Beef For Carne Asada

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Beef For Carne Asada. Are you curious to know what Beef For Carne Asada tastes like? Then check out my Beef For Carne Asada recipe which is packed full of tasty flavour that is sure to please anyone’s taste buds. Various recipes are available online and with a little bit of practice, it’s easy to make beef for carne asada.

Carne Asada

Who’s up for grilled carne asada? Marinate and grill beef, slice it thinly, then serve warm with tortillas, avocados, and pico de gallo. Use skirt steak or flank steak for the best carne asada. Great for carne asada tacos!

Carne Asada

Carrrrrrne asada! Do you remember that Superbowl ad with the two lions? For months after that aired, I couldn’t say “carne” without rolling the rrrrrrs.

Clever of whatever ad agency came up with that campaign to feature two king carnivores talking about carne asada, which translates literally as “beef grilled”.

What is Carne Asada?

Carne asada is the thinly sliced, grilled beef served so often in tacos and burritos. You can also serve it straight up, with rice and beans on the side.

Although almost any cut of beef can be butterflied into thin sheets for the carne asada, typically you make it with either flank steak or skirt steak.

Carne Asada

How to Cook Carne Asada With Flank or Skirt Steak

Flank steak is a lean cut and needs to be cooked rare, and thinly cut across the grain to make it tender. Skirt steak is well marbled with fat, and while it still needs to be cut across the grain, it’s inherently more flavorful and tender, and can be cooked more without suffering.

Carne Asada Marinade Options

You can make carne asada without a marinade, and just a bit of salt and pepper before grilling, but if you have the time, a good soak in a marinade greatly enhances the flavor.

The marinade we are using here has olive oil, soy sauce, lime juice, vinegar, a little sugar for sweetness to balance the acidity of the lime and vinegar, and lots of minced garlic, jalapeño, and cilantro. Perfect for tacos!

Serve it up with tortillas, avocados, and salsa.

Watch This Carne Asada Recipe

Other Meat Options to Use

By definition, carne means meat, but the word is so associated with beef that most people associate carne asada with grilled beef. This recipe calls for flank or skirt steak, but you might also try using flap or chuck cuts of beef.

More Topping Ideas

If you’re using the carne asada for tacos, try these additional fixings to top them with.

  • Guacamole
  • Cojita cheese
  • Queso fresco
  • Grilled green onion
  • Caramelized onions
  • Sour cream
  • Sliced jalapeño

How to Store and Reheat This Recipe

Refrigerate leftover slices of carne asada in a tightly covered container for 3 to 4 days. Reheat them on the stovetop by heating a little olive oil in a pan. Add the slices, stirring once in a while, until heated through to 140°F.

Or, reheat them in the air fryer at 350°F. Check every 3 minutes or so until they’re heated through to 140°F.

Carne Asada

PREP TIME10 mins

COOK TIME20 mins

MARINATING2 hrs

TOTAL TIME2 hrs 30 mins

SERVINGS4 to 6 servings

If you don’t have a grill you can use a well-seasoned grill pan or a large cast iron pan on the stove-top. Heat on high to sear and then lower the heat to finish cooking. Make sure to use your stove vent, searing the steak this way can smoke up the kitchen!

If you want, before adding the steak to the marinade, reserve a couple of tablespoons of the marinade to drizzle over the finished carne asada to serve.

Rather than using pre-ground cumin, toast and grind whole cumin seeds if you have them.

Ingredients

Marinade:

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño chili pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems

Steak:

  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds flank or skirt steak

Fixings (optional):

  • Chopped avocado
  • Lime wedges
  • Corn or flour tortillas
  • Thinly sliced radishes
  • Thinly sliced lettuce
  • Pico de gallo salsa

