What Does Tacos “al Carbon” Mean?

What Does Tacos “al Carbon” Mean?

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If you call yourself a taco connoisseur, then you no doubt have educated yourself on the spectrum of taco flavors. From pollo to carne asada, the tastes of tortilla-wrapped goodness can transport you to experience amazing adventures. If, that is, you know the story behind the taco.

Today, we bring you a look at al carbon tacos and what makes them so special.

These tacos are favorite menu items in authentic Mexican restaurants across the United States because of their distinct preparation, flavor, and authenticity. They grew in popularity in the 1980s when a woman by the name of Ninfa Rodriguez Laurenzo was looking for a way to revitalize her struggling taco stand and tortilla factory. With a desire to stick to her roots, she doubled down on the authenticity of the tacos she prepared. She converted her factory to a restaurant and decided to make tacos al carbon the star. Her efforts inspired other restaurants to add it to their menu just to keep up with her success.

Whether you missed our previous blog post introducing you to this amazing southwest flavor or you’re back for seconds, our team will have you ready to find your closest Backyard Taco.

What Does al Carbon Mean in Tacos?

The Spanish phrase al carbon means over charcoal. If you see this phrase attached to a description of a taco you’ve just ordered, then you are getting ready for a charbroiled, mesquite-flavored experience complete with grill marks. This cooking process can be applied to any meat or vegetable. Most often, though, if you are in the United States, you are likely to see this descriptor attached to a hearty cut of beef.

Different Types of Backyard Tacos

In their most basic (and authentic) form, tacos al carbon include grilled meat or vegetables topped with just a few simple ingredients. Unlike Americanized versions of tacos, which are filled with a variety of toppings, including cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, or fruit-based salsa (thank you mangos), authentic tacos are kept simple with ingredients from the earth. Ordering these authentic tacos al carbon with authenticity will likely contain charcoal grilled chicken or beef, a flour or corn tortilla, sauteed or fresh onions, cilantro, and chopped cabbage.

How Are al Carbon Tacos Different from Carne Asada?

The key to a good taco al carbon taco is the preparation of the meat. Getting that slight char on the cook allows the flavors of the meat to infuse with the smokey charcoal. This makes them distinctly different from tacos without the al carbon signifier, like regular carne asada tacos.

Carne asada tacos are made with steak. However, the steak in a carne asada taco can be pan-seared rather than cooked over an open flame. Both are dusted lightly with salt and pepper, and that’s it. The tastes of the southwest United States and Mexico come through in the other ingredients put into the taco, such as lime, cilantro, and salsa.

What Is the Difference Between Fajitas and Tacos al Carbon?

If you are thinking to yourself that tacos al carbon sounds eerily familiar to another sizzling favorite, then you’re right. Fajitas and tacos al carbon can be thought of as siblings, just as carne asada and tacos al carbon. One of the main differences between the two is that in an al carbon taco, the meat is prepared over charcoal, whereas a fajita is prepared on a flat top or skillet.

Another big difference between the two is the way in which they are presented. A taco is pre-assembled and served ready to eat. When it comes to a fajita, part of the meal is the experience of putting it all together. The meat will come out sizzling and served with a variety of grilled vegetables like onions and peppers. Then, it’s up to you to decide the size of the serving, the toppings, the layers, the ratios, and the experience.

Fun fact: the word fajita means belt or girdle and is used to describe this tasty treat because the beef generally used for fajitas is the skirt steak, which is located in the middle of the cow. This tradition began along the Rio Grande River, where travelers would use any available cut of meat for sustenance. This could include the entrails or any other part. They couldn’t exactly stop at the grocery store and pick up a package of their favorite meat. It was a matter of survival, particularly when their travels involved rounding up cattle.

These travelers would build their overnight camps and cook the meat over the coals of the fire. They would then put the meat in a tortilla that allowed them to easily hold it in one hand while holding the reins in the other.

This beginning of the fajita was actually where tacos al carbon comes from. Fajitas would not exist without the taco al carbon.

Mesquite Grilled Flavors

Mesquite Grilled Flavors

Many people may not realize this, but the word mesquite actually refers to a specific type of tree that is found in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. While traditionally, the seed pods of this tree can be used to create seasonings and rubs, most people now associate the word mesquite with the flame-grilled taste that comes from a grill. While mesquite itself is still used as a favorite on many fire pits, this classic combination started in the wilderness, where ranchers and herders would set up camp and use the wood in their fire because of its unique flavor.

