Entraña, the affordable and delicious skirt steak

The entraña meat is a beef cut widely served in most Argentinian steakhouses, and also used in most meat restaurants around the world with different recipes and cooking techniques. The entraña tends to be an affordable and versatile beef cut, hence its growing popularity. The entrana steak is very easy to grill and also to cook on a pan.

entrana steak
Entrana Steak

Entraña meat cut

entraña meat
Entraña meat

The entraña has a very humble origin. Coming from the diaphragm muscle of cattle, the entrana used to have and important degree of rejection. It has only become a mainstream beef cut only in the last 20 years.

In Argentina, the entraña was used to feed dogs until relatively recently. Human consumption of Entraña (meaning in a literal translation “gut”) started around the slaughter houses, where all the offals and less valuable cuts was given away to workers, slaves and beggars. Around mid XXth Century, the entraña started to be positioned as an affordable meet cuts for dock workers at the Buenos Aires port grills (one still in business, called “El Rey de la Entraña”, the king of entrana).

Entraña Steak in English – Skirt Steak in Spanish Argentina

skirt steak in spanish argentina
Skirt steak: how to ask for it in Spanish in Argentina

Skirt steak in Spanish, in Argentina is Entraña.

entrana steak in english
Entrana Steak in English

Entraña steak is mostly pronounced “entrana steak” in English, without the Ñ phonetic sound from the Spanish language. The equivalent for Entraña steak in English is Skirt Steak. Especially in the US, there are two entranas, the outside skirt and the inside skirt. In Argentina, only the outside skirt is called entraña, the other one is harder to find, and it is called “falsa entraña”, meaning fake entrana.

How to order skirt steak in Spanish argentina

Just ask for “Entraña” with the right phonetic using the Ñ sound: “Entraneah

What is Entrana Steak, where does it come from?

The entraña steak comes from the diaphragm muscle of beef, a hard working muscle in cows that supports the bone structure of the from part of cattle and articulates with the rest of the body. That is why if the entraña steak is not grilled properly, it get really tough and chewy.

A light steer or heifer carcass (400 kg live weight), the most typical animal for domestic consumption, produces only 1.5 kg of entraña, divided in the two half carcasses, the wholesale distribution primal cut in Argentina that then is cut by each butcher.

Outside skirt or real Entraña

The outside skirt is the inside cavity of the carcass (between the ribs and the guts).

In the US, outside skirt is usually reserved for foodservice, and it has price some 50% more expensive than inside skirt.

The real entraña normally comes with a very thick membrane over the top of it. In the US it is usually peeled as the meat is cut in fajitas or small steaks.

In Argentina, the entraña is grilled as a whole cut, and membrane helps maintaining it juicy. Also, the entrana membrane gets really crispy and provides complexity to each bite because of the textures combination.

entrana diafragma de la vaca
La ubicación de la entraña en la media res

Inside skirt or fake entraña

inside skirt falsa entraña

The inside skirt or fake entraña is the transverse abdominus muscle of cattle. The coarseness of the grain is a bit different. The inside skirt steak tends to be firmer and sweeter.

In Argentina the inside skirt is not even considered a real beef cut, it is included in the official beef nomenclator as an offal (gut).

How to grill the entraña steak

The entraña is one of the beef cuts that require less cooking time at the grill. The thin cut of beef can be ready grilling on firm fire 7-10 minutes on each side. The entraña must be eaten medium rare, beyond this point it dries and gets chewy.

medium rare entraña
Medium rare is the right way to grill entraña steak

The entraña steak can also be cooked on a flat iron plank or even in a pan. If not grilling on charcoal or wood fire, it is better to peel the meat from the outside membrane to make to cooking process faster and even.

Asado Argentina

As discussed in this section’s home, Asado is a sacred word in Argentina. Asado in Argentina refers to both the beef cut, the delicious ribs of the plate or “costillar”, and the social event of gathering friends and and family nearby a wood fired or charcoal parrilla (grill).

The asado in Argentina was traditionally cut in two ways, both cutting the ribs transversally: thick (tira de asado gruesa) or thin (tira de asado fina). In the few last years, a new asado beef cut emerged, and it is called “corte americano”, American cut, taking the rib and the meat alongside the bone in cuts some 10-12 inches long.

There’s always been another way to get the asado, the most primal; that would be taking the whole plate or costillar, usually with the vacío cut attached to it.

Here we will review the Asado in Argentina is more traditionally cut and grilled:

Tira de asado fina in Argentina

The tira de asado fina in Argentina is also called Asado Banderita, diminutive of bandera = flag. It is called liked that because the asado banderita cut is just one finger thick, and served in a wooden table or plate in 2-3 three pieces like stripes in a flag.

