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How to Make Carne Asada

Carne asada has gained popularity in the mainstream food scene in the past few years with street vendors and at-home chefs putting their own spin on traditional recipes. Fans all agree it's delicious, but is it difficult to make? With extra preparation time, your dish will taste more like authentic carne asada.

Our directions will help even first-time cooks get the dish just right.

What Is Carne Asada?

If you've eaten at a Tex-Mex or Mexican restaurant, you've likely seen carne asada on the menu. It's flavorful meat, typically sliced thin and served as a main course or in tacos and burritos, or as a topping on a salad.

Carne asada means grilled meat, so it can technically be any meat. In the way it’s commonly served and eaten in the U.S., however, it’s understood to be beef that’s been marinated, seasoned, grilled, or broiled, and cooked tender and juicy.

There’s no consensus on where the term or cooking trend of carne asada originated, but it’s now associated with the culinary traditions of many cultures.

What Cut of Beef Is Used for Carne Asada?

Carne asada is typically made with flank steak or skirt steak. Flank comes from the belly and has little fat.

Skirt steak is flavorful but tough and comes from muscles in the chest and abdomen of the cow. Skirt steak is fattier and has a reputation for being more tender than flank. It may respond better to being cooked well-done. Flank steak, being leaner, is best when cooked to medium-rare or rare temperatures.

How to Prepare Carne Asada

Carne asada is a simple dish that isn't any more difficult to make than other grilled meat. The beauty is in the variety of ways it can be marinated and seasoned, although most agree that certain ingredients such as lime, cilantro, chili, and salt, are essential to a classic flavor.

Preparing it takes more time than cooking, so read up on these tips to get the best results.

How Much Carne Asada per Person?

You’ll need approximately ½ pound of meat per person served, although your guests can easily eat more if the carne asada is the star of the show and not a topping or addition to a more filling meal.

Carne Asada Marinade

Marinade truly helps create a tender and tasty final product, basically transforming a standard cut of beef into something amazing. Our own Grilled Carne Asada Skirt Steak recipe offers one of the most flavorful marinades and takes just minutes to mix.

In a bowl, mix the following ingredients until the salt dissolves.

Juice of 3 oranges

Juice of 2 lemons

Juice of 2 limes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 minced jalapeño with seeds

1/2 tablespoon ground cumin

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Your marinade is now ready for the meat.

How Long to Marinate Carne Asada

It’s true that the longer you marinate your flank steak, the more tender and flavorful it will become. You want to give it at least two hours for the best results, but if you make up the marinade the night before, it’s also okay to let the meat sit fully immersed in the marinade for up to 12 hours.

Just be sure to cover it in food-grade plastic wrap or a tight-fitting lid in the fridge while it marinates. You may choose to put the marinade in a plastic freezer bag. Add the meat, making sure to set the sealed bag in a bowl or baking dish to avoid any mess in the fridge. Bags do sometimes leak.

What Wood Pellets to Use for Carne Asada

Our favorite wood pellet for carne asada is hickory, although mesquite works just as well and can bring out the chili flavoring nicely. For the undecided, consider Traeger Signature Blend which features maple, hickory, and cherry in a robust blend that goes on your beef as well as any grilled veggies you want to add to the menu.

How to Grill Carne Asada

Once your flank steak has been marinating long enough, remove the meat from the liquid. Discard the marinade, then prepare the meat for grilling by seasoning with a rub like Traeger Rib Rub. After it is fully seasoned on all sides, allow it to sit for 30 minutes before grilling.

Grill Temperature for Carne Asada

Set your Traeger wood pellet grill to 225 degrees Fahrenheit and close the lid. Let it warm up to temperature for around 15 minutes. If you have the Super Smoke feature, use that for additional flavor.

When the grill is at temp, put the meat on the grill grates and cook for 45 minutes. Remove the meat from the grill, and set the temperature at 450 to 500 degrees. Wait an additional 15 minutes with the lid closed, then place the meat back on the grill. Grill until the meat is medium-rare, for around two minutes per side. Cook longer if you like your meat well-done. Make sure you sear it on both sides for even cooking and presentation.

