Mexican Picadillo

5 from 14 votes
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Mexican picadillo is to Midwestern “taco meat” what the sun is to a flickering match. It’s easy to make, quick, and so, so much better than ground meat + McCormick’s mild taco seasoning, or whatever it is they put on “taco meat.” This picadillo recipe is from Sonora, in the north of Mexico, and is fantastic over rice or with flour tortillas. 

A bowl of Mexican picadillo.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Picadillo, for much of my life, was simply a pretty, sing-song word that I vaguely associated with Latin food. I knew that pretty much every Latin group that lived around me in New Jersey had a version: Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans… and yes, Mexicans. What follows is a Mexican picadillo recipe. 

Growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s and 1980s, the sum total of Mexican food in my world was the Tiko Taco out on Route 22, and hideous, hard-shelled, pre-bent tacos filled with ground beef seasoned with “taco mix,” which, so far as I could tell, was cumin and chile and who-knows-what-else. Meh.

For a long time, I thought tacos = ground meat + seasoning. Even years later, Taco Night at college, or in friends’ homes (and here you can see I had no Mexican friends at the time), always meant “taco meat,” the same ground beef with seasonings.

Well, this concept didn’t spring from nothing. We were all trying to emulate Mexican picadillo without even knowing it. 

Lots of versions of Mexican picadillo exist, and I am using the country as an adjective because as I mentioned, you can find picadillo in some form all over Latin America and Spain. Interestingly, most versions of picadillo are relics from the Renaissance, when sweet-plus-meat was a thing. You see a lot of raisins and sometimes dates, occasionally actual sugar, plus almonds.

If you are looking for that Mexican picadillo, which is more of a southern Mexican thing, you will find it here in my recipe for chile poblano rellenos.

What Exactly is Mexican Picadillo?

Picadillo in concept is something of a mash-up of Italian meat sauce and American chop suey, and Texas chili. Ground meat, with spices, usually some sort of tomato, but also a number of other vegetables tossed in for flavor and bulk.

You see diced carrots and potatoes a lot, peas, zucchini, chayote, green olives, the aforementioned raisins, more or less tomato, more or less soupy, etc., etc. It is a very idiosyncratic dish.

There’s always a chile element, too. I’ve seen everything from cayenne, which is super gringo, to roasted green Hatch chiles — chiles verdes in northern Mexico — to jalapenos or serranos, rehydrated dried red chiles, even habaneros. You do you.

Sonoran Picadillo

This version comes from Sonora, one of Mexico’s desert states, which borders Arizona. I am basing it off a recipe for venison picadillo in a cool little book called La Cocina Familiar en el Estado de Sonora, which as you might imagine is written in Spanish. The original recipe is credited to Balvanera Gonzalez de Cabrera.

What attracted me to her recipe was that it was a picadillo de venado — venison! I was also attracted by the fact that Gonzalez de Cabrera’s recipe is not sweet, and had far fewer ingredients than the sometimes baroque picadillos you can see in places like, say Oaxaca.

I then read a few other Sonoran picadillo recipes in Spanish, and watched a few videos of Sonorans making picadillo, and talked to a few Sonoran friends about how they make picadillo. This Mexican picadillo is an amalgam of those. Real “taco meat.”

How to Use Mexican Picadillo

Use it, of course, in tacos, but it is also a fantastic empanada filling, or mixed with eggs and stale tortillas for chilaquiles, stuffed in a burrito (especially a breakfast burrito), or even as the filling for a tamal. Mexican picadillo makes a helluva chile relleno filling, too. 

Chile poblano rellenos with tomato sauce
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

There are a few tricks here for a better Mexican picadillo. First is to roast your own green chiles. I prefer to use Hatch chiles or poblanos, but Anaheim or chilaca or the Hungarian light green “wax” chiles will all work. And you can roast and peel red chiles instead. Don’t know how to roast your own chiles? Here’s how.

The other trick is to use roasted tomatoes and crush them yourself. You can sometimes buy pre-roasted tomatoes, and that’s fine so long as they are whole. Mexican picadillo really improves in texture when you have irregularly torn up tomatoes rather than a puree.

You can also slice a paste (Roma) tomato in half lengthwise and set it, cut side down, on a dry skillet until it blackens. By the time this happens, the tomato will be roasted and the skin will peel off easily.


