Everything You Don't Know About Jack In The Box's Tacos

Jack in the Box tacos aren't exactly known as gourmet fare. According to an article in GQ, the greasy meat-stuffed corn tortillas are often lovingly referred to as "a wet envelope of cat food" (which the author agrees with), as well as "sublime" (the author's own description). 

So what is it about these somewhat questionable tacos that make them so popular? Maybe it's the price — it's hard to argue with the high-school and college-friendly cost of $.99 for two tacos, right? Or maybe it's the nostalgia — the tacos have been around for years, so just about every generation X or millennial can fondly smile back on a 2 a.m. drunken drive-thru experience capped off with a handful of deep-fried tacos. Or maybe it's a combination of the two brought together by advertising — as stated by GQ, "As we've learned in recent months, even the heights of mediocrity can flourish in the right social climate, especially with a little corporate backing." But at the end of the day, does it really matter? Jack in the Box tacos are here to stay, so when you go to pick up a pair (or more) of your own — promise, no judgment — here's what you need to know. 

Jack in the Box tacos are sold as a pair, but the nutrition information is for ONE taco

There's no reason (ever) to beat yourself up about a single meal. If you want to revisit your college days' memory lane with a swing through a Jack in the Box drive-thru, go ahead and have at it. But, if you're one to keep an eye on your nutrition intake, it's important to note that even though Jack in the Box tacos are always sold as a pair, the nutrition information listed on the Jack in the Box website is for a single taco. That means that when you down both tacos in a single sitting, you're consuming 344 calories, 18 grams of fat (6 of them saturated), 724 milligrams sodium, 32 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of protein. 

To be perfectly clear, none of these details, in and of themselves are inherently bad. It's just a matter of perspective — if two tacos are never enough and you always order four, well, then your four-taco meal packs almost 700 calories, more than half the daily recommended sodium intake, and 12 grams of saturated fat. If generally, you eat pretty healthy, there's no reason to worry about the occasional taco binge, but if this is your regular mid-week lunch, it might be time to reassess.

Celebrities love Jack in the Box tacos

Celebrities — they're nothing like us, right? They have giant houses, private jets, overflowing bank accounts (wouldn't that be nice?!), and all the latest and greatest "toys" to play with. But just when you're feeling like you have nothing in common with the upper echelon of celebrity society, keep this in mind: celebrities love fast food, and that includes Jack in the Box tacos. Yes, apparently even celebrities crave "wet envelopes of cat food," just like the rest of us. 

Or at least, Selena Gomez does. According to an article in The Daily Meal, Gomez has been spotted hitting the drive-thru for the cheap tacos, and for her 21st birthday, she skipped a traditional birthday cake, and instead opted for a "taco cake" — a plate piled high with Jack in the Box tacos and topped with a "21" candle — which she posted to Instagram. Now if that doesn't scream "fan," nothing does, right? 

Jack in the Box tacos cost almost nothing to make

Jack in the Box's two tacos have cost 99 cents in most locations for a pretty long time. Which is something to contemplate, considering the fact that the brand (clearly) needs to make a profit on their food, and the cost of food has continued to rise over the last 30 years. So how does this work — how can they continue to make a profit without increasing the cost of their tacos? 

The answer is simple: These tacos are cheap to make. 

According to a former Jack in the Box employee who detailed the costs of production on Clutch Fans in 2007, each taco breaks down roughly as follows: 

  • Shell, five cents
  • Lettuce, two cents
  • Cheese, two cents
  • Hot sauce, about a penny
  • "Meat-like substance," five cents
  • Single bag, two cents
  • "Crack" (i.e., seasonings) they add to the tacos, 10 cents (although it's not entirely clear if the former employee meant it cost 10 cents to season one taco or 10 cents for both tacos together, so to be on the safe side, we'll assume it's the cost for one taco)

In all, a single taco costs roughly 27 cents cents to make, which means two tacos cost about 54 cents. Then, add the minute of labor the former employee estimates it costs to fry the two tacos together at an extra 11 cents. That puts the grand total cost of two tacos at roughly 65 cents. This means that every time the company sells two tacos for 99 cents, they make about 34 cents in profit. Of course, these numbers may or not be completely accurate, but there's no doubt they're cranking them at little cost.

