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Cuban Vaca Frita Recipe

Classic Cuban Recipes: Vaca Frita

Classic Cuban Recipes: Vaca Frita is one of the first recipes in our series of Classic Cuban dishes.

Cuban Vaca Frita, which translates to “fried cow” is one of our favorites, which is why we have two different versions (Check out our Pollo Vaca Frita). Shredded beef is flavored with garlic, lime and oranges and crisped up with onions. It’s so simple. The bold flavors can’t be beat.

There is not a Cuban restaurant on this planet that does not have its version of it on the menu. But isn’t that the beauty of Cuban food? It has a way of being so extraordinary it can be served as an entree at a restaurant, but also so simple that it can be made at home during the week.

I remember shredding the meat as a kid to help my mom. I’d put one on the plate and eat another bite with lime juice. She always knew to make a lot or she would end up with nothing when it came time to make the dish. 


When you are cooking the meat you need to wait for it to be very tender. It will take at least an hour or more on the stove top or 30 minutes in the pressure cooker. One of the best things about making a dish like Vaca Frita, is that you don’t need a lot to have it make a lot. Here you are using around 2 lbs of meat and it’s going to yield pretty big servings. So don’t freak out if your helper is sneaking some tastings in between shredding.

Like most of our favorite Cuban dishes, you can never have too many onions. Don’t be shy. They lend flavor to the simple meat and keep this crispy dish very juicy. 

I loved loved loved Vaca Frita Sundays at Yaya’s house. Mostly because I knew that if there was Vaca Frita there was most definitely Sopa de Cebolla! Yaya would always use the broth from boiling the meet as the base for her soup, and while I never understood that as a child, I deeply deeply respect her ability to use everything now that I’m also responsible for feeding my people.


Some Tips for Making Our Classic Cuban Vaca Frita Recipe

  • The biggest tip to keep in mind is not to over shred your meat. Or it can be very stringy and chewy. You want the meat to be torn apart into different sizes so there is more texture. Naturally, the thin pieces will get very crispy while the larger pieces of meat will stay more moist. 
  • You can also do this step in an Instant Pot. Cook on the high pressure setting for 30 minutes. 
  • Strain the broth and reserve for something else like Yaya and Alita would want you to (Ropa vieja, Sopa de Cebolla). 

We serve it alongside Rice and Beans , on top of crisp Tostones as an appetizer or even on top of a salad for the perfect lunch. 


Classic Cuban Recipes: Vaca Frita

Recipe by Abuela's CounterCourse: EntreeCuisine: CubanDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time




  • 2 pounds of flank steak or lean brisket, cut into 4 to 5 large pieces. 

  • 4 large yellow onions, thinly sliced, divided

  • 6 garlic cloves, minced finely 

  • Juice of the two limes 

  • Zest of two limes 

  • juice of 1 orange

  • Zest of 1 orange

  • 1 tablespoon of sazon

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, divided

  • 3 teaspoons of salt and freshly ground pepper

  • Optional – 1/4 cup of chicken broth 

  • 1/2 cup of parsley, finely chopped


  • In a large pot, add the flank steak, bay leaves, and 1 of the onions quartered.  Add water to completely cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours until the meat is very tender.  *You can also do this step in an Instant Pot. Cook on the pressure setting for 30 minutes. 
  • Once it’s ready, transfer the meat to a cutting board. Allow it to cool and break the meat apart by shredding it. 
  • Strain the broth and reserve for something else (Ropa vieja, Sopa de Cebolla). 
  • Heat a large non-stick or ceramic sauté pan to high. Add the onions and 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add 1/2 tablespoon of the sazon and 1 teaspoon of salt and fresh pepper. Keep in mind we didn’t use any salt to boil the meat so we need to season with plenty of sazon and salt throughout the recipe. 
  • Saute the onions for 7-10 minutes on medium until soft in texture and golden brown in color. Then add the garlic and sauté for 2-4 minutes.
  • Add half of the lime and orange juice to deglaze the pan. Once the juice has been absorbed the onions are ready. If you have a large pan you can move the onions to the side. (If you have a very small pan, then remove them to a platter and set aside). 
  • Heat your pan to high. Add the shredded meat remaining oil, then sprinkle with the remaining sazon, salt and the zest. You can add a small amount of zest and add more as needed. Depends how you citrusy and pungent you like it. 
    *Again remember if you have a small pan work in batches for this part to ensure you can get the meat crispy. 
  • Mix together to combine let it sit and get hot. This is when you want to get parts of the meat very crispy. If you need  more oil to get the edges of the meat golden brown, add another 2 tablespoons at this point. 
  • Once all the meat is crisp, you can put everything back in the pan and incorporate together. 
    If at any point you see it too dry add some stock or the remaining juice to keep it moist. 
    Sprinkle with chopped parsley and lime wedges