Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Slow Cooker Browns-in-the-Crockpot Spicy Ground Beef for Tacos, Burritos, or Taco Salad

Slow Cooker Spicy Ground Beef for Tacos, Burritos, or Taco Salad
Ground Beef goes in the slow cooker with spices and hot sauce, and a few hours later you have perfectly browned and seasoned ground beef for tacos, burritos, or taco salad!

Maybe everyone but me knows about the idea of cooking ground beef in the slow cooker without pre-browning the meat, but when I saw this idea popping up on various blogs, I was intrigued.  I don't use a lot of ground beef, but I do love Taco Salad, and the idea of having Spicy Ground Beef for Tacos, Burritos, or Taco Salad in the freezer was enough to get me to try this method.  I love the ground beef tacos you get at a Mexican restaurant, where the meat is highly seasoned and very finely broken apart, so that's what I was going for.  I was fully prepared to try this several times to perfect the recipe, but my first try was a winner!  I did use a very generous amount of Cholula Hot Sauce to season the meat, so if you're making this for kids (or adults who don't like much heat) you probably want to use the smaller amount listed in the recipe.

There's a lot to love about this recipe, but an added bonus is that you can cook this meat in the slow cooker without heating up the house, so you can enjoy Taco Salad all summer long.  (On my other blog, Slow Cooker from Scratch I'm sharing Slow Cooker Summer Dinners for the next few months, and this is definitely perfect for that!)

I know some people start with frozen ground beef, but that didn't appeal to me so I thawed the meat overnight in the fridge.  Put 3 pounds of very lean ground beef in the slow cooker, breaking it apart with your hands.  (I used the Ninja Cooker that Lydia sent me, but you can use any 4-5 quart slow cooker.)

Mix together the Cholula hot sauce (original flavor), ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, salt, and water.

Pour the spicy mixture over the ground beef.

Then use a large spoon to stir the seasoning mixture into the ground beef and start to cook on high.

After an hour I used a potato masher to start to break the meat apart.  At this point I was worried that I shouldn't have added the water, but it worked out fine.

At two hours I mashed the mixture with the potato masher again, and the water was being absorbed nicely.

After three hours the ground beef is getting to be just the texture I wanted.  It was probably done enough at this point, but I let it cook about 45 minutes more.

I got about  little containers of seasoned ground beef to put in the freezer, and each one was enough to make a large taco salad or several tacos.

Slow Cooker "Browns-in-the-Crockpot" Spicy Ground Beef for Tacos, Burritos, or Taco Salad
(Makes enough highly seasoned spicy ground beef to make about 9 taco salads, 9 burritos, or 12 tacos.  Recipe created by Kalyn with inspiration from Mexican Restaurant taco meat and several posts on various blogs about browning ground beef in the slow cooker.)

I used my 6 quart Ninja Cooker to make this, but it was barely over half full, so any 4 or 5 quart slow cooker will do.  (I froze most of my meat, and if you have a really large slow cooker you might even want to increase the recipe.)

3 lb. lean ground beef (I used lean ground beef from Costco with 9% fat; don't use fatty ground beef since you're not draining the meat)
1/2 - 3/4 cup Cholula hot sauce (Buy the big size bottle at Costco or at a Mexican market for this recipe.  For kids, I would definitely use the smaller amount of hot sauce.)
2 T ground cumin
2 T garlic powder
2 T onion powder
1 tsp. coarse grind black pepper (or less, to taste)
salt to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp.)
1/4 cup water (plus 2 T more water as needed if you're using the smaller amount of hot sauce)

Thaw ground beef overnight in the fridge, or if you forget to plan ahead, thaw in hot water for about 20-30 minutes.  Spray cooker with non-stick spray, then put the thawed ground beef into the slow cooker, breaking it apart with your hands.  

Mix Cholula hot sauce, ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, salt, and water.  Pour the hot sauce mixture over the ground beef and use a large spoon to stir it into the meat.  

Cook the meat and spice mixture on high for 3-4 hours.  After each hour, remove the lid and use an old-fashioned potato masher to mash the meat mixture about 8-10 times, so that by the time it is done the meat will be finely crumbled.  If you're using the smaller amount of hot sauce, you might want to add a couple of tablespoons of water part way through the cooking time.  (You can probably cook this for 6-8 hours on low and mash it every couple of hours, but I haven't tried that.)

Use meat mixture to make Taco Salad, Ground Beef Tacos, or Beef Burritos.  The meat freezes well.  I freeze mine in small containers so I can thaw it quickly in the microwave whenever that Taco Salad craving hits me.

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South Beach Suggestions:
If you use lean ground beef and a moderate amount of low-fat cheese and Ranch dressing, you can make Taco Salad with this meat, suitable for any phase of the South Beach Diet.  Tacos or burritos made with whole wheat or low-carb tortillas could be eaten for phase two or three.

