Grilled fajitas are a delicious Tex-Mex dish that are quick and easy to make on the grill. Fajitas are made of thinly sliced meat, usually steak, chicken or shrimp, that is marinated in a blend of spices and grilled over high heat. They are served sizzling hot with warmed tortillas, guacamole, salsa, cheese and other favorite toppings.
One of the keys to perfectly grilled fajitas is knowing exactly when they are fully cooked without overdoing it. Undercooked fajita meat can be tough and chewy while overcooked meat will be dry and flavorless. Here are some tips on how to tell when fajitas are perfectly done on the grill so you can enjoy tender, juicy and flavorful grilled fajitas every time.
What Temperature Should You Grill Fajitas?
Fajitas are best grilled over very high, direct heat. This allows the meat to quickly sear and caramelize while still staying juicy inside. The ideal grilling temperature for fajitas is between 500-550°F.
If using a gas grill, preheat with all burners on high for 10-15 minutes before grilling. For charcoal, let the coals completely ash over and reach high heat before adding the fajitas. Use the hand test to check grill temperature. Hold your hand about 5 inches over the grate and quickly count how long you can tolerate the heat. At 500°F, you should only be able to hold your hand over the grate for 2-3 seconds.
What Temperature Should Fajita Meat Reach?
To ensure fajitas are safely cooked without drying out, you need to monitor the internal temperature of the meat as it grills using an instant read meat thermometer. Here are the ideal internal temperatures:
- Chicken fajitas – 165°F
- Steak fajitas – 145°F (medium rare)
- Shrimp fajitas – opaque and firm
Chicken is fully cooked at 165°F to kill any harmful bacteria. Steak and beef can safely be eaten at lower temperatures for tender, juicy meat. For steak fajitas, 145°F will give you medium rare steak that is still pink inside. Cook to higher temperatures for more done steak if desired. Shrimp fajitas are done when the shrimp turn opaque and feel firm to the touch.
Signs Fajitas Are Done by Look
In addition to monitoring temperature, you can also use visual cues to know when fajitas are cooked properly. Here’s what to look for:
– No visible pink meat remaining
– Juices run clear when pierced with a fork
– Light char or grill marks on surface
– Grill marks and char on both sides
– Meat springs back when pressed
– Desired doneness when cut into (still red for rare/medium rare)
– Opaque and pinkish-white color
– Light char or grill marks
– Firm, plump appearance
The meat should show nice sear marks from the hot grill but should not be burnt or blackened on the outside. Fajitas get their great smoky flavor from the hot fast cooking so you want to see char without overdoing it.
Use the Poke Test
Another good way to test if fajitas are cooked properly is to use the poke test. Press on the center of one of the fajita pieces with your finger. If the meat feels very firm and springs back, it is fully cooked. If the meat still feels soft and mushy, it needs more time on the grill.
For steak fajitas, check the firmness while also peeking inside a cut piece to confirm the desired pinkness based on doneness preference. Chicken should feel very firm with no signs of uncooked meat inside.
Check for Doneness Early and Often
Fajitas cook very fast over high heat so it’s important to check for doneness frequently to avoid overcooking. Begin checking temperature and doneness after just 2-3 minutes of grilling. Flip the fajitas at least once so both sides get nicely seared. Continue monitoring every minute or so until desired doneness is reached.
Remember to check a few pieces each time you test since fajitas can cook unevenly if parts of the grill are hotter than others. Move pieces around as needed for even cooking. The fajita meat is done when all pieces reach the proper internal temperature and pass the poke test.
Let Fajitas Rest Before Serving
Once your fajitas reach the ideal internal temperature and pass the visual tests for doneness, transfer them from the grill to a cutting board or serving platter. Let the fajitas rest for 5 minutes before slicing, serving and digging in.
This short resting time allows the juices to redistribute through the meat for incredibly moist, tender fajitas. Be sure to lightly tent the fajitas with foil as they rest to keep them piping hot.
It’s easy to over or undercook fajitas if you’re not careful. Here are some common grilling mistakes and how to avoid them:
To prevent undercooked fajitas:
– Grill over high heat, around 500°F
– Cut meat thin, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch thick
– Cook only a few minutes per side
– Check temperature early and frequently
To avoid overcooked, dried out fajitas:
– Don’t Walk away, watch closely
– Use instant read thermometer
– Remove from heat at proper temperature
– Let rest 5 minutes before cutting
For evenly cooked fajitas from first to last piece:
– Trim meat to uniform thickness
– Grill on evenly preheated grill
– Flip pieces frequently while cooking
– Move to hotter/cooler areas as needed
– Grouping similar thickness pieces
Tips for Perfectly Grilled Fajitas
Follow these helpful tips for flawlessly grilled fajitas every time:
– Pound fajita meat to even 1⁄4 inch thickness
– Trim off excess fat or gristle
– Grill on well seasoned cast iron or nonstick grill grates
– Let grill preheat 10-15 mins to reach 500°F+ heat
– Use natural hardwood lump charcoal for best flavor
– Grill over direct high heat, no cooler zones
– Flip fajitas at least every 2 minutes
– Brush with oil to prevent sticking, not marinade
– Remove pieces sequentially as they finish cooking
Fajita Safety Tips
When handling raw fajita meat and grilling fajitas:
– Thaw fajitas safely in fridge, not room temp
– Marinate in fridge, toss used marinade
– Wash hands, utensils after handling raw meat
– Cook thoroughly to safe internal temperatures
– Don’t cross-contaminate raw/cooked items
– Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours
Following basic food safety helps protect you and your guests from foodborne illness.
