Eating one of these tacos today still reminds me of the bagfuls we’d grind through on a hot summer day at the beach when I was a kid. The Jack in the Box at Warner Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach, California, was right on the sand, and a bike ride away from the house I grew up in, so that’s where my friends and I set up camp for a day of body surfing and cheap fast food. Today the recipe is the same as it was since the first Jack in the Box opened way back in 1950: finely ground spiced beef, melted American cheese, shredded lettuce, and tangy taco sauce all wedged into a deep-fried corn tortilla. Properly hacking this decades-old recipe requires a perfect formula for the ground beef, which is the heart and soul of the taco. The chain incorporates vegetable proteins and soy grits into the beef, but those ingredients are not something you’re likely to find at your corner market. So I’ve developed a clone recipe that includes a little all-purpose flour and cornmeal in the mix to give the beef a similar texture to the original. A food processor is used here to puree the ground beef with those ingredients along with all the spices.

To seal the tortilla around the beef (so oil doesn’t get in while the tacos are frying), I came up with a method that calls for placing a bowl upside down on the egg-washed edge of the tacos until they are frozen shut. With a new taco-sealing trick and the better beef filling formula, this clone is a huge improvement on the original recipe I created for my first book over twenty years ago.

Just know before you get started that you will need a food processor for this recipe and six bowls with a 4¾-inch diameter, or bowls that are just slightly smaller in diameter than the corn tortillas you are using. If you don’t have a food processor, you can still make the recipe using your hands, but the beef won’t have quite the same smooth consistency as the original.

8 ounces ground beef (20 percent fat)
½ cup water
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1½ teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ketchup
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
⅛ teaspoon MSG (such as Accent seasoning)
12 corn tortillas (Mission brand works well)
4 to 12 cups canola oil
1 large egg, beaten
6 slices American cheese, cut diagonally into 12 halves
½ cup Ortega medium original taco sauce
2 cups thinly sliced iceberg lettuce

Cooking method

1-Combine the ground beef, water, flour, cornmeal, chili powder, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and MSG in a bowl and mix well with your hands to combine all of the spices into the beef. Put the beef into a food processor and puree for about 1 minute until smooth.

2-Dump the pureed beef mixture into a sauté pan and heat over medium heat while stirring until the meat is thoroughly cooked, 5 to 10 minutes.

3-Preassemble each taco by first heating up about 1 tablespoon of oil in a clean sauté pan over low heat. Place a corn tortilla in the oiled sauté pan for 30 seconds or so (do not flip it over), or until hot, and then remove it from the pan and place it oiled-side-down on a plate. This process will make the tortilla more pliable so that it does not crack when folded over the meat. Spread a heaping tablespoon of the beef mixture off-center onto the non-oiled side of the tortilla. Brush a little beaten egg around the edge of the half of the tortilla with the beef on it, fold the tortilla over the beef, then move the taco to a rimmed baking sheet lined with wax paper and invert a small bowl with a 4¾ inch diameter onto the folded taco to keep it sealed around the edge. Repeat the filling process with the next taco and position it next to the first one so that the bottoms are touching, then replace the bowl to hold both tacos closed. Repeat the process with all of the tacos, then place the baking sheet in your freezer for 2 to 3 hours or until the tacos are completely frozen.

4-When the tacos are frozen, preheat the oil in a deep fryer or a deep saucepan to 350 degrees F.

5-Fry two tacos at a time for 2 to 3 minutes or until they are just beginning to turn light brown around the edges. Drain the tacos on a rack or paper towels for about 20 to 30 seconds or until cool enough to handle.

Carefully open each taco just wide enough to place a triangular slice of cheese inside. Pour in about 2 teaspoons of taco sauce and finish off each taco by pushing in some sliced lettuce.

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