For years I used packaged mixes to prepare taco filling carefully following the printed directions on the packets. The fillings always seemed good enough but never quite met the standard of our favorite sit down Mexican restaurant. Experimentation ensued and many good and bad combinations of spices and techniques were discovered.

Making your taco fillings healthier without sacrifice in taste is easy.

Most taco filling recipes call for 80/20 ground beef relying on the fat to add flavor and make the filling more savory. I wanted to get away from this and make the filling healthier. The use of ground beef with a lower fat content helps and rinsing the cooked meat with hot water lowers the fat content even further. The problem with lowering the fat content is that it reduces the savory texture of the filling. Enter stewing.

Recipe ingredients

  • 2 pounds of lean ground beef
  • 3 cups water

Dry spice mix


  • 2 Tbsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano
  • 2 tsp corn starch


  • 1 1/2 medium vine ripened tomato, diced (3/8”)
  • ½ medium, yellow onion finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 smoked jalapeno, skin, seeds and placenta (inner membrane surrounding the seeds)

For a spicier filling with lots of heat add in a finely minced serrano or jalapeno pepper.

Brown the lean ground beef in a large skillet. Break the meat while cooking making sure all large lumps are broken down to a fine consistency. Transfer the browned meat to a colander and drain off all the fat. Rinse the meat very well with hot tap water to remove as much fat as possible. Rinse the skillet clean of fat and add the water.

Stir in the well blended dry spice mix before adding in the browned, rinsed ground beef. Stir in the vegetables and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover the skillet and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes or until the vegetables begin to break down. Remove the cover and simmer until the liquid is reduced to a thick, creamy consistency, approximately 20-30 minutes.

Aging develops the flavors.

Because of the long simmering time I prefer to make large batches of the filling, which is why the recipe is based on 2 pounds of ground beef. An unintended benefit of preparing extra portions is that the flavors develop with storage. Any leftover quantity can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen in a suitable container indefinitely.

To reheat the filling add ¼ cup of water per half pound of filling and simmer over a low heat until the desired consistency is achieved. Be careful not to over simmer the filling. Reheating is easy but not recommended in a microwave likewise frozen portions don’t defrost well in a microwave.

For entertaining the filling can be prepared 1-3 days ahead. Simmer the filling for 30 minutes covered and omit the final reduction step. Let the filling cool, place it in a sealed container and refrigerate. To heat for serving place the filling in a large skillet, heat and simmer as described earlier in the final reduction step.

Use your favorite shells and other fillings to create and serve a tasty, crunchy taco that’s sure to please your family and friends. If you prefer soft tacos add 2 tablespoons of meat filling, one heaping teaspoon of Pico de Gallo and a squeeze of lime to a pair of steamed corn tortillas.


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