Carne asada tacos are a popular Mexican street food made with grilled steak, tortillas, and various toppings. The main ingredients are thin strips of marinated flank or skirt steak, corn or flour tortillas, onions, cilantro, salsa, limes, and avocado. The carne asada is grilled over an open flame to give it a smoky, charred flavor. When wrapped in a warm tortilla with fresh veggies and salsa, it makes for an incredibly tasty taco experience! Keep reading to learn more about the origins, ingredients, and process for making authentic carne asada tacos at home.
What is Carne Asada?
Carne asada literally translates to “grilled meat” in Spanish. It refers to steak that has been marinated and grilled over an open flame or barbecue. This cooking technique originated in northern Mexico, specifically the states of Sonora and Sinaloa. It was likely influenced by the cattle ranching culture in these regions.
The cut of steak traditionally used for carne asada is flank or skirt steak. These affordable cuts become tender and flavorful when sliced thin across the grain and quickly seared. Other thinner cuts of beef such as hanger, flap, or flank steak work as well. The meat is marinated for a few hours or up to overnight to infuse it with flavors like garlic, citrus, Mexican oregano, cumin, and chili powder before hitting the hot grill.
The carne asada can be chopped or sliced into strips after grilling. It is then typically served alongside tortillas, grilled onions and peppers, guacamole, beans, salsa, cilantro, and lime wedges. This mixture of hot meat, cool toppings, and warm tortillas creates a bright, savory taco filling.
The star ingredient of carne asada tacos is the grilled steak. Opt for a thin, affordable cut like:
– Flank steak: This cut comes from the belly area and has a distinct grain. Be sure to slice against the grain for tenderness.
– Skirt steak: This long, thin cut comes from the diaphragm area. It has great beefy flavor.
– Hanger steak: This cut comes from the plate region near the diaphragm. It has a loose grain and rich taste.
– Flap meat steak: This comes from the bottom sirloin region. It is thin and benefits from marinating.
Aim for around 1/2 pound of steak per 3-4 tacos. Try to purchase grass-fed beef for more nutritious omega-3s.
The steak filling gets wrapped in a warm corn or flour tortilla to create the taco shell. Corn tortillas have a rustic, mildly sweet corn flavor while flour tortillas are softer and more neutral in taste. Try both to see which you prefer! Corn tortillas should be lightly grilled or steamed to become pliable enough to wrap around the filling.
Thinly sliced white, yellow, or red onions add a refreshing crunch and bite to balance the rich meat. Quickly grilling the onions over the same flame as the steak adds smoky-sweet depth.
A sprinkle of freshly chopped cilantro over the tacos adds a bright, herbaceous flavor. The leafy green cilantro contrasts nicely with the charred meat.
A spoonful of fresh pico de gallo, salsa verde, or red salsa fresca adds a spicy, tomatoey kick. Salsas made with chopped tomatoes, onions, chilies, cilantro, and lime juice give an acidic tang.
Limes are an essential for squeezing over the meat and tacos. The bright acidity cuts through the richness of the grilled steak beautifully.
Creamy, buttery avocado is a nice cool complement to the hot steak. Mash or slice it over the tacos for added richness.
To infuse the steak with authentic Mexican flair, marinate it in a mixture of:
– Olive oil and lime juice: This forms the tangy, acidic base for the marinade.
– Garlic: Chopped or minced garlic adds a punch of savory flavor.
– Mexican oregano: This has a stronger, woodsy taste compared to regular oregano.
– Cumin: Earthy, nutty cumin is essential for Mexican dishes.
– Chili powder: Look for ancho or guajillo chili powder for mild heat.
– Salt and pepper: Generously season the meat before grilling.
– Onion and orange: Consider adding minced onion and orange juice for an extra punch.
Let the steak marinate for 1-12 hours so the flavors really penetrate the meat. Pat it dry before grilling for optimum caramelization.
The Grilling Process
Grilling the carne asada over an open flame is vital for achieving that quintessential charred, smoky flavor. Here is a simple process:
1. Prepare the meat: Trim any excess fat or silverskin from your cut of steak first. Then slice it against the grain into thin 1/4 inch strips.
2. Marinate: Place the meat strips in a shallow baking dish. Pour the marinade over top until well-coated. Cover and refrigerate for 1-12 hours, flipping occasionally.
3. Prepare the grill: Heat an outdoor grill over high heat, around 500°F. Scrape the grates clean and brush with oil to prevent sticking.
