Carrrrrrne asada! Do you remember that Superbowl ad with the two lions? For months after that aired I couldn’t say “carne” without rolling the rrrrrrs.
Clever of whatever ad agency came up with that campaign to feature two king carnivores talking about carne asada, which translates literally as “beef grilled”.
Carne asada is the thinly sliced, grilled beef served so often in tacos and burritos. You can also serve it straight up, with rice and beans on the side.
Although almost any cut of beef can be butterflied into thin sheets for the carne asada, typically you make it with either flank steak or skirt steak.
Flank steak is a lean cut and needs to be cooked rare, and thinly cut across the grain to make it tender. Skirt steak is well marbled with fat, and while it still needs to be cut across the grain, it’s inherently more flavorful and tender, and can be cooked more without suffering.
You can make carne asada without a marinade, and just a bit of salt and pepper before grilling, but if you have the time, a good soak in a marinade greatly enhances the flavor.
The marinade we are using here has olive oil, soy sauce, lime juice, vinegar, a little sugar for sweetness to balance the acidity of the lime and vinegar, and lots of minced garlic, jalapeño, and cilantro. Perfect for tacos!
Serve it up with tortillas, avocados and salsa.
Recipe and photos updated, first published 2007.
Carne Asada Recipe
If you don’t have a grill you can use a well-seasoned grill pan or a large cast iron pan on the stove-top. Heat on high to sear and then lower the heat to finish cooking. Make sure to use your stove vent, searing the steak this way can smoke up the kitchen!
If you want, before adding the steak to the marinade, reserve a couple tablespoons of the marinade to drizzle over the finished carne asada to serve.
- 1 1/2 to 2 pounds flank or skirt steak
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 limes, juiced (about 2 Tbsp)
- 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin seed (if have whole, toast and then grind)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced (4 teaspoons)
- 1 jalapeño chile pepper, seeded and minced
- 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves and stems, finely chopped (great flavor in the stems!), about 1/2 cup
- Chopped avocado
- Lime wedges
- Corn or flour tortillas
- Thinly sliced radishes
- Thinly sliced lettuce
- Pico de gallo salsa
1 Marinate the steak: Whisk to combine the olive oil, soy sauce, lime juice, vinegar, sugar, black pepper, and cumin in a large, non-reactive bowl or baking dish. Stir in the minced garlic, jalapeño, and cilantro.
Place the steak in the marinade and turn over a couple of times to coat thoroughly.
Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-4 hours or overnight (if using flank steak marinate at least 3 hours).
2 Preheat grill: Preheat your grill for high direct heat, with part of the grill reserved with fewer coals (or gas flame) for low, indirect heat. You’ll know the grill is hot enough when you can hold your hand above the grill grates for no more than one second.
(You can also use a cast iron grill pan on high heat if cooking on the stovetop.)
3 Sear steak on hot side of grill: Remove the steak from the marinade. Lightly brush off most of the bits of cilantro and garlic (do not brush off the oil).
Place on the hot side of the grill. Grill the steak for a few minutes only, until well seared on one side (the browning and the searing makes for great flavor), then turn the steak over and sear on the other side.
4 Move steak to cool side of grill: Once both sides are well seared, move the steak to the cool side of the grill, with any thicker end of the steak nearer to the hot side of the grill.
Test with a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the steak, or use your fingers (see The Finger Test to Check the Doneness of Meat). Pull the meat off the grill at 115°F to 120°F for rare, 125°F medium rare, 140°F for medium. The meat will continue to cook in its residual heat.
Note that lean flank steak is best cooked rare, while skirt steak can be cooked well without losing moisture or flavor because it has more fat marbling.
5 Tent with foil and let rest: Place the steak on a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes.
6 Slice steak across the grain of the meat: Use a sharp, long bladed knife (a bread knife works great for slicing meat) to cut the meat. Notice t
he direction of the grain of the meat and cut perpendicular to the grain. Angle your knife so that your slices are wide and thin.
7 (Optional) Serve with grill toasted tortillas: Warm the tortillas (corn or flour) for 30 seconds on each side in a dry skillet or on the grill, until toasty and pliable. Alternatively, you can warm tortillas in a microwave: heating just one or two at a time, place tortillas on a paper towel and microwave them for 15 to 20 seconds each on high.
(Optional) Serve with pico de gallo (fresh tomato salsa) and chopped avocados.