Best Carne Asada

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Carne Asada

Ever wonder why your skirt steak isn’t as tender as the one from your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant? Find out why and get the recipe for the best carne asada ever!

Carne Asada

Have you ever grilled a skirt steak for carne asada or beef fajitas and wondered why it’s never as tender as the one served at your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant? I have. In fact, I’ve  cooked countless skirt steaks over the years in a quest to replicate my favorite taqueria steak recipes. Despite trying every tenderizing trick in the book, my skirt steaks have always been so tough that they’re almost inedible.

Since every reputable food publication has a recipe for carne asada that calls for skirt steak, I was starting to wonder if I was being too picky or if I was just skirt steak-challenged. Finally, I stumbled upon the answer in an article entitled, So What Exactly Are You Eating When You Order Fajitas In A Tex-Mex Restaurant? by  BBQ expert Robb Walsh.

Why Are Restaurant Skirt Steaks So Tender?

According to Walsh, most Tex-Mex restaurants buy their skirt steaks already marinated from commercial meat processors. These processors marinate tough skirt steak with enzymes that tenderize the meat – and they do their marinating in a commercial vacuum tumbler, which breaks up and stretches out the protein fibers. Furthermore, salt and phosphate are added to increase moisture retention, making the meat juicier.

This process is impossible to replicate at home, so I happily decided to give up on skirt steak and find a way to make carne asada using a different cut. My solution: a flat iron steak. An affordable, widely-available cut that’s almost as tender as filet mignon, the flat iron steak is ideal for high heat, quick-cooking methods like grilling.

What You’ll Need to Make Carne Asada

tender carne asadaThe recipe calls for two pounds of flat iron steak. You’ll likely need to buy two steaks but even if you’re able to find a large one, it’s best to cut it in half — the steaks will cook faster and you’ll have more surface area to char on the grill (my family fights over the charred end pieces!).

The main ingredient in the marinade is soy sauce, which might seem strange for a Tex-Mex recipe. But soy sauce lends that umami — or meaty, full-bodied, and savory — flavor that somehow just makes the meat taste so much better. I assure you, it doesn’t give the dish an Asian flavor.

How To Make Carne Asada

poking Carne Asada with fork

To begin, using a fork, poke holes about an inch apart all over the steak (one side only). This not only breaks up the fibers of the steak, it also helps the steak soak up the flavor of the umami-packed marinade.

carne asada marinade ingredients in large dish

In a dish large enough to hold the steak, combine the soy sauce, lime juice, vegetable oil, sugar, cumin, chili powder, and garlic. Whisk to combine.

whisking marinade ingredients

Place the steak in the marinade and turn to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours, turning the steak at least once.

steaks marinading in dish

Lightly oil the grill grates and preheat the grill to high. Grill the steak, covered, for 5 to 6 minutes per side for medium-rare.

carne asada on the grill

Let the meat rest on a cutting board, tented with aluminum foil, for about 5 minutes. Slice thinly against the grain and serve.

Carne Asada

What To Serve With Carne Asada

Best Carne Asada

Ever wonder why your skirt steak isn’t as tender as the one from your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant? Find out why and get the recipe for the best carne asada ever!

Servings: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Total Time: 25 Minutes, plus at least 4 hours to marinate

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice, from 2 limes
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 pounds flat iron steak (see note)

Instructions

  1. In a dish large enough to hold the steak, whisk together the soy sauce, lime juice, vegetable oil, sugar, cumin, chili powder, and garlic.
  2. Using a fork, poke holes about an inch apart all over the steak on one side only. Place the steak in the marinade and turn to coat evenly (it doesn't matter which side is up). Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours, turning the steak at least once.
  3. Lightly oil the grill grates and preheat the grill to high. Grill the steak, covered, for 5 to 6 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let the meat rest on a cutting board, tented with aluminum foil, for about 5 minutes. Slice thinly against the grain and serve.
  4. Note: You may need to buy 2 separate flat iron steaks to get 2 pounds. Even if you're able to find one large steak, it's best to cut it in half into two smaller steaks -- they will cook faster and you'll have more surface area to char on the grill (we fight over the charred end pieces!).

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (Nutritional data assumes only 1/3 of marinade is absorbed by steak -- 4 servings)
  • Calories: 387
  • Fat: 22 g
  • Saturated fat: 8 g
  • Carbohydrates: 1 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 46 g
  • Sodium: 524 mg
  • Cholesterol: 154 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

Gluten-Free Adaptable Note

To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you're following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.

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Reviews & Comments

  • I’ve made this several times and it’s one of the best recipes in my rotation. Have a question though, I ran out of ancho chili powder, can I use chipotle or regular instead?

    • — Sara on September 5, 2021
    • Reply
    • Glad you like this! You can use chipotle chili powder if you like heat — otherwise, just use regular chili powder.

      • — Jenn on September 6, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi Jen,
    I’ve made this dish before and it’s simply perfect. I’m having a party for 13 guests and would like to make the carne asada for a taco bar. Can I bbq the day before and warm in a crock pot the next day so I can enjoy my party? Also, for 13 people would you recommend six lbs. of meat? Thanks. Love, love, love all of your recipes!

