Make crispy taco shells or chips exactly once at home, and you’ll never go back to store-bought. They’re that good! Here’s how to fry tortillas, an easy technique I learned in Mexico, for the crunchiest, crackliest tacos, chips, and tostadas ever.
Test out your new culinary skills by making Cauliflower Tinga Tacos or Chicken Tinga tonight! Then round out the feast with Mexican Rice, Corn Salsa, and a mountain of Guacamole. I’ve got a whole bunch of copycat Chipotle recipes, so stay in tonight and make some delicious salsas.
Corn or flour tortillas are so easy to make into folded taco shells, chips, or flat tostadas. All you need is a little oil, a skillet, and this simple shallow-frying cooking technique. No deep fryer required, I promise!
I’m also including an oven baked method for taco shells and tortilla chips, too, just in case you’d rather. That means you officially have run out of excuses not to crunch.
How to fry taco shells:
To fry your own taco shells, all you need is a big skillet or Dutch oven and some oil. Until you get the hang of it, you may want to work with only one tortilla at a time.
- Pour about 1/2” inch oil into the skillet and turn the stove on to medium or medium-high heat. Make sure the oil is hot enough (350 to 365 degrees) before adding a tortilla. If the oil is too cool, the tortillas will soak up too much oil.
- While the oil is heating up, line a baking sheet with paper towels and place a wire rack over it. Pop the baking sheet in the oven and heat the oven to 200 degrees. This will act as a place to keep the taco shells warm while you’re working.
- As soon as the oil is hot, use tongs to place one tortilla into the pan. It should sizzle immediately. Cook each tortilla for about 10 to 15 seconds.
- Flip it over and fold the shell in half, holding in place with the tongs until crispy, another 15 seconds or so. Then take the fried tortilla out of the oil and sprinkle with salt while still hot. Keep the fried shells on the wire rack in a low oven to keep them warm and crispy until dinnertime.
If you’re planning on making tostadas, there’s no need to fold the tortillas; just keep them flat and flip them to cook the other side.
How to make crispy taco shells in the oven:
Don’t want to mess with it? Just do it in the oven. You’ll get slightly unusual, flat-bottomed taco shells, but they’re all the better to fill up with the important stuff.
- First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Then you might need to make the tortillas a little more flexible. Working with several tortillas at a time, wrap in a barely damp paper towel and microwave until steamed, only 20 to 30 seconds.
- Next, place the tortillas on a clean work surface and lightly brush both sides with oil. Next, carefully drape each tortilla over two bars of the oven rack. (Using two bars is what gives them their shape.)
- Bake until crispy, 7 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
How to fry tortillas for enchiladas:
Got a craving for beef or chicken enchiladas? I always do. Look for the freshest corn tortillas you can find, and then quick fry them to provide a barrier for the enchilada sauce from making them too soggy. The best enchiladas in the world are made with this frying method.
- Heat the oil over medium-high until it registers 350 degrees.
- One or two at a time, fry the tortillas about ten seconds per side, until they just start to get crisp and brown. Not too long, because you want them to be flexible for the filling.
- Take them out of the oil and stack them up until you’re ready for the next step in your recipe.
How to make homemade tortilla chips:
I break the whole thing down in my post on Homemade Tortilla Chips, but here are the basics.
For chips, I love the extra thin-style corn tortillas, made by Mission brand. They’re the crispiest and closest to restaurant-style chips! But you can use this technique for your favorite corn or flour tortillas, too.
To make the chips, place a stack of fresh tortillas on a clean work surface and cut the stack into triangles (like a pizza) with a sturdy knife. Each tortilla should make about 6 chips.
To fry tortilla chips:
- First, heat 1/4 to 1/2 inches of oil in a skillet or Dutch oven (or you can use a deep fryer).
- When the oil reaches 350 degrees, place a few of the chips in at a time to cook. Be careful not to over crowd the pot.
- Fry the chips for just a couple of minutes, until they are start to turn light brown, and then remove from the oil and let drain on paper towels.
- Sprinkle with salt or other seasonings while still warm. A squeeze of lime juice is nice too!
To make oven-baked tortilla chips:
- Before you cut the tortillas, lightly brush both sides with oil. Then stack them up and cut them into chip-sized pieces—about 6 chips per tortilla.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the chips out on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and bake for about 6 minutes, then flip them and bake another 6 to 10 minutes until lightly brown.
- If they’re still chewy, keep them in longer, but keep an eye on them! They cook faster than you think.
What’s the best oil for frying tortillas?
If you are frying corn tortillas, corn oil is the best choice. You can also use basic vegetable oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, or sunflower seed oil. You want a neutral-flavored oil with a high smoke point.
And of course, you can use olive oil to bake or fry tortillas. Don’t use your best olive oil, though—the high heat will eliminate the flavor of the oil— so keep the good stuff for drizzling over salads.
Tips for frying tortillas and making the best tortilla chips at home:
- Make sure the oil is hot enough. Use a thermometer to gauge the temperature of the oil accurately. If you don’t have one, wet the tip of your finger with water and drip just one drop of water into the oil. If it sputters and crackles, the oil is ready.
- But not too hot. Cooking with oil can be tricky. If the oil starts smoking, that means you’ve passed the point and should let the oil cool down a bit.
- Make extra. Make a few more than you think you need, to accommodate any breakage or snacking/testing.
- Don’t crowd the pot. Too many chips or tortillas in the oil cools the oil down and prevents things from getting super crispy. It’s better to work slowly than rush.
- Add more oil as you go. Depending on how many tortillas you’re cooking, you may need to add more oil. Just let the oil heat up again before adding more tortillas.
- Paper towels are your friend. Paper towels really soak up extra oil (and extra calories) so feel free to break them out. When I make chips, I’ll layer them between batches of fried chips as I work. Not into paper towels? I keep a stack of clean wash clothes in my kitchen in my kitchen just for situations like this. Use them, then wash them!
- Seasoning and salt. Once the tortillas are crispy, salt and season them while they’re still warm. Use a coarse salt or any other seasoning you like. A sprinkle of chili seasoning, a squirt of lime juice, or maybe even a dusting of homemade fajita seasoning.
How long do fried tortillas last?
Use what you make right away, or all your hard work may become chewy (humidity causes the chewiness). You can store them in a paper bag folded over and kept out at room temperature. Leftovers can be reheated in the oven to crisp them up again.
Great dips and salsas for homemade chips:
- Cowboy Caviar
- Chipotle's hot salsa
- Chipotle's tomatillo salsa
- Chipotle's corn salsa
- Chipotle's mild salsa
- Pice de Gallo
- Black Bean Salsa
- Avocado sauce
- Homemade cheese sauce
How to Fry Tortillas
- corn oil or vegetable oil
- 8 (8-inch) corn tortillas
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil for easy cleanup.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add about 1/2 inch vegetable oil and heat to 350 degrees. Add one tortilla to the skillet and cook until it is blistering but still soft, 10 to 15 seconds. Using tongs, turn tortilla over and then immediately fold to form a taco shell.
- Once the tortilla is holding its shape, turn until crisp and golden all over, 15 to 30 seconds longer. Transfer to wire rack and keep warm in oven while repeating with remaining tortillas.