What Is Carne Picada And How Is It Different From Carne Asada?

Developing our lexicon for cuisines we love is important, and that often means first understanding what specific words and phrases from other languages mean, and how they're used in different contexts. While you've probably encountered carne asada at a restaurant in the past — Chipotle's carne asada has a huge fan base, for example — carne picada is a less well-known meat option that is often confused for the former. How do these two meats differ from each other? Put simply, in the way they're cut and cooked.

Carne asada is Spanish for "grilled meat" and can be used to describe any meat cooked this way, or even a barbecue. But the term is most commonly used in restaurants and recipes to describe sliced beef that has been citrus-marinaded and grilled. Carne picada, on the other hand, translates to minced meat and describes a braised, chopped beef that may be used as a filling in tacos, burritos, or something else altogether. While both are deliciously prepared beef, knowing their differences can help you decide which is best suited to a given meal.

Key distinctions between these meats

Since the beef cut and methods of cooking are what set carne asada and picada apart, knowing what your goals are is essential when choosing to take on one recipe over the other. Texture, flavor, required equipment, cost, and time needed are all factors to consider. While both are delicious in their own right and can be modified to an extent, understanding the two recipes will help guide you to the final product you're after.

Carne asada is typically made with skirt or flank steak, both long, flat cuts that come from the cow's diaphragm. These are typically somewhat fibrous cuts, which means you'll need to marinate them to help them become tender and supple. Marinade ingredients are completely up to your discretion, but aromatics, acid, sweetness, salt, and a little something spicy are all encouraged elements — a citrusy carne asada recipe will play beautifully with a wide variety of dishes. Cooked on a hot grill, your final product will be tender, rich, and have a lightly smoky flavor and a charred texture.

Carne picada is typically made using less expensive cuts of meat, which become tender and delicious after a long, slow braise. Think of tougher you'd choose for stewing or slow cooking, like round steak or chuck roast. Cut into small cubes, quickly seared, and then left to mingle with a flavorful braising liquid, your finished product will be tender, juicy, and incredibly flavorful.

Carne picada has more cooking options

Both of these delicious dishes can be employed successfully in a wide variety of dishes. With vast space for customization of flavors, truly any taco, burrito, or Latin American-inspired bowl you're dreaming of would benefit from either. But carne picada is definitely the move when you're looking for an impressive yet inexpensive, relatively hands-off meal — and have the time to really let the meat soak up flavor and tenderize during the braising process.

Grilling isn't always an option, but carne picada leaves plenty of flexibility when choosing cooking equipment. A slow cooker works great with this dish, transforming it into a true set-it-and-forget-it weeknight meal. However, a pressure cooker or even a simple pan on the stove works just as well. No matter what tools you have at your disposal, you'll be able to produce a truly delicious result that works for you and doesn't break the bank. Just remember to give yourself enough time to let this dish shine — delicious homemade Mexican food shouldn't be rushed.