How to Make The Best Grilled Carne Asada

Skirt and Flank steak bathed in a cilantro-lime marinade and grilled over hot charcoal to make an authentic style Carne Asada.

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This grilled carne asada recipe is perfect for tacos, burritos, or even salads.

A great carne asada starts with selecting the right cuts of beef, then you have to marinate the steak and then grill over high heat, preferably charcoal.

What steak to use for carne asada?

Carne asada loosely translates to “grilled meat“, which isn’t terribly specific. In most situations, carne asana refers to beef that’s been marinated and then grilled.

Carne asada meat is typically thin-cut like flank or skirt steak, these both have a very heavy-grained texture and strong beefy flavor that is nice and bold and perfect for this dish.

a piece of flank steak and skirt steak on a white plate

I used both skirt and flank steak from Vermont Wagu for this carne asada recipe. Both are long and thin and have relatively the same characteristics as each other.

You can stick with skirt steak or just flank steak, or use a combination like I did. If you can’t find either you can also use sirloin steak.

How to make grilled carne asada

To make carne asada you need to marinate the steak for at least a few hours, before grilling over high eat.

1. Marinate the steak

For carne asada, the marinade is there to add extra flavor, and moisture and it helps tenderize the meat.

The basics of the carne asada marinade are oil, lime juice, chili powder, salt, black pepper, cumin, fresh garlic, and oregano. I also like to add orange juice and soy sauce to mine.

If you want to be a little more adventurous you can ditch the chili powder and use whole dried chilis instead. Get your hands on any combination of guajillo, pasilla, ancho, or chipotle chiles, toast them and then include in the blender.

garlic, lime, soy, orange juice and cilantro on a glass plate
You could also add a jalapeño to your marinade for extra heat if you want.

Add all the marinade ingredients to a food processor and give it a blitz. You want a slightly chunky texture, not a puree.

marinade ingredients in the food processor

Add the meat and marinade (reserve some for serving) to a non-reactive bowl giving it a good mix.

Pop it in the fridge, and marinate for at least a couple of hours, but to get the best out of the marinade, overnight is the way to go.

meat marinating in a white bowl

2. Grill over charcoal (if you can)

If you want the best carne asada you can’t beat the smoky charred taste from grilling over hot charcoal.

I chose to use my Burch Barrel smoker with some Fogo charcoal. You can use any charcoal grill, or gas will taste almost as good.

burch barrel smoker with lid off and chimney starter inside
A weber kettle would be just as good an option.

When you cook over hot coals, especially with meat that has been marinated, the juices fall down and hit the hot coals creating puffs of smoke that come up and lick the meat, giving it a flavor that cannot be recreated in a frypan.

skirt steak on the smoker with flames underneath
You can just see the flavor!

Charring food is all part of the Maillard reaction, where there is a chemical reaction between amino acids and the reducing sugars that give browned food its very distinctive flavor. Let’s not confuse burning, we are talking about charring up the meat slightly.

I filled a chimney starter with lump charcoal and got it lit. Once it was fully ashed over, I dumped the charcoal into the basket to create the perfect grilling area for the steaks.

unlit coals in a chimney starter on smoker
lit coals in a chimney starter on the smoker

Once the grill is hot enough put the meat on and sear on both sides. You will get a lot of smoke and some flare-ups due to the oil in the marinade, so just keep flipping the steaks.

Remember we want some charring but not burnt steaks.

This will take between 6-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the steaks and how hot your coals are.

Once the internal temperature of the steak has reached 130°F, it’s time to take them off the smoker and rest for 5-10 minutes. Use a good meat thermometer for best results, and be sure to test the temperature at a few points as the steak is so thin it can be hard to get an accurate reading.

This allows the steak fibers to relax and the juices to redistribute throughout the steak.

flank steak grilling on the smoker
Give the grill about 10 minutes to heat up before placing the steaks

The end result is so much better and the steak will not go cold, it is effectively still cooking when it comes off the grill.

3. Slice and serve

Once the grilled beef has finished resting, slice it across the grain. Flank and skirt steak has long, lean fibers so you want to check which way these are running and then cut against the grains.

This way the carne asada meat will taste nice and tender.

three tortillas on the grill
carne asada slice on a white plate with serving condiments around it

I like to keep it simple when it comes time to serve carne asada. Throw a few tortillas on the grill to warm up and serve the meat in these with a drizzle of the reserved marinade, sliced jalapeño, a squeeze of lime juice, and a few cilantro leaves.

Carne Asada Recipe

How to Make The Best Grilled Carne Asada

Skirt and Flank steak bathed in a cilantro-lime marinade and grilled over hot charcoal to make an authentic style Carne Asada.
5 from 5 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Marinate: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 701kcal
Author: Jordan Hanger

Ingredients

  • 2.5 lb skirt and flank steak You can use just skirt steak or flank, or a mixutre of both like I did here.
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 lime juice only
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • cup orange juice
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp salt flakes
  • 1 tsp black pepper finely ground

Instructions

  • Put marinade ingredients into a food processor and blitz till chunky.
  • Add steak and marinade (reserve some for serving) to a dish and mix well, making sure to fully cover the steak. Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours or overnight.
  • Set up your charcoal smoker to cook using high direct heat with lump charcoal.
  • Allow the grill to warm up for 10 minutes before cooking the steak.
  • Sear your steak on either side. Flip the steak continually while cooking.
  • After 6-10 minutes and the internal temperature of the steak is 130°F remove it from the grill.
  • Rest the steak for 10 minutes before carving and serving.

Nutrition

Calories: 701kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 62g | Fat: 48g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 179mg | Sodium: 774mg | Potassium: 909mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 199IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 60mg | Iron: 6mg
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