How to make chalupa shells (taco bell style)

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Today we are going to tell you everything you need to know about making chalupa shells! You can think of a chalupa as a cross between a taco and a tostada that incorporates the best features of both. Chalupa shells hold toppings better than tostadas and are thicker and crispier than tacos.

The main ingredient that you will need to make chalupa shells is masa harina. If you do not have masa harina, then you can order a bag on Amazon for just a few dollars! Here is a link to our favorite brand of masa harina.

a cooked chalupa shell

Chalupa Q&A

Equipment for making chalupas

Do you need a tortilla press to make chalupas? 

Do you need a tortilla press to make chalupas? If it is your first time making chalupas, you can use a flat object such as a cutting board to press your dough into a tortilla shape. That being said, using a cutting board is imprecise and time consuming. We highly recommend getting a tortilla press if you plan to make chalupas regularly. We recommend this tortilla press as it is easy to use and sturdy.

How to cook a chalupa shell

What is a chalupa shell made of?

A chalupa shell is made of masa harina. Masa harina is a finely ground corn flour. Masa harina is much more finely ground than other corn products like cornmeal and polenta. Other dishes that are made with masa harina include corn tortillas and tortilla chips, tostadas, pupusas, sopes, and gorditas.

How to tell when masa dough is the right consistency?

Your chalupa dough has reached the right consistency when you are easily able to mold it into a ball and flatten the ball without large pieces crumbling off. If your chalupa dough is too wet, it will be runny and unable to hold its shape well. It might also stick to your hands when you try to shape it. If your chalupa dough is too dry, it will be overly crumbly and pieces will fall off as you try to shape it.

What can I use as a tortilla press?

There are many common household objects you can use in place of a tortilla press if you do not have a proper tortilla press. Any sturdy flat object will work, but it is easiest to use an object that has a little weight to it. I generally use a thick cutting board or a cookbook.

If you are looking for tortilla press recommendations then we do have a favorite. We recommend this tortilla press as it is easy to use and sturdy.

What shape is a chalupa?

Chalupas can come in a variety of shapes. A common feature of all chalupas is that they have a little bit of a bend in the middle that you can pour toppings into. Some chalupas are relatively flat and look more like tostadas than tacos. Other chalupas have a deep bend and have a shape that is more similar to tacos. I like to shape my chalupas more like tacos, but if it is your first time making chalupas you might want to make a flatter chalupa. This is because flatter chalupas are easier to make.

How to prevent chalupa dough from crumbling when folded?

Chalupa shells need to be folded into shape while they are cooking. Timing is important here. The chalupa shells need to have cooked long enough to bind the dough together and prevent it from completely falling apart, but you also need to be careful not to wait too long. If you wait too long, the chalupa shells will become crispy and they will not be malleable. I generally fold my chalupa shells after they have cooked for 30 seconds.

I recommend using a spoon to fold over one edge of your chalupa shell then coming in with tongs after to hold the top edge up. You want to hold the top edge about 1 – 2 inches higher than the bottom edge to make a gentle fold. Some people recommend using tongs to flip the top edge over, but I find that it is easy to tear a hole in your chalupa shell if you fold it using tongs.

If your chalupas shell crumbles along the seam while you fold it, it is still usable! You can just use the larger side of the chalupa as the bottom of the chalupa rather than standing the chalupa up along the fold like a taco.    

Differences between chalupas and similar dishes

Chalupa vs tostada

What is the difference between a chalupa and a tostada? Chalupas and tostadas are both made of crispy fried tortillas. The main difference between chalupas and tostadas is the shape. Tostadas lay completely flat whereas chalupas have a bend in the middles that helps hold in toppings. The depth of this bend can vary depending on who makes the chalupas – some chalupas are relatively flat like tostadas and some have a deep bend similar to tacos.

In addition to the difference in shapes, there are sometimes differences in toppings. Chalupas tend to have more toppings than tostadas, which are often served with just one or two toppings. For example, it is common to see a tostada served with only refried beans or only guacamole. It is not so common to see a chalupa served with only one topping.