Americans eat half a billion Jack in the Box tacos a year

What's truly astonishing about Jack in the Box's tacos is how popular they are. According to an article published in 2017 in the The Wall Street Journal in 2017, Jack in the Box sells about 554 million tacos per year. That's more than half a billion tacos. That's about 1,000 tacos eaten per minute. And when you consider the profit on two tacos is about 34 cents, that means Jack in the Box ends up making about $94 million each year just from selling its tacos. 

There's really no solid explanation for their popularity. How could there be? Aside from being cheap, these tacos are a far cry from what most people consider to be the makings of a good meal. The meat is questionable, the cheese is American cheese, the shells are deep-fried (and kinda soggy most of the time) — so how in the world does Jack in the Box sell more of its tacos each year than McDonald's sells Big Macs? Obviously, drunk and stoned college kids are one source of continued revenue, but they can't be the only ones digging in. Perhaps it will always be a mystery, but there's no denying that there's a (giant) cult following for these questionable-tasting treats. 

It takes an obscene amount of corn and taco sauce to feed the hordes

Again, Jack in the Box sells more than half a billion tacos each year. Obviously, that's a lot of tacos. But when you stop to think about what it takes to make those tacos? It's mind-blowing to think about. According to an article in Delish, the company has to use more than 20 million pounds of corn for all those taco shells. If you're trying to put that number in perspective, according to MSN News, that's more-or-less the equivalent weight of three Saturn V rockets — the rocket that took people to the moon in 1969 — not one rocket, not two rockets, but three giant rockets. The company also hands out more than 600 million packets of taco sauce each year — presumably, they're not all used on the company's 99 cent tacos (they do sell other tacos, of course, and people love using the sauce for other things), but still, that's a lot of sauce. 

The marks on Jack in the Box taco shells are from a conveyor belt

Those "grill marks" on your taco shells? Yes, they're really there — they're not a figment of your imagination — don't mean that your taco is getting grilled in the back of the store before being thrown into its individual sleeve. According to a Wall Street Journal article, all of the Jack in the Box tacos are "born" at plants in Texas or Kansas. It's in these plants that the tortillas are made from stone-ground white corn. An article on Delish explains that the grill marks on the tortillas are from a conveyor belt where the shells are moved through a 700-degree oven to make them nice and crispy. You know, before they're deep-fried in the stores.

Once the tortillas are cooked, they're filled with whatever Jack in the Box passes off as beef (surely there's real meat in there somewhere, but more on that later), before they're shrink-wrapped and frozen and shipped off to the fast-food restaurants across the country. 

The Jack in the Box tacos recipe has basically never changed

Jack in the Box seems to understand that you don't mess with a good thing. When a product is popular and you sell it in mass, obviously something's working and there's no point in introducing changes that could screw things up. And that's exactly the case with the Jack in the Box tacos. An article in Mental Floss points out that the recipe hasn't really changed in about 50 years, describing it as follows, "seasoned meat lump, two triangles of American cheese, some shredded iceberg lettuce, and a little sauce." 

Sounds appetizing. And not altogether incorrect. In a Reddit thread where a Jack in the Box customer asked whether the taco frying process had changed at some point, a former Jack in the Box employee explained exactly how the tacos are constructed — a process he said had been in place for years, given that he had to watch a training video from the 1980s before frying his first batch of tacos. 

According to this Redditor, mattsfdg, the frozen tacos (remember, just the meat-filled tortillas) are kept in a fridge next to the fryer. When tacos are ordered, frozen tacos are pulled from the fridge and placed in a taco holder that is dunked in the fryer for the pre-determined "taco time." When the shells are done frying, they're placed on a prep tray where they're opened and filled with a triangle of cheese, a handful of lettuce, and a squirt of sauce. That's it. The process has never changed. 

People love to rip Jack in the Box tacos while still ordering more

One possible explanation (a twisted explanation, but still...) for the popularity of Jack in the Box tacos is that people love to hate them and hate to love them. It's like eating these tacos is an opportunity for being a self-deprecating food critic — pretty much every article that talks about Jack in the Box's tacos starts out by creatively describing how bad they are, followed almost immediately by comments on how they're simultaneously addictive. 

