Meats are inseparable from Mexican cuisine. If you’ve ever been to a Mexican restaurant or had Mexican food, you’ll know about some of the mouth-watering options for protein commonly used within Mexican cooking. Pollo (chicken), carne asada (steak), al Pastor (pork), and birria (shredded beef) are all delicious meat options available right here at Backyard Taco. But, just how much do you know about each of these outstanding meat options – and the many others that appear throughout this wonderful, diverse cuisine?
Once you find your favorite meat option, all you need to do is decide how you want to eat it. Then, find your nearest Backyard Taco location, and you’re all set! Learn more about Mexican meats in this month’s blog.
Kinds of Mexican Meats for Meat LoversLet’s explore some of the most important meats used in Mexican cuisine and answer some frequent questions about Mexican meats.
The most commonly consumed meats in Mexico today are some of the typical ones we see in American cooking as well. Chicken, pork, and beef are all major protein sources in Mexico. Beans are another substantial source of protein within Mexican cuisine and can be enjoyed by vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Though you’ll find these proteins throughout the country, there are many regional dishes that have their own unique preparation of these proteins.
So what are some common meat preparations found in Mexican foods? If you head into your nearest Backyard Taco, you’ll find the four most common types of Mexican meat today, which are carne asada, shredded chicken, al Pastor, and birria. All four of these protein options can be combined with a number of other ingredients to create different dishes found in Mexican cuisine. Tacos are the most common, but all these protein choices can also be seen in burritos, quesadillas, bowls, tostadas, flautas, and even on our Papas Locas (crazy potatoes).
Read on for more detailed information about these and other Mexican meats.
Shredded chicken, pollo in Spanish, is one of the most popular meat options for many people who enjoy Mexican food. Chicken can be served in almost every Mexican food dish. However, chicken wasn’t always a staple in the region’s cuisine.
In fact, chicken was brought to Mesoamerican cultures pre-Mexico during the Spanish colonization. Before the Spanish colonists arrived with domesticated chickens, cows, and pigs, the primary protein source in the Mesoamerican diet was beans. Beans were usually mixed with chilies and maize (corn meal) to form a base used across Mesoamerican cuisine.
In modern-day Mexico, however, chicken is a staple in Mexican cooking. Both breast meat (white meat) and thigh meat (dark meat) are used in Mexican dishes depending on the intended preparation. Chicken breast meat is usually used for shredded chicken because after boiling and seasoning the meat, it is very easy to shred and pull apart. Often the meat will then be braised in a sauce of some sort and continue to tenderize.
Thigh meat (dark meat) is usually used for a pan-seared preparation. Dark meat is preferred for this method because it sears better due to the higher fat content in the meat. Dark meat is also used for several Mexican stews where the meat needs to sit for a period of time. It is preferred over white meat for this preparation because darker meat does not dry out as easily as white meat does.
Beef has a similar story as chicken in Mexican cuisine. Like chicken, the Spanish colonists were responsible for introducing cattle into Mesoamerican culture and pre-Mexican cuisine. This large animal is used to make a number of different meat preparations popular in Mexican cuisine.
The most critical component, the marinade, is composed of garlic, jalapeños, and various seasonings, the most important of which are the citruses involved. Many carne asada marinades contain lime and orange juices, as the acidic citrus juices begin to break down the meat by altering the proteins. This process pre-tenderizes the meat before cooking to give the steak a juicy and flavorful taste.
Carne asada is so popular because it serves as a versatile base for any dish; its neutral but rich flavor is conducive to many different toppings and preparations. Carne asada is also usually made from skirt and flank cut steak, and authentic carne asada is grilled over an open mesquite fire.
Birria is another popular beef dish, though it is commonly made with goat or other meats in Mexico. Many consider it to be more complex than carne asada in flavor and preparation. Instead of being placed in a marinade prior to cooking, birria meat is cooked, mixed with a sauce known as consomé, then cooked again to create a stew. Birria consome is made with guajillo and ancho chiles, Roma tomatoes, a touch of chicken broth, cumin, garlic, and other spices that really pack a punch.
While birria is traditionally eaten as a stew, this tender, flavorful meat can also be placed in a number of other dishes. The most common usage of birria meat is in tacos, which have become a staple of Mexican street food for their amazing flavor and easy on-the-go eating. The sauce is poured over the tender, shredded beef and cooked atop “una plancha,” or grill top, before going into a tortilla. Many people enjoy birria tacos by topping them with cilantro and onion and dipping them in a side of consomé.
Lengua, or cow tongue, is another very popular Mexican meat, though we have not yet added it to the menu here at Backyard Taco. It is most commonly seen in tacos but can also be stewed, like a roast. Although cow tongue is not common in US cuisine, this beef cut can be extremely tender and features the umami flavor of veal or lamb. The traditional way to prepare and eat lengua tacos in traditional Mexican cuisine is with the addition of onions, cilantro, a little squeeze of lime juice, and maybe a sprinkle of cotija cheese.
