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A shatteringly crispy crust and easy to make savoury beef filling make these Beef Picadillo Empanadas irresistibly delicious. Unlike most empanadas, which are made with a flour-based dough, these ones are made with a gluten-free corn flour (masarepa) and are more similar to those popularly found in Colombian and Venezuelan households. They’re surprisingly easy to make, can be prepared in advance and only require a few ingredients.

Gluten-Free Picadillo Empanadas

Ingredients You Need for the Picadillo

  • Ground Beef: Feel free to use any blend of ground beef you like here. I personally prefer a fattier grind, something like 80/20 because it has more flavour and the meat is more tender.
  • Aromatics: A combination of diced onion, green bell pepper and garlic form the aromatic base for this picadillo.
  • Adobo Seasoning: Using a good quality Adobo seasoning is an easy and convenient way to add flavour to your picadillo. It typically consists of a combination of garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, oregano, and sometimes turmeric. Primal Palate make an excellent Adobo that is organic and free of junky fillers. You can also find a recipe for homemade adobo seasoning in my cookbook.
  • Bay Leaves: Add a couple of bay leaves to the picadillo for some flavour.
  • Tomato Paste and Tomato Passata: This recipe calls for both tomato paste and tomato passata (puréed and strained tomato sauce). The paste is what will give you the deep tomato flavour. The passata will help coat all of the meat and give a more mellow tomato flavour to the picadillo.
  • Chicken Broth: Cooking the picadillo with a bit of chicken broth will not only boost the flavour but will also prevent it from drying out.
  • Olives: This is an absolute key ingredient to any picadillo in my opinion. I like to use stuffed Manzanilla olives because they have a delicious briney and slightly bitter flavour that helps cut through the richness of the fatty beef.
Ingredients Needed for Gluten Free Beef Picadillo Empanadas

Ingredients You Need for the Empanada Dough

  • Masarepa: This naturally gluten-free flour is made of corn that has been precooked with lime (calcium hydroxide) before being ground into a fine flour. It’s the main ingredient in making Arepas, but also makes for incredible emapanada dough.
  • Salt: The emapanad dough needs to be seasoned with a bit of salt, otherwise it won’t taste that great.
  • Water: Using lukewarm water will help soften the masarepa and make it easier to work with.
  • Avocado Oil: I like to shallow fry the empanadas in avocado oil because it’s neutral-flavoured and has a high smoke point. Another heart-healthy option is to fry them in coconut oil, though this will impart some flavour.
Colombian and Venezuelan Style Empanada Dough Balls
Gluten-Free Beef Picadillo Empanadas Before Frying

What is Beef Picadillo?

Picadillo in general is a traditional Latin American dish that typically consists of ground meat (such as beef, pork, turkey or a combination thereof) cooked with various ingredients including onions, garlic, tomatoes, and a variety of seasonings. The dish often incorporates ingredients like diced potatoes, carrots, raisins, olives, and sometimes even hard-boiled eggs, depending on regional variations and personal preferences.

The exact recipe for picadillo can vary widely depending on the country or region where it is prepared. For example, in Mexico, picadillo might include ingredients like diced potatoes and carrots cooked with ground beef in a tomato-based sauce, seasoned with spices like cumin and cinnamon. In Cuba, picadillo often includes olives, raisins, and capers, giving it a sweet and savory flavor profile.

It’s an incredibly easy, delicious and versatile way to prepare any type of ground meat. It can be enjoyed as a main course with rice, beans, fried plantains and vegetables, or as a filling for tacos, empanadas, stuffed peppers, or served over rice or alongside beans as a main course.

Beef Picadillo Cooked in a Pan for Empanadas

Is the Picadillo Whole30 and Paleo?

While the empanada dough is not, the Beef Picadillo is in fact both Whole30 and Paleo so feel free to enjoy the recipe on its own for a quick and easy way to prepare ground meat. Serve it with cauliflower rice, plantains, baked potato, roasted sweet potatoes or sautéed vegetables.

Can I Make the Beef Picadillo Empanadas In Advance?

You can absolutely make the picadillo and empanadas in advance. In fact, making the beef picadillo in advance is ideal because the flavours will get even better the next day and be more easier to work with when it’s time to stuff the empanadas.

If you want to make the empanadas in advance, I recommend freezing them before cooking. Then, when you’d like to enjoy them, you can remove them from the freezer and let them thaw before frying. Or, bake them in the oven or air fryer from frozen until the dough is crispy and the meat inside is warmed through.

What is the Difference Between Masarepa and Masa Harina?

Masarepa, as mentioned earlier, is made from corn that has been precooked with lime (calcium hydroxide) before being ground into a fine flour. This precooking process, known as nixtamalization, gives masarepa its distinctive flavor and texture. It’s most commonly used to make arepas, empanadas, and other dishes in Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine.

