Carne Asada

Tested & Perfected Recipes

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.

See more recipes:

Comments

  • Absolutely delicious! I made this recipe to be used in fajitas. They came perfectly and was told that these were the best fajitas that my guests had ever had in their life. I will absolutely be making these again.

    • — Kia on June 22, 2020
    • Reply
  • The Carne Asada turned out wonderful and more flavorful after marinating them ‘overnight’!— Very tender and just perfect…I have to place a ‘special order’ for the ‘Flat Iron Steak’ with the butcher and I am being told it is getting harder for them to order…hope they continue to be able to fulfill the special order for it.

    • — JooJoo on May 30, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    Can this marinade be used with chicken breast? If so, are there any changes that need to be made?

    • — Stefani on May 24, 2020
    • Reply
    • I wouldn’t recommend it, Stefani — the lime juice will make the chicken breasts tough and leathery. Sorry!

      • — Jenn on May 25, 2020
      • Reply
  • Made this tonight and everyone in the family loved it! The marinade couldn’t have been simpler, and gave the steak just the right amount of oomph- it was so tender and absolutely delicious! Thanks for another great recipe, Jenn!

  • Hi,
    Can this Flat Iron Steak marinate overnight for more flavor or is there a reason for your instruction to do it up to 8 hrs.?

    • Hi Joojoo, it should be fine to marinate it overnight. Hope you enjoy!

  • Hi there,
    I can’t seem to find this FLAT IRON STEAK around me…are there possibly different names for it?

    • Hi JooJoo, it looks like it’s sometimes referred to as top blade steak, top blade filet, and and shoulder top blade. Hope that helps!

  • Thank you, Jenn for another fabulous recipe. Made this with flank steak since that’s what I had on hand and let it marinate for almost 8 hours. So flavorful and yummy. Everyone gave it two thumbs up. You know it’s good when you keep stealing yet another bite even when you’re full! I also had two chicken breasts that had to get cooked and used your Chicken and Burrito Bowl marinade which was a great pairing for a mini Cinco de Mayo smorgasbord.

    • Allison W., you have my attention. I am so bored with chicken! Would you please post a link (or Jenn’s full recipe name) to the “Chicken and Burrito Bowl marinade” you are referring to? Is it the bowl with quinoa in it? TIA

      • — Marilyn on May 4, 2022
      • Reply
      • Hi Marilyn, Here’s a link to the burrito bowls. For future reference, you can search for any recipe (or ingredient) you’d like by using the search function on each page of the blog. (Just click on the little magnifying glass you see in the upper right corner.) Hope you enjoy the burrito bowls if you make them!

        • — Jenn on May 4, 2022
        • Reply
  • Hi Jenn
    Is there anyway I can use flank steak, its all i could find?
    Thanks so much

    • It won’t be quite as tender as with the flat iron steak, but it will definitely work. Hope you enjoy!

    • Hi,
      Can you marinade for 4 hours and then Sous Vide the flat iron steak for 1 1/2 – 2 hrs and finish on the grill?

      • Hi Alex, I’m not very well versed in sous vide cooking so it’s hard to say for sure, but I suspect that should work. Hope you enjoy!

  • Dear Jenn, I tried to buy the flat iron steak for this recipe which I love, but was subbed flap loin sirloin tips which I had not heard of or ever cooked. do you think I can use this same recipe for the different meat cut? I would likely prefer to grill but could also broil? thank you!

    • Hi Janet, I think it would work and you could grill or broil it. Please LMK how it turns out!

      • I used the cut to have your beef with broccoli last night and Carne Asada tonight. they were both fabulous! I served the Carne Asada with your corn and black bean salad with chipotle honey vinaigrette. Did not have peppers for that and there was a lot of sauce so I added fresh grown lettuce and tomatoes. everything was great! thank you and hope you keep well.

  • Hi Jenn, would I get similar results if I used lemon instead of lime here?

    • It will have a slightly different flavor with the lemon, but it will work. I’d love to hear how it turns out!

      • Thanks, Jenn! You are the best

  • This was off the charts delicious! You have ruined me for the typical cuts of meat used for carne asada! This was easy enough to make it into my regular rotation. I am going to have to explore your other recipes! Thank you!

