Carne Asada

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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, perfect for fajitas, tacos, burritos, nachos and more.

Photo by Johnny Miller, Clarkson Potter 2021)

The carne asada, or Mexican-style grilled steak, at most Tex-Mex restaurants is made with skirt steak, but when I make carne asada at home, I prefer to use flat iron steak. It’s an affordable, widely available cut that’s almost as tender as filet mignon, and it’s ideal for high-heat, quick-cooking methods like grilling. The main ingredient in my marinade is soy sauce, which may seem unusual, but it enhances the umami (meaty/savory) flavor of the meat. Additionally, the sugar in the marinade encourages caramelization on the grill, which amps up the flavor even more. You’ll likely need to buy two flat iron 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! Allow at least 4 hours to marinate the steaks.

What You’ll Need to Make Carne Asada

tender carne asada

The reason I prefer to use flat iron steak over traditional skirt steak for carne asada is that, when grilled at home, skirt steak is never as tender as is in restaurants. Restaurants buy skirt steaks pre-marinated and tenderized using a special process from commercial meat processors. According to BBQ expert Robb Walsh, 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 tender flat iron steak is a much better option.

Although I don’t have them pictured above, feel free to include corn or flour tortillas as part of your meal. After you’ve sliced the carne asada, you can tuck it into a tortilla with extras of your choosing (think guacamole, sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, etc.). You could even toss your tortillas onto the grill and heat them for about 45 seconds on each side to warm and brown them a bit.

Step-by-Step Instructions

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. Make sure to wait until the grill is fully preheated, as the high heat what will give you a beautifully charred, smoky-flavored exterior. 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, and then slice thinly against the grain. If you’re not sure where the grain is, just look closely at the meat; you’ll see lines running in one direction across it. Those are muscle fibers. Cut perpendicular to the lines to break up the muscle fibers and make the much more tender.

What To Serve With Carne Asada

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, perfect for fajitas, tacos, burritos, nachos and more.

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

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice, from 2 limes
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1½ 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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Comments

  • Outstanding. I used flank steak. Just perfect. Thank you.

    • — Jane on June 19, 2022
    • Reply
  • I made this for dinner last night and it was delicious! I will definitely be making this regularly, thanks for the recipe.

    • — Andrea on June 12, 2022
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  • We made this right after the recipe was published and liked it so much we made it again last night. It pairs really well with the black bean and corn salad. I had a great deal of trouble finding the flat iron steaks – three butchers in my area didn’t have it, nor did my usual grocery store – but I finally tracked it down at Walmart, of all places.

    • — Gail on May 24, 2022
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  • can I use a london broil cut for this dish?

    • — Allise on May 12, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, Allise, that will work. 🙂

      • — Jenn on May 13, 2022
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      • Thanks, Jenn. I’m in a meat CSA and the package just says London broil. I know London broil is often made with flank or top round, but I’ve no idea of exactly what cut I have. Trying it out tonight.

        • — Allise on May 14, 2022
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  • This was excellent, maybe the best beef dish I’ve had in quite a while. Was it the marinade or the cut of beef? Probably a bit of both. I grilled it for about 8 minutes per side, as the 5-6 minutes was a bit too rare. I made a 2 lb roast for three diners and there was not a bite left. We rolled up the slices in tortillas. Will definitely make again!

    • — Alice on May 6, 2022
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  • Not sure if you can answer this or not. We just purchased a Sous vide, and I’m wondering If I can marinate the meat for a few hours and then put it right into the water to cook in the marinade?

    Thanks!!!!

    • — Marianne on May 4, 2022
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    • Hi Marianne, I wish I could help but I don’t have any experience with sous vide cooking. I’m sorry!

      • — Jenn on May 4, 2022
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      • Hello, how long to grill for medium well, I don’t like rare or medium rare meat. Thank you.

        • — Mary on May 4, 2022
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        • Hi Mary, I’d add another minute or so per side. Hope you enjoy!

          • — Jenn on May 4, 2022
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        • I might have marinated too early! I put it in tonight to cook tomorrow so more than 8 hours. Should I just drain the marinade until we grill?

          • — Katie on May 29, 2022
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          • Hi Katie, It might be a bit salty if it marinates overnight, so I would pull the meat out (save and refrigerate the marinade), and just place it back in the marinade tomorrow.

            • — Jenn on May 29, 2022
  • Hi Jenn,
    This recipe looks scrumptious. Since it’s only my husband and me, I want to cut the recipe in half. Is this doable for all the ingredients?
    If it works out, then I would surely make it for company.
    Will only use the flat iron steak.
    Thanks in advance.
    Sunny D.☀️🎾

    • — Sunny Drohan on May 4, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, Sunny, it’s perfectly fine to cut the recipe in half. Hope you enjoy it!

