What is Machaca Beef? A Guide to This Unique Dried and Shredded Mexican Meat

Machaca beef is a traditional Mexican dried meat that is made by air-drying seasoned beef and then shredding it into small, fluffy pieces. It has a concentrated beefy flavor and is a handy pantry staple to have on hand.

What is Machaca?

Machaca comes from the Spanish word “machacar” meaning “to crush or shred”. It originated in the northern Mexican states of Sonora, Sinaloa, and Nuevo León where beef is abundant.

To make machaca, slices of beef are rubbed with salt, garlic, and other spices and left to air-dry in the hot desert sun for several days. This results in beef that has a texture and taste similar to jerky, which is called “carne seca” meaning “dried meat”.

The next step is what distinguishes machaca. The dried meat is pounded and shredded, traditionally by hand using a mortar and pestle, into small bits around the size of breadcrumbs. This light, fluffy shredded beef can then be stored in an airtight bag or jar.

The Origins of Machaca

Machaca was created by Mexican cowboys (vaqueros) and ranchers in northern Mexico as a way to preserve meat. The arid climate and hot sun in that region allowed the meat to dry thoroughly when left outside uncovered.

Adding chilies and native spices to the meat became part of the technique to add flavor. Over time, vaqueros discovered that crushing the dried meat into smaller pieces made it lighter and easier to rehydrate when cooking. This revolutionary technique evolved into what we now know as machaca.

How Traditional Machaca is Made

Traditionally, machaca is made from beef cuts like chuck roast, brisket, or round. The meat is cut into slices or strips and then rubbed with a simple blend of garlic, salt, black pepper and sometimes oregano or cumin.

The seasoned meat strips are laid out on trays and left to dry outdoors in the hot sun undisturbed for 2-3 days. The constant sun exposure dehydrates the meat, concentrating its flavor and changing its texture.

Once completely dried, the meat becomes very firm, dark and jerky-like. At this stage it is called carne seca. To make machaca, the dried meat is put in a sturdy mortar and vigorously pounded and shredded using a pestle. This pulverizes it into fine shreds and small crumbles.

How Commercial Machaca is Made

Modern commercial production of machaca relies on mechanical techniques rather than manual labor to shred the meat. Here is an overview of the industrial process:

  • Beef cuts are selected based on leanness, flavor, and ability to shred well.Cuts like brisket or lifter meat from the cow’s back are often used.

  • The meat is sliced thinly and seasoned, typically with spices like garlic, black pepper, sea salt, and paprika.

  • The slices are arranged on racks and slowly dehydrated in large industrial ovens for 5+ hours.

  • Once dried, the meat is put through high-powered shredding machines to break it down into small pieces.

  • The machaca shreds are packaged into bags, cans, or jars. Some are further processed into ready-to-eat snacks by adding seasoning blends.

How to Use Machaca

Machaca is a versatile ingredient that can be used in many dishes:

  • Machaca Con Huevos: Machaca is commonly rehydrated and mixed with eggs, onions, jalapeños and tomatoes to make the classic Northern Mexican breakfast dish.

  • Tacos and Burritos: Rehydrated machaca makes an easy and flavorful taco or burrito filling.

  • Soups and Stews: Dried shreds can be simmered in liquids to rehydrate it and add hearty beef flavor.

  • Casseroles and Bakes: Machaca gives great texture and beefy taste to casserole-style dishes.

  • Salads: Soak machaca in water for 10-15 minutes to rehydrate, then drain and mix into leafy greens, grains or veggie salads.

  • Snacks: Machaca can be eaten as-is for a nutritious high-protein snack. Some commercial versions add extra spices or coatings.

  • Sandwich Filling: Hydrate machaca in warm water for 15 minutes then spread on bread or rolls for a satisfying sandwich.

What Does Machaca Taste Like?

Machaca has a concentrated beef flavor because of the drying process which removes moisture but leaves the beef essence. It tastes similar to beef jerky but with a pleasantly soft and fluffy shredded texture when rehydrated.

Well-made machaca has a rich, meaty taste and pleasant chew. Commercial versions can vary in flavor profiles depending on added seasonings. Some have a spicy kick while others are herbaceous.