4. Grill the onions: Cook sliced onions over direct heat for 1-2 minutes per side until charred and softened. Remove to a plate.
5. Grill the steak: Remove the meat from the marinade and pat very dry with paper towels. Grill for just 1-3 minutes per side, depending on thickness. The steak slices should char but remain medium-rare inside.
6. Rest: Let the grilled steak rest for 5 minutes before slicing to allow juices to redistribute. Then chop into smaller pieces.
7. Warm tortillas: Quickly heat the tortillas on the grill or in a dry skillet until pliable and warm. Stack in a towel to keep warm until assembly.
How to Assemble Carne Asada Tacos
Now that your meat is grilled and toppings prepped, it’s time for the fun part – building the tacos! Here are two easy methods:
Street Taco Style
This style mimics what you’d get from a taco cart or food truck in Mexico.
– Heat tortillas until warm and pliable. Stack on a plate and cover with a towel to keep warm.
– Place a portion of diced steak down the center of each tortilla.
– Top with onions, cilantro, salsa, and a squeeze of lime.
– Add any other desired toppings like guacamole, beans, cheese, etc.
– Fold or roll tortilla around fillings to close.
– Eat immediately and enjoy! The combination of hot meat, cool toppings, and warm tortilla is amazing.
For a more composed plated presentation:
– Warm the tortillas as described above.
– Place an open tortilla on each plate.
– Top with a serving of carne asada, onions, cilantro, salsa, etc.
– Garnish attractively with lime wedges, avocado slices, extra cilantro, etc.
– Serve with any side salsas, guacamole, beans, rice, etc. on the side.
– Dig in and enjoy this delicious platter of carne asada tacos!
Tips for Making the Best Carne Asada Tacos
Here are some extra pointers for perfect carne asada tacos every time:
– Use a thermometer to grill the meat to a perfect medium-rare, about 135°F internal temperature.
– Let the steak rest after grilling before slicing to retain juices.
– Grill the onions and tortillas alongside the meat for efficiency.
– Chop the cilantro leaves and onions finely so they don’t fall out.
– Provide an array of salsas, guacamole, limes, etc. for topping options.
– Heat the tortillas briefly so they are just warm and pliable enough to wrap around fillings.
– Slice against the grain of the meat for super tender texture.
– Set up a taco bar so guests can build their own custom tacos.
– Have plenty of napkins available – these tacos can get messy!
What cut of steak is best for carne asada?
Skirt, flank, hanger, and flap steak are all excellent budget-friendly cuts for carne asada thanks to their thin profile, bold beef flavor, and tendency to stay tender when grilled quickly over high heat.
How long should I marinate the meat?
Most steak cuts benefit from 1-12 hours of marinating time. This allows the acidic ingredients to slightly tenderize and deeply flavor the meat.
Can I use pre-marinated carne asada?
Grocery stores carry pre-marinated carne asada meat for convenience. While not quite as fresh tasting, these can still make good quick tacos in a pinch. Opt for versions without too many mystery ingredients.
How do I warm corn tortillas?
The easiest way is to place them directly on a hot grill or dry skillet for about 30 seconds per side until pliable. You can also wrap them in damp paper towels and microwave for 30-60 seconds. Steaming works too. Just don’t over-heat them or they can become crisp.
How should I garnish the tacos?
Some tasty garnish ideas include sliced radishes, pickled onions or jalapeños, cotija cheese crumbles, microgreens, sliced avocado, and a dollop of Mexican crema or sour cream.
Don’t have an ingredient on hand or want to change it up? Try these swaps:
– Steak: chicken, shrimp, portobello mushrooms
– Tortillas: lettuce wraps, corn chips
– Onion: shallots, chives
– Lime: lemon
– Cilantro: parsley, cilantro
– Avocado: cabbage slaw, spinach
– Salsa: pico de gallo, chimichurri sauce
Authentic carne asada tacos are hard to beat, thanks to their winning combo of smoky grilled steak, warm tortillas, and zesty toppings. With a flavorful marinade, quick hot grill, and quality ingredients, you can recreate this Mexican street food staple at home. Experiment with different steak cuts, salsa styles, and toppings to make these tacos your own. Just be prepared for friends and family to request this tasty taco recipe again and again! What are you waiting for…go fire up the grill and enjoy a batch of incredible carne asada tacos today.