Masa harina, on the other hand, is made from dried corn that has been soaked in an alkaline solution, often lime, then ground into a fine flour. This process is also a form of nixtamalization. Masa harina is used primarily in Mexican cuisine to make dishes such as tamales, tortillas, and tamales.

Gluten-Free Beef Picadillo Empanadas After Frying

Can I Make the Beef Empanadas in an Air Fryer?

Yes, you can make these Beef Picadillo Empanadas in the air fryer. Be sure to coat them well in a layer of avocado oil before cooking them and cook them at 350F until the dough is golden brown and crispy, 8 to 10 minutes.

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5 from 6 votes

Beef Picadillo Empanadas – Gluten-Free

A shatteringly crispy crust and easy to make savoury beef filling make these Gluten-Free Beef Picadillo Empanadas irresistibly delicious.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 10 empanadas


For the Picadillo:

  • 1 pound 80/20 ground beef
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon adobo seasoning, I like Primal Palate
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ cup tomato passata
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup sliced stuffed Manzanilla olives
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper, to taste

For the Empanadas:

  • 2 cups masarepa, pre-cooked corn flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups lukewarm water, plus more as needed
  • ½ cup avocado oil, substitute coconut oil
  • 1 batch Picadillo


For the Picadillo:

  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and green pepper and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft and translucent, around 8 minutes. Add the beef and cook, using a spatula to crumble it into small pieces, until it is no longer pink, around 8 minutes. Add the adobo seasoning and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and tomato passata and cook, stirring, until incorporated. Add half of the chicken broth and use a spatula to lift any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the remaining chicken broth, olives and bay leaves and stir to combine. Bring the liquid to a simmer, lower the heat to low, cover with a lid and cook for 20 minutes.
  • Transfer the picadillo to a bowl, cover and let cool fully before forming the empanadas. The picadillo is also delicious as a main course with rice or fried plantains. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

For the Empanadas:

  • In a bowl, combine the masarepa, salt and water. Using your hands, knead the ingredients together for 2 to 3 minutes or until you form a large ball of dough. If the dough is too dry and crumbles when you press it, add more water. If your dough is too wet and sticks to your fingers, add more masarepa.
  • Cut the dough into 10 equal portions and roll them into small balls around the size of a golf ball. Place the balls of dough in a bowl and cover with a damp towel to keep moist.
  • Using a tortilla press lined with heavy-duty plastic wrap or parchment paper, press the dough into flat discs approximately 5-inches wide and 1/8-inch thick. Add 1 tablespoon of the picadillo mixture to the center of the disc and carefully spread to evenly distribute. Fold the dough over the filling and use your fingers to seal the edges. Use the tines of a fork to make indentations around the border of the empanada.
  • Preheat the avocado oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat until it reaches 360F. Working in batches, cook the empanadas, flipping halfway, until they’re golden brown and crispy, around 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the fried empanadas to a tray lined with a cooling rack to drain any excess oil.
  • Arrange the empanadas on a serving platter and serve while hot.


Tried this recipe? Leave a comment below!

About the Author

Hi, i’m Ronny! In 2013, after a lifetime of struggling with my weight and body issues, I rehabilitated my relationship with food, lost over 40 pounds and completely changed my life.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I’m curious if you can air fry the empanadas. Frying foods normally don’t agree with me. If you can, at what temperature and how long.tgank yiu

  2. 5 stars
    These are delicious Ronnie! My first time making a dough like this and it took me a bit of trial and error……end result is so worth it! So good!

  3. 5 stars
    I made these last night and they turned out incredible. We are HOOKED! So happy to have a gluten free option with the masarepa dough for both arepas and these amazing empanadas! I can see a few double or triple batches in the future.

    I had to add a little more water to get the dough to spread smoothly and instead of a tortilla press, I added the dough to the cutting board and pressed a plate down to smash the ball into the perfect disk! (the dough was sandwiched by parchment paper to prevent sticking.)

    Love all of your recipes, thank you for sharing!

  4. 5 stars
    This was my first time making empanadas. it needs a little more spice and the 2 cups of water was too much. But they came out great and the next time I will make little adjustments

  5. Just made these for dinner. Very easy to make. Full of flavour! Had to add more oil, perhaps mine were too full 😉 Leftovers were great the next day.

  6. 5 stars
    This was fun to make! I made the filling the day before and I can agree that it tasted even better the next day. I had lots of leftover filling so I ended up making a second batch of the dough and was able to put 10 more in the freezer for later! Double win!

  7. 5 stars
    Hey Ronnie. Looks like another good recipe! The latin markets in my city disagree on what masarepa is. Do you have a brand name or some way I can sort out what I’m buying?