There are a variety of pork preparations commonly found in Mexican cuisine, and we are proud to feature the best, al Pastor, on our menu.
Like birria and carne asada, Al Pastor traditionally refers to a style of meat preparation rather than a specific cut of meat itself. However, al Pastor is most often a tenderized pork meat prepared in the “shepherd style,” the direct translation of the term. The marinade often includes the acidity of pineapple chunks as well as chiles and cilantro to create a unique spicy, salty, and sweet flavor combination, but the true signifier for al Pastor style is the use of the trompo.
In most cases, pork shoulder is marinated, seasoned, and placed on a vertical spit known as a trompo. There, it is slow-cooked for hours until tender. When it’s ready, meat al Pastor is shaved in thin slices from the rotating spit and served in a variety of ways. Often, you’ll find tacos al Pastor available with a variety of toppings.
Carnitas is another meat preparation style that is used on a variety of meats. Most often, it is a stewed and shredded type of pork that leaves the meat very tender and has a more neutral flavor that can be combined with a great number of other ingredients. Carnitas is said to have been born in the year 1571 when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortes butchered a pig to celebrate the fall of the Aztec Empire and then cooked the pig in the only thing that was available: the pig’s own lard.
Since then, carnitas, which literally translates to “little meats,” has been a large part of Mexican cuisine and is still made by braising and cooking down meat and then pan-frying in lard. In fact, the making of carnitas is so embedded in Mexican culture that frequently, during pueblo (town) festivals, the community will come together to make one large serving of carnitas to serve the attendees of the festival. While we do not yet serve carnitas at Backyard Taco, there are plenty of people who enjoy this meat.
Chorizo is a type of spicy pork sausage that belongs to several different cultures and cuisines, not just Mexican cuisine. In fact, chorizo is very common in modern Spanish cuisine, specifically in the northern regions. Mexican cuisine has taken Chorizo and given it a signature Mexican flair with the introduction of new spices.
The sausage gets its spicy flavor from Mexican chilies and is usually redder in color than the Spanish variety. Adding Chorizo as a protein choice in Mexican food gives the dish a spicy edge that people love. Although chorizo is not currently on the Backyard Taco menu, this sausage is very commonly seen in breakfast burritos mixed with eggs and cheese as a way to balance out the spicy flavor of the sausage.
Mesquite From Oaxaca, Mexico
Mesquite-style grilled meats are one of the most well-known regional Mexican preparations, hailing from the region of Oaxaca, Mexico. The name mesquite comes from the type of tree that is burned during the grilling process. Its wood imparts a unique smoky flavor to the meat that is very hard to recreate. Though mesquite cooking is originally from the Oaxaca region in Mexico, its use has traveled north and has gained a lot of popularity in the southwestern parts of the United States.
Many authentic Mexican restaurants use mesquite-fired grilling techniques to create their dishes in the same way many Texans use hickory wood to get that signature, smoky, hickory barbecue flavor. You can grill any type of meat using the mesquite technique and get that unique, umami mesquite flavor. Backyard Taco offers our delicious Grilled Tostada Vampiro, which combines your favorite meat grilled and smoked to perfection with mesquite, sure to be a favorite!
Burritos From Nuevo León, Mexico
Though burritos are now pervasive in US-based Mexican restaurants, they have their roots in the Northern regions of Mexico. In Nuevo León, people began using wheat flour to make tortillas as opposed to the traditional corn. Using flour in the tortillas allowed the tortillas to be made larger and therefore be stuffed with more ingredients. Burritos were then born from these large tortillas being stuffed with a mix of meat, beans, cheese, lettuce, and onions.
This perfect meal for on-the-go or at home gained popularity in the region and then traveled north towards the southwestern region of the US. Now, it is a staple in Mexican food, from fast food restaurants to Tex-Mex and beyond. Backyard Taco takes our authentic-style burritos to the next level with grilled meats and traditional toppings to make each bite perfect.
Mexican Food Just Tastes Better
Mexican food is made with very fresh and simple ingredients that combine together to create a taste sensation enjoyed in an increasingly large section of the world. However, for the home cook, creating authentic Mexican meats can be a lot to manage. This is especially true when the traditional meat preparation methods involve open mesquite fires, trompos, and unusual Mexican chiles.
Ordering takeout Mexican food or eating in a restaurant allows you to enjoy all the delicious flavors of Mexican cuisine without the hassle or cleanup. Catering a big group is a great way to ensure everyone enjoys an authentic Mexican dish they love. Come visit us at Backyard Taco and learn about how we bring all the flavors of traditionally-prepared Mexican meats to the table. Stop into any of our Backyard Taco locations or have your fiesta catered to experience true “Mexcellence.”
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.