Nutritional Information?
I chose the South Beach Diet to manage my weight partly so I wouldn't have to count calories, carbs, points, or fat grams, but if you want nutritional information for a recipe, I recommend entering the recipe into Calorie Count, which will calculate it for you.

CrockPot Spicy Ground Beef for Tacos, Burritos, and Taco Salad

More Tacos from the Slow Cooker:
(Recipes from other blogs not always South Beach Diet friendly; check ingredients.)
Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken Tacos ~ Living Lou
Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos with Spicy Slaw and Avocado ~ Kalyn's Kitchen
Slow Cooker Barbacoa Tacos ~ Leite's Culinaria
Slow Cooker Spicy Shredded Chicken Lettuce Wrap Tacos ~ Kalyn's Kitchen
Slow-Cooked Carnitas Tacos ~ Bella Eats 
(Want even more recipes? I find these recipes from other blogs using Food Blog Search.)

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Posts may include links to my affiliate account at Amazon.com, and this blog earns a few cents on the dollar if readers purchase the items I recommend, so thanks for supporting my blog when you shop at Amazon!


  1. Oh, this is absolutely my kind of recipe! For some reason, I've never thought of cooking ground beef (or ground turkey?) in the slow cooker. Now I can't imagine why not. Definitely going on my list to try ASAP. (And I have to say that a slow cooker that lets you brown and slow cook in the same pot is brilliant, isn't it?)

  2. Lydia, I am loving the taco meat. And I do love how the Ninja will let you brown things, but you can do this in any slow cooker.

  3. I love that you can do this! I do this with ground turkey all the time. I hate standing at the stove cooking it. I just throw in the crockpot and it works so great :)

  4. I had a couple of duh moments while reading this. First, I'm with you, I never thought of cooking ground beef in the crockpot and second using the crockpot more during the summer is a brilliant idea. I always thought of the crockpot as a winter cooking tool. How silly of me!!!! Anyhoo, I'm definitely going to try this as taco salads are also one of my favorites. Thanks. :-)

  5. Karen, I should have know you would be ahead of the curve on this method! I need to try it with ground turkey next.

    Chasing Joy, I was thrilled with how this produced perfectly browned meat with just the texture I wanted. Hope you enjoy!

  6. Hi Kalnyn, Love this idea. Wonder how vension would work? Since that seems to be our main meat will have to try it.

  7. Hi Patti, I'm guessing it will work great with venison; please let us know what you think!

  8. Why is it that I wind up saying to myself "Well, duh" when I read so many of your recipes? Thanks for making my light bulb go on once again. Totally gonna try this for a weekend slow cooker recipe.

  9. Donna, it's not just you. I feel that way regularly when I see things around the web! Glad you like!

  10. This looks awesome! I never thought of this either. Definitely in on this. My wife and I love taco salad. We usually roast some tomatoes and onions to go with it, then she makes a dressing out of smashed avacados and sour cream, darn good!

    One thing your missing though, corn starch. The corn starch turns the liquid into a sauce which sticks to the meat. I learned that from "AB's taco potion #19". This is his seasoning "mix", and I can attest to it's tasti-ness!

    2 tablespoons chili powder
    1 tablespoon ground cumin
    2 teaspoons cornstarch
    2 teaspoons kosher salt
    1 1/2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika
    1 teaspoon ground coriander
    1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

    Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/taco-potion-19-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

  11. Pyrofish, in my recipes I use low-glycemic ingredients (suitable for the South Beach diet, or for use by others who need to limit blood sugar.) Cornstarch is not something I would ever use in a recipe like this, and it's not needed either, the hot sauce is plenty thick.

  12. Aha, good point. I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense. Thanks for all you're doing Kalyn! Love the blog!

  13. I was intrigued by this recipe, so in the spirit of playing-with-my-food, I made it. I turned out very well. It seemed odd not to brown the meat, but, the flavor was very good. In fact, I used this instead of the Italian saugage for the grilled portobellos. It worked out just fine (i.e., there weren't any leftovers)! Thanks!

  14. Glad you liked it! I'm about to make my second batch.

  15. Could you do this same recipe with chicken breasts?

  16. Adriana, I'd look for a recipe that's meant for chicken, like Slow Cooker Spicy Chicken Lettuce Wrap Tacos. You can use that chicken in any taco, burrito, or tostada.

  17. Can i use a different hot sauce then that don't have it if so any recommendations i usually have red hot buffalo hot sauce or red hot original Cayenne pepper hot sauce

  18. I think any hot sauce you like the flavor of will work, although the original Tabasco is a lot hotter than the hot sauce I used. You might start with a smaller amount of hot sauce, you can always add more!


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