Take, for instance, an article in OC Weekly, where the author states, "But I write not to derogate Jack in the Box tacos but to praise them — wrenching digestive pains notwithstanding, dem snacks were more addictive than hillbilly heroin." Then there are the statements made on Cactus Hugs, "Jack in the Box tacos are not, what's the word I am looking for, real food... [they are] amazing after a few beers." Or from Redditor, sparkingthefire, who stated, "I would kill for a JITB taco. I definitely miss those wonderful, cheap as f*** but heavenly-tasting tacos." 

You can order Tiny Tacos at Jack in the Box, but they're not the same

In 2020, Jack in the Box released a new menu item — Tiny Tacos. According to Culture Map Houston, they're exactly what they sound like — a box full of 15 tiny, deep-fried tacos, each of which you can consume in about two bites. You can order them "loaded" with lettuce, cheese, and taco sauce dumped on top (toppings very similar to what you find stuffed inside the traditional tacos), or you can order them plain, with a side of avocado-lime dipping sauce. 

But as the author points out, these aren't shrunken versions of the original tacos. The main difference is that the larger tacos come with a beef filling, whereas the tiny tacos are filled with a chicken. Also, the avocado-lime dipping sauce is a break from the original, which is topped with taco sauce and is often paired with ranch dressing. So if you order the Tiny Tacos (which sell for about $3 or $4, depending on the version you choose), and hope they'll be mini versions of the original, you may be disappointed. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try them — they're different but still tasty. 

The beef in Jack in the Box tacos maybe isn't much beef after all

It's important to note that on the Jack in the Box website, the description for the "Two Tacos" never mentions meat. At all. It doesn't mention beef. It doesn't state that the tacos include a protein source of any kind. Rather, it simply states, "Two crunchy tacos with American cheese, shredded lettuce, and taco sauce." That's it. And if you click on the "Ingredients" link? You'll be taken to a page with the company's allergen information, not a page with information about the tacos' ingredients. 

If you're the type who wants to know exactly what you're putting in your body, the company's side-stepping of detailing the product's ingredients should be somewhat concerning. But the information is out there if you're willing to look for it. According to an article on Is It Bad For You, the taco filling is "an unattractive looking paste containing texturized protein — which is essentially soy flour with caramel coloring, as well as defatted soy grits." Yum, sounds delicious. The article goes on to say that the tacos do, in fact, contain both beef and chicken in addition to the more prominent textured vegetable proteins and that the company can get away with this because it doesn't actually promote the tacos as beef tacos. So sure, go ahead and order more of those tacos — with enough sauce (or beer) in your belly, you won't even be able to taste the meat-like filling. 

Jack in the Box tacos are great for parties

Not unlike Selena Gomez' "taco cake" made of nothing more than Jack in the Box tacos, the next time you need to feed a crowd, why not hit the Jack in the Box drive-thru to stock up on tacos? For instance, if you're planning a Super Bowl party, throw a bowl of chips on the table with an assortment of dipping sauces, then load a platter full of Jack in the Box tacos. Just like that, your prep work is done! At about 50 cents per taco, you can easily feed a crowd without breaking the bank. 

Just think about it, even if everyone at a party wants to eat four tacos (and not everyone will), that's just $2 per person. Not to mention, as an article on Fansided points out, each taco comes in its own individual wrapper, so it's more sanitary — you don't have to worry about lots of hands touching all the food — and it cuts down on the need for serving dishes. People can just grab a taco when they want, using the sleeve in place of a disposable plate. Fast, easy, affordable, and sanitary — what more could you want from party food? 

There are lots of copycat online recipes for Jack in the Box tacos

If you're a little bit weirded out by the fact that the "meat" in Jack in the Box tacos is hardly meat at all, you might want to consider upgrading your greasy late-night treat by making a version at home. One quick Pinterest search of "Jack in the Box tacos" returns lots of "copy cat" recipes that detail exactly how to deep fry tacos at home, using ingredients you might actually recognize. For instance, My Bizzy Kitchen and Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipes each offer a beef version that don't sound too hard to make (and you can always make them in advance and freeze them for later frying, just like Jack in the Box does). And if you'd prefer a vegetarian option, The Bearded Hiker offers a copy cat recipe featuring lentils and refried beans in place of the taco meat. While these recipes go as far as to offer ways to make your own taco sauce at home, here's a tip — the next time you go through the Jack in the Box drive-thru, just ask for extra packets of taco sauce. Then, when you make your own tacos at home, you can top them with the official sauce. It's much easier than making the sauce at home.