37 CALF News • April | May 2022 • GRILL HOT OFF THE A C A L F N E W S B B Q P A R T Y IT'S CARNE ASADA TIME! By James Coope Contributing Editor W hen we think of grilling, we often think about friends and families gathering in a backyard, park or on a deck, enjoying a memorable meal. Aside from the people, food is one of the most important elements of a gathering, and the grill takes on a life of its own, so much so that we often describe the event itself as a “barbecue.” Carne asada literally translates to “grilled meat” in Spanish. That being said, carne asada isn’t just a flavor or cut of meat – it represents more than food, so much so that it also describes a social event where close friends and family gather. Carne asada is the equivalent of barbecue here in the United States. In fact, in northern Mexico you are literally invited to a “carne asada.” It is more than just great food – it’s an event! Carne asada dates back to the 1500s in northern Mexico, when raising cattle in the region became more common. Cooked over an open fire, it evolved into a very social food – a perfect way to share a meal and gather community together, and it is now the most common type of food served at these celebrations. It also inspired the Tex-Mex delicacy of fajitas, which is a similar cut and presentation. What makes carne asada so unique? Like so many preparations, it starts with the marinade. Families have different marinade recipes that have been passed down through the generations, but most include the ingredients commonly found in the region, including lime, chili powder, salt, black pepper, cumin, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, oregano and even orange juice. An essential element of cooking carne asada is the wood, which is traditionally mesquite, a tree native to northern Mexico, and one that produces a strong, unique flavor. While a carne asada marinade can go with any cut of beef, it is best with flank steak or skirt steak. These cuts absorb the marinade and flavor from the smoke well and are ideal for slicing. After spending time in the marinade, the steak is grilled over fire. Like most grilling, timing is of the essence. The flank and skirt are typically lean cuts and only about an inch thick, so it’s important not to cook it too long, ideally to a medium-rare temperature. After pulling the steak off the grill, let the meat sit for a few minutes and then slice into thin strips across the grain. Freshly squeezed lime juice will add even more flavor and help tenderize the meat. Carne asada is traditionally served with beans and rice. Corn and wheat are staples in northern Mexico, and corn or flour tortillas are a delicious complement to the dish. Carne asada may perhaps be the most perfect food for a party; guests can mix and match toppings with their steak. It’s incredibly versatile, and if you happen to have some left over and you are into meal planning, it can be a big winner, providing a staple meat for a variety of meals throughout the week. Today you can find a lot of great carne asada marinade recipes. If you are lucky, you may know someone with a generations-old family recipe. If you are short on time, you will likely find some incredible seasoned meats at your favorite local butcher shop. The carne asada we prepared came from Ramey’s Meats out of Brawley, Calif., (a gift from Betty Jo Gigot who knows a few things about finding great beef ). Ramey’s is known for their all-natural beef, and not surprisingly, Ramey’s carne asada is a unique marinade recipe that is a top seller at the butcher shop. We grilled our carne asada on the Traeger for a recent family dinner. Just like so many family gatherings that have taken place over the centuries, we enjoyed our carne asada around the kitchen table with fresh corn tortillas, rice, black beans, cilantro, onions and lettuce. It’s a very social food, deeply rooted in northern Mexican culture and community. The Cinco de Mayo season of celebration is upon us, and we’re all looking forward to actually being in the presence of friends and family this summer. It’s time to get ready for grilling season – and perhaps this year you will also be invited to a carne asada, or even host one yourself! 