Carne Asada (the Secret to Tenderness)
Your carne asada can be ultra tender, with a secret ingredient that works for almost any cut of beef you want to grill. We’re sharing our tips on how to make supremely flavorful, tender, juicy carne asada right at home.
Carne Asada Recipe
The sun has finally decided to shine upon Minnesota. I don’t care if it’s hot and humid. It’s become my weather motto: I complain during the arctic winters, so I don’t get to also complain about the heat. I can only pick one season to wah-wah over. Even when it’s so hot that typing makes me sweat, I’m good with it.
Since we only get like 2 months of warmth around here, we all take our grilling season verrry seriously. There’s no taking the grill for granted. I’ve never seen such Weber respect until we moved here. Which brings me straight to our tender carne asada recipe.
Often, homemade carne asada results in steak that tends to be chewy and rather tough, despite slicing against the grain. Most of the time, people are confused and wonder why their skirt or flank steaks remain chewy. I’ve personally shied away from using skirt or flank steaks in the past for the same reason.
However. One day I decided to use a secret ingredient that I routinely use for tenderizing my Korean kalbi beef. Like, duh. I’ve already been doing that for decades and why didn’t I think of it for my carne asada recipe earlier…
What cut of beef is used for carne asada?
It’s common to use skirt steak or flank steak for most carne asada recipes. You can use more expensive cuts of steak such as ribeye for tenderness, but there is no need to do so unless you need to use up your freezer meat.
As mentioned, skirt and flank steaks can often turn out more tough/chewy than ideal, even when you “do everything right” and even when you slice against the grain. That’s where the marinade makes a world of difference.
You can make the most tender, flavorful carne asada using the more affordable/traditional skirt or flank steaks with the right technique.
Marinade Ingredients for tender carne asada
- Soy sauce is typically a key player. We recommend regular strength soy sauce, as it’s the only form of salt you’ll be using. A decent quality soy sauce like this one is important, as it will provide much better flavor. If you need gluten-free, go with Tamari soy sauce. Even though we aren’t gluten free, I use that exact Tamari soy all the time because of its purity in flavor. (You may need to add a pinch or two of salt if using Tamari soy, as it tends to have less sodium than regular soy sauce.)
- You’ll want fresh limes for freshly squeezed lime juice. Lime juice provides the citrus acid that will help in tenderizing the meat while adding flavor. Avoid bottled lime juice.
- Olive or canola oil in the marinade will help it adhere to the beef, as well as assist in the browning during cooking.
- It may sound random, but a bit of sugar always goes into our marinades, as it balances out the flavors as well as helps the meat to brown on the grill.
- As always, we aren’t shy with the garlic. I use about 6 large cloves of minced garlic in the marinade.
- Dry seasonings include plenty of cumin, ancho chili powder, and onion powder.
Secret Ingredient for extra tenderness
I’m guessing it’s not on many people’s radar. If it is, you might be a kindred spirit who makes kalbi beef the same way I do.
It’s kiwi. This powerful little guy is more than just a cute name. Mashed up green kiwi added during the last 30 minutes of marinading = magic. Don’t let it sit any longer than that, or the beef can over-tenderize to the point of turning mushy. Which would not be delicious.
By the way, you can’t taste the kiwi at all. Its main purpose is to boost the tenderness during the final 30 minutes of marinading. You’ll end up with some kind of wonderful.
Any other tips for the best carne asada?
- It’s important to allow for at least 3 hours of marinade time. At maximum, you can go up to 9 hours. Again, the mashed kiwi should only come into play during the last 30 minutes.
- Poke holes all over the beef prior to marinading. This allows flavor to soak into the steaks.
- Get your oiled grill very, very hot prior to laying the steaks down. The grill should be preheated to smoking. This is essential for getting a nice char on the exterior without overcooking the center. Medium rare is preferred for tenderness.
- Weather didn’t cooperate for outdoor grilling? No worries. You can use an indoor cast iron grill like this one. Just oil it, set it up over 2 burners on matching high heat until smoking, and lay on the steaks. I do this whenever I can’t grill outdoors, which is approx. 8 months out of the year.
- Once you have nice charring on both sides, your steak should be nicely done in the middle. Exact cook time depends on thickness of your steaks, but generally when the exterior looks done with these thin skirt/flank steaks, it’s ready.
- This is super hard, but a teensy bit of delayed gratification works wonders — let the grilled meat rest for about 5 minutes before slicing it very thinly, against the grain. You may need to cut your steak into thirds and then thinly slice across the grain for nice, never parallel to the grain.
- Have your 3-Ingredient Lemonade Margaritas in hand, and you’re ready to rock ‘n roll.
What to Serve with Carne Asada:
- Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) is super easy to make, keeps well, and a great side dish for any Tex Mex themed meal.
- Best Easy Mexican Rice is way better than anything from a box; you can taste the homemade goodness in this simple rice dish.
- Restaurant Style Salsa is one of the best appetizers to serve up, whether it’s for the family or a fun gathering.
- 3-Ingredient Lemonade Margaritas are just the drink to serve up, as they’re extra easy and refreshingly sip-worthy,
Watch this recipe in action:
Tender Carne Asada Recipe
- 2-3 lbs skirt or flank steak, roughly trimmed
- ¼ cup regular strength soy sauce, or Tamari, for gluten-free*
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 TB freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 TB olive or canola oil
- 1 TB sugar
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp ancho chili powder
- 2 kiwi fruits, peeled and mashed
- Optional toppings: Pico De Gallo, sliced avocado, lime wedges, chopped cilantro
- Seasonings: In a 9x13 pan or large dish, add the soy sauce, garlic, lime juice, oil, sugar, cumin, onion powder, and chili powder. Use hand whisk to incorporate well. Set aside.
- Coat: Using paper towels, dab off all excess moisture from beef. Use fork to poke holes throughout beef. Place beef in the pan with marinade. Evenly coat beef on all sides, ensuring every bit of beef is well coated (if you have two steaks, ensure even coating on both.) Cover with cling wrap. Chill 3-9 hours.
- Tenderize: During the last 30 minutes of marinade time, evenly press mashed kiwi onto all sides of beef, making sure every part of the beef has a bit of kiwi on it. Cover and chill no more than 30 minutes max.
- Cook: grease the grill; heat on high until smoking hot. Grill steak just until both sides are nicely charred and browned, and interior is medium rare. Cook time will vary, depending on thickness of steaks. Usually, once the exterior is nicely charred, skirt/flank steaks should be done, as they are thinner cuts.
- Rest: Transfer steak to cutting board and let it rest for 5-10 minutes, without slicing. Then, slice very thinly against the grain (perpendicular to the grain) and serve immediately with your choice of toppings.
Did you make this?
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