Methods Used in Authentic Mexican Cooking

Learn the time-honored approaches to preparing a Mexican meal

Summer taco spread
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In many ways, the cooking methods of Mexico are very similar to ones you use every day. Common ones include frying, grilling, and boiling. However, use of the molcajete or a steaming bucket may be new to you.

Early Methods

Mexican natives did not have ovens, so everything was heated over an open fire. They used cast iron pots and pans and also ceramic ware. Today, you can get a similar result by using a grill instead of your oven.

Another method used was steaming. Barbacoa was made by steaming meat suspended over boiling water in a deep pit. The meat was often wrapped in cactus or banana leaves.

Frying was also a popular method of cooking. Tasty items like taquitos, flautas, and chimichangas are a few examples of this method.

Natives also used a "metate y mano," a large tool made of stone or lava rock. It has a slightly concave surface on which you can use the grinding stone to grind or mash your ingredients. They also used a smaller "molcajete" (mortar and pestle) to grind and mash.

Modern Methods

A lot of Mexican dishes are now much easier to prepare with modern conveniences. Previously, if you wanted tamales you would have to start by grinding dried corn with your "molcajete." Now you can buy masa (cooked, ground corn) by the bag into which you can quickly add in your other ingredients.

Today there are cast iron pans that make it easy to make homemade tortillas. They have a round top and bottom piece that you can press together to make perfect tortillas every time. There are also springform type pans that make flan as easy as pie. A modern metal grinder aides in grinding corn for masa.

You can use a dutch oven to replicate the process of steaming barbacoa and birria.


Grilling also enhances the flavors in Mexican dishes by bringing out the authentic tastes that used to come from cooking over an open fire. Carne asada is superb when grilled, as are fajitas. Almost any decent cut of meat can be marinated in Mexican flavors and grilled to bring out the warm smoky tastes.

On the Stove

Boiling or simmering is a great way of cooking meats and vegetables. Just place your meat and/or veggies into a large pot with broth or water and plenty of spices. Let it simmer all day, and by dinner time the meat will be tender and fall apart. It is a perfect method for shredded beef tacos or carnitas.

Large steaming pots or buckets are now available for making tamales. They cook large amounts of tamales at one time, and the steaming adds moisture to the masa.

And last but not least, wooden spoons are the traditional method of stirring the contents of a pot. Large cupped ones are used for stirring large pots of stew and slim ones for sautéeing garlic and onions.