers! Authentic Mexican tacos are made with many types of meats, such as pork shoulder, steak, chicken, and even cabeza de res(cow head)! Tacos are not typically prepared with ground beef.

Here is a list of seven of the most popular varieties of tacos in Mexico, accompanied by the cut of meat you should buy at the grocery store.

Type of tacotranslationcut of meat
tacos al pastor
marinated pork tacospork shoulder or loin
tacos de cochinita pibil
slow-roasted pork tacospork shoulder or loin
tacos de carnitas
braised pork tacospork shoulder or butt
tacos de longaniza
spicy pork sausage tacoslonganiza (similar to chorizo)
tacos de carne asada
grilled steak tacosskirt steak or flank steak
tacos de birria
stewed goat tacosgoat meat or mutton
tacos de tinga de pollo
chicken tinga tacoschicken breast

Taco walk on the wild side and make grasshopper tacos! Tacos de chapulinesare popular in Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico.

Marinate the Meat

The key to juicy, flavorful Mexican tacos is a marinade that has a perfect balance of citrus and spice. You’ll need a blender to make most marinades for Mexican tacos.

The ingredients for the marinade vary depending on the type of taco, but it typically consists of a combination of several of the following ingredients:

SpanishEnglish
el achiote
achiote
el ajo
garlic
el clavo
clove
el comino
cumin
el jalapeño
jalapeño pepper
el jugo de lima
lime juice
el jugo de naranja
orange juice
el jugo de piña
pineapple juice
el orégano
oregano
la páprika
paprika
la pimienta
pepper (spice)
el pimiento
pepper (fruit)
la sal
salt
el vinagre
vinegar

The meat will take on more flavor the longer you marinate it, so plan to leave the meat in the marinade for several hours—or even overnight.

Cook the Meat

In Mexican culture, there are a variety of traditional ways to cook meat for tacos. Many are impractical for the average taco maker, so we’ve included alternatives!

Type of tacoTraditional MethodAlternative
tacos al pastorslow-turning vertical rotisserie or spitbroil in the oven
tacos de cochinita pibilwrapped in banana leaves and roasted in a traditional Mayan underground pit called a pibwrap the pork in banana leaves and cook in the oven
tacos de birriaslow cooked in a hole in the ground covered with maguey leavesbraise meat on the stovetop

To get perfectly tender carnitas meat, use a slow cooker. For delicious longaniza or tinga tacos, a simple stovetop method works fine!

Prepare the Tortillas

Mexican tacos are traditionally served on fresh, handmade tortillas de maíz. If you’re not in Mexico, where there is a tortillería(tortilla shop) on every street corner, go to your local Hispanic grocery store. For an authentic taste, stay away from the bland, dry, pre-packaged supermarket tortillas.

To heat the tortillas, put a griddle on medium heat and cook the tortillas for 30 seconds on each side. There is no need to add any oil or butter.

Add Your Toppings

If your idea of a perfect taco includes crema agria(sour cream) and a copious amount of queso cheddar(cheddar cheese), just stick to American tacos. When it comes to authentic Mexican tacos, simplicity is key.

Here are some ingredients that are used as toppings for Mexican tacos:

SpanishEnglish
la cebolla
onion
el cilantro
cilantro
la piña
pineapple (tacos al pastor)
queso cotija
cotija cheese
rodaja de limón
lime wedge

Isn’t limón translated as lemon? Well, yes, in parts of the Spanish-speaking world. However, limón is used to refer to limes in many parts of Central and South America!

Do you need a break from tacos? Bring a taste of Spain to your own home with paella, the national dish of Spain!