Learn how to make carne asada, a traditional Mexican recipe that’s perfect for loading into fajitas and tacos. Skirt steak or flank steak is soaked in a citrus marinade, then grilled and sliced into tender and juicy steak strips. Enjoy for Taco Tuesday, Cinco de Mayo, grilling season, and more!
Why you’ll love this carne asada recipe
This classic Mexican dish is all about enhancing the naturally beefy flavors in the steak with a vibrant, well-balanced carne asada marinade before grilling it to perfection.
- It won’t break the bank. True to tradition, this recipe calls for inexpensive flank steak or skirt steak. It’s transformed into a show-stopping, gourmet-tasting cut of beef after soaking in a simple marinade and being grilled on high heat.
- Dynamic flavors. The carne asada marinade is made from a well-balanced blend of olive oil, three types of citrus juices, aromatics, chili peppers, fresh herbs, and spices to enhance the steak’s natural flavor.
- Next-level tender. The citrus and oil in the marinade break down the meat fibers, producing a more tender and juicy final product. They also act as a protective layer so the meat doesn’t dry out while grilling.
- So versatile! The meat pairs perfectly with guacamole and pico de gallo in tacos, fajitas, tortas, quesadillas, and more! It’s also a signature ingredient in my mulitas.
What is carne asada?
Carne asada, meaning “grilled meat” in Spanish, refers to a popular Mexican marinated beef dish that’s grilled over an open flame. It’s typically made from long and flat cuts of steak that are naturally tough, like flank steak and skirt steak. The meat is marinated in a citrus marinade before being seared over high heat to achieve the succulent taste and textures it’s known for.
Besides the slab of beef and the carne asada marinade ingredients, the only other ingredients you need are the tortillas and flavorful toppings! Here are some notes to keep in mind about everything you’ll need:
- Skirt steak or flank steak. Both cuts can be used here. Remember that skirt steak is a long, flat cut from the belly area right under the ribs, while flank steak is a long cut from the abdominal area. As a result, skirt steak is well marbled with fat and has a stronger beefy flavor.
- Olive oil. As the base of the marinade, oil fully coats and tenderizes the meat while balancing the rest of the flavors in the marinade.
- Citrus juice. You need lime, orange, and lemon juice. This trio brings a bright and tangy taste to the marinade while the acid tenderizes the meat.
- Fresh coriander leaves. For subtle citrus and herbaceous notes.
- Garlic. To make the marinade extra craveable.
- Jalapeno pepper. Remove the seeds and veins for mild heat or leave them intact if you can handle the spice.
- Salt. Enhances the taste and tenderness.
- Cumin. Adds warm, earthy, and smoky notes.
- Chili powder. Gives the marinade a warm, spicy kick.
- Oregano. You can use regular oregano, however, Mexican oregano will add a brighter, citrus-like flavor.
- Black pepper. To taste.
How to make grilled carne asada
- Make the marinade. Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together in a shallow, wide dish.
- Marinate the steak. Place the steak in the dish with the marinade, making sure all sides are coated. Cover, then place the dish in the fridge to marinate.
- Grill. Cook the marinated steak on the grill until it’s cooked to your desired doneness (see the Tips section for more on this).
- Rest, then slice. Take the steak off of the heat and let it rest before slicing it thinly against the grain. Serve the steak strips in tortillas with your favorite toppings, and enjoy!
What to serve with this dish
Lastly, for a well-rounded meal, complete the carne asada with rice and beans and char-grilled vegetables on the side, like bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, and zucchini.
To store: Keep the leftover carne asada in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
To freeze: The cooked steak freezes well in an airtight container for up to 2 months. Let it thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
To reheat: The best way to reheat leftover skirt or flank steak is in a 250°F oven until the steak’s internal temperature reaches 110°F. Alternatively, reheat the leftovers in a skillet over medium heat with a splash of water to keep the meat from drying out.
Recommended tools to make this recipe
- Large shallow dish or ziplock bag. To marinate the steak.
- Tongs. To flip the meat and transfer it to and from the carne asada marinade.
- Grill or grill pan. To sear the marinated steak.
- Meat thermometer. To check the internal temperature of the meat.
Recipe tips and tricks
- Pound to an even thickness. If your steak is thick, use a meat mallet to pound it to an even ½ inch thickness. A thin steak will grill faster and cook more evenly.
- Preheat your grill to high heat. Cooking the meat briefly over high heat is the only way to achieve a nice sear on the surface while sealing in the flavorful juices.
- Cook it to rare or medium. Like my arrachera steak, I recommend cooking carne asada between rare (125°F) and medium (145°F).
- Let the meat rest before slicing. Transfer the cooked steak to a cutting board and let it rest for at least 5 to 10 minutes. This gives the juices time to redistribute, resulting in a more tender and flavorful final dish.
- Slice against the grain. After resting, slice the meat thinly against the grain. Use a sharp knife so you won’t need to apply pressure as you cut and cause the juices to spill out.
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Frequently asked questions
Skirt steak and flank steak are the two most common choices and are often used interchangeably in carne asada recipes.
The steak needs to marinate for at least 1 hour, although you’ll achieve the best results if you leave it for 4 hours or a maximum of 24 hours. Remember that thinner cuts (skirt steak) require less marinating time, while thicker cuts (flank steak) can withstand a longer marinating time.
No grill? Instead, heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. Once it’s sizzling hot, add the marinated steak and sear it for 3 to 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness and your desired level of doneness. If the steak is large, you may need to cut it into smaller pieces to fit it in the pan.
Carne Asada Recipe
- In a shallow and wide dish, combine all the ingredients, besides the steak, and whisk it all together.
- Place the steaks in the mixture and let it marinate for at least 10 minutes or up to 3 hours. If marinating for the longer duration, flip the steaks regularly.
- Preheat a grill to high heat.
- Remove the steaks from the marinade and grill for 4 minutes per side.
- Remove the steaks from the grill and let them rest for 10 minutes. Slice the meat thinly against the grain.
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