  • I love your site and have tried many recipes. The Carne Asada is one of my family’s favorites!! My husband raves every time I make it. Ironically, I don’t like Mexican food, but two of my “signature dishes” are your restaurant-style salsa and your Carne Asada! I have had success marinating the meat for just a few hours as well as marinating it overnight.

  • Holy Guacamole! (pun intended) This was AMAZEBALLS! I’ve been burned before with carne asada recipes, even the pre-packaged Asada tastes processed and overly salted but yours is simply superb! Three kids under 5 and adults alike gobbled it up! My 5-year-old son even said, “I love it!” A sign of the apocalypse, I’m sure, but I’ll happily go down while devouring this meal! Thank you Jenn!

  • We loved the carne asada and it turned out perfectly. Is there anything I could use to substitute for the soy sauce as we have a friend that does not eat glutin and would like to serve this at a BBQ we are having in a couple of weeks?

    • Hi Terri, You can use gluten-free soy sauce or Tamari, which is almost identical to soy sauce but without the wheat.

      • Can you use filet mignon? Would marinating it hurt the texture of the steak?

        • I think this would work with filet mignon but instead of including lime juice in the marinade, I’d replace it with a teaspoon of lime zest. (Then you can top the finished dish with some fresh-squeezed lime juice.) Please LMK how it turns out if you try it with fillet!

  • Thank you for another excellent recipe. The steak was delicious and tender. My family helped themselves to seconds and thirds.

  • Hi. Do you need to wipe the marinade off the steak before grilling or can you take it directly from the dish it was in?
    Thanks,
    Julie

    • Nope – it can go right from the dish to the grill. 🙂

  • Hi Jenn-
    We made these flatiron steaks yesterday for Cinco de Mayo and they were a huge hit! The marinade was simple. (The soy sauce would’ve normally thrown us off for Mexican cooking, but there’s always a method to your magic and that subtle umami flavor does wonders.) Thank you for another incredible recipe!

  • This was absolutely delicious. I can’t find ancho chili powder so I used regular chili powder. I can find chipotle chili powder though — would this work here Jenn?

    • Yes it will work, Sandi, but I’d cut it with regular powder (half/half) as it can be very spicy. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Hi Jenn, I can’t wait to try your Carne Asada recipe. Could I substitute a 2 lbs of flank steak for the flat iron? If so, would I marinate and tenderize same way as the flat iron directions? Also, I do not have a working outside grill at this time. Would you suggest to broil in oven or to use a grill pan? Thanks so much for the recipe and for your response,
    Anne

    • Hi Anne, You could definitely use a flank steak here (no changes to the recipe). I’d probably go with the grill pan for a really nice sear on the steak. Please come back and let me know how it turns out! 🙂

  • Would flank steak work in this recipe, using your same method?

    • — Kim Longsworth
    • Reply
    • Yes, definitely, Kim – although it won’t be quite as tender.

    • Is it ok to marinate this overnight?

      • Sure, Hala, that should be fine. Enjoy!

  • My family loves this recipe! We have made it dozens of times. The flat iron steak is such a perfect choice of meat to use. Super tender and cuts like butter when you slice it. The marinade is packed with amazing flavor, and Jenn is correct about not getting an Asian taste in the meat.
    We used a fork to tenderize the meat the first few times and it tasted great, however, we now use a meat tenderizer by Jaccard, and it really helps the meat absorb the marinade. This marinade is so delicious, so you really do want to get as much as you can into the meat! Also, this recipe is so easy to prepare, and you can put the meat in the marinade in the afternoon and it’s ready to grill for dinner. It’s a great recipe; we have found Jenn’s Best Carna Asada recipe to be our favorite.

    • — Terri Elizondo
    • Reply
  • Hey Jenn,

    Made this carne asada tonight on the grill and it was fantastic. I followed the recipe exactly. Only difference was I marinated the flat irons in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Family devoured them. I also made the baked ziti with sausage (also amazing) So needless to say, everyone was stuffed and their looking forward to what dad’s going to make for the next weekend family dinner.

