Carne Seca ala El Charro Cafe, Tucson

Carne Seca at El Charro Cafe in Tucson

Drying strips of venison and buffalo was a common preservation method in the arid borderlands well before the Spanish arrived, but the new settlers brought their own similar technology along with domesticated cattle. To keep beef beyond the day of butchering, the pioneers dehydrated it in thin slices (carne seca, or dried meat), which they later pounded and cooked back to tenderness to eat as machaca. Now that preservation is no longer an issue, some people make the dish with stewed rather than dried beef, a tasty but different preparation featured in our Machaca Breakfast Burros. This boiled, dry-baked, and pulverized version comes much closer to replicating the original, which still appears with frequency in northern Mexico, usually under the name machaca, and in Tucson as carne seca.

Serves 8 to 10


  • 3-pound eye of round or boneless shoulder chuck roast
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar, preferably white
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh-ground black pepper
  • 10 garlic doves, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon ground dried mild red chile, preferably ancho, New Mexican, or Anaheim
  • 8 cups water
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ¾ cup chopped roasted mild green chiles, preferably poblano, New Mexican, or Anaheim, fresh or frozen
  • 2 small tomatoes, preferably Roma or Italian plum, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • Salt to taste (optional)
  • Lime wedges, for garnish


  1. In a Dutch oven or large, heavy saucepan, combine all of the dried beef ingredients except the lime juice. Bring the meat mixture to a boil, skim off any foam, reduce the heat to a low simmer, and cover. Cook for about 2 to 2¼ hours, until the meat is very tender. Cool the meat in its cooking liquid for 30 minutes. Strain the cooking liquid, reserving 1 cup. (The remaining liquid can be used as a soup stock or to enrich vegetable dishes.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 275°F.
  3. Tear the meat into thin shreds and transfer it back to the Dutch oven or saucepan. Add the reserved cooking liquid and simmer over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed. Pour the lime juice over the meat and toss together.
  4. Transfer the meat to 1 or 2 baking sheets, spreading it thin. In a small bowl, combine the dried seasonings and sprinkle about half of the mixture over the meat. Bake the meat for 20 minutes, stir it well, and sprinkle with as much of the remaining dried seasonings as you wish. Bake an additional 30 to 40 minutes, until browned and dry. (The meat can be prepared ahead to this point and refrigerated for 1 or 2 days. This method does not preserve the meat, so do not leave it at room temperature.)
  5. Transfer the meat to a blender, a handful at a time, and Purée briefly, in little bursts, until the meat is reduced to fine threads. Don’t overdo it or the meat can end up resembling sawdust.
  6. In a heavy skillet, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened. Stir in the chiles, tomatoes, garlic, and oregano and cook for another couple of minutes, covered. Add the browned meat and heat through, cooking uncovered until all the liquid is evaporated. Add salt to taste if you wish.
  7. Serve the carne seca with lime wedges.