These shredded beef tacos are made with gently spiced and braised brisket that’s smothered, as tradition calls, with cheese, sour cream, pickled red onion, cabbage, lime, and cilantro. Behold, the best brisket tacos.
If what you crave is shredded beef that’s fall-apart tender and noticeably but mildly spiced, you’ve found what you’re looking for in these brisket tacos. A slow and easy braise coaxes brisket, a relatively inexpensive cut of meat that can be notoriously tough, into knee-wobblingly tender submission. Top it with traditional pickled red onions, cilantro, and a sprinkling, if you can find it, of Cotija cheese for a beguiling blend of heat, crisp, tart, cool, and creamy. Those spice packets and ground beef will never again taste the same after these.–David Leite
Shredded Beef Tacos
For the brisket
- 1 (3- to 4-pound) first-cut beef brisket
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium red onion quartered
- 8 garlic cloves or garlic confit cloves
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 4 cups homemade beef broth
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves plus more for garnish
- 1 bay leaf
For the shredded beef tacos
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- Eight to twelve (8-inch) corn tortillas
- 2 cups shredded napa cabbage
- 1 cup pickled red onions
- 1/2 cup crumbled Cotija cheese
- 1 or 2 limes cut into wedges for serving
Make the brisket
- Preheat the oven to 275°F (135°C).
- Season the brisket on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add the brisket to the pot and brown on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes per side.
- Remove the brisket from the pot and place on a plate. Add the onion to the drippings in the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, 4 to 6 minutes, reducing the heat to medium if needed. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes more. Add the vinegar and stir to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate all the pan drippings.
- If making the brisket in the oven, to the pot with the vinegar, pour in the broth, tomatoes, and tomato paste and bring to a simmer. Add the cumin, paprika, coriander, cilantro, and bay leaf. Season with salt. Return the brisket to the pot, fatty side up, and pour in any accumulated juices from the plate. Cover and transfer to the oven. Braise for 4 hours. Remove the pot from the oven and carefully transfer the brisket to a large cutting board, reserving the liquid in the pot. Let the brisket rest for around 10 minutes. You may want to remove the visible layer of fat before shredding. Using 2 forks, shred the brisket in the direction of the grain—the meat should come apart easily. Return the shredded brisket to the pot and stir to incorporate with the juices. Return the covered pot to the oven and cook until very tender, about 1 hour more. Remove the pot from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes.
If making the brisket in a slow cooker, transfer everything in the pot to the slow cooker. Add the broth, tomatoes, and tomato paste and stir to combine. Add the cumin, paprika, coriander, cilantro, and bay leaf and season with salt. Transfer the brisket to the slow cooker, fatty side up, and pour in any accumulated juices from the plate. Cook on medium until very tender, about 8 hours. Carefully transfer the brisket to a large cutting board, reserving the liquid in the pot. Let the brisket rest for around 10 minutes. You may want to remove the visible layer of fat before shredding. Using 2 forks, shred the brisket in the direction of the grain—the meat should come apart easily. Return the shredded brisket to the slow cooker and stir to incorporate with the juices.
Assemble the shredded beef tacos
- When ready to serve, in a small bowl, combine the sour cream, lime juice, and sea salt. Warm the tortillas in a skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute on each side.
- Scoop some shredded brisket on each tortilla. Garnish with the cabbage, a dollop of the sour cream mixture, some pickled red onions, and a sprinkle of Cotija cheese. Serve with wedges of lime on the side.
Shredded Beef Tacos VariationMexican Variation Top with 2 cups (190 g) shredded purple cabbage; 1 cup (75 g) pickled radishes; and 1/2 cup (50 g) crumbled queso fresco. Summer Variation Top with 2 cups (290 g) raw summer corn, cut from the cob; 1 cup (75 g) pickled poblanos; and 1/2 cup (60 g) crumbled queso blanco.
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Recipe Testers’ Reviews
These brisket tacos are definitely a special occasion kind of meal, as they take all day to finish, but they are worth it in the end. The slow roast gives the meat a delicious finish and makes a great taco.
I followed the original recipe, using the napa cabbage and Cotija cheese and loved the balance of the flavors, though the variations also look delicious. The ingredients also came together nicely for a taco salad of the leftovers the next day. We’ve nicknamed these the “6 hour tacos.” I loved the addition of the pickled onions, though I would probably skip adding the lime juice to the sour cream next time as the onions provided enough acidity for my taste.
This recipe made for very tasty brisket tacos. The shredded beef was tender and juicy and the accompaniments were the perfect addition. I made the red cabbage and pickled radish variation.
I opted to use a slow cooker and cooked the brisket on medium for 6 hours. I went to shred it and I found that it still was not fully tender nor did it shred easily. I returned it to the slow cooker and let it cook 2 hours longer, at which point it was very tender and shredded easily, so I served it then with red cabbage and pickled radishes. Overall, really tasty.
Originally published November 27, 2018
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
I couldn’t make these brisket tacos on a Tuesday because we had plans to be out, so made it on a Thursday instead, which my husband has now dubbed, “Thaco Thursday,” which doesn’t have the same ring as Taco Tuesday, but he will always remember our inaugural Thaco Thursday, as this recipe was amazing! The beef was tender and fell apart. The sauce you build is flavorful while still using easy-to-find pantry staples. While it does cook all day, it has very little hands-on time and easily feeds a crowd. I love a recipe that requires little technique but tastes like you are a pro chef! This recipe is a keeper!
I used feta cheese as you can’t get Mexican ingredients at the regular grocery store in London. In the future, I would cook the brisket and then refrigerate the meat and sauce separately overnight. The next day, to serve, I would defat the sauce and finish cooking the sauce and meat.