Awesome Slow-Cooker Spicy Shredded Beef Tacos

I’ve been meaning to do a taco post for ages. It’s one of our dinner staples here these days. I’ve made beef tacos that were browned in the wok, then marinated in the jus from the de-glazing, sliced thinly and sauteed in garlic, onion and chilies. I’ve also done pulled pork ones and ground beef ones. All have been awesome and utterly Sino-friendly.

About 3 years ago, we spent some time in Mexico before moving to Shanghai. It was there that I discovered the glories of piping hot soft tacos with spicy shredded beef and fresh salsa. These were tiny little flour tortillas the size of your palm, not the hard shells and certainly not those gargantuan wraps that you find in the supermarkets. They weren’t drowned in sour cream or fake cheddar. They were very simple and very good.

Each little tortilla we found at street stalls had a dollop of something meaty (or beany) on it- maybe sauteed chorizo or shredded chicken or grilled beef or pork or some crispy body part hacked up into bite sized pieces- and was served with a few fresh salsas (verde, roja, fresca), cilantro, lime, maybe some onion. I was partial to the salsa verde but you can’t get fresh tomatillos here. They were magnificent.

What we do here is very similar, or at least as similar as you can get when living in China.

For the tortilla, I tend to use my Xinjiang noodle dough (3 cups flour, 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons salt, mix, knead, rest, roll-out) and roll it out very, very thinly. You could also try this one or this one. The thinness lets it puff up like a chapati in the wok and gives it a soft airiness that is delicious and chewy.

I make my own salsa fresca with cherry tomatoes, cilantro, onion and chilies, marinated a few hours with lime juice (when limes are available) and a bit of crunchy kosher salt. If you can’t get fresh limes, then lemons will do, as will Chinese rice wine vinegar.

Those are the basics.

Today I want to show you how to make spicy shredded beef in the crock pot to go in the tacos. The recipe said it’d take 10 hours but mine was done in barely 5 hours. Go figure.

Their original recipe called for a ton of beef (which was way too much for us to eat as we’re minimal meat eaters) so I adjusted the proportions on the site using their portion converter.  I think this ended up being for 2 servings but it’s a lot of food- we each had 2 very filling tacos for dinner and there’s still enough left for the same tomorrow.

Also, I didn’t have most of the spices so, well, I changed pretty much everything.

Adjustments: I used about 4 cloves of garlic (sliced and inserted into the meat for marinating). For spices, I only used a teaspoon each of ground cumin, ground chilies and cinnamon.  I also threw in about a teaspoon of salt and a few grindings of black pepper. I marinated it in the dry spice rub overnight in the fridge. I liberally drizzled Worcestershire sauce into the crock pot (maybe a tablespoon or two) and used a few capfuls of red wine vinegar instead of beer. I had no liquid smoke, no hot pepper sauce, no bell peppers, no dried parsley. I threw in 1/3 of an onion and a few hot red chilies, roughly chopped.

Here is the real recipe if you actually want to follow instructions.



  • 1-1/4 pounds chuck roast
  • 3/4 clove garlic, crushed
  • 3/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon celery salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 2 tablespoons beer
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring
  • 1/4 large onion, chopped
  • 1/4 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 jalapeno chile peppers, chopped


And here are the real instructions, if you are any good at following them (I’m not)


  1. Using a sharp knife, poke several 1 inch deep holes in the roast. Insert the garlic slivers into the holes.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the paprika, celery salt, garlic powder, parsley, ground black pepper, chili powder, cayenne pepper and seasoned salt. Mix together well and rub over the meat.
  3. In a separate small bowl, combine the beer OR cola, Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce and liquid smoke and mix well. Place the roast in a slow cooker and pour this mixture over the meat.
  4. Add the onion, green bell pepper and jalapeno chile peppers to the slow cooker.
  5. Cook on low setting for 10 hours, or more, if desired.


I’ll show you what I did.

From Tesco's. Two unknown cuts of beef, totalling about 500g. One was thick, one was thinner.
And this is where I go all Psycho on the beef, cutting holes for the garlic.
Look! There's garlic in that there beef!
There's the rub. Ahem. Cumin, chili, cinnamon, salt, pepper. That's all.
The chilies and onion for the crock pot.
An unknown quantity of Worcestershire sauce drizzled onto the meat, onion and chilies
This is the red wine vinegar I used. A few tablespoons of dark beer would totally do the trick too.
This was after about 4.5 hours in the crock pot on the lowest setting. I added a few tablespoons of water at one point as it was boiling dry.
And here's the end result, all gussied up for the camera (note the grocery bag back drop)

Let me show you the dough now.