Method

  1. Marinate the steak:Whisk to combine the olive oil, soy sauce, lime juice, vinegar, sugar, black pepper, and cumin in a large, non-reactive bowl or baking dish. Stir in the minced garlic, jalapeño, and cilantro.Place the steak in the marinade and turn over a couple of times to coat thoroughly.Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours or overnight (if using flank steak marinate at least 3 hours).
  2. Preheat the grill:Preheat your grill for high direct heat, with part of the grill reserved with fewer coals (or gas flame) for low, indirect heat. You’ll know the grill is hot enough when you can hold your hand above the grill grates for no more than one second.(You can also use a cast iron grill pan on high heat if cooking on the stovetop.)
  3. Sear the steak:Remove the steak from the marinade. Lightly brush off most of the bits of cilantro and garlic (do not brush off the oil).Place on the hot side of the grill. Grill the steak for a few minutes only, until well seared on one side (the browning and the searing makes for great flavor), then turn the steak over and sear on the other side.carne-asada-method-1carne-asada-method-2
  4. Move the steak to the cool side of the grill:Once both sides are well seared, move the steak to the cool side of the grill, with any thicker end of the steak nearer to the hot side of the grill.Test with a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the steak, or use your fingers (see The Finger Test to Check the Doneness of Meat). Pull the meat off the grill at 115°F to 120°F for rare, 125°F medium rare, 140°F for medium. The meat will continue to cook in its residual heat.Note that lean flank steak is best cooked rare, while skirt steak can be cooked well without losing moisture or flavor because it has more fat marbling.
  5. Tent with foil and let rest:Place the steak on a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Slice the steak across the grain:Use a sharp, long bladed knife (a bread knife works great for slicing meat) to cut the meat. Notice the direction of the grain of the meat and cut perpendicular to the grain. Angle your knife so that your slices are wide and thin.carne-asada-method-4
  7. (Optional) Serve with grilled tortillas:Warm the tortillas (corn or flour) for 30 seconds on each side in a dry skillet or on the grill, until toasty and pliable. Alternatively, you can warm tortillas in a microwave: heating just one or two at a time, place tortillas on a paper towel, and microwave them for 15 to 20 seconds each on high.(Optional) Serve with pico de gallo (fresh tomato salsa), chopped avocados, and other fixings.

AUTHENTIC CARNE ASADA

Marinated flank or skirt steak is grilled to perfection for the best Authentic Carne Asada recipe. This tender, grilled meat is full of authentic Mexican flavor. Marinated flank steak is grilled to perfection for the best Authentic Carne Asada recipe….

Marinated flank or skirt steak is grilled to perfection for the best Authentic Carne Asada recipe. This tender, grilled meat is full of authentic Mexican flavor.

Bird's eye view of Carne Asada surrounded by limes, tomatoes, and jalapenos.

Marinated flank steak is grilled to perfection for the best Authentic Carne Asada recipe. This tender, grilled meat is full of authentic Mexican flavor. This recipe is based off of one from the world renowned chef of Mexican Cuisine, Rick Bayless. It has been altered so that the average home cook can easily make it at home.

Carne Asada is all about the marinade. You take a nice piece of steak, marinate it with some delicious flavors, and then head out to the grill for a flavorful piece of beef you can eat plain, on a taco, burrito, or anything else you can think of. It’s so good it is often eaten plain, like the fine steak it is.

WHAT KIND OF MEAT DO YOU USE FOR CARNE ASADA?

Carne asada is traditionally made using skirt steak or flank steak. The two cuts are very similar and can be used interchangeably. The two meat cuts do have a few differences. Flank steak is a more lean option and has a great, intense meaty flavor. Skirt steak also has an intense meaty flavor but does have more tough fibers than flank steak. It should only be cooked to rare or medium-rare, otherwise it may become unpleasantly chewy. Both need to be cut against the grain.

Grilled Carne Asada
Slice Carne Asada Against the Grain

PRO TIP: When cutting your meat, be sure to cut against the grain. It is quite easy to see the grain running through the meat in both of these cuts. It looks like lines. Do not cut parallel to these lines, always cut perpendicular to them. The grain provides a natural breaking point in the meat. If you cut against them then you end up with tons of breaking points in each piece which keeps it from being chewy.

Carne Asada on a tortilla topped with onions and parsley.

WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE A GRILL? CAN I MAKE CARNE ASADA INDOORS?

If you don’t have access to an outdoor grill, you can always cook your carne asada indoors on the stovetop.  A stovetop will work the same way as a grill. Heat a large heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over high heat. Cook the meat for about 5 to 7 minutes per side, or until the desired level of doneness is reached.

Close up of Carne Asada on a wood countertop.

TIPS AND TRICKS

  1. Be sure to cut against the grain.
  2. The written recipe calls for marinating in a plastic bag. You can also marinate in a bowl. Just make sure the meat is covered.
  3. If you are one of the people in the world who don’t like cilantro, simply leave it out. Do not replace it with something like parsley.
  4. There are thousands of ways to prepare something authentically. This version of carne asada is cooked authentically on the grill and has an amazing amount of flavor.
  5. When using an outdoor gas grill, heat it to high heat, somewhere around 500 degrees before grilling this meat.
  6. Cooking time is an estimate and depends on the thickness of your meat. Use a meat thermometer for accuracy.

The Best Carne Asada Recipe

Sliced, grilled medium-rare carne asada fanned out on a wooden cutting board with corn tortillas, limes, and cilantro in the background.
Juicy, crisp, and smoky grilled carne asada. 

WHY IT WORKS

  • Whole chiles produce better flavor than powdered chiles.
  • A variety of umami-enhancing aromatics in the marinade improves the beef flavor.
  • Grilling skirt steak over very high heat, and pulling it early, ensures evenly cooked meat with robust char.

We can all agree on a few things here: Great carne asada should taste, first, of the beef. It should be buttery, rich, and juicy, with a nice charred, smoky flavor from the grill or broiler. It should also be tender enough that you can eat it in a taco or burrito, but substantial enough to be served as a steak and eaten with a knife and fork. Finally, the marinade should have a good balance of flavors, with no single ingredient overwhelming any other. Here’s how to make the carne asada of my dreams.

To say “I’m going to develop a recipe for carne asada” is akin to saying “Bartender, get me a beer, please.” The immediate follow-up is likely to be “I’m afraid you’re going to have to be a bit more specific than that.”

Carne asada literally translates to “grilled beef,” and, at its simplest, it can be no more than a steak, seasoned with salt and pepper, cooked over a hot fire. Yet colloquially, when we hear the term “carne asada,” we immediately think of the marinated meats you’re going to chop up and stuff into your tacos, burritos, or cemitas. But what exactly is in that marinade? Depending on whom you ask, you’ll get any number of different answers. Lime juice, garlic, and herbs are often used. Some recipes call for dried or fresh chiles. Still others go for a liquid fajita-style marinade with soy or Worcestershire sauce.

When I was a kid, my favorite Mexican restaurant was the Cal-Mex chain El Torito. We’d go to one of the New Jersey branches with the whole family. I’d eat the warm chips and watery salsa while coloring within the faux Mexican–themed outlines on the paper tablecloth with the crayons they’d give us, waiting for my deep-fried, cornflake-crusted, cinnamon-dusted ice cream to arrive. My dad would play with the slush in his margarita, a drink that, incidentally, was popularized in the United States by that very chain.

A carne asada taco made with grilled medium rare steak, chopped onion, cilantro and red salsa, plated on a wooden cutting board with additional steak and toppings surrounding it.

I’d had many versions of carne asada in my short life (my dad loved Mexican restaurants), but when it came to filling in the grilled beef–shaped lines etched in my head, El Torito held the largest crayon by far. Their version was a slab of skirt steak marinated in a pasilla chile–based sauce, grilled hard over coals until nearly burnt and crisp around the edges, and served slathered with a salsa that combined fresh citrus and more of that pasilla.

The East Coast branches of El Torito have since closed, but when I moved out west I was delighted to discover that the chain was still going strong. When I decided to work on this recipe, my first step was to go straight to the source. I hit up El Torito three times over the course of two days to get a really good grasp of what they’re doing with their carne asada. The flavor was vaguely as I remembered it—sweet, savory, a little spicy, and deeply charred—but I certainly didn’t remember the meat being so mealy or gray. If this was going to be my prototype, I was going to have to make some major improvements before moving into full production.

