Have you ever grilled a skirt steak at home for carne asada or beef fajitas and wondered why it’s never as tender as the steak 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 either being too picky (always a possibility!) or if I was just skirt steak-challenged.
But I recently stumbled upon the answer in an article entitled, So What Exactly Are You Eating When You Order Fajitas In A Tex-Mex Restaurant? by Robb Walsh, a food writer, restaurateur and BBQ expert. According to Walsh, most Tex-Mex restaurants buy their skirt steaks already marinated from commercial meat processors. These processors marinate tough skirt steak with commercial or natural 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. And pricking it all over with a fork helps it soak up the flavor of the umami-packed marinade. Finally, a carne asada that’s tender, easy to make, and packed with flavor!
The main ingredient in the marinade for this carne asada 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 promise, it doesn’t give the dish an Asian flavor.
In a dish large enough to hold the steak, whisk together the soy sauce, lime juice, vegetable oil, sugar, cumin, chili powder, and garlic.
Using a fork, poke holes about an inch apart all over the steak (one side only). 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.
Lightly oil the grill grates preheat the grill to high. Grill the steak, covered, for about 5 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.
My Recipe Videos
Best Carne Asada
- 1/4 cup soy sauce (use gluten-free if necessary)
- 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)
- In a dish large enough to hold the steak, whisk together the soy sauce, lime juice, vegetable oil, sugar, cumin, chili powder, and garlic.
- 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.
- Lightly oil the grill grates preheat the grill to high. Grill the steak, covered, for about 5 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.
- 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!).
- 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.