Ranchera meat, also called flank or skirt steak, or arrachera, is a popular cut of steak that can be used in numerous traditional Mexican recipes.
Ranchera meat is the preferred cut for carne asada, a thinly sliced grilled beef that goes well in a taco, burrito, salad, fajita, and more. It’s also used to make shredded beef that goes well in taquitos, tamales, and chalupas.
Ranchera meat is one of the most flavorful cuts of beef, but it’s also very tough and has a lot of connective tissue. The skirt steak is located on the inside of the chest and abdominal cavity of the cow, right below the ribs.
Also referred to as a beef plate primal cut, it consists of the diaphragm muscle and transversus abdominis muscle.
It’s an excellent steak for grilling or preparing on the stove top, but it needs to be marinated to improve tenderness and cooked on high heat for a short amount of time.
A Staple in Mexican Culture
Ranchera meat originated from Mexico, but today it’s popular all over the world. This cut of meat plays a massive role in Mexican culinary culture, and is most commonly cooked as carne asada or bistec ranchera.
Also referred to as a “way of life”, carne asada meat describes how meat is cooked, rather than a specific recipe, similar to how Americans refer to “grilled chicken” or “barbecued chicken”.
When translated literally, it simply means “grilled steak” or “grilled meat”, but it has a very specific preparation that makes the meat tender, juicy, and delicious in any meal.
The name “ranchera” refers to the influx of ranchers and cattle in the 1500s, when beef was the most popular source of protein in Mexico. The beef was either eaten by itself, or stuffed inside corn tortillas by hungry ranchers.
Today, ranchera meat goes by a few different names and can be prepared through a wide variety of traditional Mexican recipes. Ranchera meat is especially known to come from the Sonora region in the Mexican northwest.
It is so deeply ingrained in the culture and socioeconomic frameworks, that cattle ranching is the state’s official coat of arms. You can even buy frozen Sonoran-raised beef at the Hermosillo airport, which stays frozen for up to 6 hours.
Carne asada is sacred to Mexico, and every family has their own marinade and recipe. Due to its popularity, carne asada has certainly been recreated and copied by other cultures, so it’s important to understand its origins and how the meat is traditionally prepared.
How to Best Serve Ranchera Meat
Because ranchera is a tougher cut of meat, it’s important to follow the right steps to maximize tenderness when grilling or cooking on the stove top.
It has an intense beefy flavor that matches sirloin, but it’s a far more affordable cut of meat that absorbs flavor well, which is why it’s preferred by many restaurants and food trucks.
You can easily find ranchera meat at the supermarket, and it will likely be referred to as skirt steak or flank steak. The following tips are important to prepare and serve ranchera meat.
Marinate The Meat
Ranchera meat absorbs flavor well because of its looser structure, which means you can experiment with different marinades in a variety of recipes.
A traditional carne asada marinade includes lime juice, garlic, cilantro, vegetable oil or olive oil, jalapeno pepper, white vinegar, and orange juice. Some recipes will also use soy sauce or spices like cumin.
You only need to marinate the meat for up to one hour; marinating for too long can over-tenderize the meat and actually break it down.
Cook Quickly at High Heat
The best way to cook ranchera meat or skirt steak is very quickly over an extremely hot grill, close to 500 degrees. You can even skip the grill altogether and cook the meat directly on the coals, which gets the surface nice and brown fast and keeps the inside medium-rare.
Skirt steak should never be served well-done and even medium might be too much, as it’s far too tough to chew. Medium-rare is best. You can also cook on the stovetop for 5 to 7 minutes at high heat.
Both the inside and outside skirt steak cuts have plenty of fat between the muscle strands, which keeps the steak moist as it cooks.
Slice Thinly Against the Grain
Ranchera meat is usually about an inch thick, so it’s meant to be sliced thinly, rather than cut into cubes or eaten like a steak chop.
When slicing your cooked ranchera meat, always slice against the grain. The grain refers to the lines of muscle fibers running down the meat, which go parallel in one direction. You’ll want to cut perpendicularly to cut against the grain
You’ll end up with thin strips of meat that can be further chopped into smaller pieces of steak, or left alone for longer strips of meat.
The Best Ways to Eat Ranchera Meat
Ranchera meat, more commonly referred to as carne asada when prepared, has a wonderful, beefy flavor and is often eaten alone!
However, there are many popular dishes you can make for a well-rounded meal with protein, veggies, and carbs.
Popular ways to eat carne asada include:
- Steak salad or salad bowls
- Egg scramble
Carne asada is often served with salsa, guacamole, cilantro and onion mix, lime, sour cream, beans, rice, tortillas, and other traditional Mexican accompaniments.
It’s a highly versatile meat that can be prepared easily, quickly, and with plenty of other flavors.
What is Mesquite Flavoring?
A popular way to prepare ranchera meat is with mesquite flavoring. The mesquite tree is native to Mexico and the southwestern United States, and commonly used in Mexican cuisine.
The plant pods that grow on the tree are edible and have been used for centuries by Native Americans, making it a long-standing popular ingredient. Mesquite has a sweet and smoky flavor, making it perfect for grilling vegetables and meat.
You can grill with the mesquite plant, or use wood planks from the tree. The plant also contains bioactive properties (antimicrobial and antifungal), and is high in fiber and protein.
Wine Pairings with Ranchera Meat
Marinated ranchera steak tends to have a smoky, charred flavor because it’s cooked at such a high heat.
Carne asada goes well with a dark-fruited red wine, such as a Malbec, Grenache, or Tempranillo. The fresh, fruity flavor complements the intense beef flavor.
Is Ranchera Meat Good for You?
The topic of consuming red meat is frequently in the headlines, due to recent studies indicating high levels of carcinogens found in processed red meats.
While red meat like ranchera meat is high in protein, iron, zinc, selenium, niacin, and B vitamins, the American Heart Association recommends eating red meat no more than 1-2 times per week.
While red meat in itself is not unhealthy, the quality varies widely due to unsustainable farming practices. Cattle are fed improper diets, which often include antibiotics and hormones.
To choose the healthiest cut of meat, choose organic, grass-fed skirt steak where you know its origins and avoid processed meat.