I hit up the butcher’s counter on my way home and bought them out of every potential cut of beef that might work in my recipe. It was time to get serio with mi carne.

The Meat Counter: Choosing the Best Cut of Beef

Raw flap meat steak on a wooden cutting board with a knife in the background.

Carne asada is typically made with skirt steak, but I wanted to test out a variety of inexpensive cuts to be sure. I bought a half dozen different cuts of beef and marinated them in a basic mixture of lime juice, garlic, cilantro, olive oil, and chiles before grilling them to medium-rare over hot coals.

  • Hanger is big and beefy, with a nice coarse texture that takes well to marinades, but its large triangular cross-section is not ideal for taco or burrito fillings.
  • Flank steak is easy to cook and slice because of its wide, flat shape, but it’s a little too lean for this application.
  • Tri-tip, though quite inexpensive and nicely marbled, is simply too large. With such a low surface area–to–volume ratio, you get barely any marinade flavor.
  • Short rib was one of my favorite cuts for carne asada (as well as one of my favorites for cooking as a steak), with tons of beef flavor and melt-in-your-mouth fat. The only problem is that short ribs require very thin slicing, which is okay for stuffing tortillas, but not great if you want to serve them to guests in a whole chunk.
  • Flap meat, my second choice, has a wide, coarse texture that’s custom-made for picking up and clinging to marinades. It is relatively lean, but its juiciness and big flavor make up for that.
  • Skirt steak, as suspected, was the clear winner here, with the richest, most buttery flavor, a really nice surface area–to–volume ratio that maximizes the flavor of the marinade, plenty of thin edges to crisp up and char, and, when cooked properly, a melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Two raw skirt steaks on butcher paper with a boning knife in the background.

Skirt steak comes as a long, ribbony piece of meat, with a width of three inches or so and a length of at least a couple of feet. When you buy skirt steak from the butcher, the vast majority of the time you’re getting inside skirt—the fattier and more desirable outside skirt gets sold almost exclusively to restaurants. This means that the real key to working with skirt is to leave a relatively large amount of fat on it—I trim off just the really tough-looking silver skin—and to cut it crosswise with the grain into five- to six-inch lengths. Cutting the steak like this will subsequently allow you to slice it against the grain easily when serving.

The Components of Great Marinades

Aside from the obvious one of adding flavor, a good marinade has three goals: enhancing texture by allowing meat to retain juices better, improving surface browning, and tenderizing. For our carne asada, we want all three of these effects.

I explored many of the different classes of ingredients that one might find in a marinade when I was working on a recipe for fajitas, a similar but distinct Mexican dish. In that article, I named the essential marinade ingredients that will guarantee maximum results in all of these categories.

Marinade Ingredients and Their Effect
IngredientEffect Example 
Flavoring Agents  Adding flavor. Fresh aromatics, like onions or garlic, herbs, dried spices, sauces, and flavorful oils. 
Acid Tenderizing tough connective tissue.  Vinegars, citrus juices, and wine.  
OilEnhancing surface browning and spreading oil-soluble flavors more evenly across the meat.Olive oil, canola oil, et cetera. 
SaltFlavoring and breaking down muscle protein to improve juice retention.  Solid salt and salty sauces like soy or fish sauce.  
ProteaseEnzymatically breaking down proteins to tenderize. Papaya or pineapple juice, meat tenderizer, and soy sauce.  
Sugar Improving browning and balancing flavor.  Brown or white sugar and syrups like maple syrup or honey. 
Onion, oranges, limes, garlic, serrano chile, and fresh cilantro on a wooden cutting board for a carne asada marinade.

