What Makes Carne Picada Different From Ground Beef

There's a dizzying number of ways to go about butchering. Both terminology and technique differ globally and even regionally, creating numerous cuts of meat to consider. As a result, assessing culinary applications can be tricky.

Such is the case with carne picada, which translates to chopped meat in Spanish. Popular in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines, this ingredient may appear like a ground beef spin-off — but the two cuts are not the same. In Mexico, carne molida refers to a ground beef product. 

To compare, carne picada denotes slightly larger, sliced chunks of beef rather than beef put through a grinder. Such a process lends it a meaty and chewy texture that is perfect for a taco filling. Braised in a sauce, this beef creates a dish akin to a quickly-prepared pot roast. Carne picada absorbs the aromatic liquid rather than browning like ground beef. However, it's important to approach the preparation of carne picada differently than you would ground beef. 

The right way to prepare carne picada

Like ground beef, carne picada can be sourced from a variety of cuts. Carne picada is sometimes sold pre-cut at a market or grocery store, but it's a good idea to verify which cut it stems from for proper preparation. Nevertheless, most home cooks choose to do the dicing themselves. 

Typically, carne picada is cubed into morsels around 1 inch thick, but the preparation time differs based on the beef utilized. When employing a steak-like cut, such as sirloin or flank, it's only braised for a few minutes. With cuts like chuck roast, expect to spend close to half an hour cooking it to the proper tenderness.

As with ground beef, different cuts alter the fat percentage and, therefore, the taste. However, the textural difference is more prominent in carne picada. Since this cut has a more preserved internal protein structure, it's more open to deviation. Tougher beef cuts require extra liquid to be added during cooking. With some deft heat application, the once chewy protein structure will break down and yield a delectable result. Cube up your favorite type of beef and give it a shot: Carne picada will make dishes distinct from their ground beef counterparts.