Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico” airs on CNN Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.

CNN  — 

If you’re exploring the food of Nuevo León, be prepared for vegetables to take a back seat because this is the land of meat.

The signature dish of the state in northeast Mexico is carne asada, meaning “grilled meat.” The Spanish term, however, signifies more than a meal; it’s a beloved social ritual.

The meat-heavy cuisine of Nuevo León reminds actor, producer and TV host Eva Longoria of the kinds of foods she ate during her childhood in Texas, which was once a part of the Spanish Empire and then Mexico.

“I’m Mexican American. We’ve been in Texas for 13 generations,” Longoria said in an episode of the CNN Original Series “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico.” “We never crossed the border; the border crossed us. And I think that’s why I have so much in common with Nuevo León and the North. It’s so similar to how I grew up.”

While shooting in Monterrey, the state capital, Longoria joined Alejandro Gutiérrez, founder of the Sociedad Mexicana de Parrilleros, or Mexican Society of Grill Masters, for a feast of carne asada.

Gutiérrez’s tip for extra-juicy aguja norteña steaks, which are similar to chuck eye steaks, is grilling the fillets at a searingly hot temperature and flipping them frequently.

“The more you flip them, the juicier it gets,” he said.

The steaks must be turned over constantly to ensure the high heat browns both sides and the juices are well distributed, so the meat doesn’t dry out. When you’re finished cooking, Gutiérrez said the next step is the toughest part: having the patience to let the steaks rest before finally devouring them.

The beef is often served with a selection of salsas, like salsa verde, salsa de aguacate and salsa roja. Typical side dishes include grilled vegetables and charro beans, which are pinto beans cooked in a broth flavored with onion, jalapeños, chipotle peppers, and meats such as chorizo and bacon.

Gutiérrez likes to dip his steak in smashed roasted garlic.

“Oh, my God. This is amazing,” Longoria said as she sampled the carne asada. “The marriage of the roasted garlic’s subtle acidity with the succulent steak is divine.”

Turning the meat constantly while it's on the grill ensures evenly distributed juices and browning.

Carne Asada (Mexican-Style Grilled Steak)

Aguja norteña steak (also called aguja steak) is the traditional cut of beef in Nuevo León. Gutiérrez recommends this cut because of the marbling — which makes it deeply flavorful. Outside of Mexico, chuck eye roll steak is a good substitute. You can find applewood-smoked rock salt online.

Makes 4 servings


1 whole garlic bulb

1 tablespoon | 15 milliliters olive oil

Sea salt

1 white onion

3⅓ pounds | 1½ kilograms aguja norteña steak (boneless chuck eye roll steak), cut 1½ inches thick

Coarse applewood-smoked salt


Oak charcoal

Meat thermometer


1. Prepare a grill for high heat; the time it takes the charcoal to burn will vary depending on your elevation above sea level. While the grill is coming to temperature, start by roasting the garlic. Cut the top of the whole garlic bulb horizontally to expose the cloves and create a lid. Drizzle the cloves with olive oil and season with sea salt to taste, then top with the lid and wrap in aluminum foil.

2. When the grill is at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius), halve the white onion. Stick the onion half on the end of a grilling fork and scrub the grate, cut side down, to clean it. You can test the grill’s temperature by rolling up your sleeve and holding your hand about 6 inches (15 centimeters) above the grate. If you can hold it there for 6 seconds before needing to pull it away, it’s ready.

Place the wrapped garlic on the grill away from the direct flame (on top of the grill, but without any embers underneath). Close the grill’s lid to allow the hot air to circulate. When the garlic is halfway done, at about 15 minutes, pat the steak dry and season both sides with applewood-smoked salt. Let the meat rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

Cook garlic until soft, 30 to 45 minutes total. Remove from grill and let cool.

3. When the grill is 650 F to 750 F (343 C to 399 C), place the steaks over direct heat. If you can hold your hand there for just 1 second before needing to pull it back, it is about 750 F (399 C); 3 seconds is about 650 F (343 C).

Roast a whole garlic bulb until soft, smash when done, and use it as a dip for the grilled meat.

4. Flip over the steaks as soon as they have taken on a caramel color and continue flipping as they cook. The more flipping, the juicier the meat gets. Cook the steaks until charred and tender for a total of 10 minutes for medium-rare and 12 minutes for medium doneness.

5. Once the meat reaches an internal temperature between 126 F (52 C) and 131 F (55 C), transfer each steak to a cutting board and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes. The idea is to let the meat rest for 20% of the time it had been cooking, so the juices do not drain out of the meat.

6. When the garlic has cooled, unwrap the bulb, squeeze out the cloves and smash them. Slice the meat against the grain and transfer it to a platter and serve with the garlic. Dip the meat in the smashed garlic and enjoy.

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This recipe is courtesy of Alejandro Gutiérrez, founder of the Mexican Society of Grill Masters.