How to Make the Best Tacos Ever

Katie Sweeney

Today is National Taco Day, and this is one random food holiday I can definitely get behind! Because what’s not to love about the taco? There are countless varieties: From classic carnitas in a double layer of soft corn tortillas to newfangled Korean tacos with spicy kimchi to the crunchy ground beef and shredded iceberg lettuce tacos of my childhood, I’ve never met a taco I didn’t like. But what makes a taco truly spectacular? A delicious taco requires the perfect balance of hearty filling and pillowy tortilla, plus the proper accoutrements. The toppings, salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, queso, pickled radishes, and crema, to name a few, are almost as important as the filling. In the mood to make some downright delectable tacos today? Here's how to make the best tacos ever.

• Use small tortillas. The 4-inch corn or flour tortillas are more authentic and result in a taco that’s edible out of hand without a plate or utensils. Napkins optional, of course.

• Warm the tortillas. Heat the tortillas for a few minutes in an oven at 250° Fahrenheit, or throw them directly over a gas grill until slightly charred. The tortilla won’t be pliable and easy to fold unless it’s slightly warm. Plus, it just tastes better hot.

• Experiment with alternative meats. Ground beef is great for the kiddos, but a taco with barbecued lamb shoulder, melt-in-your mouth pork carnitas, fragrant chorizo, or roasted crimini mushrooms with caramelized red onions (for vegetarians) is more interesting and more gourmet.

• Garnish with something pickled. The bright flavor of pickled shallots, carrots, or cactus can cut through the richness of the meat.

• Place the meat in the proper area. According to Food Network chef Aarón Sánchez, “keeping a quarter-inch border of open tortilla around the taco” ensures “that the contents won’t spill out.”

• Flavor taco protein with a spice rub rather than a marinade. A spice rub will seep directly into the meat and add flavor to the finished taco.

• Think about textural contrast. If using a soft tortilla, add something with crunch, like pickled vegetables or a cooling slaw. If using a crunchy tortilla, add something soft like guacamole or finely grated cheese.

• Use homemade accompaniments. If you have time, make the salsa, pico de gallo, and guacamole from scratch—they will be infinitely better than what you can find at the grocery store. Grate fresh cheese. Make crema.

• Serve the tacos buffet style. Set up a taco bar with all the fillings and toppings and let your friends and family build their own tacos to accommodate their personal taste buds. Don’t forget plenty of tortilla chips and lime wedges.

Interested in making your own tortillas? You’ll need to invest in a tortilla press.

What is your favorite kind of taco?

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