When, last winter, I became aware for the first time of quesabirria, I started trying and trying to think of the thermal angle we could find to justify cooking these remarkable tacos for the blog. So boy howdy was I happy when I came across a great recipe from Smokedbbqsource.com that, while not being strictly authentic, did include some great thermal thinking and even some doneness temperatures!
So we made them, and now we have a new favorite kind of taco. Let’s take a look.
What are birria tacos? What is quesabirria?
Birria tacos (called simply quesabirria in Mexico) are a relatively new addition to the great canon of Mexican street foods, and one I’m delighted has caught on. First, let’s start with what birria is—a richly seasoned meat stew, often made with fatty cuts of meat. 1 The liquid from the stew is called consommé (as are many broths in Mexican cuisine). When making birria, the fat that renders from the meat rises to the top of the consommé, forming a clear, red layer on the surface of the stew. This is essential for what follows!
For quesabirra, a tortilla is dipped through the layer of liquid fat that accumulates on top of the stew and into the stew liquid, coating it in red, seasoned beef fat. It is then filled with shredded cheese and the shredded beef from the birria itself, folded over to make a classic taco shape, and then fried on both sides. The result is a taco that is gooey-cheesy, savory, messy, fatty, crisp, and beyond delicious.
You can serve them with a cup of the consommé alongside, for dipping purposes. (Though the consommé we’ll be making here is too thick and rich for sipping, you could water it down to a more broth-like consistency.) But really what you want is some salsa, cilantro, onion, and fresh lime wedges. To maximize your enjoyment, we’ve included a killer recipe for salsa in the recipe below that you can easily make while the meat is cooking.
Smoking the meat for birria tacos
As you know, I’m not one to stickle for authenticity, and my inclination to play with food in a fun cross-cultural manner is strong. So you can imagine how happy I was to find a recipe for quesabirria that included BBQ and smoke-braising in the technique!
By first seasoning then smoking beef chuck 2 before braising it, we get more layers of flavor. Cut the chuck into three-inch chunks to increase their surface area, seasoning ratio, and cooking speed, all of which are good things.
We smoked the beef at 275°F (135°C) until it reached an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C), then put it in a pan with the hot consommé, covered it, and cooked it at 300°F (149°C) until it reached about 203°F (95°C).
Now hold on there. Did I say about 203°F (95°C)? What about our obsession with accuracy? Well, as you may remember from other blog posts, collagen dissolution is dependent not on temperature alone, but on temperature and time. Getting these cubes of meat up to temp as quickly as we do doesn’t give them enough time in the collagen-melt-zone to fully tenderize. It may take more time before the meat becomes shreddable. We use a Smoke X2™ to keep an eye on the temps so that we can know when to check the beef for tenderness. Once it gets to 203°F (95°C), we can probe it with a Thermapen®. Our cubes were still feeling tight when our alarm sounded, so we reset it for 2 degrees higher and let them ride a bit longer.
Prepping quesabirria in advance
In the end, it took about 90 minutes to smoke the meat then about 2 hours to braise it up to both temp and tenderness. We made the consommé during the initial smoke, and that saved some time, but this is far from a “weeknight meal.” That being said, you could easily smoke and braise the beef and even shred the beef then save the ingredients for the next day, or even a few days later. When dinnertime comes, warm the consommé and the meat and assemble the tacos on your griddle.
These are outstanding tacos. And not just in the way that all tacos are outstanding tacos, either. These tacos amaze. They astonish. They convert.
Yes, the ingredients list is long; but those are almost all just spices you might already have in your cupboard. Yes, there are lots of steps, but none of them is difficult. And with the right tools, there are certainly no thermal difficulties! Make these. You’ll have a new favorite taco.Print
- 5 lb chuck roast
- 3 Tbsp black pepper
- 3 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1 ½ Tbsp garlic granules
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried thyme
For the consommé
- 3 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil
- 1 large can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes, juice from the can separated and set aside
- 4 Tbsp chipotles with adobo sauce
- 16 peppercorns
- 16 allspice berries
- 3 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 bulb of garlic, 8-10 cloves, peeled
- 3” stick Mexican cinnamon (canela) (Mexican cinnamon is less hard and tough than “regular” cinnamon sticks and is much better for this recipe)
- 4 guajillo chilies, stems and seeds removed
- 3 ancho chilies, stems and seeds removed
- ½ white or yellow onion
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 ½ Tbsp salt
- ¼ C cider vinegar
- 2 C water
For the tacos themselves
- 10–16 oz grated Mexican melting cheese (or low-moisture mozzarella)
- Corn tortillas
- Diced white onion
- Salsa (see included recipe for a good suggestion)
First, get the meat smoking
- Preheat your smoker to 275°F (135°C). Use the air probe from your Smoke X2 to monitor the temp and make sure it stays in the right range.
