Because Steph still has RSI, I’ve been making all our dinners while we chat and watch youtube each night, and in our house that always means taco nights. While my go-to tacos are al pastor, carnitas, carne adovada, and carne asada, Steph asked to mix things up a bit with something a little more modern, and suggested birria tacos. It was so good and so simple I think this just jumped to the top of my list for all of our future taco nights.
What are Birria Tacos?
Birria tacos, if you haven’t heard of them yet all over social media and the internet, is traditionally an addictive sweet, sour, slightly spicy, and utterly savory Mexican beef or goat stew that’s slow cooked until the meat is tender and fall-apart juicy and delicious. Someone had the bright idea to stuff this beefy goodness into a taco shell, and then dip the whole mess into the stew and fry it up. They blew up after that, and the rest is history. But unlike most fad foods, Birria tacos are so good you’ll be making them every week.
Beef birria tacos
While birria is traditionally made with goat, for most of us it’s easier to get beef so that’s what I’ve gone with here. Beef is also the safer choice for crowds, but if you’re an adventurous eater and want to go with goat, you should totally go(at) for it! The recipe remains the same, just switch out the beef shank and sirloin for goat and have at it.
The best birria tacos are dipped in the stew and then fried to crispy gloriousness
It’s really in dipping the tortilla into the stew and frying it to a crisp that the magic happens, so don’t skip this step. Tacos are good but very few people who don’t live in the southwest know that tacos only become truly transcendent once you cook the tortilla in fat. Traditionally they do this in butter or lard, but here we use the fat from the top of the stew to give it that extra kick. Once you bite into a crisp fried taco shell, you’ll never go back.
Instant Pot vs slow cooker vs Dutch oven
You can make this stew any way you like, but I prefer it in the instant pot because it’s so much faster, and keeps more of the flavor locked inside the dish. Those yummy smells that fill up your house when you slow cook for hours? Those are flavor particles, and that means that’s flavor that’s not in your soup. But, regardless of how you make this, it’ll come out absolutely delicious, so pick whatever method is best for you.
To cook this in a dutch oven, you’ll need a fairly large dutch oven. Follow the instructions all the way until you close the lid of the Instant Pot. Instead, cover the dutch oven and set it on as low heat as possible on your stove, or alternatively, pop it in a 200ºF oven for 4-6 hours.
The only hard part of making this in a slow cooker is sauteing the onions. My solution was to just skip that step entirely. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference. What I did was pop all the ingredients into the slow cooker and set it to low for 8 hours. This recipe as given didn’t fit in our smaller slow cooker, so I halved it, but I think it will fit a standard sized slow cooker just fine. Let me know in the comments if you end up trying this out.
- Beef. For the ultimate birria tacos, use a good beef shank. This is non-negotiable. You can, and should, mix up another cut as well for texture and variety. I prefer meat that’s a little on the lean side for tacos, so I mixed it up with a cheap roast like sirloin, but if Steph had her way, she would use short ribs. But, since she’s not cooking, we ended up with a sirloin.
- Dried Guajillo Peppers. These sun dried peppers add an authentic touch of mexican flavor to any stew and you can usually find them in the Mexican aisle of your local grocery store (if you live in America). They are like a mild-medium pepper and don’t add any heat, so you don’t have to worry at all. If you can’t find them, sub any dried mexican/southwestern peppers you can find, such as ancho, new mexico, california, or pasilla. If you really can’t find them, you can skip them, but they’re worth looking for!
- Chipotle peppers in adobo. These come in a little can and they are salty-sweet-spicy delicious. They form the base of many mexican stews and marinades and you can find them pretty much everywhere in the world, they’re that good. We usually keep 3-4 cans around just for tacos al pastor.
- Mexican oregano. This version of oregano is always cheaper and almost always fresher and better than the spice aisle stuff, so if you’re already in the Mexican aisle, be sure to pick up a bag, usually only 99 cents or so.
How to make Birria Stew
Making Birria stew is easy and quick:
- Soak the peppers. Bring a pot of water to a boil and then take it off the heat, soak the dried peppers while you do the next steps.
- Season the meat. While you wait for the peppers to soak, cube up the roast and season the meat with salt and pepper
- Make the marinade. Throw together everything left except the cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon into a blender. Remove the peppers from the now warm water and let them get cool enough to handle. Hold them by the tip over the sink and cut the tops off with scissors. The seeds will just fall right out. Then drop them into the blender too. Blend it all up into a smooth paste.
