There’s nothing quite like biting into a heavenly carne asada taco topped with salsa, cilantro, and onions. Carne asada is a delicious dish that originated in Mexico but is now popular around the world. In fact, carne asada is one of the most served dishes at any fiesta or other special event in northern Mexico—it plays a massive role in the culinary culture there, too.
What Is Carne Asada?
Let’s start with the basics—carne asada is a traditional Mexican dish composed of marinated skirt steak or flank steak that has been grilled and thinly sliced. The term carne asada in Spanish translates to roasted or grilled meat in English. That’s why it’s important to recognize that, in Mexico, carne asada refers to how the beef is cooked rather than a specific recipe.
Think of it as like how Americans refer to chicken cooked on the grill as grilled or barbecued chicken. Before and after grilling, the beef is marinated in traditional Mexican spices like jalapeno, garlic, and cilantro plus lime juice and salt, creating the flavor that everyone knows and loves today. This delicious meat is sliced across the grain for maximum tenderness and can then be served on its own, as a part of a traditional carne asada plate with rice and beans or used as a base in other dishes like tacos or those undeniably delicious burritos.
Where Did Carne Asada Originate From?
Many people find themselves wondering who invented carne asada and where this method of grilling beef came from in the first place. In fact, there are both Latin American and Mexican versions, and carne asada is among a host of other regional dishes that boast a long history. With so many ranchers and cattle in the area, by the 1500s, beef became one of the most popular sources of protein across the country. Soon after, a close relative to the carne asada we know today was created by grilling beef over a fire and then thinly slicing it.
The beef would either be eaten by itself or stuffed into a corn tortilla by hungry ranchers. Sometimes, toppings were added—closely resembling the carne asada tacos served today. A centuries-long story short—from what we know about the earliest versions of carne asada, today’s version has not trailed far from its roots.
What Does Having a Carne Asada Mean?
While the term carne asada is most popular in the United States as a dish that includes marinated, grilled, and thinly sliced steak, the term is also used in northern Mexico to describe a certain type of social gathering. In fact, having a carne asada is quite like the American tradition of having a barbeque.
It’s a popular way to gather family, friends, and loved ones and share a meal together. Meat is grilled over an open fire on a barbeque while people connect with each other. The most common meats include grilled steak, sausages, and chicken, though many people also include vegetables of some sort. A carne asada can be molded to fit the needs of the people who will attend it, functioning as anything from a small picnic or a big family get-together, depending on who is involved.
How to Throw a Fiesta/Have a Carne Asada
If you’re looking for a fun way to get your family and friends together and enjoy the outdoors at the same time, having a carne asada is a great solution. Simply gather in the park, your own backyard, or at a loved one’s home—a carne asada fiesta can happen anywhere! Whether you’re planning a small get-together or a large fiesta, loved ones, food, music, and drinks are the only essentials you need for a carne asada gathering.
Learn the Process of Traditional Carne Asada
You want your guests to know you are bringing authenticity and taste to your party. The taste of carne asada is both delicious and unique, which is why so many people have come to love it over the years. It’s also a long process, which has been honed and tweaked over the decades to create an individual delicacy.
The Perfect Marinade
While carne asada puts a strong emphasis on the flavors that grilling and charring give to the meat, the marinade that’s used plays just as important of a role in preparing the best carne asada. In fact, every family is said to have a slightly different carne asada marinade based on the traditional method created years ago. The basics include top quality oil, lime juice, chili powder, salt, black pepper, cumin, cayenne, fresh garlic, jalapeno, oregano, and sometimes orange juice.
The Right Cut of Beef
The most common cuts of beef used when making carne asada are flank steak and skirt steak. This is because you want a steak that will not only absorb the flavors of the marinade well but grill easily as well. Skirt steak and flank steak are most often used because they are thinner cuts of meat that cook quickly, making it easier to prepare for groups of people.
Timing Is Crucial
The meat should marinade for at least an hour. Some traditional recipes call for it to marinate for up to four hours so that it can soak up the delicious flavors. However, marinating for longer time periods takes an expert hand. Meats can break down if they are left to marinade for too long.
The Grilling Process
After letting the steak marinate, it’s time to grill. The cooking time will vary depending on the cut of steak. For flank steak or skirt steak, the meat will cook quickly, only requiring 5-8 minutes per side.
More Time Before Serving
Any experienced carne asada cook will know that time is crucial throughout the process. First, for marinating the meat but also for knowing how long to let the steak rest before serving. Letting the steak rest ensures the juices are distributed throughout, ensuring all-around tenderness for the entire piece.
Slice the Meat
The last part of the process is slicing the steak. Experienced cooks will know to always slice against the grain. This creates many natural breaking points and makes for a tender cut of meat. For carne asada, the meat is thinly sliced.
How to Serve Carne Asada?
Because of the way carne asada is prepared, it can be served in a variety of ways. Some of the simplest ways you might see traditional carne asada served is an array of thinly sliced meat with rice and beans on a plate. Simple and delicious, the meat, rice, and beans make the perfect trio.
Sometimes, carne asada can enhance other dishes, too. For example, carne asada tacos are extremely popular here in the United States, especially in California and Arizona. Served on a tortilla with avocado, chopped onions, cilantro, and a choice of salsa, the flavors meld together perfectly to become one of the most popular taco choices.
What Does Mesquite Have to Do with It?
When learning about carne asada, you might have come across people talking about mesquite flavoring. This is because the most authentic carne asada is prepared over a wood-fired or charcoal grill, which is what gives it that delicious smoky flavor. The mesquite tree is common in Mexico and the southwestern United States, and it is widely used in Mexican cooking. The taste of mesquite flavoring is said to be smoky, which is why it’s so commonly used before grilling meats and vegetables.
Mesquite has a much stronger flavor than that of other common woods like hickory, which is why mesquite-fired food like carne asada is so memorable. That’s why we think the best kind of carne asada is cooked with mesquite charcoal or wood, which enhances the natural flavor of the meat. Mesquite flavoring can then be used to add another layer of wow to the dish.
Get the Best Carne Asada in Arizona
You don’t have to wait for the perfect carne asada. Backyard Taco serves up the most authentic carne asada in all of Arizona. From our own backyard to our four locations throughout Chandler, Gilbert, and Mesa, we take pride in the traditional Mexican fare we create. To order takeout or catering, stop into one of our four Arizona locations. Alternatively, take a look at our menu and order online. When you are planning a fiesta, offer the most authentic dishes, full of tradition and flavor.
Dr. Tyler loves tacos! He is one of the owners of Backyard Taco, and can sometimes be found moonlighting there at night or on the weekends.
Dr. Tyler Robison is an alum of Mesa’s Mountain View High School. He graduted from Brigham Young University before being accepted to the “Top Ten-nationally ranked” University of Louisville in Kentucky, where he earned his Doctorate in Dental Medicine and a Master’s Degree in Oral Biology. He graduated with honors in the top ten percent of his class. Dr. Robison continued at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco, where he received a second master’s degree in dental science and his orthodontic certification.
Dr. Tyler enjoys serving in his community. He is a provider for the Smile Back Foundation, which offers scholarships for free dental treatment to underprivileged East Valley students. He is also a Major in the U.S. Army Reserve and served during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2008.
Dr. Tyler Robison’s favorite pastimes include spending time with his family on the lake, at the beach, or on the slopes. He is an avid and crazy snowboarder! He has three incredible sons and one sweet daughter: Caden, Jace, Crew, and Bliss.