Optimal Taco Ingredient Stacking

Optimal Taco Stack Ingredients Order I’m on a home cooking streak, so on Thursday I thought I’d try making tacos. I bought everything I needed for about $7.00, enough raw ingredients for 2 or 3 meals, which seemed like a great deal to me! The only downside was the tendency for the tacos to explode upon contact with my mouth. Ingredients would fall out as I tried to angle for a good chomp, and the crisp taco shells have a tendency to shatter. Sweeping up the ruins of my first meal, I got to wondering if there was a better way.

Over the course of the next few meals, I worked out some guiding principles:

  • Finely-shredded cheese will fall off the taco if you put it on top, so put it on the bottom of the stack.
  • Meat over the cheese helps hold it in place. Meat next to cheese is generally a good thing, taste-wise.
  • Sour cream works well as a binder. Putting it over the meat creates a sticky layer that holds onto shredded lettuce.
  • Diced tomatoes are heavy and wet, and tend to clump, so they actually do stay put if you put them on the very top.

I still had issues with the cheese being difficult to handle on the initial loading of the shell, as bits of it would tend to get displaced by the meat as I ladled it on. Since I had to warm the shells anyway in the oven, I tried melting the cheese at the same time, nacho-style. I figured the melted cheese might also help the taco shell from getting too soggy from the meat sauce; this is similar to the way mayonnaise can keep a hamburger bun from getting soaked with juice. The unexpected bonus is that the melted cheese forms a laminating layer over the brittle corn shell, increasing its shatter resistance by an order of magnitude. The result: a hard taco that not only holds onto its ingredients, but also is easier to eat because it doesn’t explode in your hand.

Taco Stack Infographic Since I am a huge nerd, I decided to commemorate my adventure with an infographic. You can also grab the PDF version of the taco building graphic if you’re so inclined. Enjoy!

UPDATE: Added hot sauce injection points. See the comments for discussion :)

9 Comments

  1. Steve 6 years ago

    I completely agree with the shredded cheese on the bottom, right under the meat. It gets all melty and awesome that way!

    Do you use taco/hot sauce? If so, what kind and where does it fit in this structure?

    The work you’ve done here is commendable!

  2. Author
    Dave Seah 6 years ago

    Steve: I use hot sauce when I’m at Taco Bell, but usually not at a restaurant. I didn’t think of it when making these! I’m more into Asian hot sauces (I like the Ning Chi Preium [sic])—I’m really kind of lost when it comes to Mexican food.

    If I were to insert the hot sauce in the stack, though…I think it would depend when I wanted to taste it. A great multi-ingredient experience has several tastes that rise and fall at different times; it’s like a miniature symphony. Hot sauce has a kind of high pitch to it in terms of taste, and needs counterpoint (sweetness, perhaps) playing against a strong foundation (which is the meat, sour cream, and to some extent the tomato if it’s a really good one). The lead-in is probably going to be the crunch of the corn shell and its cardboard-corny taste, and then it’s the mass of flavors competing with each other.

    I see three options:

    • If I wanted the sting of hotness immediately on the lips, probably on the tomato or under it. I don’t really like this feeling, now that I think about it. This is the Taco Bell experience, because their stack is already built. This is annoying.
    • If I wanted it to blend more into the meat and hit me more slowly, then probably on top of the meat under the sour cream. The sour cream is going to cool down the heat, so I might want to add MORE hot sauce than usual. I think that would be a more integrated experience, the sauce merging with the earthy chili, meat, and beans.
    • I was thinking it might be even better under the meat layer on top of the cheese, or perhaps doing a split meat layer with the sauce between. The separation of sour cream and hot sauce might be pleasant, adding a third taste channel on the initial few bites. You might taste the meat-hot sauce-cheese combo first, as your tongue is likely going to taste the bottom of the taco first based on orientation. Then, after a bite or two, the sour cream and vegetable ingredients come in to put out the fire.

    I’d worry about sogginess if the sauce leaks onto a non-covered portion of the shell, but the melted cheese approach might curtail this somewhat.

    If I switched to SLICED cheese, I could lay down the laminate layer higher than what’s possible with shredded cheese. Hm.

    It might be worthwhile to use two hot sauce layers: one on the bottom between meat and cheese, and a different hot sauce (maybe a sweeter one) on top of the meat.

  3. Fred Schechter 6 years ago

    Ok, that does it, next california visit, we get you set up right! Also, you have to let me know if you’re ever in Long Beach California and I’ll set you up with THE BEST Carne Asada burrito on the planet. (Taqueria #2 1 block west of 4th & Redondo).

    On the other hand,,, hmmmm, asian hot sauces on tacos! Must try tonight!!!

  4. Patrick 6 years ago

    Agree 100%…It’s all about cheese placement!

  5. Chris 6 years ago

    Nobody has yet accused your tacos of not being “real tacos”? The Internet is slacking!

  6. Author
    Dave Seah 6 years ago

    The Internet trolls probably haven’t noticed because my site triggers the TL;DR response :)

  7. Elias Rangel 6 years ago

    You, sir, are a genius! It’s a wonderful graphic.

    • Gary 6 years ago

      amen to that!

A message from Dave:

I believe we all benefit when we respectfully share our perspectives on common experiences. My house rules are "please be respectful of divergent views" and "enjoy the flow of ideas!"

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