This carne asada recipe infuses bold and bright Mexican flavors into tender grilled meat. The beef is marinated in citrus juices, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, and chili powder for a rustic flavor. Add it chopped up in tacos, on a salad, wrapped in a warm tortilla, or serve as a main entree with sides.
Carne asada is a staple in authentic Mexican cuisine and a popular offering on menus. It may be brought to your table sizzling on a cast iron platter or chopped up inside tacos from the local taqueria. If you haven’t made this steak at home, it’s an easy meal to prepare with fresh ingredients and common pantry items.
The steak is seared on a hot grill for a charred taste and juicy texture. The smoky aromatics and browning that the barbecue offers can’t be beaten. But don’t worry, I have some alternative stove top options so there are no culinary barriers to enjoying this mouth-watering dish.
What is carne asada?
Carne asada simply translates to “grilled meat.” The grilling method of cooking provides a charred and smokey flavor on the surface. The style can vary in Mexico and various parts of Latin America to reflect their local ingredients and taste. This leaves it to the cook to decide what type of marinade and seasonings to add before the beef hits the grates.
What makes carne asada unique, is the upfront magical flavor application that happens as it marinates. The beef bathes in a citrusy, herbaceous, and savory blend for at least an hour prior to searing. It’s truly a tasty game changer. Once that process is complete, grilling takes only 10 minutes.
The marinade ingredients
The carne asada marinade is a combination of citrus juices, seasonings, herbs, and spicy chili peppers. For this recipe, a mix of fresh-squeezed orange juice, lime juice, lime zest, chopped cilantro, sliced green onions, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, salt, pepper, chili powder, and soy sauce is used.
It may seem unusual to add soy sauce, but it adds specific umami flavor that is not present from salt alone. The soy sauce adds a depth to the marinade that won’t overpower the flavor of the steak. The natural acids in the fruit ingredients will help to tenderize the meat, but should not exceed 8 hours or the texture could become less juicy.
How to make carne asada
- Poke the steak multiple times with a fork.
- Whisk together the marinade ingredients.
- Marinade the steak for 60 minutes.
- Remove the steak from the marinade.
- Preheat the grill over high heat and grease the grates with olive oil.
- Cook the steak for about 5 minutes per side, or until medium-rare.
- Rest 10 minutes on a cutting board.
- Cut into thinly sliced pieces or chop.
- Serve warm for carne asada tacos or with desired side dishes.
The most common cut of beef used for carne asada is skirt steak or flank steak. The skirt steak is from the underside plate of the cow, often known as arrachera in Mexican cuisine. Flank steak is located right next to the plate closer to the rear quarter. These two types of meat are prized for their beefy flavor and cook very quickly to tender pieces.
Flap meat or flap steak from the bottom sirloin butt is another alternative. It’s a thinner, lean, coarse-grained cut that is more affordable. It’s often pre-marinated at the supermarket and ready to throw on the barbecue.
Grilling cook time
Beef cuts like skirt or flank steak require about 4 to 5 minutes to hit a medium-rare temperature. Use an instant-read thermometer to target 125 to 130ºF (52 to 54ºC), which allows for carryover cooking as the meat rests for 10 minutes to hit the perfect bright pink center.
Use this meat temperature guide if targeting a different cook level on the steak. If using thinner flap meat, it will take less time and the doneness will be closer to medium or medium-well.
Stovetop carne asada
If you don’t have access to an outdoor grill, the meat can cook on the stove top using a grill pan or large cast iron skillet for tasty results.
Serve this with
- Top it with pico de gallo or guacamole
- Warm flour or corn tortillas
- Make some black beans for a fiber-rich side dish
- Mexican cauliflower rice for a low carb option
How long should you marinate the steak?
Some recipes call for marinating the beef for several hours or overnight. However due to the high about of acid from the orange and lime juice, up to 8 hours max for this recipe. Any longer and the acid will start to make the meat mushy and squeeze out the moisture from inside, resulting in a drier texture.
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- 1 ½ pounds skirt steak, flank steak or flap meat are great options
- ½ cups cilantro leaves, finely chopped
- ¼ cup sliced green onions
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ⅓ cup orange juice
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 teaspoon lime zest
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder
- Poke the steak about 10 times with a fork on both sides to allow the marinade to infuse quicker.
- In a medium bowl whisk together chopped cilantro, green onions, olive oil, orange juice, orange zest, lime juice, lime zest, soy sauce, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, salt, black pepper, and chili powder.
- Add the steak to a resealable plastic bag or casserole dish and pour marinade over the meat.
- Marinate in the refrigerator for 60 minutes, flipping over halfway through. Steak can be marinated for up to 8 hours.
- Preheat grill over high heat at 400 to 450ºF (204 to 232ºC). Carefully grease the cooking grates using a paper towel dipped in oil and tongs.
- Scrape some of the herbs off of the meat and allow excess marinade to drain.
- Add the meat to the grill, press down to get a good sear and cook, uncovered, for 4 to 5 minutes.
- Flip and cook until the meat registers 125 to 130ºF (52 to 54ºC) for medium-rare, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Transfer to a cutting board and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- Slice the meat against the grain and serve with desired toppings or warmed tortillas.
- Stovetop Directions: Heat a large cast iron pan or grill pan over high heat. Once hot add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add meat to the pan and sear for 4 to 5 minutes. Flip over and cook until the meat registers 125 to 130ºF (52 to 54ºC), about 3 to 5 minutes.
- MAKE IT GLUTEN-FREE: Substitute gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos for soy sauce.
- MAKE IT PALEO AND WHOLE30: Substitute coconut aminos or Bragg liquid aminos for soy sauce. Use sea salt instead of kosher salt.
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