Buying and Storing Machaca

Pre-made machaca can be purchased at Latin grocery stores, specialty butcher shops or online. When buying, look for:

  • Packaging date – Fresher is better.

  • No preservatives or additives

  • Bright red shreds – Dull brown color indicates age.

  • Lean cuts like brisket, flank, sirloin

Store machaca in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from light. Refrigerate after opening. It will keep for 1-2 months. To extend shelf life, freeze for up to 6 months.

Is Machaca the Same as Jerky?

While machaca and jerky are both dried and smoked meats, they have some differences:

Meat Used

  • Jerky: Can use nearly any lean cut of meat like sirloin, flank, brisket, round, etc.

  • Machaca: Traditionally uses chuck roast, brisket, or round.


  • Jerky: Wide variety of seasonings and marinades.

  • Machaca: Typically just salt, pepper, garlic.


  • Jerky: Slice or strips of meat. Chewy texture.

  • Machaca: Shredded and pounded to small bits. Fluffy texture.


  • Jerky: Ready-to-eat snack.

  • Machaca: Used as an ingredient in other dishes after rehydrating.

Health Benefits of Machaca

Like jerky, machaca is a healthy choice with many nutrients:

  • High in protein: Drying concentrates the protein in beef. A 1 oz serving contains 7-10g protein.

  • Low carb: Almost no carbs since it is just beef and spices. Fits into low carb, keto, and paleo diets.

  • Convenient: Shelf-stable and portable. Easy protein to pack for hiking, travel, or emergencies.

  • Nutrient-dense: Rich in iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and B-vitamins.

  • Low fat if made from lean cuts. Healthier than highly processed snacks.

  • Long shelf life: Can be stored for months, allowing for bulk buying and meal prepping.

How to Make Homemade Machaca

You can make your own authentic machaca at home with just a few simple steps:


  • 2 lbs lean beef (brisket, round, sirloin)
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • Smoked paprika or chipotle powder (optional)


  1. Slice beef very thinly, about 1/8 inch thick.

  2. Toss slices with spices until evenly coated.

  3. Arrange slices in a single layer on racks and dehydrate at 145°F for 2-3 hours, flipping once.

  4. Once dried, beat slices with a meat tenderizer or pound with mortar and pestle until shredded.

  5. Use right away or store in airtight bags/containers for later use.

With just a few ingredients and the right technique, you can make tasty homemade machaca to enjoy as a nutritious snack or as the star of your Mexican dishes!

What is Machaca Beef? Recap

  • Machaca is a Mexican dried and shredded beef with a concentrated meaty flavor.

  • It originated in northern Mexico as a way for cowboys to preserve meat.

  • Traditionally made by air-drying seasoned beef and then crushing it into shreds.

  • Has a texture similar to ground beef but lighter and fluffier.

  • Most often used in Mexican dishes after rehydrating it in warm liquids.

  • Store-bought machaca keeps for months and can be made at home.

  • An excellent source of protein that can be incorporated into many cuisines and diets.



What is machaca meat made out of?

Traditional Machaca is a Northern Mexican type of dried meat, often made from beef or pork. Slices or strips of meat are traditionally rubbed with simple spices and left outside to dry under the desert sun. After a few days of air-drying, the meat maintains a jerky-like taste and texture.

What is the difference between machaca and carne seca?

The difference between carne seca and machaca is [that] machaca is usually done in the oven, where [as] carne seca is actually done outside in a wire cage,” said Flores. From creating meals with hundreds of pounds of meat per day to freshly-made salads, Flores says that every dish is handcrafted with heritage in mind.

Is machaca good for you?

Many people associate machacado with being high in calories and saturated fat, but that’s not the whole story. In fact, machacado is a good source of protein, iron, and B vitamins, making it a healthy addition to a balanced diet. As well as only being 110 calories per 22 grams of protein!

What does machaca mean?

Machaca Spanish: [maˈtʃaka] is a traditionally dried meat, usually spiced beef or pork, that is rehydrated and then used in popular local cuisine in Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. It is also readily available in many groceries and supermarkets in these areas.

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