    • — Glorianne Naughton on July 9, 2021
    • Reply
    • So glad you like it! If you want to cook it a day in advance and reheat it in a slow cooker, I’d undercook it a bit as it will continue to cook a bit as it reheats. And I think you can get away with 5 pounds of meat. Hope everyone enjoys!

      • — Jenn on July 9, 2021
      • Reply
  • First time I’ve tried to make carne asada and it turned out perfect. Easy recipe that everyone loved. Great flavor!

    • — Cathy B on June 9, 2021
    • Reply
  • This marinade does make a delectable grilled flat iron steak. However, the soy sauce sort of overwhelms the other flavors. Nonetheless I will make this again (especially because the cold grilled steak with fresh pico de gallo made a splendid lunch the next day). Thank you!

    • — Diana on May 31, 2021
    • Reply
  • Jenn, no grill in my apartment. Am I better off using a grill pan or the broiler. Grill pan…what burner setting and how long? Assume the timing if using the broiler will be the same as on a grill. Which should be my first choice? Trader Joe’s has flat irons. Can hardly wait to make this. Picking up a steak tomorrow

    • — Carol Winkelman on April 1, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Carol, I’d go with a grill pan as that’s the best way to get a nice ear on the meet. I’d sear it on medium-high for 4 to 5 minutes per side or until nicely browned. If you want it cooked more than that, I’d finish it off in a 350° oven. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it!

      • — Jenn on April 6, 2021
      • Reply
  • We love your recipe and use it often. We had guests last night and we served this. Our friends said this was the best steak they have ever eaten. Thank you! I also love your salsa recipes.

    • — Melissa on March 13, 2021
    • Reply
  • This was spectacular! Follow this recipe and don’t deviate. I used skirt steak and couldn’t have been happier with it. Definitely adding this to the rotation!

    • — Rob on February 14, 2021
    • Reply
  • Had bought two TBone steaks on sale. We shared one and it was horrible, don’t think it was even choice. Didn’t know how I was going to use the second one but I always wanted to try this recipe so what the heck. Probably the best application for the steak. Made it a little more tender and the flavors were amazing!!! We enjoyed the second TBone so much more. Will definitely make this again with the skirt or flat iron steak!!

    • — Aimee on January 31, 2021
    • Reply
  • Made it for the first time tonight. My wife really loved it as did I. It was only the second time grilling a flat iron steak and it turned out amazing! Thank you! I will be trying more of your recipes for sure!

    • — Tim H. on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • We are a taco-loving family and this is our FAVORITE!! Absolutely delicious!

    • — Heather D. on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is my go to recipe now! The soy sauce really penetrates the meat and makes a difference.

    • — Reneebeth on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • So appreciate your recipes Jenn! This carne asada, chicken fajitas, shrimp skewers, black bean and corn salad along with guacamole/nacho chips and Restaurant-style salsa have become a staple for our summer gatherings. My Mom enjoyed the food so much that I ended up giving her your cookbook 🙂

    • — Melle on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Excellent – love how this turns out. I received and indoor grill last year as a gift and this grills up like a dream on it. I’ve made it a few times now and will be making it again this weekend.

    • — Lyn Pessemier on January 8, 2021
    • Reply
  • This was a pretty decent marinade. I will disagree about the soy sauce giving it an “asiany” taste. If you take a bite of it by itself, the soy sauce is really strong and gives it a strong asiany taste. When you put it on the taco itself, it cuts that down to a more Mexican flavor.

    • — Janell W on July 13, 2020
    • Reply
    • Made it and we loved it. The second time I added 4 Tbsp of Worcestershire sauce. Gave it a great balance of flavor. I do look up recipes from your site & I add or take away ingredients. Keep up your wonderful recipes.

      • — Jorge Sainz on July 24, 2020
      • Reply
  • I make a lot of recipes from your website (thank you!), but this is my family’s FAVORITE!!! Both (semi-adult) kids have been home for the last few months and I have made this so many times! I often make it with your restaurant-style salsa and the chicken fajita recipe as well. Unfortunately, I can’t always find Flat Iron at my supermarket, but whenever I see it, I grab a few packages to keep in the freezer. This recipe is foolproof!

    • — Leslie on July 12, 2020
    • Reply
  • This was super-delicious! Great flavor. Would adding beer to the marinade make the meat more tender? If so, what quantity of beer? Also, how would this dish differ if you used top sirloin or flank steak instead of flat iron? Like some of the other reviewers, I also served this fajita-style with corn tortillas, sour cream and guac. Thanks for all the awesome recipes.

    • — Laurie on July 5, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Laurie, glad you like this! I don’t think adding beer would make a significant difference in terms of tenderness but feel free to add a few tablespoons to the marinade if you’d like. And this would also be good with top sirloin or flank steak but will definitely be the most tender with the flat iron cut. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on July 6, 2020
      • Reply

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