Birria Tacos. Photo: KnowInsiders
Birria Tacos. Photo: KnowInsiders

Birria Tacos are made with irresistible shredded beef stuffed into a corn tortilla soaked in birria broth, then pan fried until crispy and dipped again in this rich and flavorful broth. This birria recipe can easily be made on the stove top, in the Instant pot and in the slow cooker.

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 stew that’s slow cooked until the beef 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.

What Is Birria?

Birria or Birria de res is a classic Mexican dish that originated in the state of Jalisco, although many variations of this dish can be found in other parts of the country where it is made with different meats, different spice blends and prepared with different cooking methods.

Traditionally made with goat or lamb’s meat, it’s also made with pork and beef which are easier to find in markets in the United states and Mexico. Stew meats like chuck roast or short ribs are braised in a mixture of dried chili, onions, garlic and spices such as cumin, oregano, marjoram and cloves.

This amazing Mexican stew is usually sold by street vendors or restaurants called birrerias and is also made at homes in indoor kitchens or in outdoor underground pits. This Mexican dish is usually served on special occasions like holidays and weddings.

What are Birria Tacos Made Of?

Birria Tacos or tacos de birria are made with fork-tender braised beef stuffed in a corn tortilla that was first dipped in savory birria-broth and then pan fried until crispy and golden brown. These amazingly delicious Mexican tacos are topped with crumbled cheese, onions, cilantro and other toppings and served with a small bowl of birria-broth for dunking.

Difference between birria and barbacoa

How To Make Birria Tacos: Best Tips and Tricks

The traditional cooking method for both birria and barbacoa beef is the same – lamb or goat is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an underground oven until tender.

However, barbacoa is essentially just cooked meat, while birria also flavors the meat by submerging it in a spiced sauce. The end result is a stew that can be eaten as-is, served with rice, or pan fried in tortillas dipped in the sauce created when cooking.

Birria Ingredients

The best cut of beef for birria tacos. 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 cab sirloin, but if Steph had her way, she would use short ribs. But, since she’s not cooking, we ended up with a cab 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!

Photo: Pinterest
Photo: Pinterest

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 Tacos

To sear the meat

Bring the meat to room temperature, about 30 minutes and then sprinkle liberally on all sides with kosher salt. In a large Dutch oven (or a pot with an oven-proof lid), set over medium-high heat, add the neutral oil. When hot, add the meat and sear on all sides until browned. I like to do a hard sear. You’ll have to do this in batches. Transfer to a bowl.

To make the sauce

Meanwhile, in another medium pot, add the dried chiles, halved white onion, garlic cloves, tomatoes, spices, bay leaves and add cold water until it covers everything. Place over medium heat and simmer gently for about 15 minutes. Pour through a strainer and transfer everything (including the whole spices) to a blender. If your blender is small you may need to do this in batches.

Add the apple cider vinegar and about 1 cup of beef broth or water and blend until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Add salt to taste (I added about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt).

*Note: I have a high-powerer blender and it resulted in a super smooth sauce. If you have a blender that is meh, you may want to run the sauce through a strainer to discard any big bits the blender didn’t puree. Very optional!

To braise the meat

Preheat the oven to 300F. Add the meat back to the pot and pour the sauce over it. To the blender, add the remaining 2 cups of broth or water and swish it around to pick up any leftover sauce and pour it into the pot. Place over medium heat until it reaches a gentle simmer and then immediately cover and transfer to the preheated oven. Cook for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender.

For the Birria

Photo: Basil & Bubbly
Photo: Basil & Bubbly

Preheat oven to 350º F. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, over medium heat add guajillo, morita and pasilla chiles. Toast the chiles for 1 to 2 minutes, moving frequently to ensure they don’t scorch. Remove to a medium bowl and cover with enough boiling water to cover the chiles, about 3 cups. Use a small plate or bowl to completely submerge the chiles. Let sit for 20 minutes or until rehydrated and pliable. Remove the chiles and reserve the liquid.

While the chiles soak, season beef with salt and pepper. Increase the heat in the dutch oven to medium high and add vegetable oil. Working in batches, sear the beef thoroughly (6 to 7 minutes per side for the brisket/roast, 4 to 5 minutes for the bone-in parts). Remove seared beef to a plate or cutting board.