    • 😊

    • We have made this recipe several times now and absolutely love it! We had it with our dinner group and another taco bar with my family and just my husband and I when we want something super yummy! Makes excellent cold leftovers for salad too! Your recipes are amazing. Always turn out and keepers. Your queso is fabulous too. And like the other reviewer we love the baked ziti as well. Thanks for everything Jenn!

      • — Christene Madsen
      • Reply
  • Love this recipe!! Thank you!

    • — Sherry LeChaton
    • Reply
  • We are not big fans of very spicy food, but this does sound like I want to try it. However, not sure what ancho chili powder is. Will “regular” chili powder work?
    Have loved your website for years. Have never tried a recipe I haven’t liked!!!

    • Hi Louise, Ancho chile powder has a moderately spicy flavor, so you should be fine, but if you’d prefer to use regular chili powder, that will work here too. Enjoy!

  • This is so delicious! Thanks for the tip about flat iron steaks–they really are incredibly tender. I’ve never used soy sauce to marinate beef and it’s amazing. Like you said, it gives it a really deep, umami, salty flavor. Love it!

  • Hi Jen, how can I use this recipe to make beef fajitas? Would you recommend for fajitas?

    • Hi Holly, this cut would be perfect for fajitas! Just cook it according to the recipe, slice and use it with all the fajita fixings. If you need a little guidance with the fixings, you can refer to my recipe for Chicken Fajitas. Hope that helps!

  • In Canada it is a top blade steak. Also Jen always love your recipes thank you

    • Thank you Gillian for the top blade info for all the Canadian crowd.

  • OMG this was amazing I used flat iron steaks cut into two thinner pieces & served on flat breads with salad. Thank you so much

  • Everything I’ve tried on this site is so delicious and this was no exception! My picky 3 year old ate it right up. Thanks Jen for another fantastic simple recipe!

  • I’ve made this recipe twice using the flat iron steak (We love it.) How do you think it would work with a thin beef strip steak? Thanks so much!

    • Should work well, Carol. I’d love to know how it turns out. 🙂

      • I think I grilled it a little too long, but it was still good.

  • Can you use a flank steak?

    • Sure (it just won’t be quite as tender). Enjoy!

  • Does it matter if I use canola oil instead of vegetable oil in this recipe? I’m not sure what the difference is. Can’t wait to try this. Love your site!

    • Hi Tricia, Canola oil is perfectly fine. Hope you enjoy it!

  • We enjoyed a double recipe of your Carne Asada last night with kids and grandkids and it got a BIG thumbs up from everyone. So tender and flavorful! I’ve already purchased more flat-iron steak for a repeat in the near future. Thank you for another winning recipe – my grandkids think I’m a great cook.

    • ☺️

      • What toppings do you recommend to serve on the Carne Asada ? I see cilantro in the picture. Anything else?

        • Hi Anne, I think this would be great topped with guacamole, shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese and pickled or grilled onions (see this recipe for some simple pickled onions). Also, see the “What to Serve with Carne Asada” immediately above the recipe box for some more inspiration. Hope that helps!

  • Jenn, as I mentioned at the Ebell book signing in LA, I made your carne asada for a 5-family BBQ last weekend. I was so worried about running out of food (a family curse!) that I made 4X the recipe. It was a HUGE hit! Everyone was so happy to get a good take-home portion too. The marinade was really easy to put together and the flat iron steak was the perfect choice to feed a crowd without sacrificing tender, juicy meat or breaking the bank! This will now be one of my go-to BBQ staples – thank you! (and great meeting you too!)

    • Mary – so great to hear from you! I loved meeting you in LA…hope our paths cross again soon! 💕

  • This looks amazing! I can’t wait to try, however I do not own a grill, I will be cooking it in a cast iron on a gas stove, can you give me directions/timing with this method? Thanks!

    • Hi Claire, I think it’d work beautifully in a cast iron pan — just sear over high heat on the first the side til nice and charred (be sure to turn your fan on!), then flip and reduce heat to medium and cook until desired doneness. Cook time should be about the same. Please LMK how it turns out!

  • Jen, Jen, Jen! Another great dinner thanks to you! For the two of us I only used 1 pound of flat iron steak. Make the full recipe of marinade and put about 1/4 cup in a zip lock bag with sliced onion, yellow, red and green pepper. Cooked them on the grill in a cast iron pan. Warmed up some black beans with added seasoning, mashed slightly completed our burrito. Husband said to add this to our dinner line up!