The asado tira fina in Argentina is the most practical way to grill asado meat in an urban atmosphere. It is easy and fast to grill, and it can be even cooked on a flat iron pan without the hurdles of turning on a fire. The asado de tira fina in Argentina is most usually found at restaurants in cities, very popular at the Buenos Aires parrillas- steakhouses, where the space is scarce and the patrons need to return to the office or the factory after a quick lunch (yes, asado banderita is quick lunch in Argentina, back at the office in 45 minutes).

In the following video, the guys from “Locos X el Asado” a huge community of asado lovers led by “El Laucha” Luciano Luchetti make a more urban version of the tira de asado corte fino in Argentina, adding some chimichurri marination and a fried egg on top.

Asado in Argentina: tira fina or banderita version

Traditional asado in Argentina, thick cut

The traditional asado in Argentina, the one gathering friends and family, is a lot thicker than the asado banderita. The asado de tira gruesa is about three-four fingers cut across the rib bones.

While the asado tira fina can be grilled in 10-20 minutes, the tira de asado corte grueso, the more traditional one, will take the grill master at least one hour.

This asado beef cut needs constant but medium heat. While the tira de asado fina is done on the sides, across the bones, the asado de tira gruesa needs to be grilled first on the bone side, usually 45 minutes, so the bone helps the cooking process with the heat, and then finished on the opposite side some 15-20 minutes, depending on the size/width.

In the following video sponsored by Coto, one of the largest supermarket chains in Argentina, a parrillero or grill master explains the right way to grill asado thick cut – tira ancha.

Coto, owned by Alfredo Coto, started as a butcher in a tough neighborhood in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, then grew to butcher stores chain owner, and today is one of the top supermarkets in Argentina. Coto owns tow large slaughter houses and meat packing facilities, and is also one of the top ten beef exporters in Argentina. Rumors of his “entrepreneurial” origins include Mr Coto started his butcher shop by buying beef from cattle robbers, or even running an organization of cattle and beef mobsters by himself…

Primal Asado in Argentina: Costillar

Today, the costillar, the full asado half carcass plate, is made only for special events in Argentina. The over 10-15 kilos weight of beef, bones and fat require a lot of space, and friends, clients and/or relatives…

Grilling a whole asado de costillar also requires time and expertise, considering the different thickness of the cut at each end.

Also, the costillar can be asado or grilled in Argentina in at least three different ways (plus variations/combinations):

  • Over the grill
  • “Al asador”, using indirect flames on a hanging beef iron cross
  • Al horno, or roasted in a wood fire brick or adobe (mud walled) oven

In this video, Alejandro Greco, owner and parrillero of the argentinian steakhouse La Tranquera at Mar del Plata, explains how to grill asado al asador, a whole costillar hanging at an iron cross using direct firewood flames.

Grilling time takes no less 1 hour and 45 minutes, depending on the cut. Again, at least 1.30 hours on the bone side, facing the flames, and the finishing it on the other side just for 15-20 minutes.

Costillar al Asador, the most traditional asado in Argentina

El Gaucho Argentinian Steakhouse, most likely not an Argentine restaurant

El Gaucho is the most common name of an Argentinian Steakhouse outside Argentina. Referring to the Gaucho, the Argentinian cowboy, El Gaucho names thousands of Argentinian food restaurants in the world, almost exlusively owned and run by non Argentinians.

Many of them are already chains of many El Gaucho “parrillas”, the name of Argentinian steakhouses in Argentina. El Gaucho steakhouse could mean a posh restaurant in some English cities, or a dirty Turkish run joint in Amsterdam.

The true Argentinian steakhouses, the parrillas, are unpretentious. Beef is so widely available and so inexpensive in Argentina, that is a basic staple even for the poorer classes. Argentinians, together with neighboring Uruguayans eat more beef than anybody else in the word. Argentina has a population of 43 ml people and a cattle stock of over 50 million cows, while Uruguay has around 2.5 cows per inhabitant.

Let’s go through many of the Argentinian steakhouses and restaurant chais called El Gaucho in every continent

El Gaucho Seattle

Elgaucho.com

El Gaucho from Seattle owns 5 restaurants and a hotel. It is owned by Paul MacKay, who reopened it in 1996 after the original El Gaucho, founded by Jiam Ward in 1953, was sold and then closed in 1985.

paul mackay from el gaucho seattle retired 2014

This is a classy El Gaucho. The original one at Seattle was a steakhouse who Bob Hope, The Carpenters and Peggy Lee used to be frequent patrons.

Today El Gaucho steakhouse, at its 5 locations is a place with premium food and service, where people meat to close business. In addition to the original El Gaucho in Seattle, the other El Gaucho are in Tacoma, Portland, Bellevue, and a seafood version of El Gaucho called Aqua.

