Carne Asada Skirt Steak Tacos made with marinated skirt steak, then grilled hot and fast and sliced thin for the ultimate Taco Night meal.
A friend of mine recently showed me a recipe for Carne Asada she made for her husband’s birthday dinner. She expressed her disappointment because of the recipe and wondered why. She followed it to a T.
I read through the recipe and could immediately tell why. It was seriously lacking in flavor portions. There were several great sounding ingredients, but in poor proportions to the amount of meat it was suggesting.
So then I gave her a hard time. “Why didn’t you just use one of our recipes, silly?”
Aaaand then she called me out. “Well, it’s because you don’t have a ‘Carne Asada recipe on your site!”
And she was right.
We didn’t have a specific “Carne Asada” recipe at the time, BUT we do have plenty of marinated steak recipes. And in reality that’s what Carne Asada is — marinated steak.
What is Carne Asada?
Carne Asada is marinated steak (most commonly Skirt or Flank Steak), grilled hot and fast so as to get a nice char, and sliced for tacos or burritos. It’s rooted in Mexican cuisine.
Growing up in a Mexican-American household we ate a lot of marinated steak at home and also at restaurants, but I never really associated the meal with any specific recipe. Just really good, full flavored, grilled meat, that tasted good in tacos.
Demystifying Carne Asada
So instead of complicating anything here, we just wanted to demystify the idea of carne asada, or tacos de carne asada. We feel as if there is this perception that it is a secret meat that is hard to attain or cook. The reality is, carne asada is simply translated as grilled meat. That is it. Meat….grilled.
What I’ve discovered, however, is that this Mexican food favorite has close ties to one’s memory. There’s a strong nostalgia involved for those who seek to make it on their own. Those who crave it are yearning for something they remember from a favorite Mexican food restaurant.
For me, growing up in Phoenix, surrounded by amazing Mexican food (a-hem, hi mom!!) and a large Mexican-American family, it’s just a memory of great meals with family.
Going back to the recipe my friend showed me. What this recipe was lacking was a proper ratio of seasoning and flavors to the amount of meat. Many recipes we see will marinate the meat, then transfer it directly to the grill. What can happen, with the lack of flavors, is that the grilled meat won’t soak up enough flavor and the results will be bland.
Secrets to maximize flavor:
- Marinate with a balance of umami, citrus, acid, oil.
- Season it AFTER it has marinated. That way the flavor gets locked in and you won’t lose it in the grilling process.
The Best Cut of Meat
Traditionally for carne asada the cut is often flank steak, hanger steak, or skirt steak. All are great choices because they take marinade well, cook fast and still have great flavor. Technically, you aren’t constrained to just those cuts, you can use any.
We like those specifically for the ease, and in this case we are using Snake River Farms Skirt Steak. (Flat Iron, Hanger, and Flank work great too).
Skirt Steak comes from the underside or underbelly of the cow just behind the brisket. You’ll hear this area as the plate. Marinating them will help reduce any toughness in the meat, which can come across as chewy. You can see from the picture they can come in one long piece.
If you buy an entire skirt, then cut into three equal pieces. This makes it easier to grill versus a very long cut. Using a sharp boning knife, remove any larger fat pockets or silver skin.
Marinade for Carne Asada
Our marinade for skirt steak will feature acid, which will assist in helping tenderize the meat. There are tenderizer shakes you can use too, but I find apple cider vinegar, wine, or Worcestershire all do the trick well. In addition, skirt doesn’t take long for taking on the flavor. You can marinade for an hour and get nice flavor added to the meat (but we like to aim for 2 hours for full flavor).
We then add some citrus (a combination of fresh orange and lime juice), and some garlic and onion for added flavor (and also additional acid). You can also add jalapeño to add some spice, but the heat can vary from jalapeño to jalapeño. So for consistency we use red pepper flakes to insure the amount of heat we want to present to our guests.
Avoid using too much oil (if at all). Too much oil takes away flavor and also prevents the marinade from coming together. (Think oil and water) A little oil can help the ingredients emulsify or combine.
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, stir, and then pour in a zip lock plastic baggie. Add the pieces of meat and then get as much air out as possible. Store in the refrigerator for up to two hours. Any longer and you can loose the flavor of the meat.
After two hours, remove the steak from the marinade, and then pat dry. Discard the marinade.
This is where that added kick of flavor comes in. Add the dry rub after it’s been soaking in the marinade. We are keeping it simple and using our Beef Rub, which is equal parts kosher salt, coarse black pepper, and granulated garlic. Alternatively you can use your favorite rub, the key is to season the steak before grilling.
How to Grill a Skirt Steak
We are going hot and fast on this one, or direct grilling.
- After you’ve applied the dry rub on both sides, place over direct heat. Target 450 – 500 degrees Fahrenheit over direct heat using lump charcoal.
- Grill each side for 3 – 4 minutes for a rare steak or 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Increase the cook time for each side if you like it grilled to a higher temperature.
Beef Temperature Ranges
- Rare: 120-130 degrees F
- Medium Rare: 130-140 degrees F
- Medium: 140-150 degrees F
- Medium Well: 150-160 degrees F
- Well Done: 160 degrees F (and not recommended)
Cook to whatever your desired temp. Be sure you have a great instant read thermometer like the Thermoworks MK4 Thermapen because even if we recommend time, it’s always best to pull the steak off when it reaches the correct finishing temperature. See our guide below.
You don’t really need to rest the steak if you are eating right away. However if you are prepping other taco ingredients, be sure to let the steak rest and slice just before eating.
Slice against the grain and then serve with your favorite taco or burrito. It is that easy and delicious. But we can’t stress enough that when you slice the skirt steak, you pay attention to the striations of muscle. Cut perpendicular to those for a juicy steak.
Prior to grilling the meat, be sure all the taco ingredients are prepared. This allows the steak to be warm when eating. Here is a list of our favorite ingredients:
- Corn tortillas – we warm them up on the grill or over a propane flame with tongs.
- Avocado slices – it is simple but adds a creamy flavor
- Cilantro – gives a little extra fresh herbal flavor
- Grilled lime – we squeeze a grilled half of lime to boost flavor
- Fresh tomatoes and onions – we dice up fresh tomatoes and white onion to add flavor
So for your next taco Tuesday, grab your favorite cut of meat and get rolling on your restaurant worthy carne asada.
You can use this carne asada recipe for any number of dishes from burritos, bowls, or tacos. Just use the marinade and seasoning process and then skirt, flank, or hanger for your next carne asada inspiration.
Other Great Steak Marinades
Check out these recipes for some other variations on marinades. They all work great on these tacos.
- Red Wine Marinaded Grilled Skirt Steak
- Marinated Grilled Flank Steak
- Coffee Marinated NY Strip Steak
- Tequila Marinated Flank Steak Fajitas
- Grilled Chicken Marinade
- Pork Collar with Citrus Marinade
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This recipe was originally posted in October of 2018 and updated in October of 2021 to include new photos and details on the recipe steps.
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