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What is Carne Asada?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By jonrss — On Sep 26, 2012

I have a few good carne asada recipes but I think that there is still something missing. A lot of the people I know use some kind of carne asada marinade. Does anyone have a recipe for this?

By Belted — On Sep 26, 2012

I think that some sandwich shop could really clean up if the started serving some kind of carne asada sandwich. People have not really explored the possibilities of spicy beef on a sandwich.

By vigilant — On Sep 25, 2012

I traveled in Mexico for about 2 months and I fell in love with the authentic carne asada dishes that they serve down there. You would not think that beef could be so delicious.

What I also loved is how much local variety there was. No two dishes tasted alike over the course of my travels. And I am not talking about little difference like a pinch more seasonings. I am talking about drastically different recipes, each one representing the taste of the family or town.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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