El Gaucho Manila The Philippines

Located at the Trump Tower in Manila, El Gaucho Argentinian Steakhouse is a luxury grill.

El Gaucho restaurants The Netherlands

GauchosGrill.nl

With eleven restaurants in The Neteherlands, el Gaucho Grill is an iconic Argentine restaurant chain the country.

el gaucho argentinian steakhouse the netherlands

El Gaucho Argentinian Steakhouse Curacao

One of the few “El Gaucho” who actually serve Argentinian beef.

Why Argentinian Steakhouses in the US don’t grill Argentine beef?

Surprisingly enough for the customers of an Argentinian steakhouse, when they eat asado, vacio or bife de chorizo, they’d most likely be eating US, Canadian, New Zealand or Uruguayan beef, not Argentinian. The US consumers eat 20x more Mexican beef than Argentinian beef!

For twenty years starting 1999, the import of Argentinian beef cuts in the US was banned. The formal excuse to ban it was an outbreak of foot and mouth desease in South America, a viral infection that affects cattle but has no risk for humans.

Argentinian beef cuts were famous because of its grass fed beef tradition, and were replaced by beef from another countries that also have pasture cattle. Grass fed continues to be the norm in the initial phases of the beef business, breeding and stocking. However, most of the beef produced in Argentina now is finished in a feed lot on a corn based diet. What remains totally natural is that Argentina does not use any growth promotion hormone as the ones used in the US beef production industry. Growth promoters are totally banned in Argentina. Also, there is a growing base of Argentine ganaderos that are going back to purely grass fed beef, using process technologies such as rotational grazing, high density pasture grazing, Voisin Rational Grazing and other regenerative techniques that also are more efficient in beef production on a per acre basis.

A trend back towards the grass feeding is expected to be pushed when Argentina’s cattle ranchers can receive their fair share of carbon bonds. Grass fed beef production sequesters more carbon than the methane gas cattle producers, and the ganaderos may have a bonus to produce more grass fed beef if they can cash in the carbon bonds.

Only recently, in 2019, Argentina re-started exporting beef cuts to the US. Actually, the first import was done by the Argentinian steakhouse and food market Graziano’s from Miami.

The US are an obvious export destination for the Argentine beef. They will never replace any US beef. It will only be a specialty, competing against Japanese wagyu, Korean rat meat or Chinese vampires.

Graziano’s imported premium Argentine beef cuts like Bife Ancho/Rib Eye, Bife Angosto-Bife de Chorizo/New York-Sirloin, Tapa de Cuadril/Rump top, Vacío/Flank and Entraña/Skirt steaks and a very particular cut that Argentinians love: matambre (skin muscle).

Graziano’s imported chilled beef cuts, of a very high quality. At their beef packing plant, they process 132.000 lbs of beef per month, to be sold at its steakhouses and markets in Miami (FL).

mario graziano Graziano's Argentine restaurant Miami
Mario Graziano, owner of Graziano’s Argentine restaurant and food market chain in Miami

Graziano, an Italian born, emigrated very young and ended up building a successful butchery chain in the poor suburbs of Buenos Aires. Because of the 1989 hyperinflation Argentinian crisis, Graziano emigrated to Miami, where his brother was already living.

The rest of the beef imported from Argentina to the US is frozen beef of inferior quality that ends up ground to make burgers. Burgers are the favorite American way of consuming beef, explaining roughly 50% of total consumption.

Argentine beef exports to the US 2019 – 2020

Argentine beef Imports US 2019U$KgUS$/TonLbs
20199.865.9491.481.8736.6583.264.037
Frozen beef7.664.0361.246.4556.1492.745.496
Chilled beef2.011.978208.4189.654459.070
Frozen and chilled offals189.93527.0007.03559.471
January 20201.644.781276.8915.940609.892
Frozen beef1.454.084251.5445.781554.062
Chilled beef187.74124.9407.52854.934
Frozen and chilled offals2.9564077.263896
February 20205.066.989895.1585.6601.971.714
Frozen beef4.466.497812.2025.4991.788.991
Chilled beef421.18355.6417.570122.557
Frozen and chilled offals179.30927.3156.56460.165
March 20206.224.5321.222.1965.0932.692.062
Frozen beef5.819.3911.159.1655.0202.553.227
Chilled beef399.46762.1436.428136.879
Frozen and chilled offals5.6748886.3901.956
Argentine beef Imports US Q1 202012.936.3022.394.2455.4035.273.667
Frozen beef11.739.9722.222.9115.2814.896.280
Chilled beef1.008.391142.7247.065314.370
Frozen and chilled offals187.93928.6106.56963.018