National Burrito Day: Here's the origin of the burrito and how to make yours at home

 It's not an official holiday, but National Burrito Day is certainly something to celebrate.

As a food, a burrito is like a canvas. You can fill a flour tortilla with a variety of fillings, then you bake it, grill it, or eat it. 

Don't want to cook – or have time to? Plenty of restaurants have deals you can stop in, drive through or have delivered for National Burrito Day. 

But how were we lucky enough to have burritos? The answer, of course, lies to the south of the U.S. in Mexico. But it's not that simple, says Jeffrey Pilcher, a professor of food history at the University of Toronto, in his book "Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food."

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The Double Steak Grilled Cheese Burrito ($3.49), back on Taco Bell's menu for a limited time, is loaded with twice the serving of grilled marinated steak as a Steak Quesadilla), along with seasoned rice and sauce in a warm tortilla, topped with a melted mix of cheddar, mozzarella and pepper jack cheeses and then grilled.

National Burrito Day: What is the origin of the burrito?

Burrito means "little donkey," and may have gotten its name because the donkey – called burro in Spanish – often carried food to and from destinations in Mexico, Pilcher writes in the book, published in 2012.

Other tangential theories on note that burritos may have gotten their name from the cylindrical bedroll that burros often carried. Street vendors sold burritos from baskets bore by their burros, another way the name may have stuck, proffered. 

The true origin of the burrito is hard to pin down, but today's burritos are relatively novel dishes that originated in northern Mexico, Pilcher told USA TODAY. They arose from the mingling of regional Mexican food preparation and cooking with that of Europeans, who came to the region after the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. 

Even Arabic cuisine, which influenced Spanish tastes, comes into play as helping spread what became the flour tortilla, wrote Chef Minerva Orduño Rincón in The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network.

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As wheat and alternate baking methods were introduced in the region, the flour tortilla began to be used. The first known culinary reference to the burrito is in the 1895 edition of the Diccionario De Mejicanismos, which defined it as a "rolled tortilla with meat or other thing inside."

As the Mexican Revolution broke out in the 1910s, "the need for a portable, hearty meal to fuel these activities is quite plausible, but the invention of the burrito is much like the invention of fire in that it most likely sparked in multiple places at once and then spread," Rincón wrote. 

As the dish spread, eventually into what became California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, different versions of tacos and burritos emerged, Pilcher writes. Caribbean influences likely led to rice and beans becoming ingredients.

While tacos became dominant in most places, the burrito became popular in California and the northwest Mexican state of Sonora, Pilcher writes. By the mid-1900s, burritos associated with wheat flour tortillas, had become entrenched in California.

Eventually the burrito became an American food, popularized by Cal-Mex and Tex-Mex restaurants and fast-food chains. The aluminum foil-wrapped Mission Burrito – think Chipotle Mexican Grill – arose out of the Mission District in San Francisco.

"The subsequent spread of Mexican American fast food out of Los Angeles helped to establish what had been a peculiar local nomenclature – burritos and hard and soft tacos – throughout the United States," Pilcher writes.

How to make your own burritos for National Burrito Day

America's Test Kitchen's Beef and Bean Burritos.

America's Test Kitchen's Beef and Bean Burritos 

Makes six burritos. Cooking time: 1¼ hours

To make big, overstuffed burritos, America's Test Kitchen decided to trade long-braised meat for a simple ground beef and canned bean filling. Tomato paste, spices, and lime juice bumps up the flavor, and mashing a portion of the beans helps the filling hold together. White rice (cooked in chicken broth for more flavor), sour cream, and sharp cheddar cheese round out the filling. Sprinkling on some more cheese and broiling the burritos after rolling them up eliminates the doughy texture and floury taste of store-bought tortillas.


  • 1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • ¾ cup long-grain white rice
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup minced fresh cilantro

Beef and Bean Filling 

  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
  • 12 ounces 90% lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 6 (10-inch) flour tortillas
  • 10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2½ cups)
  • 6 tablespoons sour cream


  • For the rice: Bring broth, rice, garlic, and salt to boil in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until rice is tender and all liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove rice from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Add cilantro, fluff rice with fork, cover, and set aside.
  • For the beef and bean filling: Meanwhile, combine broth and half of beans in medium bowl. Using potato masher, coarsely mash beans together with broth. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, garlic, cumin, oregano, and chile powder and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add beef, breaking up pieces with spoon, and cook until no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Combine: Stir mashed bean mixture into meat mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until nearly all liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in remaining whole beans, lime juice, and salt. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.
  • Fill tortillas: Adjust oven rack 3 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Wrap tortillas in clean dish towel and microwave until soft and pliable, about 90 seconds. Arrange tortillas on counter. Divide rice, beef and bean filling, and 1 1/2 cups cheddar evenly among tortillas. Dollop each tortilla with 1 tablespoon sour cream. Fold sides of tortilla over filling, fold bottom of tortilla over sides and filling, and roll tightly. Transfer to prepared sheet, seam side down.
  • Broil burritos: Sprinkle remaining 1 cup cheddar over burritos. Transfer to oven and broil until cheddar is melted and starting to brown, 3 to 5 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through broiling. Serve.
  • To make ahead: The rice and filling can be made and refrigerated up to 24 hours in advance. Microwave each until hot, about 2 minutes, stirring halfway through microwaving, before assembling burritos.
  • Dig Deeper:

    • Everyone eats burritos:  ... in Juarez:National Burrito Day in Juárez.
    • Burrito myths and legends: The history of and how to make classic Sonoran burros de machaca.
    • Make your own burrito bowl: Try this easy-to-make recipe that helps save cash.
    • Breakfast burritos: The perfect make-ahead meal: How to cook, freeze and reheat them.

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