Social media is a breeding ground for the latest and greatest trends in the culinary arts. It just takes one “influencer” to set off a chain reaction of foodie Instagram accounts to recreate the same dish over and over. Your feed will become full of alternate angles, step-by-step recipes, and highly polished platings of the next big thing in the food world. We’ve already shared everything you need to know about tomahawk steaks, one of the current darlings of the high-end food world. Now, allow us to dive into birria tacos, which have not so quietly become one of the most popular dishes on the internet.
What Is Birria?
Birria is a traditional cuisine from the Mexican state of Jalisco. In the simplest terms, birria is a stew of meat (often goat or beef), herbs, and spices cooked at a low heat for a long time. The word birria was a colloquial expression for something “worthless,” a nod to the fact that goats, which were brought by Spanish conquistadors, proliferated in Mexico and were considered to be unfit for consumption. But the slightly gamey, hearty meat was perfect for a slow-cooked meal with a variety of herbs like thyme, garlic, chili peppers, and more. The result is a fragrant, complex, delicious meal.
Traditionally, birria might be served in a bowl or on bread or tortillas. There was never a strict codification of birria so to attempt to reach for pure authenticity is fruitless. But, in Mexico, many have embraced the complex history of birria and both street vendors and home chefs have offered different takes on the dish by using a variety of meats and spices. For instance, early recipes used a dry herb rub but more recently chefs have used wet marinades for their birria.
Why Did Birria Tacos Become So Popular?
You might notice a word missing in the above explanation: “tacos.” Birria tacos are a relatively recent phenomenon and the uptick in popularity can be reliably traced back to social media. While birria can be served on tortillas, the rise of birria tacos or quesabirria, vibrant and cheesy birria tacos, is fueled by the allure of social media. “The hype for birria is relentless,” shared Tejal Rao in The New York Times. “On Instagram, there’s a collective fetishization of cheese pulls in extreme close-ups, and images of tacos half-dipped in Styrofoam cups of meaty broth. The parade of magnificent, bonkers mash-ups is endless — birria waffles, birria pizza, birria fries, birria pho, birria tortellini. Birria cooking videos work more like pieces of choreography on TikTok, changing slightly each time a new person performs them. This means that, yes, somewhere, a white woman is sharing her ‘authentic birria’ recipe made with boneless beef, packaged bone broth, a few shakes of smoked pimentón and some puréed carrots — the dark side of internet fame, for any dish.”
That last point alludes to the downside of any wildly popular dish. The question of what’s “authentic” is overlooked by what’s trendy. In birria’s case, it’s even more complicated because the dish has such an elusive backstory. Nonetheless, there are plenty of Mexican and Mexican-American chefs and restaurant owners bringing the spotlight to this creative dish. And social media users have highlighted the rich, fatty qualities of birria which work so well alongside cheesy tacos.
It’s that inherent photogenic quality of birria tacos that has made them so famous among Instagram and TikTok users. And, they’re surprisingly not too difficult to make.
What Do You Need to Cook Them?
First things first, you’ll need time and patience. Because birria is a slow-cooked stew, you’ll need to let it sit for a couple of hours. You’ll also need to assemble all of the proper ingredients. While birria tacos aren’t particularly hard, the process is a bit involved so we recommend consulting your recipe of choice and prepping everything well in advance.
Meat – Traditional birria calls for either goat or beef. Lamb, oxtail, or even tofu can work in this stew. When using beef or lamb make sure to get bone-in to give the stock some extra texture. While the meat is simmering, make sure to skim some excess fat off the top of the stew and save that for your birria tacos.
Vegetables – The birria stew uses a selection of vegetables like onions and carrots along with crushed tomatoes. Plus, pick out your favorite peppers like guajillo chiles, poblanos, or others.
Herbs/Spices – Fresh herbs and spices are best but you can dip into your spice rack for birria. You’ll need garlic, ginger, cumin, bay leaves, thyme, salt, black pepper, and more.
Cookware – A dedicated crockpot is perfect for birria but any sturdy and oven-safe pot works great. Additionally, you’ll need a high-power blender to make your pepper puree, necessary for the birria stew. A skillet and several stovetop pans will be required for the taco prep.
The 5 Best Birria Taco Recipes
Beef and Oxtail Birria Tacos – Binging with Babish
One of YouTube’s most beloved food celebs, Babish tries his hand at the uber-popular birria tacos. Babbish uses beef chuck and oxtail as the meat and adds in some extra heat with a few additional peppers. While the recipe is long and time-consuming the actual process should be relatively easy if you allow enough prep time.
Birria de Res & Quesabirria Tacos – The New York Times
The New York Times offered up two distinct recipes, one for straight up birria, which can be served as a soup, and one for the trendy quesabirria tacos. The catch is that you’ll need to follow the birria de res recipe to make the tacos. This particular birria recipe uses bone-in beef shoulder, which can be substituted for goat or lamb stew cuts. Either way, you’ll end up with a delicious plate of birria tacos.
Beef Birria Tacos – Munchies
Andrés Galindo, owner of Nene’s Deli Taqueria in Brooklyn, hosted this episode of Munchies sharing his recipe for quesabirria tacos. Galindo is well known for his birria tacos and took an all-beef approach to this recipe. He also swapped in a stovetop simmer rather than cooking the beef in the oven. If you’re after a delicious birria taco, this video will help you get there.
Slow Cooker Birria de Res – Muy Bueno
If you’d rather a “set it and forget it” approach to cooking birria, this recipe from Muy Bueno uses a classic crockpot for a delicious birria de res. This recipe calls for beef chuck roast or shank but you can swap in pork.
Vegan Birria Tacos – Eat Figs Not Pigs
And for all those vegetarians/vegans looking to get in on the latest food trend, Eat Figs Not Pigs put together this vegan birria taco recipe which uses mushrooms and vegan cheese. Expect a slightly earthy yet still rich, spicy, and sumptuous birria taco recipe.