For my marinade, I knew that I’d want a mix of many of these ingredients, but there was simply too huge a range to start out with. So I began by making some broad strokes, testing out some basic styles I’ve seen in books and around the internet. After a few tests, I eliminated those liquid ones that seemed too similar to fajita marinades to me. I then eliminated those that were too heavy on oil and fresh aromatics, like garlic and herbs. Those ingredients were welcome, but I wanted the backbone of my marinade to be much more robust, like the El Torito version I was used to. Dried chiles was where I would begin.

The Chiles

I’ve tested and written extensively about how to get the best flavor out of your chiles, and my near-universal recommendation is to ditch the chile powder in lieu of whole dried chiles, which pretty much always have vastly superior flavor.

Dried guajillo, pasilla, and ancho chiles, plus a can of chipotles en adobo, on a wooden cutting board for carne asada marinade.

I’ve also recommended toasting whole chiles in the microwave to enhance their flavor, and that works well in this recipe, too. All it takes is about 15 seconds on a microwave-safe plate for dried chiles to become toasty and pliable.

I tried incorporating chiles into my marinade in various ways, including steaming them in chicken stock and puréeing them (as I do in a couple of chili recipes), simply toasting and grinding them, and blending the toasted chiles into my liquid ingredients in my countertop blender.

Cutting the stem off of a guajillo chile before removing the seeds.

In this case, the easiest method turned out to be the best. Simply tossing toasted guajillo or pasilla and ancho chiles (along with some chipotles) into the blender with the liquid ingredients and grinding them up produced a marinade that was smooth enough to eat as a salsa, but still had a few pleasant bits of intact chile skin that softened up as the marinade sat.

The Wet Ingredients

Next step was to nail down the wet ingredients. Citrus juice was an obvious one. I tried straight-up lime, but it proved too acidic for the sauce, overpowering the other ingredients. A mixture of lime and orange toned down the acidity and added a nice floral note to the aroma, which went really well with the smoky chipotle chiles. A little olive oil also loosened up the mixture and provided some fat to distribute those fat-soluble flavor compounds around the meat.

Steaks marinated using various flavor enhancers on parchment-lined baking sheets before grilling for carne asada.
Steaks marinated with various flavor enhancers

To improve the flavor of the mixture, I tried mixing in various ingredients, like molasses and Worcestershire sauce, an ingredient that is pretty prevalent in the El Torito version. But no matter how little I used, the combination of Worcestershire and sugar was too reminiscent of barbecue sauce. I cut it out completely.

In its place, I knew I wanted another ingredient rich in glutamic acid, the chemical responsible for triggering our sense of savoriness. I turned to the usual suspects: soy sauce and fish sauce.

Bottles of Worcestershire sauce and fish sauce next to a measuring cup into which soy sauce is being poured.

A small dash of both gave the sauce the depth it needed and helped boost the flavor of the skirt steak, while simultaneously improving its moisture level and tenderness. Fish sauce is hardly traditional in Mexican cooking, but this is carne asada—there are no rules about anything, other than what lands on the plate at the end of the recipe. Besides, in the quantity used here, the fish sauce completely melds into the background.

Whole cumin and coriander seeds on a wooden cutting board with their jars in the background.

Rounding out the flavors in my marinade were garlic, a small bunch of fresh cilantro leaves, some toasted whole cumin and coriander seeds, and some dark brown sugar to balance out all the extra saltiness and acidity.

Marinating Time

What about how long the marinade takes to work? Does marinating for hours or even days on end help, detract, or make no difference? To test this, I placed pieces of skirt steak into vacuum-sealed bags of marinade, sealing off a new bag every few hours to test marination times ranging from zero to 36 hours. Much to my wife’s chagrin, this meant waking up every few hours in the middle of the night to a loud alarm so that I could go put another piece of beef in the marinade. I’m not sure why she puts up with me, but I think the food may have something to do with it.

A parchment-lined sheet pan topped with six steaks, each marinated for a different number of hours, before grilling for carne asada.

After marinating, I decided that the only way to ensure that all of my samples cooked identically would be to cook them sous vide in a temperature-controlled water bath. Every steak spent one hour at 120°F (49°C), then a few minutes on a smoking-hot grill to bring them all up to a nice medium rare before tasting.