      • — Jenn on May 4, 2022
      • Reply
  • Sorry for yet another “Can I use…???” question but I don’t know my cuts of beef that well so….Can I use steak tips? Also, your Chicken Fajita recipe is the first recipe (of many) you hooked me with–would these meats pair well together?

    Thanks Jenn!

    • — Rebecca on April 24, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Rebecca, steak tips would not be a great substitute for flat iron steak. You can use either flank steak or skirt steak. And, yes, this would pair nicely with the chicken fajitas. Hope that helps! 🙂

      • — Jenn on April 25, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    I have been making a whole lot from your websites lately and everything has turned out perfectly. I hope I am not overstepping but may I please make a suggestion. The ability to be able to search in the comments – for example a grilling recipes and someone would like to know if they can bake. I also wish you had an App that would be awesome. Again, thanks for sharing your recipes with us.

    • — Susan on March 4, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Susan, thanks for your nice words about the recipes so glad you are having success with them! And you’re not overstepping your bounds at all – I’m always open to suggestions for improvement. I will add your suggestion about making the comments searchable to my list of potential enhancements to the site. And although I don’t have an app, the website is mobile friendly which makes it very easy to use regardless of what device you’re viewing it on. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on March 6, 2022
      • Reply
    • I search comments all the time ! It’s a huge help.

      If on a computer, use Ctrl F and a box will appear for you to put a key word to search the comments.

      When on a phone or tablet, highlight the web address, type the word you’re searching for right over it, then “find on this page” will appear. Tap it.

      • — JR on May 9, 2022
      • Reply
  • Jen,
    Can I use Flap steak in this recipe?
    Thank you,
    Carla

    • — Carla on March 1, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, a flap steak will work here. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on March 2, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    I am a forever fan of yours. We have made and loved so many recipes and I have both your cookbooks. I’m making your chicken quinoa burrito bowls for company (which we’ve made many times and all love). We have some more meat-eaters in our crowd. Would this carne asada be an ok addition to the chicken quinoa bowls? I haven’t made it before. Just wondering if the flavor profile would work with the green sauce and the chicken.

    Thanks so much!

    • — Hilary on January 12, 2022
    • Reply
    • So glad you like the recipes, Hilary!! Yes, I think the flavors in the Carne Asada would work will with the burrito bowls. Hope everyone enjoys!

      • — Jenn on January 12, 2022
      • Reply
  • Do you think ribeye steaks would work well here? Thank you in advance Chef!

    • — Mary on January 8, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, I think you could get away with it. Please LMK how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on January 11, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi,
    For quite some time I tried several recipes to prepare a asado and none of them satisfied me. I tried your recipe and was surprised to find soy sauce in the ingredients. I decided to give it a try, and what a surprise! It was the best recipe for marinating my asados that I have ever tried.
    Thank you for sharing your recipe with all of us.

    P.S. : do you have a particular recipe to prepare a Tomahawk ?

    • — Will on December 28, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Will, so glad to hear you enjoyed this! As of now, I don’t have a recipe of my own for tomahawk steaks. I’ll have to add that to my list of recipes to potentially develop – thanks for the suggestion!

      • — Jenn on December 28, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi, can this be made in the oven? Thank you ❤️

    • — Clara on December 19, 2021
    • Reply
    • Sure — I’d set the oven rack about 5 inches from the heat source and broil 5 to 6 min per side for medium rare. Hope you enjoy it!

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2021
      • Reply
      • I would appreciate it if you could routinely describe the oven option, if there is one, for all your grilling recipes. Thanks

        • — Marion Freedman-Gurspan on May 4, 2022
        • Reply
        • Hi Marion, I will keep that in mind as I work on new recipes – thanks!

          • — Jenn on May 4, 2022
          • Reply
  • Hi Jenn
    Thank you for getting back to me so quickly!
    Is a sirloin flap the same thing as a flank steak?

    • — Melissa on November 16, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Melissa, They are not exactly the same, but the sirloin flap will work nicely. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on November 18, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn
    I love this recipe! Unfortunately my grocery store is not getting flat iron steak in, is there something i could use in place that will be just as good?
    Thanks so much

    • — Melissa Pickard on November 16, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Melissa, I’d use flank steak instead; it won’t be quite as tender as with the flat iron steak, but it will definitely work. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on November 16, 2021
      • Reply
  • 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
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  • 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.

    • 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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