    • Love that idea, Nancy – will try next time. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • This has become one of my family’s regular weeknight dinners this summer because it’s so easy and quick. We love the marinade that has a bit of kick to it. I’d never cooked flat-iron steaks so this recipe opened me up to a new entree choice. Love it!

    • — Weezie Thompson
    • Reply
    • Hi Jenn!
      I can’t wait to try this, but I do not own a grill. Can I do this in the oven broiler with the steak on a rack on top of a sheet pan? Can you give me directions/timing with this method? Thanks!

      • Sure GiGi, 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!

  • Yay for another winner at our dinner table! Your “Best Carne Asada” was a big hit. Such a great, quick recipe for summer.

    • — Weezie Thompson
    • Reply
  • Okay Jenn, I didn’t find a flat iron steak at the store but, I did see a flap steak? What is that? I can’t wait to try this recipe.

    • Hi Kerrie, this article will give you a thorough description of flap steak. And although I’ve never cooked a flap steak, based on the description, I think it should work. Please LMK how it turns out!

  • I made this yeaesterday for Father’s Day! My meat market was out of Hanger Steak so I bought Skirt Steak. Marinated for 8 hours. Hands down, THE BEST CARNE ASADA EVER! Super moist and tender. EVERYONE loved and sad to say, no leftovers! Served with Vivian Howard’s Cilantro Lime Corn…..another fabulous recipe!!!!

  • If you like a little more heat, could you add cayenne pepper? If so, how much?

    • — Rachel Hartman
    • Reply
    • Sure, Rachel – I’d add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon.

  • We made this yesterday and it was so tasty! I marinated the steak in a baggy for easy clean-up, and we also grilled green peppers and onions and had a salad as sides. My husband said it would make great fajitas. Thank you for another delicious recipe!

  • We made this Father’s Day and it was a huge hit. So much flavor and tender too – a keeper!

  • I followed the recipe exactly but cooked it 3.5 minutes a side. Yum. So delicious! I will definitely make again. I served it with Mexican Street Corn and a spinach salad. Thanks for the great recipe!

  • I don’t have an outdoor/indoor grill. Will a grill pan work? Thanks.

    • Sure, Paula – hope you enjoy it!

  • truth is there are two different skirt steaks , inside skirt and outside skirt, outside is far more tender than inside, but, supermarkets and butchers dont sell it because there is only one per animal and commercial restaurants buy them up.

    • — Howard Albright
    • Reply
    • Thank you for this information; when I was reading Jen’s post I was really confused, because I buy my skirt steaks at Wegman’s and they are wonderful, not tough at all.

  • Is a flat iron steak the same as a flank steak?

    • Hi Sharon, They are not the same but are often sold side by side in the market.

  • I’m in Canada and have not ( although trying numerous times ) found a meat dept. employee or small independent meat shop owner who knows what a skirt steak or flat iron steak is.
    The answer I’m usually given is, they ( the recipe contributors ) probably meant flank steak, which even I not being in the meat business at all, know is not. Frustrating to say the least.

    • Jocelyn, I’m in the same boat. I’m just going to use a flank steak. I’m sure it will be great!

  • What is a flat iron steak?? I am English I know most cuts but this has me beat. I always use skirt for a casserole.
    Kind wishes and love your site
    Jeanette

    • Hi Jeanette, I believe it is called butler’s steak in the UK. Hope that helps!

  • Question: by “cutting it crosswise” are we talking horizontally to make 2 thin cutlets, or vertically to make 2 chunks of steak? Adding flat-iron steak to my shopping list! Thanks, love your recipes and your Caesar Salad Dressing is a staple in our refrigerator.

    • Hi Linda, I mean vertically to make two chunks of steak. Sorry for the confusion and so glad you’re enjoying the recipes!

    • I agree Linda😄

      My whole family loves her Cesar Dressing recipe!! I have it memorized and it’s far better than any Cesar Dressing I’ve had.

      Just put my steaks in the marinade for tomorrow.

      Love all your recipes Jen and can’t wait to try this one too!!!

Add a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.