In a blender add the dehydrated chiles, garlic, cloves, cinnamon stick, oregano, cumin seeds, tomatoes, vinegar and 1 ½ cups of the chile liquid. Blend for about a minute or until the mixture becomes a pourable paste.

Return the beef to the Dutch oven over medium heat and add the quartered onion and bay leaves. Add the chile paste and enough water to just cover the beef (for us this was 3 to 4 cups of water). Bring the birria to a simmer.

Remove the Dutch oven from the heat, cover and move it to the preheated oven. Braise the birria for 4 to 4 ½ hours or until all of the beef is fork tender. Discard the bay leaves and onion and move the beef to a cutting board. Reserve all of the broth (or consomé). Shred the beef and set aside.

Taste the consomé and season with salt and pepper. Depending on your preference of the style of birria you want, you may want a thinner consomé. If you want to thin it out, add your desired amount of water, chicken or beef stock. Bring to a simmer and taste/season again.

Birria can be stored in the fridge, in airtight containers, meat and consomé separated, for up to 5 days.

For the Birria Quesatacos

In a saucepan, over medium low heat, bring the consomé to a bare simmer (there should be a layer of dark red looking fat/oil on the top). Construct a taco station that includes: the consomé simmering on one burner, a cast-iron pan or plancha heated over medium heat, a plate of shredded beef from the birria, and corn tortillas to the side, as well as small bowls filled with shredded Oaxaca cheese, cilantro and chopped onions.

Working in batches, take about ⅓ cup of beef and add to the pan or plancha and begin to reheat and sear the beef, tossing occasionally to ensure even browning. Take one corn tortilla and dip it shallowly into the consomé, coating both sides with the dark red fat. Place the tortilla on the pan or plancha and cover with Oaxaca cheese.

Fry the tortilla for 3 minutes or until the cheese has mostly melted and the underside has browned and started to crisp. Place the now seared meat on one half of the tortilla and top with cilantro and white onion. Fold the tortilla into a taco, sear each side for an additional 30 seconds and remove. Repeat this process until you have run out of beef.

Serve the tacos topped with cilantro and onion, with lime wedges on the side, and small bowls of consomé for dipping.

Birria Taco Variations

Photo: FeedFeed
Photo: FeedFeed

Bowl of Stew: Serve birria as a stew with rice and some tortillas on the side.

Crispy Baked Tacos: Assemble the tacos, place them in a baking dish, top with lots of cheddar and bake until crispy.

Mexican Soft Tacos: Don’t fry or sauté the corn tortillas. Simply warm them up and fill them with shredded birria without adding any juices.

Birria Pizza: Yes, you heard that right! Pizza dough, mozzarella cheese, shredded meat, diced onions and cilantro. After it is baked, top with thinly sliced radishes and serve it with a bowl of consommé or broth. Birria pizza is the perfect meal to make with leftovers.

Birria Ramen: This is one of the best mashups ever! The stewed meat juices or consommé is used as Ramen broth. Simply cook the ramen noodles in that savory flavor-loaded consommé, then add some sliced onions, shredded cabbage, cilantro, lime juice and a Ramen egg. You are ready to slurp away!

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.

Tips and Tricks

* Cuts of meat – You can substitute in goat, lamb or if you can choose oxtail instead of short ribs.

* To make this ahead: I actually think this is a great make-ahead meal. You can make the birria first, shred the meat and store the sauce in the fridge. The fat will solidify on the top. You can use that to the pan with the tortillas if you like. Or you can warm it back up when you’re ready to serve.

* Most of these ingredients like Mexican cinnamon, dried chiles and Mexican oregano at a Latin supermarket.

* If you’re not using Mexican cinnamon, remove it and discard it when you’re done boiling all of the chiles. Mexican cinnamon is very brittle and will easily blend up. But if it’s from say Saigon or somewhere else, it tends to be very hard. I wouldn’t put your blender through that!

* To Make it in the Slow-Cooker – You can make this recipe in the slow-cooker by adding the meat and sauce to a slow cooker. Add the broth and set it to high and let it braise for 6-7 hours.

* To Make it in the Instant Pot – Sear the meat in the IP. Pour the sauce in, along with the broth. Close the seal, set the setting to “high pressure” and press the “Stew Meat” option. This should be about 50 minutes. Do a natural release. And it should be perfect!

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