After grilling, allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes. Then, slice against the grain into thin strips. The grain is the set of lines running in one direction on the meat. Cut perpendicular to this set of lines to get the best look

How Long to Grill Carne Asada

Carne asada is grilled for a total of 50 minutes or more with the first 45 minutes happening during the initial 225 degrees Fahrenheit cooking time and the final 4 to 5 minutes happening when you sear it at 450 to 500 degrees. With preheating and resting times, allow for at least an hour and 20 minutes from start to finish.

Carne Asada Internal Temperature

For perfect medium-rare doneness, aim for an internal temperature of 135 degrees for medium-rare. This temperature is the most widely-used standard for carne asada because it makes the meat more tender. If you prefer your meat well-done, you may lose some of the tenderness and moisture.

What to Serve With Carne Asada

Carne asada can be used in place of any meat you would use in a Mexican or Tex-Mex dish, including burritos, nachos, tacos, and salads. Here are a few things you might want to serve alongside this mouthwatering main dish.

Pico de Gallo

Try this Smoked Pico de Gallo recipe. Simply chop the veggies and spices and mix gently. You can spread out the ingredients on a baking sheet, then smoke the concoction at 165 degrees Fahrenheit to bring out more flavor. Smoked pico de gallo requires the following ingredients.

5 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 whole jalapeño, seeded and diced

1 whole red bell pepper, diced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Juice of 1 lime

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 bunch of cilantro, chopped, divided

Chill when done and serve with chips and your carne asada.

Grilled Corn Salad

What pairs better with carne asada than this take on Mexican street corn? This Grilled Corn Salad has cream and spice. Just grill the corn before cutting it to combine it with the other ingredients. It has authentic flavor without the mess.

Ultimate Loaded Nachos

When you want something more substantial than a skimpy chip and dip, reach for a pile of chips, beef, and cheese with the Ultimate Loaded Nachos recipe. It's got everything from spice to crunch with creamy cheese, too. Even though it has three types of meat, you can use it as an appetizer before bringing out the carne asada main dish.

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Have you ever smoked Mexican Hot Chocolate? This decadent drink may count as dessert, and it's made special with smoked peppers on your Traeger grill. Notes of paprika, vanilla, and cinnamon balance out the heavy cream that takes it to another level. You'll be glad you saved room for dessert.

Carne Asada Recipes

Looking for delicious ways to use your newly-developed carne asada skills? These recipes take just a few simple steps to turn an already amazing flavor experience into something extra special.

Everyone wants to know how to make carne asada tacos like the ones sold from food trucks. This Carne Asada Tacos dish takes warmed corn tortillas and a simple lime crema sauce to transform your best flank steak into a portable feast for friends.

We think carne asada is pretty great on its own, but adding some beer and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce takes this marinade to the next level. Try this Carne Asada with Peppers and Onions the next time you want to liven up your standby beans and rice.

Big game can bring big flavor when you marinate it overnight and grill it just right. Check out the Elk Flank Carne Asada, which elevates lean, mean nutrition and the flavor of elk. It’s packed with guajillo, ancho, and chipotle peppers -- with just a hint of fish sauce.

Burritos are fun to eat anywhere. Pack a lunch with this Carne Asada Burrito with Smoked Pico de Gallo. It’s loaded with fresh ingredients and fills you up nicely.

Fish tacos are nice, but what if you live closer to cows than the ocean? Grab some tortillas and make this easy Mexican Skirt Steak Taco dish. While it resembles the style and flavor of carne asada, it doesn’t require any marinating time. Get it on the table in 25 minutes or less for a quick summer meal.

The next time someone asks you how to make the best carne asada, you’ll have many options to choose from. With so many ways to put a spin on the traditional recipes, you can enjoy grilled carne asada several times a month and have a new experience every time.

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Carne Asada Recipes


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