How to order the best meat in Spain

Here on the Costa Blanca, paella, fish and seafood often get top billing in most seafront restaurants. But meat eaters, worry not; there’s plenty of variety on offer, especially as you travel further inland.

Here’s a handy translation of most of the meat dishes you’ll find in the carnes section of a Spanish menu.

I’ve included a separate section for steak here and also for the different cuts of meat you’ll find in Spain. There’s a checklist of the different meat cooking styles here.

In the UK, we tend to turn our noses up at offal. Not here, where even the humblest cut (think pig’s trotters, oxtail, beef cheeks) can be transformed into something delicious. Check out the section on casquería (offal).

Meat on your menu – translated!

  • Angus Black or Black Angus: beef from an Aberdeen Angus, a famous Scottish breed, well known in Spain.
  • Buey: bull
  • Cabra/cabrito: goat/kid. Not used much in traditional British cooking, but quite common in Spain. Goat’s cheese (queso de cabra) is a favourite.
  • Carne de vacuno: a general term for beef
  • Cerdo: pork. Often served as lomo de cerdo (pork loin steak) or chuleta de cerdo (pork chop). Almost every bit of the pig features somewhere in Spanish cuisine. For more on different cuts of pork, scroll down to ‘cuts of meat’ later in this post. 
  • Cochinillo: suckling pig. Often cooked whole in the oven, with the skin nice and crispy. A speciality from Segovia, an hour’s drive north-west of Madrid.

    Cochinillo (suckling pig) asado, cooked till the skin is crisp.
  • Conejo: rabbit. You hardly ever see rabbit in the UK these days, but Spanish cooks know it’s a meat full of flavour. It can be a bit bony, but it’s great in stews. Try conejo en salmorejo, a vinegar/pimentón sauce typical of the Canary Islands.
  • Cordero: lamb. Often served as chuletas/chuletitas de cordero – lamb chops, a barbecue favourite. The chops are smaller and thinner than in the UK, so order three or four to get a decent plateful.  In the UK, lamb is defined as under one year old and anything older is mutton. Spain has more detailed definitions, but you don’t often see them on menus. Generally, lamb is slaughtered earlier than in the UK which is why the chops are smaller.
  • Cordero lechal, unweaned, up to 25 days old, 8 kg. Also called lechazo.
  • Cordero recental or ternasco: up to 4 months old, less than 13kg.
  • Cordero pascual: slaughtered between 4-12 months.
  • Ovino mayor/carnero: mutton. Sheep over one year old, mostly found in the north of Spain.
  • Cordoníz: quail
  • Faisán: pheasant
  • Jabalí: wild boar. Quite common in Spain, it has a ‘gamey’ flavour to the meat. You’ll often find it in pâté.
  • Lechazo: lamb (unweaned, under 35 days old)
  • Novillo: beef from a steer or bullock, aged 2-4 years. Supposed to have more flavour and a deeper red colour than ‘ternera‘ which is the usual word for beef on a Spanish menu. I’m not convinced!
  • Pato: duck

    Casa Elordi
    Magret de pato (duck), here with medlars and beetroot slices
  • Pavo: turkey. In the UK, it’s usually a Christmas-only bird. In the States, it’s all about Thanksgiving. In Spain, it’s not just for special occasions and is eaten all year round. Not as popular as….
  • Pollo: chicken. Pechuga de pollo: chicken breast. Muslo de pollo: chicken thigh/drumstick. Alita de pollo: chicken wing
  • Perdiz: partridge
  • Ternera: beef. Can also mean veal (e.g. escalope de ternera). You may also see veal as ternera blanco.
  • Vaca: cow/beef (for cuts of beef, see the diagram below).
  • Vacuno: a general term for beef/
  • Venado: venison
  • Wagyu: high quality meat from Wagyu cattle, a famous Japanese breed. How do you know you’re getting genuine Wagyu on your plate? There’s no way of telling for sure – you need to trust the restaurant!

Ways of cooking meat in Spain

  • Ahumado: smoked
  • A la brasa: charcoal grilled
  • A la parrilla: grilled
  • A la plancha: cooked on a hot plate
  • Al horno: cooked in the oven
  • Al horno de leña: cooked in a wood oven
  • Barbacoa/parillada: barbecue
  • Estofado: stewed, can also mean braised.
  • Guisado: stewed/casseroled
  • Relleno: stuffed. Carne rellena de jamón y queso – meat stuffed with ham and cheese.

Choosing your steak

  • Bistec: rump steak
  • Chuletón: T-bone steak. Can also mean a large chop. Sometimes very large!         
  • Entrecote: entrecote
  • Filete: fillet
  • Solomillo: sirloin

How do you like your steak cooked? 

