There are few foods more universally beloved than the simple taco. And while I’ll always have affection for the stale yellow taco shells and shredded cheddar of my youth, it’s the soft tortillas topped with ingredients like smoky-sweet pork and pickled onions that make me want to be a better cook.
It’s easy to make tacos, but great tacos are a much loftier goal. You need the right ingredients, sure, but also the right tools. With this knowledge in mind, I polled food experts about the tools they use to make the best tacos at home, and even did some thinking about what I use in my own kitchen. Here are three suggestions.
1. A cast iron skillet
I know a lot of people might say they love to grill or slow cook the protein for their tacos, but I’m a big fan of a simple cast iron skillet. For me, the best tacos are about texture (and flavor too, of course!)—the tender chew of the tortilla, the sweet crunch of some radishes and raw onion, the moist but never mushy protein—and a screaming hot cast iron is perfect for getting a really great, crusty sear on some shrimp or chorizo before plopping it in a taco.
The Food Lab’s J. Kenji López-Alt agrees, but he takes it a step further, even charring his tortillas in his trusty skillet
My cast iron skillet is an essential tool for taco nights. It's great for heating up corn tortillas and giving them a nice char. I can use it to sear carne asada or marinated chicken for fillings. It's also fantastic for crisping up shredded pork carnitas, either directly on the stovetop or transferred to under the broiler in the oven.
2. A masa grinder
It’s easy to buy pre-made tortillas, but the best tortillas are made fresh. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, Saveur Magazine’s test kitchen director Stacy Adimando thinks it’s worth the effort to make your own from scratch.
To me, the thing that turns a taco from good to great is a fresh, authentic corn tortilla. You can make them quickly using store-bought corn flour or masa harina, but when I want tortillas of the absolute best texture and flavor, I use a molino de mano to grind my own dried corn (or nixtamal). It works sort of like a hand-cranked pasta machine: you sprinkle soaked corn on top and turn the handle, and you're left with the softest, fluffiest masa for making homemade corn tortillas.
3. A good knife
I’m no professional chef, but I can tell you this much: the best tacos I’ve eaten have all incorporated fresh produce. A really excellent salsa fresca, thin slices of avocado, onion, or radish—they all elevate your taco to a new level of deliciousness.
The thing about making salsa fresca is that it’s a huge pain if your knife isn’t up to the task. A good knife can make quick work of tomatoes, chiles, and onions, but a dull or unbalanced blade can turn the task tedious—and dangerous.
If you’re going to be throwing together some salsa, or maybe just adding some other sliced produce to the mix, you’ll want a good knife. Period.
With these tools, you’re ready to make the best tacos ever. Load up the fridge with some fresh ingredients and get cooking! ¡La vida es buena!