- Marinate the beef overnight. Two hours is good enough too, but longer is always better when it comes to stews.
- Make the stew. Saute the onions. Onions are the base of all flavor, so make sure they are extra delicious – transparent and golden. Take your time. Then add the meats, cover with chicken stock, and add the last few spices. That’s all there is to it!
How to make Birria Tacos
Once you have the stew, making the tacos is super easy:
- Shred your meats. Fry them up too, if you like. I skipped this step and it was ok, but if you like your meat extra crispy and hot, here’s where you would do that.
- Warm up your tortillas. This makes them pliable and soft. We use a tortilla warmer, but you can just wrap them up in damp paper towels and microwave for 30 seconds.
- Dip and fill. Dip your tortillas in the soup, the fat is near the surface so you don’t need to dip too far, but make sure they get coverage. Then top half of the tortilla with beef, onions, cilantro (optional), and cheese (optional).
- Fold and fry. Fry your tacos in a non stick skillet over medium heat until they crisp up, 2-3 minutes per side. Serve with a side of the stew to use as a dip.
These tacos use street sized corn tortillas, but you can use anything you want. I like to use locally made uncooked corn tortillas or flour tortillas and cook them myself. Whole foods often carries really good local tortillas, even uncooked ones in the fridge section.
If you are in a place without access to good locally made tortillas, some of the best mass-produced tortillas around are La Tortilla Factory and Santa Fe Tortilla Company. If you go one level up to the national brands, Mission Foods is my fave.
With store bought tortillas, you need to warm them to make them pliable and delicious. If your tortillas are breaking when you fold them, warming them will fix that. The best way to warm tortillas is to wrap 6-12 at a time in a damp paper towel and microwave for 10-30 seconds, then let them rest for another 10-30 seconds.
Everyone loves cheese, and quesabirria tacos might just be more popular than standard birria tacos. To make quesabirria tacos, shred some Oaxaca cheese into the tacos before you fold and fry them. If you can’t find Oaxaca, feel free to use mozzarella or cheddar. For me though, I like to crumble some aged Cotija cheese into the tacos instead for extra cheese pull and delicious meltiness. The contrast of the melty cheese, soft birria, and crispy tortilla is one of my perfect bites in this world.
What to serve with Birria Tacos?
These birria tacos are good enough to eat dozens on their own. If you wanted to do a side though, you can serve them up with homemade tortilla chips, mexican rice, and you even have all the ingredients necessary to make a birria tortilla soup. Or my current personal favorite: Birria ramen (pictured above).
Birria Tacos Recipe
Step up your next taco night with our ultimate guide to the best homemade tacos ever.
- 1.5 lb beef shank
- 1 lb sirloin or other roast/steak
- 3 dried guajillo peppers see notes
- 1 can chipotle peppers in adobo
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 whole cloves
- chicken stock to cover sodium free, about 1 quart
- 4″ corn or flour tortillas as needed, 12-16
- 1 medium onion chopped, optional
- 1 bunch cilantro chopped, optional
- 1 cup mexican cheese blend grated, optional
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then remove from heat. Soak your dried guajillo peppers for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cube your cab sirloin, then season both the steak and the shank with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Add marinade ingredients to the blender. When the peppers are done soaking, hold them by the tip over the sink and use scissors to cut the stem off and allow the seeds to fall out, then add to blender. Blend the marinade into a smooth paste. Marinate the meats for a minimum of two hours or up to overnight.
Set your Instant Pot on saute high or use a skillet over medium heat. Add 1-2 tbsp oil, then saute the onions until golden and translucent (6-8 minutes).
Add the meats, marinade, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, and cloves to the pot. Cover with chicken broth, then set to high pressure for 45 minutes. If using a slow cooker or stovetop, set to low heat for 4-6 hours.
When the instant pot is finished, allow a natural release, then remove the meat. Shred, set aside, and discard the bones.
Warm up some tortillas, then dip the tortillas in the stew. Build your tacos, top with any optional toppings, then fry over medium heat on a nonstick skillet. Enjoy immediately, preferably with a margarita or cold Mexican beer.
If you can’t find dried guajillo peppers, sub any dried mexican/southwestern peppers you can find, such as ancho, new mexico, california, or pasilla.
Birria Tacos Recipe
Amount Per Serving (3 tacos)
Calories from Fat 157
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 4.2g26%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.