- Cut the chuck into pieces that are about 3″ cubes. Toss them with the dry rub.
- Place the meat chunks in the smoker and probe them with a leave-in probe. Set the high-temp alarm on your Smoke X2 for 160°F (71°C). Smoke the meat.
In the meantime, make the consommé
- Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Cook the tomatoes in the oil for about 3 minutes.
- Add the chipotles, garlic, pepper, and allspice. Crush the canela stick and add it. In fact, add all the consommé ingredients, including the reserved juice from the canned tomatoes.
- Stir them together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
- After the hour is up, move all the contents of the pot to a blender jar and puree. Remember to start on low speed whenever blending hot ingredients!
- Add more water if the result seems too pasty. You want a semi-viscous but easily pourable mixture.
Smoke-braise the meat
- When the high-temp alarm sounds on your Smoke X2, move the meat chunks to a pan that is deep enough to hold them.
- Fill the pan with the hot consommé. Cover with foil.
- Put the pan of meat in the smoker and insert a probe through the foil into a large meat chunk. Set the high-temp alarm on the meat channel for 203°F (95°C).
- Increase your smoker’s temperature to 300°F (149°C).
- Smoke-braise the meat.
- When the high-temp alarm sounds, verify both the temperature and the tenderness with a Thermapen. If it is either not hot enough or not yet probe-tender, continue to cook.
- Remove the meat from heat.
Make the tacos!
- Remove the meat from the braising liquid and shred it.
- Heat a cast-iron pan or a griddle to 350–375°F (177–191°C). (You can use an infrared thermometer to get it just right.)
- Dip a tortilla through the liquid fat on top of the consommé into the soup underneath, then pull it out and place it on the griddle. Cook it for about 15–20 seconds on one side, then flip it over with a spatula.
- Place a small heap (1–2 Tbsp) of shredded cheese on one side of the tortilla, then a small pile of meat. Don’t overfill them!
- Fold one half of the tortilla over the fillings and cook the taco for about 30 seconds before flipping it over and cooking on the other side for about 30–45 seconds.
- Remove the taco to a platter and continue to cook the remaining tacos. Cook as many at one time as you can fit on your griddle.
- Serve with cilantro, limes, onion, and salsa! You can also pass the remaining consommé at the table for dipping.
- Optional final step: go back to the store and buy more ingredients so you can make them again tomorrow.
Salsa recipe to accompany quesabirria
Though you can use any salsa you like for these tacos, we find that this version works particularly well with them. And it’s incredibly easy to make, so that’s nice.
For the Salsa
- 10–12 medium tomatillos
- 3 chile negro pods (dried pasilla chilies), stems removed
- 15 chili de arbol pods, stems removed
- 1/2 medium onion
- 5–8 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/4 bunch cilantro
- salt to taste
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.
- Add the de-husked tomatillos and the dried chilies to the pot and boil for 8–10 minutes.
- Remove the tomatillos and chilies from the water and put them in the jar of a blender. Add the onion, garlic, and cilantro.
- Blend, starting on low speed because the ingredients are hot, working up to high speed until the salsa is well blended and smooth.
- Add salt to taste.
This recipe makes well more than you’ll need for the tacos, and you’ll be glad. Get a bag of tortilla chips and go to town.
Shop now for tools used in this post:
The birria for tacos like this is often made with beef, but the traditional stew itself, when eaten as a stew, is most often goat or lamb. I would love to try the tacos made with the goat version of the stew!↩
You can use another nice fatty cut of meat for this. Short rib would be amazing, brisket would be grand.↩