Keep it simple with this authentic marinade recipe for grilled Carne Asada Tacos. Juicy, smoky grilled steak is waiting for your tortillas and fresh salsas. Read along for a detailed guide, focused on keeping it simple. No blenders are required, but you’ll definitely need some beer.
Writing this article and recipe has been a personal struggle. A recipe for carne asada is tricky, as there is no true, single method to grill this flavorful beef. Carne asada marinades are regional, just like the use of tortillas. There are recipes that don’t even use marinades, but a dry-brine instead.
Read along for tips and tricks to making some of the best, grilled steak tacos. Carne asada is the king of tacos.
Why this recipe works
- This carne asada marinade will work for all thin cuts of steak.
- Quick grilling over high heat produces juicy steak in minutes.
- Flavors of the marinade focus on enhancing the beef without taking over the toppings.
What is Carne Asada?
Carne Asada simply translates to “grilled meat”, which doesn’t describe much. Growing up in Phoenix, you could pretty much order it anywhere. Most of the time it was thinly sliced, seared on a griddle, and wrapped in delicious tortillas filled with pico, guacamole, beans, and sour cream. Fancy places would serve it medium rare, paired with pickled vegetables and fire-roasted salsas.
Carne Asada meat should always taste like beef. Each bite should have some crispy char, the juicy flavors of fat and the seasoning. The carne asada marinade is typically very simple and minimal. Chiles and sugar taste great with most BBQ, but it’s very easy to go overboard.
The history behind carne asada surprised me. The skinny cows from Spain were brought from overseas, prized for their organs and beef tallow. The thin cuts of meat were seasoned and grilled over the fire, generally served with rice and beans.
Choose your weapon: Which type of meat?
Simply put, anything thin and inexpensive. Here are some of the most common, and most flavorful, cuts of beef for carne asada:
- Flap Steak – This cut is the most traditional by history, cut from the loin. It has a coarse texture that seems to soak up the flavors of wet marinades, keeping it very juicy. Good news, it’s very affordable.
- Flank Steak – Similar to flap steak, this has a beefier flavor. This cut comes from the belly but has less fat than the flap steak. It tends to be tougher, so you’d want to make sure it has a good soak in the carne asada marinade.
- Skirt Steak – My personal favorite (pictured above). It’s incredibly tender because of the evenly distributed ribbons of fat. Edges crisp up nice over the flames and it’s thick enough for a medium-rare cook if you’re careful.
- Hanger Steak – Another sponge for flavor, and it’s thicker than some of the other common choices. It’s a larger cut overall, great for soft tacos or burrito bowls.
- Flat Iron Steak – Often confused with flank steak, this beefy cut is much more well-marbled with fat. Flat iron benefits from a marinade followed with a quick sear due do it’s dense muscle. This is a great substitute to skirt or flank steak.
- Flanken Short Ribs – It’s hard to argue that this has the best flavor if you’re simply going to grill a steak and eat it with your hands (that’s what I do with these). The combination of the little bones and their lack of thickness makes it difficult to slice up for tacos. These are generally best eaten without tortillas.
Layering the flavors
Simple and flavorful. A good marinade should tenderize the meat and enhance the surface browning. We want crispy textures, juicy flavors!
The most basic of carne asada marinades is lime juice, salt, and pepper. Over the years, soy sauce has become a staple. Yes, even in Mexican culture, soy sauce is commonly found with grilling recipes. Not only does it add sodium, but it also tenderizes the beef. Sometimes you’ll see the addition of fresh chiles, garlic and herbs. It’s easy to keep adding!
My father-in-law is from Chihuahua, eager to show me the ropes years ago. Adding Mexican lager, lime, soy, pepper, and oil was all he needed. Playing with this over the years, I’ve modified it to my flavor profile while keeping it as simple as possible:
Carne Asada Marinade
- The juice of 1 orange
- The juice of 2 limes
- ¼ cup of Mexican lager
- 2 tbsp of Soy Sauce
- 1 tbsp Red Boat Fish Sauce
- 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
- Fresh ground pepper to taste
Fish sauce? Oh yes. It’s the one ingredient I’ve added over the years for that extra boost of umami, the savory sensation known as umami. Trust me, there are no fish flavors here – you use Worcestershire, right? You’re used to this – just a punch of naturally fermented glutamate. The fish sauce makes the beef taste even beefier.
Fresh-squeezed fruit makes all of the difference. This is a must, so please don’t substitute with bottled juice.
Mix these ingredients together and combine with 2 pounds of your choice of steak – mine is skirt steak – and allow it to marinate for at least 4 hours. Any longer than about 12 hours and the texture of the meat won’t be as firm, so plan ahead.
Hot and fast, this is the way.
Carne asada tacos aren’t complicated, so keep the cooking process simple. The steaks need to have a crust, seared quickly to seal in the juices and help retain the moisture. This is not something to pull off in a smoker or a non-stick pan. If you don’t have a grill, use a cast-iron skillet or a griddle.
Cooking over charcoal gives you more options, specifically the ability to use lump charcoal or wood. Additional flavor can simply be enhanced by tossing some wood chips over the embers a few minutes before you grill the steaks. Wood aromas will quickly adhere to your carne asada meat, building another layer of flavor.
High heat is a must, but it also gives you less room for error when grilling steaks. Flip your carne asada meat often, generally every 30 seconds or so, which controls the momentum of the cook and helps you prevent it from burning. This is especially important with thinner cuts such as flap meat or flanken short ribs, which will cook much quicker than a flat iron or hanger steak. Timing depends on the type of steak you’re using. Stay close, tongs in one hand with a beer in the other.
Yes, I have recommended tongs. These Weber Original Tongs are by far the best for larger cuts of meat at a longer distance. The teeth will allow you to grab hold of the meat or veggies without struggle. Nothing is going to slip out and fall on the ground.
Living in the Sonoran desert, we generally stick with flour tortillas for carne asada. Maybe I just started a fight, but that’s a very traditional thing to see in Arizona. Refried beans and carne asada meat pair well together, holding the juices from the steak and salsas in place.
Yes, you’ll also see corn tortillas for carne asada tacos on many menus. Sweet, toasty flavors from the corn pair very well with the carne asada meat.
Remember, carne asada tacos are all about the beef. The topping you choose should complement, not overwhelm the beef. Save your off-the-chart spicy salsas for the chips.Print