Know the Signs of Overcooked Fajitas
If your fajitas overcook and dry out on the grill, you will notice some clear signs:
– Tough, chewy texture
– Dry, stringy meat fibers
– Lost moisture, fajitas look shriveled
– Very firm/hard when poked
– No pink inside steak or chicken
– Burnt, charred black pieces
While slightly overdone fajitas may still be edible, they will become increasingly dry and tough the longer they cook past the ideal doneness. For the most tender, flavorful fajitas, it’s best catch them when they are perfectly cooked but not overdone.
Common Fajita Grilling Mistakes
It’s easy to make mistakes when grilling fajitas, especially if you’re in a hurry. Watch out for these common grilling errors:
– Low heat/not preheating grill fully
– Overcrowding grill with too many fajitas
– Unevenly cut meat pieces
– Marinating too long which can make meat mushy
– Flipping only once instead of frequently
– Lacking grill grate lubrication leads to sticking
– Applying marinade as a cooking sauce causes flare-ups
– No instant read thermometer to monitor doneness
– Cutting into fajitas before they’ve rested
A little planning and paying attention while grilling can help you avoid these pitfalls for fabulous fajitas.
How to Tell When Shrimp Fajitas Are Done
For shrimp fajitas, visual signs of doneness are the best way to know when they’re ready. Look for:
– Opaque, pinkish-white color all over
– Firm, plump texture without mushiness
– Nice light char but no blackening
– Should take only 2-4 minutes per side
Undercooked shrimp will look translucent while overcooked shrimp appear rubbery and chewy. Properly grilled shrimp for fajitas will turn opaque on the outside about halfway through cooking. Test a thicker piece to confirm the center is fully cooked. Cook shrimp in a grill basket or perforated grill pan to prevent them from falling through grates.
Fajita Grilling Do’s and Don’ts
For the most flavorful fajitas hot off the grill, follow these do’s and don’ts:
– Pound fajita meat thin for quick, even cooking
– Trim off excess fat and gristle
– Use mesquite, oak or pecan wood for authentic flavor
– Let grill fully preheat to 500°F+ temperature
– Flip meat frequently while grilling
– Brush meat with oil to prevent sticking
– Use instant read thermometer to check doneness
– Let fajitas rest 5 minutes before slicing
– Grill on too low heat
– Overcrowd the grill
– Apply sugary marinade when grilling
– Press down on fajitas while they are grilling
– Leave fajitas unattended on grill
– Cut into fajitas immediately off grill
– Grill pre-marinated meat longer than 6 hours
– Use same platter for raw and cooked meat
Sticking to these simple do’s and don’ts will help you achieve grill master status and be dishing up incredible fajitas in minutes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Get answers to the most common fajita grilling questions:
What cut of meat is best for fajitas?
Skirt steak is the traditional choice but flank steak and chicken breast also make excellent fajitas. Look for good marbling in beef cuts. Avoid pre-tenderized meat which gets mushy.
Should you marinate fajita meat?
Yes, marinating improves flavor and tenderness but don’t overdo it. 2-6 hours is ideal. Overnight can make meat mushy.
Do you season fajita meat before or after grilling?
Pre-season meat with salt, pepper and spice rubs before grilling. Save fresh herbs, garlic and citrus for serving table.
What is the white stuff in fajitas?
White lines in steak fajitas is connective tissue called elastin. It’s normal and safe to eat. Trimming fat minimizes it.
How do you keep fajitas warm after grilling?
Wrap cooked fajitas in foil tent to keep warm for up to 30 minutes. Place in a low oven or chafing dish. Serve ASAP for best texture.
Knowing when fajitas are perfectly cooked so you can pull them off the grill at just the right moment takes some skill. Paying attention to visual signs, temperature and the poke test will help you nail the timing. Remember to grill over high heat, flip frequently and monitor closely to catch fajitas when they are just done but not overdone. Letting the fajitas rest before slicing allows juices to redistribute so fajitas stay incredibly moist and tender. Follow these tips for expertly grilled fajitas that your family and friends will love!