I recommend making it at least a few hours before (if not a day or two before, stored in the fridge, wrapped in a lightly moistened tea towel in a plastic baggie) as it gets the glutens going, making for a chewier, lovelier texture. You can also keep adding to an existing ball of dough by incorporating it into a new batch after it’s been kneaded and rested for a while. Knead the two doughs together and let them rest in the fridge for an hour or so before using.

My preshusssss... er, the dough.

I’ve been using black wheat, which I recently discovered was in fact triticale, a wheat-rye hybrid. I highly recommend seeking it out if possible. Apparently it has a lovely high protein count too, compared with regular wheat flour. Makes you strong! Roar!

Cut off a piece the size of a golf ball and dust it with flour so it doesn't stick.
Roll it out thin and round.
Ungreased seasoned wok, medium low flame. About 45 seconds on each side until it starts puffing up like a blow fish.
This is the puffy part. Isn't it lovely?
Here are a few I made for dinner, nestled in their comfy tea towel.


The Salsa


Sometimes, in the import grocery stores, you can get salsa. Often it’s that Old El Paso crap, over-priced with an embarrassing ingredient list. If you’re lucky, La Costena has a decent salsa verde and salsa roja but they’re rare and fleeting.

I’ve taken to making my own these days anyway and don’t miss the bottled stuff at all.

There’s no recipe- just diced onion, tomato (I prefer the baby ones), chillies, cilantro (if you like it), fresh lime juice. If no lime, lemon. If no lemon, hell, try a pomelo. Or rice wine vinegar. You just need a citrusy acidic thing going on for flavour. Chop chop chop and then let them meld together for a while before serving. Pinch of salt, grind of pepper. Easy peasy.

Don't forget to wash all the day-glo toxic sludge off your veggies!
I used 4 super-hot chilies but de-seeded 2 of them to make it less painful for others
Put the lime in the coconut and--- oh crap, wrong recipe.
Onion, tomato, chilies, cilantro and fresh lime, left to stew in their own juices for a while

The end result…

This would be dinner.
Dinner of champions. You know you want one.
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  1. Tina says:

    That beef looks awesome! Makes me sorry I didn’t bring my slow cooker here. That’s quite a list of spices you have there. I’ll have to see if I can round them all up.

    1. MaryAnne says:

      They were awesome! But if you look at my little Adjustments paragraph, you’ll see I didn’t have most of those ingredients anyway and it still turned out lovely. I only had cumin, cinnamon, hot chili powder, salt and pepper! I upped the garlic cloves, used red wine vinegar instead of beer, added more chopped onion to the pot, omitted the bell pepper, added fresh red chilies… All the substitutions and omissions turned out fine. I guess as long as the proportions stay the same (the cumulative amount of spice and liquid) then it’ll work.

      If you get a chance, do try it!

  2. Tracyann0312 says:

    It taste delicious! Tacos are very familiar food in Mexico and most people really enjoys to eat it. Thanks for sharing the step by step procedure in making it!
    Tracyann0312 recently posted..חג פוריםMy Profile

  3. Samantha says:

    Looks wonderful! We’ve just moved back to Beijing after a ten year hiatus, so am stocking my kitchen and readjusting to cooking here- glad to have found your blog. I love making flatbreads- what’s the Chinese name of the flour you were using?

    1. MaryAnne says:

      Hello! Welcome back to China! The flour I use is an organic black wheat that comes from around Beijing called Dr North’s. I’m sure I’ve got a photo of it somewhere in this blog but I can’t check just yet as I’m in Thailand for Spring Festival with only an awkward iPod for Internet. Google Chinese black wheat, aka triticale. It’s a wheat-rye hybrid with a high protein count and makes fabulous dough!

  4. Samantha says:

    Thanks so much- found it! Hope the rest of your holiday is great.

  5. Kellie says:

    Excellent recipe… Love all the fruits and veggies, like you I might try it with pulled pork.
    Kellie recently posted..Why Join Community Supported Agriculture.movMy Profile

    1. MaryAnne says:

      I love making lots of fresh salsa to go with my minimalist meat fillings for tacos. They taste amazingly fresh and tangy.

  6. mjskit says:

    Great tacos! Quite impressed with your homemade tortillas! They look awesome! I have to admit that I buy my tortillas, but it’s from a local restaurant a few blocks away. They make flour tortillas every day and they are so hard to resist! It’s not even 10 am here and I craving these beef tacos!
    mjskit recently posted..Preserved Lemon RiceMy Profile

    1. MaryAnne says:

      Flour tortillas are so easy to make! I just make a huge dough ball at the beginning of the week (3c flour, 1c water, 2 tsp salt) and wrap it in a damp towel in a ziploc bag in the fridge. It’s good for very quick pasta, chapatis, tortillas… It lasts about 5 days before the gluten starts getting too sticky.

      I think I’ll be trying out the roasted garlic in a chicken taco experiment. Will document results. It’s making me hungry just thinking of it…

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