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Cuban Shredded beef on a small white plate

Vaca Frita or Cuban Shredded Beef

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This mind-blowing Vaca Frita AKA Cuban Shredded Beef was made with an inexpensive cut of beef and stock items from my kitchen!

Cuban food isn’t as common on our table as Mexican or Italian cuisine, but it’s just as flavorful and tasty. There are layers of flavor in this shredded beef and it makes for marvelous comfort food!

Vaca Frita in a white bowl over rice and garnished with tomatoes and orange and lime slices

Vaca Frita AKA Cuban Shredded Beef

My sister was in town for a visit from Denver. As per usual, we did a lot of yakking about food and she brought up a Cuban dish she had made recently. I only had to pick up a chuck roast as all the rest of the ingredients for this vaca frita, AKA, Cuban shredded beef, were staples in my kitchen.

What is Vaca Frita?

The name vaca frita translates to “fried cow,” and that says it all. The dish is composed of fried and shredded beef, typically skirt or flank steak. My version is made with chuck roast which has amazing flavor but requires some extra cooking time to tenderize the meat. Often referred to as the cousin of ropa vieja, which is shredded beef stewed with tomatoes, besides the beer, vaca frita contains onions, sometimes a green pepper, garlic, cumin, sometimes a bay leaf, plus lime and orange juice and lime zest.

Overhead view of shredded Cuban beef

Shredded Cuban Beef Recipe

Onions, lime, orange juice, garlic, and cumin flavored the beef…which was slowly cooked, shredded by pounding with a meat mallet, then fried till crispy. Served over rice with a side of sauteed plantains and a green salad made for a Cuban feast.  Between the intoxicating aromas of the garlic, orange juice and lime concoction sitting on the counter and the browning beef, my stomach did flip flops waiting for this dish to become a fait accompli.

 Scrumptious Cuban Shredded Beef 45 degree angle view in a white bowl with a sprig of cilantro

What to Eat with Vaca Frita

If company is coming, definitely break out the tequila and make these Blood Orange Margaritas for cocktail hour. A refreshing Hearts of Palm Salad, black beans and simple white or brown rice rounds out the meal perfectly.

More Budget-Friendly Beef Recipes:

To make a budget-friendly meal, make sure to stock up on sale meats when you’re at the market. The chuck roast was $6.99 per pound at Whole Foods, but I know it could be found for less by a well-seasoned bargain hunter.  The rest of the ingredients for this shredded beef were already in my fridge and pantry. Having a supply of basics on your shelves helps to make dinner prep a breeze. 

Vaca Frita or Cuban Shredded Beef

Vaca Frita or Cuban Shredded Beef

Scrumptious Cuban Shredded Beef adapted from America's Test Kitchen

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Yield 4 servings


  • 2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed, and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lime zest plus 1 tablespoon juice
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry


  1. Bring beef, 2 cups water, and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt to boil in a large skillet over medium-high. Decrease heat to low, cover, and simmer until beef is tender, about 1 hour 45 minutes.
  2. Combine garlic, oil, and cumin in bowl. Mix together orange juice and lime zest and juice in another bowl.
  3. Remove lid, increase heat, and simmer until water evaporates and beef starts to fry, 5 minutes or so.Remove beef to rimmed baking sheet. Pour off and save fat from skillet. Wipe skillet dry with paper towels.
  4. Place sheet of aluminum foil over beef and, using meat pounder flatten beef into 1/8-inch-thick pieces, removing any large pieces of fat or gristle.
  5. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons reserved fat the skillet over high heat. Add onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion nicely browned. Add sherry and 1/4 cup water and cook until liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Transfer onion to bowl. Return skillet to high heat, add 1 1/2 teaspoons reserved fat, then add beef and cook, stirring frequently, until dark golden brown and crusty, 2 to 4 minutes.
  6. Reduce heat to low and push beef to sides of skillet. Add garlic mixture to center and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat, add orange juice mixture and onion, and mix well. Season with pepper to taste. Serve over rice with lime wedges.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 569Total Fat: 36gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 2gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 188mgSodium: 296mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 56g


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48 comments on “Vaca Frita or Cuban Shredded Beef”

  1. I don’t know either the vaca frita but I learnt a lot with you! Happy Sunday

  2. I would love to smell this cooking in my home! It looks so simple and sounds so delicious. Its a must try here!

  3. Liz, I bet this smelled amazing as it was cooking! It looks fabulous!

  4. I haven’t ever tried this, but it sounds marvellous!! And I’m betting it would warm the bones on a cold fall day…

  5. This looks like the perfect hearty fall meal!

  6. What a beautiful and authentic looking dish! The flavors just pop out of your photos. I’m sure I’d be transported to Cuba just eating this!

