Carne asada is a beef dish native to Northern Mexico. It consists of strips or chunks of beef grilled over a fire. The resulting cooked meat can be used hot or cold in a variety of ways, making it a very versatile food. In addition to being popular in Mexico, the dish is also a common offering in the American Southwest, and in fact, in some areas, people use the term like “barbecue” to refer to a social event at which food is the focus.
Basic carne asada, which literally means “meat roasted,” is made by cutting beef into thin strips to prepare them for grilling. Many different cuts of meat can be used, since the meat is traditionally well-done. It is common for cooks to marinate their beef in a mix of onions, pepper, garlic, and lime juice, sometimes adding shredded hot peppers as well. Others dry rub it with a mixture of spices, often including salt, pepper, and cumin.
Once the beef strips have been prepared, they are grilled over a charcoal or mesquite fire. Cooks may choose to toss green mesquite into a charcoal fire so that the smoke will be infused with the flavor, in turn flavoring the meat and making the carne asada more interesting. Mexican cooks char their beef, cooking the meat to a well-done state. American cooks often prefer medium to rare meat, due to cultural tastes.
After carne asada is cooked, it can be used in a variety of ways. It can be rolled up in tortillas to make tacos or burritos, often served with sour cream, salsa, and guacamole. It can also be served on a bed of rice, cooled and shredded for a salad, or eaten straight as a snack. Many people like to squeeze lime juice and hot sauce on it to give the dish a zesty flavor. A simple but tasty way to eat carne asada is wrapped in a warm corn tortilla with a garnish of lime, shredded lettuce, onions, and cilantro.
Like many traditional dishes, carne asada can be seasoned in a variety of ways. Cooks from different regions of Mexico may use radically different seasonings, but their versions are still authentic, in the sense that they are produced using traditional recipes. You should be wary of cooks who claim that only their way of making the dish is “real,” as there are so many different takes on it. As a cook, you can develop your own preferred version, seasoned to taste and eaten the way you like it.