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Costa Rican Beef Picadillo Empanadas

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This Costa Rican empanada recipe makes a traditional beef picadillo the star. Simple corn dough filled with beef and golden fried until hot and crispy, these empanadas are a perfect Latin American snack or appetizer.

Trio of fresh Costa Rican bean and cheese empanadas.

About Costa Rican Picadillo Empanadas

Picadillo empanadas are the perfect combination of a traditional picadillo and a savory empanada. This dish is well known throughout Latin America and can include ingredients such as green olives, tomato paste, cream cheese, a cup raisins and even chipotle peppers.

Some of these variations include a dough that is more like a pie crust, while the Costa Rican version uses a corn masa empanada dough. Both are delicious, but this post will create the traditional Costa Rican recipe.

Traditional picadillo in Costa Rica combines spices (bell peppers, garlic cloves and cilantro) with ground or shredded beef and lots of vegetables. To make this recipe, I suggest you make your picadillo ahead of time and have it at room temperature when you decide to make the empanadas.

Traditional picadillo for this recipe in other countries definitely uses a tomato base like a cup tomato sauce. We use a sofrito base and then add some Salsa Lizano for the unique Costa Rican flavor.

Related post: Costa Rican Empanada Recipes

These crispy deep-fried half-moon shaped empanadas are filled with shredded beef and then fried to golden perfection. This beef empanada recipe uses a traditional Costa Rican shredded beef filling. While many empanada recipes from Latin America use ground beef to fill their empanadas, you will rarely find a ground beef empanada in Costa Rica.

Instead, we use the same shredded beef recipe that we use for nachos, tacos, soups and more. The beef is pressure-cooked until tender and finely shredded before frying it in a traditional Costa Rican sofrito and adding a touch of Salsa Lizano. The end result is basically heaven in a half-moon.

See all of our Traditional Costa Rican recipes here – Costa Rican Recipes by Pura Vida Moms

Fresh beef empanadas on a white and red platter.

Beef Picadillo Empanada Recipe

Ingredients for the Empanada dough

  • 2 cups Maseca amarilla
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 cups oil for frying (I use vegetable oil)
  • tortilla press with plastic inserts
  • cast iron skillet

Ingredients for the Beef Picadillo

  • 1/2 medium sized red pepper (bell)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 large white onion or yellow onion
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 3-4 tablespoons of Salsa Lizano

Instructions:

Heat a tablespoon of cooking oil on medium heat in a large skillet. Finely chop your vegetables and put them in the oil- cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the ground beef on top and raise the temperature to medium-high. Using a spatula, press the meat into small chunks.

Add about a cup of cold water and cook it off. Add Salsa Lizano and combine. Set aside while you make the empanada dough and disks.

You can definitely make the ground beef ahead if you want.

In a medium mixing bowl, measure out your Maseca and add your salt. Whisk together.

Pour in water, and mix until the dough (or masa) forms. I use my hands for this.

Divide the dough into 8 equal-size dough balls.

Flattened disc of empanada dough.

Place the plastic wrap inserts (I just cut up a piece of Ziploc bag in a square shape a bit larger than the tortilla press) into your tortilla press.

Using your tortilla press, press the balls out into a flat shape. (You’ve just made a tortilla!) These are your empanada disks. You can also roll these out with a rolling pin, but I think it is more work.

In the center of each circle, place your beef picadillo mixture.

Fold dough over the non-filled side of the empanada and seal the edge of the dough with your finger. Some people make the empanadas pretty by using the tines of a fork to press in little lines around the empanadas seal. This step is optional, you can just press edge with your finger and even seal with a little water on your finger.

Four uncooked empanadas on a white plate.

Heat the oil on medium-high heat to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit. I use a small cast-iron skillet for this. Gently place your empanadas in the hot oil and fry until golden brown.

Drain off excess oil and place on paper towels until the remaining empanadas have been fried.

I generally fry these empanadas at a lower temperature for about 5-7 minutes. this is because the empanadas dough is fairly thick, and if you don’t let it cook for a long time, the inside dough is raw and the outside is burned. Patience is the key to this!

Two empanadas frying in a cast-iron skillet.

Substitutions

You can substitute Maseca blanca for the Maseca amarilla. Some people use a packet of chicken bouillon in place of the salt. I would not substitute olive oil for frying as it doesn’t withstand high enough temperatures.

