I’ve been known to use a prefab packet of taco seasoning in a pinch, but there’s something disappointing about the resulting tacos. There are flavors I like but also a lingering dullness. I challenged myself to do better, to create a quick, weeknight-friendly ground beef taco filling using fresher ingredients but without creating more work.
I knew I wasn’t the first person to consider this idea, so my first move was to hit the books and cook through some existing recipes. Some of the resulting tacos were packed with flavor, while others were lackluster. Some were a snap to prepare, others a chore. I wanted simplicity, a list of mostly pantry ingredients, and a high return on minimal effort.
Weeknight Ground Beef TacosRich poblano chile and spicy, smoky canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce make this easy weeknight taco filling sing.
The first idea I latched on to was to mix a bit of fresh with the ground beef. This superflavorful pork sausage delivers a range of flavors including garlic, chile, and vinegar.
I added a bit of cumin, for its warming flavors and aromas, and some canned chipotle chile in adobo, which provided a beautiful smoky, spicy backdrop. (This is one of my favorite pantry items; I always keep a few cans on hand.) For a fresh burst of heat and some peppery depth, I added some chopped poblano chile. Garlic and onion contributed their signature pungency to round out the flavors.
We spent a lot of time in the test kitchen debating whether tomatoes belonged in the taco filling, and after much testing, we decided that yes, they add nice acidity and beautiful color. We tried canned tomato products, but when we compared them with cut-up plum tomatoes, the plums delivered better flavor (they’re available year-round).
Cooking the mixture was almost absurdly easy: Brown the meats, add the aromatics and spices, cook a bit more, stir in the tomatoes and a little water for sauciness, and simmer while people come to the table. With some fresh cilantro tossed over the top and a pile of warm tortillas, plus fixings such as shredded cheese and lettuce, I had a supereasy, superflavorful, crowd-pleasing supper in about a half-hour.