What is Carne Asada?

Acabonac Farms |

If you enjoy cooking Mexican cuisine or love eating at an authentic Mexican restaurant, then you know about the delicious flavor and versatility of carne asada. It’s a meat with deep roots in Mexico’s culinary traditions, particularly influenced by the ranching culture prevalent in the country’s northern regions. You’ll find it throughout the menu at quality restaurants, where it's served as a main dish with sides like rice, beans, guacamole, and fresh salsas, and used in dishes like tacos, burritos, enchiladas and even carne asada fajitas.

Read on to learn more about the rich history of this famous style of beef, as well as tips for how to make authentic carne asada yourself!

Key Takeaways

  • Carne asada is a staple of Mexican cuisine that involves beef marinated to enhance flavor.
  • It holds cultural significance in South and Central American countries, but is especially important in Mexico.
  • Carne asada offers a variety of serving options, including its use in tacos and burritos or thinly sliced and served as a main dish with sides.

What is Carne Asada?

Carne asada in English means grilled or roasted beef. It’s meat that is typically marinated in a mixture of lime juice, garlic, herbs, and spices and then grilled over high heat, giving it a distinctive charred flavor and a juicy interior. 

The tradition of grilling meat goes back to the indigenous peoples of Mexico, who cooked meat on open fires. The Spanish colonization introduced cattle and other livestock to the Americas, including what is now Mexico. This introduction transformed local diets and agricultural practices. Over time, the preparation of grilled beef evolved, incorporating both indigenous and Spanish influences to become what is known today as carne asada.

Historians trace the roots of carne asada to the cattle ranches of northern Mexico, primarily in the states of Sonora and Chihuahua. They continue to rank among the top beef producing areas of Mexico, along with Tamaulipas and Veracruz. Traditionally, serving carne asada is central to social events such as family gatherings, celebrations and communal festivities. Each region in Mexico has its own specific marinades and side dishes that accompany the grilled meat.

Internationally, carne asada has become synonymous with Mexican cuisine, popularized through the global spread of Mexican restaurants. It's one of the quintessential dishes of Mexico. 

what is carne asada

What Cut of Meat is Carne Asada?

The most common cuts for carne asada are skirt steak or flank steak. These cuts are favored because they absorb marinades well and cook quickly on a hot grill, which is ideal for achieving the characteristic charred exterior and tender interior. 

Acabonac Farms sells 100% pasture-raised, grass-fed skirt steak and flank steak. Our livestock roam freely over pastures near the Atlantic Ocean, eating natural grasses and vegetation. The result is skirt steak and flank steak that is far more flavorful and nutritious than traditional beef from industrial operations. 

raw flank steak for carne asada

Are Carnitas and Carne Asada the Same?

Carnitas and carne asada are distinct dishes, each with its own unique preparation and flavor profile. While carne asada is made from beef, carnitas are made from pork, specifically from fattier cuts like the shoulder. Unlike the grilling method used with carne asada, the pork is seasoned and slow-cooked until tender enough to pull apart. Traditionally, it's cooked in large copper pots in its own fat, then heat is increased to crisp the outside. 

Carnitas are flavorful, seasoned with a mix of spices, orange and sometimes beer. Much like carne asada, they are typically served in tacos, burritos or simply with rice and beans. They can also be found topping nachos or as a filling for tamales.

What's the Difference Between Fajitas and Carne Asada?

Fajitas and carne asada both involve the use of grilled meat, but differ significantly in preparation, presentation and traditional ingredients. Cooks using fajita strips typically season them and grill them along with sliced bell peppers and onions. Unlike carne asada, fajitas are often not marinated for long, focusing on the flavors developed during the grilling process.

Fajitas are typically served sizzling hot right on the skillet in which they were cooked. The cooked meat and vegetables are usually served with flour tortillas, allowing diners to make their own wraps. Accompaniments often include shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole and salsa. 

Another difference involves how the meat is cut. For carne asada, the beef is usually left in larger pieces or whole during the marinating process. This allows for more even cooking and easier handling on the grill. After grilling, the meat is sliced thinly against the grain. With fajitas, the meat is typically sliced into thin strips before cooking, and served this way off the grill.

fajita strips vs carne asada

What Do You Serve Carne Asada With?

Carne asada pairs well with a variety of sides. Some of the most popular include tortillas, Mexican rice or cilantro lime rice, refried or charro beans, chips and salsa, guacamole and a simple green salad or a more elaborate Mexican-style salad with ingredients like jicama, orange segments and avocado slices. Carne asada is also often served with lime wedges and cilantro. 

How to Make Carne Asada

With a high-quality cut of beef on hand, you're ready to create a carne asada that pays homage to the beloved Mexican tradition. These instructions will walk you through the preparation and cooking process, filling your kitchen with the mouthwatering flavors and aromas of this classic dish.

Prepare the Marinade

In a bowl, whisk together the ingredients for your marinade. Traditional choices include olive oil, lime juice, minced garlic, minced jalapeño, chopped cilantro, cumin, salt and pepper. The more you cook and experiment, the more you can fine-tune the marinade that works best for you. Place the steak with the marinade in a large resealable plastic bag or shallow dish. Seal or cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. Marinade overnight for a deeper flavor.

Grill the Steak

Heat your grill to high heat. You want it very hot to achieve a good sear on the meat. Remove the steak from the marinade, letting excess drip off. Place the meat on the grill. Cook for about 3-5 minutes per side, depending on thickness and desired doneness. Once grilled, transfer the steak to a cutting board and let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. 

 If you don't have a grill, you can cook the carne asada on a high-heat setting in a heavy skillet or grill pan.

Slice the Steak

Cut the steak into thin slices against the grain. This is crucial for ensuring the meat is tender and not chewy. If serving with tortillas, warm them on the grill for a few seconds on each side.

Serve Carne Asada

While the meat rests, you can prepare any sides or toppings you’d like to serve with your carne asada. In addition to warm tortillas, other popular choices as sides include rice, beans and salsa. Offer lime wedges, extra cilantro and guacamole for garnishing. 

Keep in mind that carne asada is versatile. Serve it in tacos or burritos, over rice or with a side of salad for a lighter option.

Tips for Making a Healthier Version of Carne Asada

One of the most important ways to make healthier carne asada is to choose the best cut of meat. Grass-fed, pasture-raised beef provides meat that is higher in nutrients than traditional beef, including omega-3s, and does not contain antibiotics, hormones or growth promotants. Grass-fed beef also delivers a unique flavor profile that can elevate the taste of your carne asada. It’s authentic, providing beef much like used by cooks for centuries in Mexico.

You can also modify the marinade to use less salt and oil, and increase the amount of citrus juice or vinegar to enhance the flavor without adding calories. Use herbs and spices like garlic, cilantro, chili powder and cumin for flavor instead of relying on salt. For a healthier overall dish, consider replacing traditional sides like refried beans and rice with grilled vegetables, fresh salads or a bean salad. These sides are nutritious and complement the flavors of carne asada.

Where to Buy Meat for Carne Asada Online

Carne asada is a delicious part of Mexican and Latin American cuisine. It’s a wonderful dish for cooks at all levels of experience to try. Acabonac Farms is the perfect place to find the right cut of quality skirt steak or flank steak. You’ll find both available from our farm, as well as other cuts of beef, lamb, pork and chicken.

We offer 100% grass-fed beef from our farm where we use a regenerative approach that supports the health of local ecosystems. Our goal is to produce nutritious and healthy products while also working in harmony with the environment. You’ll taste the difference and enjoy the health benefits.

Order online now to get the highest-quality local meats directly to your door.

grass-fed skirt steak for carne asada

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