On its most basic level, carne asada is a marinated and grilled steak, sliced thin and served on tortillas or used as an ingredient in a wide range of dishes. But let’s be honest: a well-executed carne asada could never be called basic. When done properly, the tender, charred steak melts in your mouth; when paired with grilled onions, fresh salsa and a smear of avocado, it’s practically heaven.
But while the steak itself is simple, it still requires a masterful technique to achieve. So if you’re looking to step up your grilling game this summer, we’ve broken down some key lessons inspired by the revered carne asada traditions of northern Mexico.
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What Cut of Beef to Use
Skirt and flank steak are the most popular cuts for carne asada, but you can also use several alternatives, including sirloin flap meat, or even thinly sliced brisket.
Ultimately, the cut of beef you use should be flavorful, but it doesn’t need to be tender because the marinade will help soften the meat.
Plan to purchase up to a pound of meat per person eating to make sure there is plenty to go around.
There are many marinade recipes for carne asada out there, but classic marinade should contain lime juice, garlic, onion, and black pepper. The longer you let the meat sit in the marinade, the more tender it will be – but be careful not to over marinate it. A day’s worth of marinating is the max amount of time you should reserve for the meat.
Once your meat is marinated, you’ll still want to have some seasoning on hand when you’re at the grill. We recommend some coarse salt and cumin.
The key to a great carne asada is the charred flavor – and to achieve this the grill has to be very hot before the meat hits it. Place your carne on the grill once the temperature is around 450-500 degrees. As soon as you see the meat’s juices start to rise to the surface, flip it over. When the juices flow on the other side it’s ready to take off the grill. What you’re looking for is a quick sear.
A great carne asada experience means having the right toppings and side dishes to accompany it. Charred onions, fresh salsa, a stack of warm tortillas, a smear of avocado, and stewed beans will take your carne asada to the next level.
Make sure you prep your sides before the meat hits the grill, so you can eat it while it’s hot!