I’ve tried many, MANY ways of making carne asada and this is by far the BEST one. If you’re looking for authentic Mexican flavors with the most tender beef, this is the recipe for you!
“Carne” means meat in Spanish and usually refers to beef. “Carne asada” means grilled meat and it can really be any cut of beef you prefer. It is marinated in citrus and Mexican spices, and can be used for a wide range of Mexican dishes!
Beef- if you want the most tender and flavorful cut, my opinion is that skirt steak is the absolute BEST for carne asada. There are two types of skirt steak- outside and inside. Outside skirt is the best cut to choose, however it can be a bit difficult to find. Your best bet is your local butcher shop. I have used inside skirt a few times and it’s still good, but outside skirt is noticeably better. It is incredibly tender and melts like butter!
Citrus- for flavor & tenderizing the beef, you’ll need lime juice & orange juice. For an extra kick of acidity, I also add some white vinegar.
Spices- salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, mexican organo, and chili powder
Garlic- softened roasted garlic grinded into a garlic salt paste in a molcajete is my favorite way to make salsas, and it’s how I make my carne asada marinades too. Grinding the salt and garlic into a paste will bring out the most flavor.
Beer- a little light beer to infuse moisture and flavor. Don’t worry if you can’t consume alcohol because I have a non-alcoholic substitute to make it halal! You can use ginger beer instead 🙂
Onion, cilantro, and jalapeno– these will be added to the marinade. The jalapeño will not make it spicy.
Traditional cuts of beef for carne asada
Flap meat- I’m not sure if this is just my Mexican family or Mexicans as a whole, but I think the concept of seeing carne asada cooked to anything other than well done is an American thing. In my experience, flap meat is usually used for carne asada. It’s thin, cooked well done, and usually just eaten with our hands by tearing the pieces of beef (unless being chopped up for tacos, burritos, etc).
Skirt steak- this is the clear winner in my book, specifically outside skirt steak. It’s a long cut of beef that has plenty of fat marbling which means maximum flavor. This cut can be difficult to find so I recommend going to your local butcher shop. Make sure you ask for cuts that are at least 1/2 inch thick. If they don’t have it, inside skirt is easier to find in grocery stores but it’s noticabley tougher than outside skirt.
Flank steak- this is another popular cut. It’s thicker than skirt steak and also leaner, so it doesn’t have as much flavor but still good. It is also much easier to find.
For the best results, I HIGHLY recommend firing up your grill for this! Carne asada means grilled meat after all.
The best way to cook skirt steak is fast & high. This means using SCORCHING high heat and cooking the steak for 3-4 minutes on each side depending on the thickness and desired doneness. It is okay to flip over a few times to get a more even char. That char is important! It adds that distinct flavor that we love with grilled meats.
If you are not confident in knowing when to pull the steaks off the grill, I recommend using a meat thermometer. When I use outside skirt for this, I don’t worry too much about the doneness because the meat is SO tender that having it a little overcooked is not a big deal. I actually prefer it to be cooked between medium and medium rare, but closer to medium.
Stove top (cast iron skillet)
If you don’t have a grill or don’t feel up to firing it up, you can definitely cook it on the stove. I recommend a cast iron skillet for this, using the same cooking instructions as the grill. Get the skillet as hot as possible! And maybe crack open a window or two so your smoke alarm doesn’t go off.
I use this method sometimes because my grill is a pain to fire up (it’s a charcoal grill). One great thing about the stove top method is that you can simultaneously cook the onions in the pan to impart even more flavor. When using the grill, I usually throw the skillet on it to cook the onions too.
- 2 lbs skirt steak at least 1/2" thick outside skirt highly recommended
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp coarse salt
- 1/4 onion sliced
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp Mexican oregano
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp white vinegar add 1 more tsp if you like it more tangy
- 1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
- 1/4 cup orange juice (about 1 small orange)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup light beer or ginger beer to make it halal
- 1-2 jalapeno cut in half lengthwise
- 1/4 bunch cilantro
- Over medium low heat, roast the garlic cloves (with the skin on) in a pan and cover for 5 minutes or until the garlic is soft and browned on all sides.
- Peel the skin off and add the roasted garlic to a molcajete (mortar) with 1 tbsp of salt. Grind to make a garlic salt paste.
- Add chopped onion and lightly press with the pestle to release some juices.
- Add the vinegar, lime juice, orange juice, olive oil, beer (or ginger beer to make it halal), and spices. Mix well by scraping the bottom of the molcajete to make sure you're incorporating all of the garlic salt paste.
- Mix in the cilantro and jalapeno.
- Trim off the silver skin membrane and any excess hard pieces of fat, but not too much because fat = flavor. Skirt steak comes in a long strip with the grains running perpendicular to it's length, so I recommend cutting it into 5 inch pieces rather than keeping it whole. For one, it may not fit on your grill in one long piece. Second, it's better to have shorter pieces of steak so that you can get nice uniform slices against the grain once it's ready to serve.
- Pour marinade over the skirt steak in a container and massage into the steak. Marinade in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours. Take the marinated steak out of the refrigerator and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before you cook it.
- Shake off excess marinade and grill over SCORCHING high heat (at least 600 degrees F) for 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare, or 4-5 minutes on each side for medium. The timing will depend on how thick your steak is. I also add the jalapeños to the grill and just use a skillet for the onions. You can also cook it on a cast iron skillet if you don't have a grill.
- Let the steak rest for 5 minutes on a cool surface before cutting into it! This is very important, do not skip the resting period.
- Cut the steak against the grain and enjoy 🙂