A dozen steaks later, I had come to a shocking conclusion: Aside from those that had spent zero to one hour in the marinade, most of the steaks tasted nearly identical, and they were not particularly tasty.

It was pretty obvious what was lacking from the marinade: salt. While I’d been putting as much salt in the marinade as I would use for a serving sauce—about 1 1/2% to 2% salt by weight—a marinade actually needs to be far saltier in order for it to really be able to penetrate at all.

A marinated steak cut in half to reveal the small depth to which the marinade had penetrated.

Many people seem to be under the impression that meat is like a paper towel, or perhaps a ShamWow, capable of absorbing whatever it is we dip it in. We’d see a lot more sponges and diapers made of meat if that were the case.

Okay, perhaps not, but you get my point: Meat is already packed full of stuff, so it’s not particularly good at absorbing more stuff. In order to get it to absorb more at all, you need to alter its structure, and that’s where salt comes in. In significant enough proportions, salt can dissolve the muscle proteins responsible for keeping meat fibers tightly bound. Once they’re loosened, that salt can work its way into the meat, taking along with it a few other flavors as well.

Raising the salt content to 3% (just a couple of extra teaspoons) can significantly improve the flavor of the meat, though, even with extra salt, there’s only so far a marinade can penetrate. Those big aromatic molecules in a marinade are simply too large to get far beyond the surface.

Photo collage showing making carne asada marinade in a blender, adding steaks, and sealing them in a zipper-lock bag.

Once I’d increased the amount of salt, I found that by three hours or so, the meat had absorbed the majority of the flavors it was going to pick up. The difference between meat marinated for one hour and meat marinated for three hours was far greater than the difference between a three-hour-marinated batch and a 12-hour-marinated batch. Eventually, though, the acid in the marinade will start working against you, turning the meat mushy instead of meaty, so I don’t recommend marinating for any longer than 12 hours total.

I very happily discovered that if I set aside some of the marinade before adding the extra salt, it served as a not just decent but fantastic salsa for the meat, whether I decided to eat it whole with a knife and fork or stuffed into tacos with onions and cilantro.

Grilling Your Skirt Steak

Whole grilled carne asada on a wooden cutting board with garnishes before being sliced.

The last step is actually the easiest (and the most fun!): grilling.

There’s one cardinal rule for skirt steak, and we’ve repeated it again and again: Use the highest heat possible. I mean smoking, blistering, painfully hot. Skirt steak is very thin, yet it tastes best when charred to the point of crispness. With typical grilling temperatures, the center ends up overcooking before the outside has a chance to char. For the best results, add your steak to the grill only once the coals are at their hottest, or after the gas has had a chance to preheat until it can preheat no more.

That’s the only way you’re going to get steak that’s gorgeously charred on the outside, full of smoky, sweet flavors, with a center that’s still pink and the fat just starting to soften and melt, lubricating the whole affair. I generally advocate using a thermometer, and, if you’ve got one, the very center of this steak should register 110°F (43°C) or so when you pull it off (carryover cooking will bring it up to a medium-rare 125 to 130°F/52 to 54°C). But even without a thermometer, so long as the exterior is well charred, chances are good you’re going to hit that final temp spot on. It takes a little more coal than usual, or a slightly longer preheat, but the results are well worth it.

Slicing skirt steak carne asada against the grain on a wooden cutting board.

One important detail: After the steak comes off the grill and rests for a minute to come to its final temperature, make sure that you slice it against the grain—that is, perpendicular to the very pronounced striations that appear in the meat. Failure to do this will leave long muscle fibers in your meat, making it feel rubbery and tough. It will also instantly reduce any accumulated street cred you may have garnered from friends, family, and acquaintances to an effective operational level of zero, and you’ll be forced to start building up that cred again from the beginning.

If there were a short list of foods that help increase your street cred when executed properly, carne asada would have to be pretty high up there. Now if only I could find a way to replace that fried ice cream and those frozen margaritas of my memory, I might finally be able to free myself of the shackles of my youth.

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