Chalupa vs taco

What is the difference between a chalupa and a taco? I will focus on the differences between chalupas and hard tacos because hard tacos are more similar to chalupas than soft tacos. The first difference between a chalupa and a taco is the shape. A chalupa can take on a variety of shapes and can be relatively flat like a tostada. Tacos, on the other hand, almost always have a deep bend in the middle.

There are also sometimes differences in toppings. Tacos generally have meat on them, but chalupas are often served without meat. There is no hard and fast rule here, but it is more common to see chalupas served with just beans, cheese, and veggies. 

Another difference is that chalupas are sometimes fried with salsa on them, whereas tacos are generally fried by themselves with no toppings.

Chalupa vs gordita

What is the difference between a chalupa and a Gordita? A gordita is another dish that is made by frying tortillas made of masa dough. The main difference between chalupas and gorditas is that gorditas are stuffed whereas chalupas are not. When you make gorditas, you cut a slit into the shell and stuff the ingredients inside of it. When you make chalupas, you create the shell then layer ingredients on top of it. Chalupas are also generally crispier than gorditas and should be cooked for longer. 

Chalupa vs fry bread

What is the difference between chalupas and fry bread? Fry bread is another dish that is made by frying tortillas up so that they puff up and become crispy. While fry bread and chalupas can look similar, especially if you make flatter chalupas, fry bread and chalupas are quite different. This is because they are made from different ingredients. Fry bread is typically made from standard all purpose flour whereas chalupas are corn based.

Other questions about chalupas

Is a chalupa real Mexican food?

Yes, chalupas are real Mexican food. Many people heard of chalupas for the first time at their local Taco Bell. Taco bell makes their own version of chalupas and markets them across many major channels. For this reason, people sometimes question whether chalupas were invented by Taco Bell or whether they are a dish that is actually made in Mexico. 

What toppings do you put on chalupas? 

I typically top my chalupas with salsa verde, onions (green and white), refried beans, and queso fresco. Of course there are many other toppings that you could put on chalupas and the sky is the limit. Any topping that you could imagine putting on a taco could also be put on a chalupa.

Cooking tutorial

a cooked chalupa shell
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4 from 2 votes

How to make chalupa shells

This easy tutorial will tell you everything you need to know about how to make chalupa shells.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook time20 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Keyword: dairy free, egg free, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian
Servings: 5 chalupa shells

Ingredients

  • 1 heaping cup masa harina
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (for frying, add more if you are using a large pan so that the pan has a 1 inch layer of oil)

Instructions

  • Combine the water, masa harina, and 1 tsp vegetable oil to form the dough for your chalupa shells. Split the dough into 5 equal parts and roll the dough into small balls.
    rolled sough for chalupa shells
  • Prepare to press the dough. Clear a large flat surface and grab a gallon sized bag. Cut open the edge of the gallon bag on one of the sides that is adjacent to the opening. Put one ball of dough in the middle of the gallon bag.
    If you have a tortilla press, you should go grab it. If you, you should grab a large flat object like a cutting board or a book that you can use to press your balls into tortillas.
    dough ready to be pressed for chalupa shells
  • Press the dough with your tortilla press setup. You should keep the dough a little thicker when you are making chalupas compared to when you are making standard tortillas. Aim for between 1/2 a centimeter and 1 centimeter in thickness.
    pressed dough for chalupa shells
  • Heat the vegetable oil on medium heat. Slowly lower a tortilla into the vegetable oil. Do this carefully so the hot oil does not splash. Cook the tortilla flat like this for 30 seconds.
    We start out by cooking the tortilla flat like this for 2 reasons. First, it allows the full tortilla to inflate with air bubbles to get the puffy chalupa texture we are looking for. Second, it helps the dough gain in a little more structure so that it will not fall apart when you fold it.
    frying a chalupa shell
  • Fold the tortilla into a taco shape and hold it there for 30 seconds. Many people suggest using tongs to fold the chalupa, but I find that tongs can rip off pieces of the chalupa. I prefer to fold the chalupa using a large spoon then come in after with tongs to hold it in place.
    frying a chalupa shell
  • By now, the chalupa should be able to maintain its shape. Remove the tongs and let the chalupa fry for 30 seconds more on each side. If you like your chalupas extra crispy, you can fry them for 60 seconds on each side instead of 30.
    frying a chalupa shell
  • Use tongs to transfer the chalupa to a paper towel. Salt the chalupa.
    a cooked chalupa shell

Tips for making chalupas the easy way

Here are few tips for making chalupa shells the easy way. These are great tips to check out if you are making chalupas shells for the first time. 