Should you have leftovers, picadillo will keep in the fridge a week or so. It will freeze OK, but I wouldn’t use thawed picadillo for anything other than a filling you won’t see, like in an empanada or pasty. The reason is because thawed potatoes get mushy and a little weird. They taste fine, but it’s not as pretty. 

A bowl of Mexican picadillo
5 from 14 votes

Mexican Picadillo, Sonoran Style

I use venison here, but really any ground meat works fine. I really like what lard brings to the party here, but then I use freshly rendered lard, not the shelf-stable crap. If you hate lard, use duck fat or olive oil. Once made, the picadillo will keep a week in the fridge.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 8 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes


  • 3 tablespoons freshly rendered lard, or some other fat
  • 2 pounds ground venison or other meat
  • 1 large white onion, chopped fine
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup peeled, diced potato (optional)
  • Salt
  • Dried, crushed chiltepin chiles (or any hot chile)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 cup roasted green Hatch, Anaheim or poblano chiles, chopped (about 4 to 6 chiles)
  • 2 to 4 roasted whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 10 green olives, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, Mexican if possible
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cups venison stock, or any other stock


  • Heat the lard over high heat in a large skillet; I use a cast iron frying pan. Add the venison, spreading it out in an even layer. Salt it well. Sear this without touching for 2 to 3 minutes. Then stir well and sear some more. You want the meat to get legitimate browning, not just turning gray. Sometimes this takes 10 minutes or so.
  • Add the onion, carrot, potato and hot chiles, if using. Mix well and cook these for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
  • Add all the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Turn the heat down to medium and let this simmer for maybe 5 to 10 minutes, until it is as soupy or as dry as you like.


Ground beef is the most common meat used in picadillo, but it can be pretty much anything. 

Keys to Success

  • Picadillo should be finely ground, so use only finely ground meat. This is not a problem if you are buying it, only if you are grinding it yourself. I use a 4.5 mm die if you are wondering. 
  • If you plan on making burritos, definitely add the potatoes. It helps bulk it up. 
  • As for the roasted green chiles, you can use canned ones if you don't feel like roasting your own. 
  • If you hate olives, skip them. They are not in every version of picadillo. 
  • Chiltepin chiles are hard to come by - I grow them - so any sort of heat will do, from red pepper flakes and cayenne to Thai chiles to serranos or habaneros. 


Calories: 283kcal | Carbohydrates: 11g | Protein: 27g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 91mg | Sodium: 389mg | Potassium: 694mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 1431IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 43mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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Recipe Rating


  1. This is amazing. Made it with the potatoes but without the green chilis as some of the people eating don’t like heat and used some dried sweet peppers for pepper flavor. It turned out great and everyone loved it.

  2. Used chicken breasts, so I guess it was pollo-cadillo , but it was fantastic! Will be making empanadas tomorrow with the leftovers. Another hit, Hank!

  3. Just made this with some ground elk from the freezer and ingredients we had at home and threw it into some tacos. Huge hit for both the game lovers and the rest of the party! Also took half that i left much wetter, added in the potatoes and thickened up with a little flower, then put it into Hank’s pasty recipe for a perfect pasty-empanada type thing we brought out to the river for lunch today. Definitely will make again and maybe even go the extra mile and try one of the salsas with it.

  4. The kids loved it! I used tomatoes I grew and canned in the summer and ground wild pork. I also used bacon grease for the fat, with the bacon sprinkled in at the end. Will be making this part of the regular rotation of family meals!

  5. This looks great – I’m curious what the other toppings are in the photo. Do i see pumpkin seeds? Green onions? Cotijo? Looking forward to making this.

  6. looking forward to trying these.
    is there a recipe for the empanadas pictured? they look awesome.
    also is there a recipe for the salsa de morita con tomatillo out yet??


    1. Miguel: Not really, as they turned out more like molotes, as they were so thick. Once I get better at making masa empanadas, I will post it then!

  7. Am an expat in Mexico. My wife is Mexican and she makes picadillo frequently. I love it in quesadillas, tortillas, cheese, picadillo, and salsa grilled to melt cheese. Wow! m.

  8. Beautiful! I am going to have to give this picadillo a try.

    And Dove meat? How awesome. I sometimes claim myself to be a hunter, but usually a few weekends a year where we are either looking for deer, geese, or ducks. My regret about not being more avid is that I don’t get to try all these different meats.