  7. This sounds really good, lots of big flavors:@)

  8. Hadn’t heard of this dish by that name. Thanks for the education this morning, and now it is on my meal list for this week!

  9. Sounds delicious…I could certainly understand the words Vaca Frita, considering I live in a Spanish country. 🙂 Read the recipe with interest! Yum!

  10. I couldn’t wait to see what fried cow looked like, Liz. You have no idea of the things that went through my head so I am much relieved. This looks like a fabulously tender way to cook beef, especially with the citrus. Delicious!

  11. I could definitely sink my teeth into this dish for sure.

  12. Living in South Florida, I am able to enjoy some of the best Vaca Frita around. Making it at home makes even more sense…especially with a delicious recipe like yours.

  13. I love Cuban food, but I haven’t tried cooking much at home (except for Cuban sandwiches, that is). Time to branch out! 🙂

  14. This looks so good! I should stop looking at food blogs RIGHT after I ate lunch. It makes what I just ate seem so lame.

  15. I love this recipe! It looks beautiful!

  16. I have been dying to see what goes in this recipe, it looks delicious, great combo of flavors!!

  17. Never heard of vaca frita but love beef, so I’m willing to give this recipe a try!

  18. I haven’t heard of vaca frita – thanks for bringing my attention to it! Sounds like a yummy dinnertime solution.

  19. Bueno recipe! My Dad would LOVE this dish followed by a Cuban cigar =) You never cease to amaze, Liz. You have turned a simple dish and somehow elevated it to gourmet fare! Guess your sister should get some credit, too =)

  20. This sounds so delicious! I can’t wait to give it a try!

  21. My mind is now blown! Sounds great Liz, and the company even better.

  22. I have never heard of this before either…glad I have now 🙂 This looks yum!

  23. Lizzy,
    This looks delicious. I’ve never had Cuban food but I’d love to try it.

  24. I can practically smell this dish through the screen! Those Cuban flavors are everywhere down here in South Florida. I especially love that you served with a side of plantains…my favorite!

  25. Love the way this looks Liz, this would be a meal my whole family would like.

  26. Really interesting recipe. I must try this. Hope you had a great time gabbing with your sis!

  27. Don’t know vaca frita…but it looks hearty and very delicious. A perfect dinner recipe, Liz.

  28. Oh my my, this sounds like one yummy juicy meal, loving it so much!

  29. I always love the variety you bring to all these awesome home-cooked meals. Your family is one lucky bunch, Liz–I’d totally mosey over to your dining room anytime!

  30. I love it when you have every ingredient you need for a wonderful new recipe on hand – except for the meat of course. This looks like a really tasty meal with lots of great flavours and how lovely that you and your sister share such a wonderful interest in food. You must have enjoyed great times during her visit xx

  31. I love those citrus flavors with the beef. Dee-lish!

  32. This shredded beef looks fantastic, so delicious no doubt!

    Choc Chip Uru

  33. This shredded beef looks hearty and perfect for a Sunday dinner in the Fall!

  34. This looks super amazing! Pinning this! Must try!

  35. Nice meal! Looks wonderful!

  36. Oh this Cuban shredded beef sounds awesome, a bit like carnitas. Got to give this one a try soon.

  37. It’s so fun to share recipes with sisters and even more cooking them together. This sounds wonderful Liz, I can only imagine the delicious aroma…

  38. When I first saw the pictures of your dish Liz, it reminded me of Ropa Vieja – I believe another Cuban dish. I’ve had Cuban food on several occasions, but it’s been a number of years! I must try this!

  39. I have never heard of vaca frita before.. you learn something new (and delicious) everyday! Great recipe, think I have to try it out in my kitchen.

  40. This has been on my “to-make-soon” list for, well, longer than I should really admit to, anyways. Yours looks soooo delicious – just like one I had at a Cuban restaurant in Miami a few years ago! You have me craving Cuban food now!

  41. I can’t wait to make this for my dad! He’ll love it

  42. I have been wanting to try Cuban food for quite a while now so this may be the way I do it. The flavors just sound so amazing!!

  43. WOW LIZ! This sounds amazing!! I’m also a sucker for any shredded meat dish that is slow cooked like this. Waiting would be SO hard! Good for you for holding out like that! What a lovely budget dish!

  44. I cannot wait to try this! I love trying new flavors and cuisines and this looks delicious!

  45. I’ve never heard of this Cuban dish but holy cow it looks like it should be a good friend of mine.

  46. My Cuban step-mommy used to make this, but she would slice the meat thin.first. About the same recipe.she would brown the meat with lemon after the simmer.

  47. Sounds fabulous! I will show my husband, he lives for Cuban food! Thank you for sharing on Merry Monday! Hope to see ya next week!

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