  • Make chalupas with a gentle bend rather than a deep fold. My number one recommendation for someone who is looking to make chalupa shells the easy way is make chalupas with a gentle bend. You should make chalupa shells that look more like tostadas than tacos. You can do this by using a spoon to elevate one side of your chalupa an inch or two higher than the other side when you cook it. There is no need to fold your shell all the way over like a taco. 
  • Don’t try to multitask too much. Don’t try to multitask while you are frying your chalupas. This is a hard one for me because I am always trying to think of ways to cook more efficiently. Timing is important when you are making chalupa shells and the chalupa shells need all of your attention. 
  • Small chalupas are easier to shape. Chalupas are a little easier to fold over if they are small. If you are creating taco-style chalupas for the first time you should consider starting out by making a few smaller chalupas.  
  • Fold the chalupas asymmetrically. If it is your first time making taco-style chalupas, you might want to fold the top edge over only part of the way so that the sides are asymmetrical. If you do this the bottom wall of the shell will be larger than the top wall of the shell. This is a good strategy because it makes it easier to treat the larger wall of the shell as the bottom of the shell when you serve the chalupas. This way it will still be easy to serve your chalupas even if the shell crumbles along the fold.

Other recipes you might like


Vegan and gluten free chalupas. Three vegan, gluten free, and dairy free chalupas with pinto beans, guacamole, and grilled veggies.

If you are looking for a vegan chalupa recipe you should check out this recipe for vegan chalupas with saucy pinto beans, roasted vegetables, and homemade guacamole.

Not sure what to put on your freshly minted chalupa shells? Well it is your lucky day! Head over and check out our favorite recipe for vegetarian chalupas!


salsa verde (roasted tomatillo salsa)

If you are going to make chalupas you should check out our recipe for salsa verde! I LOVE to top my chalupas with this salsa. The fresh zesty taste of the salsa compliments the crunchy fried shells so well. This combination is absolutely divine.


Lentil tacos with a cheese shell

If you are looking for a tasty new Mexican-inspired recipe you should check out our recipe for lentil tacos with cheese shells! These cheesy taco shells are made from provolone cheese slices. How fun!


maduros - fried sweet plantains

If you are looking for side dishes to eat with chalupas you should check out our fried sweet plantains or our creamy vegan black bean dip!

Related articles

  • Are chalupas gluten free? Are you wondering whether chalupas contain gluten? In this article we tell you everything your need to know about chalupas and gluten. 
  • Are chalupa shells shells vegan? Are you wondering whether chalupa shells are vegan friendly? Our chalupa shells are vegan, but some are not! Check out this article to hear about the tricky ways that animal products can sneak into chalupa shells. 
  • Is a tortilla press worth it? Did you love this chalupa recipe? Using a tortilla press makes it even easier to make chalupa shells! Check out this article on the benefits of owning a tortilla press to determine whether it is time for you to pick up a tortilla press. 

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2 thoughts on “How to make chalupa shells (taco bell style)”

  1. 5 stars
    Wow! These Chalupa shells are incredible. I had not had Chalupas in years due to having Celiac. These were so flavorful, crunchy and delicious. I have tried making GF taco shells before but they were never successful. Since my disaster tacos, I purchased a heavy duty 10 inch tortilla press (cast iron) and the tortilla wax tissues to flatten them. Worth every penny to buy the wax tissues. I cannot believe how great these turned out. My husband who is not GF loved these and said they were way better then Taco Bell. I will be making these again and again. Thank you for the recipe and instructions.

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