How to Keep Tortillas Warm for a Taco Bar
It may just take a dish towel.
Who doesn’t love tacos? Taco bars are a great way to feed a large crew whether it be a family gathering or a party with friends. The set-up is easy – pick your proteins, chop up a bunch of onions, tomatoes and lettuce, throw other toppings like salsa, guacamole and crema in bowls and serve with tortillas and you have a taco bar. You can choose to get as homemade as you like, whipping up your own guacamole and a kicky fresh pineapple salsa. Flex your creative muscles with watermelon chicken tacos, go classic Cali with Baja Fish Tacos or make it easy with Instant Pot tacos.
Now, for the tortillas. You can buy store-bought tortillas (or see if your favorite local Mexican restaurant will sell some to you). Even better, try your hand at making your own. Most of the items on a taco bar are easy to keep out for grazing but tortillas can be tricky. If you don’t find a way to keep them properly warmed, they can quickly get cold, dry out and become rubbery mounds without the right storage.
Before you plan an in-house taqueria, read through our five suggested ways to keep tortillas warm and make sure your tacos remain the star of the party.
Chicago’s popular taco joint Big Star knows how to make a taco. They also cater parties, so they are adept at keeping their tortillas warm for hours, and know how important tortilla texture is. Chef de cuisine Chris Miller offers this tried and true method. “First, separate your tortillas so they don’t stick together, he says. “Next, stack your room temperature tortillas and wrap them in parchment paper like you're wrapping a holiday present. Place in microwave for 30-40 seconds or until the tortillas are warm through. Then, wrap your parchment present in foil and place in a one-gallon plastic bag. If you want to deck out your taco bar or are serving a group of people over a period of time, place your bagged tortillas in a small cooler with a lid. They will hold for several hours like this and be warm and toasty when it's time to fill with delicious meats and veggies."
The slow cooker can pull double duty on taco night. After you use it to make a well-flavored filling, turn to the slow cooker to heat your tortillas. There are a few different ways to do this. You can wrap your tortillas in foil and a damp dish towel, stick them in your slow cooker on warm and let them heat until served. But on The Kitchen, the hosts hacked the slow cooker to keep both components going, so the meat and tortillas would both stay warm. “After you have cooked your taco meat, put it in a large slow cooker set to medium heat, then place the tortillas in a 9-inch pie plate. Place the pie plate on top of the slow cooker so that it rests on top of the sleeve. Cover with the lid so that the steam heats up the tortillas and keeps the meat warm.”
If you don’t want to go messing with different methods, they do actually make something called a tortilla warmer, which should keep your tortillas at a good temperature while people serve themselves. You can opt for a cloth warmer — which looks like a pot holder — or a ceramic one like you often see in Mexican restaurants alongside their dishes.
Warm them in the Oven
Chef Aaron Sanchez is no stranger to making his own tortillas (he walks us through the process here) and when it comes to warming them he uses his oven or a cloth-wrapped basket. If you plan to stick the tortillas in the oven or toaster oven, set the temperature to 250 degrees. Wrap your tortillas in foil, then stick them in the oven. When you are ready to serve, remove them from the oven, but leave them wrapped in the foil, so that they don’t dry out before go-time.
Damp Dish Towel
If your party is on the smaller side, you may want to try just using a damp dish towel to keep those tortillas warm. Take a clean dish towel and get it slightly damp. You’ll want to wrap your warmed tortillas in the towel (you can warm in the oven, on a pan, in the microwave) and keep them sealed until you are ready to use. You can put the towel in a basket or something with a lid to seal in even more heat.