Carne Asada is a dish that doesn’t need any introduction. Anywhere from your local taco joint to when you travel to Mexico, you’ll see it pop up.
What Does Carne Asada Mean?
Since Carne Asada literally translates to “grilled meat,” it is a term that refers to a range of meat (some marinated others not) that hits a charcoal or wood-fired grill.
In fact, the term is so ubiquitous that in some regions of Mexico you use the term “carne asada” to refer to a cookout the same way Americans use the term “BBQ” for both the technique and the event.
At the most simple, it’s grilled meat but a few things separate okay carne asada from great carne asada.
Where Carne Asada Comes From
Just like how Texas has a major cattle culture, so do the Northern regions just south of the border! And while you’ll see cattle being raised everywhere from Calexico through Chihuahua, the epicenter for the Mexican cattle culture is the northern region of Sonora.
So, while there isn’t a specific moment in time or person who can be tied to carne asada history, it’s widely agreed that it comes from this part of Mexico.
The Best Cut Of Meat For Carne Asada
Since carne asada is grilled meat, you could really use any cut of beef that stands up to the dry, hot heat of a grill. But the most classic cut to use is skirt steak because its mix of fat and flavor and quick cooking time make it ideal for this cooking method.
If you can’t find skirt steak, you can substitute flank steak or hangar steak instead!
Tips To Cook Carne Asada
- To Marinate Or Not: Almost every recipe for carne asada that you find in English calls for the meat to be marinated but it isn’t essential. In fact, a lot of spots in Mexico just season it with oil, garlic, salt, and pepper before grilling it. The advantage to marinating is that it will bring flavor and help slightly tenderize the meat.
- Keep The Marinade Simple: If you do choose to use a marinade, keep it pretty simple so that you don’t overwhelm the flavor of the meat. At the most basic you want a marinade that has some fat, something acidic, and some flavorings, which typically translates to oil, lime juice, and garlic when you’re talking carne asada. You’ll often see people add in a bottle of lager beer to up the flavor and tenderizing aspect.
- How To Make The Marinade Gluten Free: Our marinade is a gluten free twist on the classic marinade where we use tequila instead of beer and then add in some orange juice and some onions for a little extra flavor. Because there isn’t any salt (or salty ingredient like soy sauce) you can let this marinade hang out for anywhere from 1 to 48 hours — just salt it really well before and after it hits the grill so you get maximum flavor.
- Cook The Meat Briefly: If you go to a taco stand, they’ll likely cook the meat really well done. We like it cooked to medium rare which is roughly 2 to 3 minutes per side.
- Let It Rest: Let the meat rest for a minimum of 10 minutes before you slice it!
- Slice It Across The Grain: Yes, you always want to slice meat against the grain but that’s more important than ever with cuts like Flank Steak, Hangar Steak, and Skirt Steak.
How To Serve Carne Asada
Our favorite way to serve carne asada is as you see it pictured here as a sort of deconstructed taco platter with a load of tortillas, salsa, guacamole, and all the fixings. However, there are so many other ways you could serve it from atop sopes, in a burrito, as a taco filling, as part of a torta, or topping greens for a quick steak salad!
Tequila Citrus Carne Asada Recipe
For The Marinade:
- 1 1/2 pounds skirt steak or flank steak
- 1/2 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
- 1/4 cup avocado oil
- 1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
- 1/4 cup 100% agave silver tequila
- 8 garlic cloves peeled and halved
- 1/2 red onion in 1-inch thick slices
- kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- avocado oil for coating the grill and the scallions and chiles (if using)
- 8 scallions for garnish (optional)
- fresh cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
- jalapeño chiles or serrano chiles, for garnish (optional)
- firm-ripe avocado or guacamole, for garnish (optional)
- tomatillo salsa verde for garnish (optional)
- corn tortillas for garnish (optional)
- Lime slices for garnish (optional)
- Marinate The Carne Asada Meat: Place the meat in a resealable plastic bag or a large nonreactive flat container (stainless steel or metal) and add in the 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup oil, 1/4 cup lime juice, 1/4 cup tequila, garlic and onion. Turn to coat and, if using a resealable plastic bag, push out all the air then seal. Or, if using a container, cover well with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour and a maximum of 48 hours.
- Cook The Carne Asada Indoors: Remove the meat from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature at least 15 minutes before grilling. Meanwhile, to cook the carne asada indoors, get out a large grill pan, cast iron pan, or griddle and heat it to high heat. Dip a paper towel in the extra oil then brush the inside of the pan you'll use with it to make sure everything is extra nonstick. Remove the meat from the marinade, slice it crosswise into pieces 4-to-8-inches in length (this is so they'll fit into the pan you're using so you may not have to do it). Pat the meat dry then season generously on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Once the pan is hot, place a few pieces of meat in the pan (they shouldn't be touching and need a minimum of 1-inch apart from each other) and cook, undisturbed, for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn all the meat and cook on the other side for 2 to 3 minutes for medium rare. Remove the meat to a cutting board, and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
- Cook The Scallions And Chiles: While the meat rests, grill the scallions and chiles, as desired. Coat them both with a bit of oil then grill until charred on both sides, about 4 minutes total. Remove them all to a serving platter then sprinkle with salt and a squeeze of lime.
- Serve The Carne Asada: Once the meat has rested, use a very sharp knife to slice it against the grain into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick pieces. Serve the Carne Asada with the charred scallions, limes, tortillas, avocado (or guacamole, salsa, and cilantro). Or use it to make tacos, sopes, a steak salad or anything else you'd like!