  • Poco hecho: rare
  • Al punto: rare
  • Medio hecho: medium
  • Bien hecho: well done
Spanish cuts of beef
A guide to cuts of beef in Spain; more detailed than in the UK

Cuts of meat translated

  • Alas/alitas de (pollo):  wings (chicken)
  • Albondigas: meatballs
  • Carilladas de cerdo: pig cheeks (also known as mejillas, carrilleras). Try carrilleras en Pedro Ximénez, cooked slowly in sweet, intensely flavoured Pedro Ximénez dessert sherry. My personal signature dish!
  • Chuleta: chop. Chuletitas de cordero (small lamb chops) on the grill/barbecue are delicious. Lamb chops tend to be a fair bit smaller in Spain than the UK, so buy plenty!
  • Chuletón: T-bone steak. Can also be a very large chop. A speciality of Ávila, north west of Madrid

    Chuletón de Avila
    Chuletón, a speciality of Ávila. A serious amount of meat; ask to share (compartir)
  • Churrasco: you’ll see this more often in South America, where it’s a general term for barbecue steak. May be served with a chimichurri sauce (made from fresh parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and red pepper flakes) 
  • Costillas: pork ribs/spare ribs. Typical recipe: costillas al horno con salsa barbacoa – oven cooked spare ribs with BBQ sauce.
  • Entraña: skirt. A cut of beef imported from Argentinian cuisine, but gaining in popularity in Spain, usually for barbecues. From the underbelly of the cow.
A good cut of entraña with chimichurri sauce
  • Escalope: escalope (of veal)
  • Filete: fillet steak (usually beef – ternera)
  • Hígado: liver. Typical recipe: hígado encebollado – liver and onions.
  • Jarrete: shank (e.g. jarretes de cordero – lamb shank). Can also mean knuckle (e.g. jarrete de ternera blanco – knuckle of veal)
  • Lengua: tongue. Haven’t eaten this since I was a kid. Not keen to start again now!
  • Lomo: loin, tenderloin pork, a regular on Spanish menus. Usually a bit dry for my taste. Order a sauce to go with it.
  • Magro de tomate is a typical Spanish tapa – cubes of pork braised in tomato sauce.
  • Manitas de cerdo: pig trotters (see also patas de cerdo) You hardly ever see pigs trotters in the UK, but they’re common in Spanish markets. Usually stewed in a rich sauce, maybe with garbanzos (chick peas).
  • Mejillas de cerdo: pig cheeks
  • Molida: minced meat (carne de molida). See also picada
  • Mollejas: sweetbreads, usually from the thymus gland in the neck.
  • Muslo de: thigh. Muslo de pollo – chicken drumstick
  • Paleta: shoulder
  • Panceta de cerdo: belly of pork
  • Patas de cerdo: pigs’ trotters. 
  • Picada: minced meat (carne picada)
  • Pierna: leg (usually lamb – e.g. pierna de cordero: leg of lamb)
  • Pinchos (pinxtos in the Basque country): kebab, meat cooked on a stick. Pinchos morunos are a typical tapa, marinated in a lightly-spiced sauce
  • Pechuga: breast. Pechuga de pollo (chicken breast) is a common dish in Spain.
  • Pluma: (literally feather) a really tender cut of pork from the neck of an ibérico pig
  • Rabo de toro: ox tail. Slowly stewed in a rich sauce with plenty of red wine (in the sauce, not in the chef!)
  • Riñones: kidneys. Try riñones al jerez – in sherry sauce. Delicious!
  • Secreto: a cut of pork with amazing flavour from the shoulder/loin area of an Ibérico pig

Casquería (offal)

When I was a kid growing up in the UK, offal was a regular on the menu; liver (higado), kidneys (riñones) and heart (corazón) were everyday dishes. That tradition has slowly disappeared in Britain – but not in Spain, where every part of the animal features somewhere in someone’s recipe book.

  • Callos: tripe. Callos a la Madrileña is a typical dish from Madrid, a stew with tripe, black pudding, chorizo and vegetables
  • Carilladas de cerdo: pig cheeks (aka mejillas, carrilleras). Needs braising for a few hours, but the flavour is great. 
  • Hígado: liver
  • Lengua: tongue. Not one of my favourites!
  • Mejillas de cerdo: pig cheeks
Rabo de Toro
Oxtail (rabo de toro), a Spanish favourite. It needs to be braised slowly until the meat is falling away from the bone.
Pigs trotters (manitas de cerdo)
Pigs trotters, usually braised in a stew. The Spanish can create a dish with every part of the pig and the trotters are no exception.
  • Manitas de cerdo: pigs trotters
  • Mollejas: sweetbreads, usually from a calf or lamb. The thymus gland in the neck of the animal and/or the pancreas. I’ve never seen them in the UK, but they’re reasonably common in Spain.
  • Patas de cerdo: pigs trotters
  • Rabo de toro: oxtail (see pic). Brits know all about oxtail soup, but rabo de toro braised in a red wine sauce is something else again.
  • Riñones: kidneys. See riñones al jeréz above
  • Sesos: brains. 
  • Tripas: tripe. The edible muscle lining of the stomach usually from a cow but also possibly from a pig or sheep. Used to be popular in the UK, but not so much these days. I have to say I’m not a fan…

More great tastes of Spain!

For more posts on the best of Spanish food, take a look here:

© Guy Pelham

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