You can substitute green bell pepper for the red.

Two beef empanadas on a ceramic platter.

Variations

You can make these empanadas with different types of picadillo empanada filling. We like green bean and carrot picadillo, (and the vegan version!), potato picadillo and picadillo de arracache.

If you want to give a Costa Rican twist to the traditional beef picadillo empanadas from Puerto Rico you can always find the premade Goya disks in the freezer section of most Hispanic grocery stores. You can defrost them and make the empanadas the exact same way, but you need to put an egg wash on the top of the empanadas before baking (not frying) them.

Serving Suggestions

You can just serve an empanada with hot coffee, tea, or agua dulce and great company. You can also make what we call an empanada arreglada– which is adding shredded cabbage on top and slathering ketchup and mayonnaise on top.

We definitely always serve empanadas with Salsa Lizano- most people just pour extra salsa into the empanadas after taking one bite.

Printable Recipe

Yield: 12 empanadas

Costa Rican Beef Picadillo Empanadas

Trio of fresh Costa Rican bean and cheese empanadas.

This Costa Rican empanada recipe makes a traditional beef picadillo the star. Simple corn dough filled with beef and golden fried until hot and crispy, these empanadas are a perfect Latin American snack or appetizer.

Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • Ingredients for the Empanada dough
  • 2 cups Maseca amarilla
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 cups oil for frying (I use vegetable oil)
  • tortilla press with plastic inserts
  • cast iron skillet
  • Ingredients for the Beef Picadillo
  • 1/2 medium sized red pepper (bell)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 large white onion or yellow onion
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 3-4 tablespoons of Salsa Lizano

Instructions

  1. Heat a tablespoon of cooking oil on medium heat in a large skillet. Finely chop your vegetables and put them in the oil- cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the ground beef on top and raise the temperature to medium-high. Using a spatula, press the meat into small chunks.
  3. Add about a cup of cold water and cook it off. Add Salsa Lizano and combine. Set aside while you make the empanada dough and disks.
  4. You can definitely make the ground beef ahead if you want.
  5. In a medium mixing bowl, measure out your Maseca and add your salt. Whisk together.
  6. Pour in water, and mix until the dough (or masa) forms. I use my hands for this.
  7. Divide the dough into 8 equal-size dough balls.
  8. Place the plastic wrap inserts (I just cut up a piece of Ziploc bag in a square shape a bit larger than the tortilla press) into your tortilla press.
  9. Using your tortilla press, press the balls out into a flat shape. (You've just made a tortilla!) These are your empanada disks. You can also roll these out with a rolling pin, but I think it is more work.
  10. In the center of each circle, place your beef picadillo mixture.
  11. Fold dough over the non-filled side of the empanada and seal the edge of the dough with your finger. Some people make the empanadas pretty by using the tines of a fork to press in little lines around the empanadas seal. This step is optional, you can just press edge with your finger and even seal with a little water on your finger.
  12. Heat the oil on medium-high heat to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit. I use a small cast-iron skillet for this. Gently place your empanadas in the hot oil and fry until golden brown.
  13. Drain off excess oil and place on paper towels until the remaining empanadas have been fried.
  14. I generally fry these empanadas at a lower temperature for about 5-7 minutes. this is because the empanadas dough is fairly thick, and if you don't let it cook for a long time, the inside dough is raw and the outside is burned. Patience is the key to this!

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 3345Total Fat: 353gSaturated Fat: 28gTrans Fat: 3gUnsaturated Fat: 308gCholesterol: 67mgSodium: 487mgCarbohydrates: 32gFiber: 3gSugar: 3gProtein: 24g

Please double-check this information with your favorite nutrition calculator.

About the Author

Christa profile image

Hi- I’m Christa! I fell in love with Latin America in my 20s, and I’m still head over heels! Here at Pura Vida Moms I celebrate what it means to be bicultural- Costa Rican recipes, bilingual parenting and family travel.

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Christa profile image

Hi- I’m Christa, and I’m on a mission to help the world fall in love with Costa Rica through food, travel and language. I’m a mom of two Latinas, bicultural, bilingual (English/Spanish), and 100% in love with celebrating parenthood in all its forms, (even the sucky parts). I’m so happy you found the site- WELCOME! Find out more about me here

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