Because the al carbon taco was popular with these groups of people, it is no wonder that many types of meat on the al carbon taco are infused with this flavor. Bringing the al carbon taco back to its roots, using mesquite charcoal or chunks of charred mesquite wood on the grill top can infuse the meat with this traditional flavor. It should bring you back to the rustle of the breeze and the bright sun on the southwestern plains.

To create a truly authentic experience, bring that mesquite flavor to the vegetables as well. Mesquite-flavored grilled onions and jalapenos provide any al carbon taco with the authenticity of these regional vegetables. This combination has been used throughout Mexican history in not just tacos but stews, broths, salsas, and more. While they don’t have to have that mesquite flavor to be authentic, the process helps to enhance many of the natural flavors of the vegetables and provides a complement to any dish.

Making Tacos al Carbon

Preparing tacos al carbon in 2024 may be more difficult than you might realize. With personal living space shrinking, that authentic char-grilled taste may be more difficult to achieve than it was a century ago. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get a great al carbon taco at your favorite authentic taco shop.

Our taco experts started out with an outdoor fire pit and grill, but many factors can make this inconvenient for restauranteurs. Unfortunately, too many choose to use a grill pan or a broiler pan in the kitchen in an attempt to create a substitute. Often, the mesquite flavors are created by seasoning at the local grocery store to get the mesquite flavor customers are looking for.

Here at Backyard Taco, we marinate the meat and then place it over an open charcoal flame with mesquite wood chunks. This helps us ensure we give your meat the char you are looking for in a true al carbon taco. Whether you order the meat of your choice or grilled vegetable toppings, you can easily build a flavor-packed al carbon taco.

Now, this may bring back that fajita connection you were enticed with before, and you would be right. Fajitas are simply all the parts of an al carbon taco served up separately for the experience. However, when served all together wrapped in a warm flour or corn tortilla, you will be able to enjoy your taco al carbon in confidence, knowing that you are experiencing the tastes of Mexico right here in Arizona.

What Are the Ideal Ingredients for an al Carbon Taco?

al Carbon Taco

From fajita style to street style, there are several different approaches to the al carbon taco. But before you start smothering your taco, here are a few suggestions to get that truly authentic flavor.

Pick a Flavor Profile

First, decide the type of al carbon taco you want to create. This means determining the flavor profiles. In a street taco form, you may decide on grilled meat, diced onions, cabbage, and cilantro on a soft tortilla. For a fajita style, add our grilled onions and peppers and use that with your grilled meat.

Select Your Favorite Meat

Speaking of meat, there is a lot of emphasis put on beef because, for those original al carbon pioneers, it was readily available. The preferred cut is the skirt or flank steak cut because of its ability to hold up under grilling and emparts moisture and flavor. However, being adventurous has its advantages as well. Consider chicken al carbon, or go vegetarian and stick with those hearty grilled vegetables.

Serve in the Ideal Tortilla

As for the tortilla, don’t get caught up in the argument over whether corn or flour tortillas are better. While flour may be the preferred go-to on this side of the border, you may find many people argue that the authenticity of a corn-based tortilla is better. No matter which you choose, your tortilla should be warmed up. We keep our tortillas warm because warming up the tortilla creates a toasty wrap with a richer flavor profile for all your al carbon goodness.

Add Some Toppings

For the toppings, keeping it simple brings its authenticity, but we know you love a good guacamole, pico de gallo, or dollop of sour cream. So, journey beyond the traditional diced onions and cilantro, and feel free to add cheese, lettuce, pickled or grilled peppers, or other taco toppings that make your heart happy.

Serve with your favorite side dish and you’re ready for the next great taco Tuesday.

Take the Night Off and Head to Your Local Backyard Taco

 Backyard Taco Gilbert

We have no doubt you’d love the experience of creating your own spin on tacos al carbon but when you just want a night off, let us do it for you. At Backyard Taco, you are part of the family. We prepare our food with love because we want our customers to enjoy the experience of what tacos really are, a way to come together and enjoy good food.

With restaurants throughout Arizona, you can find a location near you to enjoy and taste our authentic Mexican flavors. Stop in today and be a part of our backyard.