How do I Keep My Crunchy Taco Shells from Closing Up When I Heat Them?

Posted on 08 Mar 2014 17:00

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If you use crunchy corn taco shells, such as Old ElPaso or Ortega to make tacos at home, the instructions will tell you to heat them in the oven for around five minutes. This is done to crisp and freshen them up. So, you lay them on a baking sheet, heat them up, and to your dismay, you pull them out five minutes later that the shells have closed up, so that you can't get the filling inside!

Surprisingly, I've read all sorts of strange and precious rules for how to heat up taco shells. Taco shells are not an ancient culinary tradition with hundreds of years of attached lore. They are a strictly American thing. It doesn't matter how you heat them! But it does matter if they close up and you can't really use them.

The solution is simple. When you get the taco shells out of the box, you will find that they are placed on inside the other, in an overlapping fashion, to save room (and to make the whole thing more resilient and less prone to breakage). Well, that is the way you need to bake them. Place each taco slightly inside the other on a baking sheet, but not to the extent they are jammed together in the box. Each taco shell will keep its neighbor from closing up while heating.

Then you just have one, poor, unfortunate taco shell on the open end which doesn't have another shell to help it stay in shape. For that guy, you just need a ball of aluminum foil, about the size of a small lemon or a little larger. Stuff the balled up aluminum foil into the open end of the taco shell to keep it open.

store-bought crispy corn taco shells
store-bought crispy corn taco shells

Problem solved. All the taco shells will stay open. You can save the ball of aluminum foil and use it again and again if you make a lot of crispy tacos. Now, you know, in Mexico, they don't use cruncy corn tortillas. They use them soft. You should try that! You can make your own, of course, which takes some work. Or you could buy some from a store. It would be especially nice if you were able to get them from an authentic Mexican or Latino market. Warm up the corn tortillas by toasting them briefly in a dry skillet and use them like you would use soft flour tortillas. The "fresh" corn tortillas you can buy at the supermarket, unfortunately, have the texture of cardboard, for the most part.

If you're into frying, you can make your own "crispy" taco shells by dipping fresh corn tortillas into boiling oil, at around 375°F. When using a deep frying method, you can use two pairs of tongs to hold the tortilla into a shell shape and them simply hold the whole thing under the oil for half a minute or so, while it crisps up (yes, it's fast). You an also do this in a shallow pan with about an inch of of vegetable oil. Heat the oil until up to frying temp. Have a pair of tongs handy and place a corn tortilla into the oil, laying flat. Let it fry for 10 to 15 seconds and then use the tongs to lift one edge of the tortilla and fold it over into the shell shape you need. Allow the half that is still in the oil to fry for another 15 seconds or so. Then, flip the whole thing over and let the other half fry for 15 seconds.
Now, you have your cruncy shell. Problem is you can only do one at a time, but the great thing about this is that you can control how crisp your crispy fried tortillas are. So, if you want them a bit more chewy and flexible, you can do that. The other good thing is this will make those supermarket brand corn tortillas worth buying.

You can also make crispy corn taco shells in the oven. But for this you need a specialized piece of equipment, a crispy taco shell rack.


Oven rack for making crispy taco shells from tortillas


Oven rack for making crispy taco shells from tortillas

To use this method, heat the oven to 375°F. Then, you need to make your corn tortillas more soft and flexible. Most of these racks make 4 shells at a time, so place 4 tortillas between damp paper towels and heat them in the microwave for around 15 seconds. Then, spray both sides of the tortillas with cooking spray, or brush them lightly with oil. Place them inside the V shapes of the rack, so that they form shell shapes. Bake them until crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes. This method is not fool-proof because different tortillas tend to perform differently. You may have to experiment to get the desired results.

Some people have been known to drape tortilla over the rungs of an oven rack to make shells (2 rungs at a time). This makes a very wide shell with a flatish bottom, which may not be exactly what we're looking for. It's also a good way to get burned. And, to be honest, my oven is never that clean!

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