The best cuts of beef for carne asada are skirt steak, flank steak, hanger steak, and ribeye steak. Skirt steak is the most traditional and flavorful cut for carne asada. Flank steak is a great budget-friendly option. Hanger steak is tender and flavorful. Ribeye is a premium choice if you want a richer taste.
What is carne asada?
Carne asada is a popular Mexican dish of grilled and sliced beef. The term “carne asada” literally translates to “grilled meat” in Spanish. Carne asada can be made with various cuts of beef that are marinated then grilled over high heat. It is often served as an ingredient in dishes like tacos, burritos, nachos, and more. The carne asada is thinly sliced or chopped after grilling to be incorporated into recipes.
When selecting the right cut of beef for carne asada, the goal is to choose a cut that is flavorful, relatively affordable, and grills up nicely with a tender, charred exterior while staying juicy inside. The preparation is simple, allowing the beef’s natural flavors to shine through after a short marination and quick grilling.
Key Characteristics of Good Carne Asada Beef
- Thinly sliced and tender after grilling
- Good marbling for flavor and moisture
- Affordable or budget-friendly price
- Good flavor that comes through even with simple preparation
- Meat holds up well to high heat grilling without drying out
Best Cuts for Carne Asada
Skirt steak, also known as fajita meat, is hands down the most traditional and common cut used for carne asada. It comes from the diaphragm muscles of the cow. This is a long, thin fan-shaped steak full of meaty beef flavor that takes well to marinades.
When grilled over high heat, skirt steak cooks up nicely with a good char while staying juicy inside. The marbling provides enough fat to keep it moist and tender. Since the grain runs across the length of the steak, it should be sliced across the grain before serving.
Skirt steak has good beefy flavor on its own so it doesn’t need too much seasoning. A simple marinade of salt, pepper, lime juice and garlic does the trick. Other good options include soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Mexican beer, olive oil, cilantro, and chili powder in the marinade.
Skirt steak is also budget-friendly, making it a top choice for carne asada. It provides great taste without breaking the bank.
Flank steak comes from the abdominal area of the cow. This is another thin, fibrous cut that does well with grilling over high heat. The flank steak has excellent beefy flavor and is low in fat.
Carne asada made from flank steak has a pleasing chewy texture. Be sure to slice it against the grain after cooking for maximum tenderness. It can go directly on the grill but also benefits from a brief marinade time of 30 minutes to an hour. The marinade helps tenderize while imparting extra flavor.
Flank steak is also one of the more affordable cuts of beef, even cheaper than skirt steak in many cases. This makes it another top choice for carne asada on a budget. It provides plenty of rich beefy flavor at a lower cost than premium steak cuts.
Hanger steak comes from the plate primal cut, more specifically from the muscle that hangs between the rib primal and loin primal. It gets its name from quite literally hanging inside the cow.
This is an extremely flavorful, loose-grained cut of meat with great tenderness. It has ample marbling that keeps it nice and moist during cooking. The beefy taste takes well to simple marinades.
Since hanger steak is so tender, it can go directly on the grill with a short marinade time. Slice against the grain after cooking. Hanger steak has a looser texture than skirt or flank steak but holds up well to being chopped or sliced into pieces for tacos or other dishes.
While pricier than skirt or flank steak, hanger steak is still one of the more affordable cuts of beef. The exceptional flavor and tenderness balance out the slightly higher cost.
Ribeye steak comes from the rib section, as the name implies. It is a premium cut known for its abundant marbling, tender texture, and full beefy flavor.
A ribeye steak cooked medium-rare over high heat results in a wonderfully charred outside while keeping the inside tender and juicy. The rich taste needs minimal seasoning besides salt and pepper. It works great for carne asada if you want to use a higher quality cut of meat.
Due to the tender texture, ribeye should be sliced thinly across the grain after grilling. Keep in mind that the high fat content means there is more risk of flare-ups on the grill. Ribeye is also one of the more expensive cuts of beef, so while delicious, it may not be the most wallet-friendly option.
Other Cuts That Work for Carne Asada
While the cuts above are ideal, you can make carne asada with other beef cuts as well. Here are some other good options:
- Tri-tip – Tender and flavorful with a distinct grain
- Top sirloin – Lean yet tender with beefy taste
- Flat iron steak – Tender like skirt steak when sliced against grain
- Chuck eye steak – Flavorful like ribeye but more budget friendly
- Bavette steak – Lesser known cut that is very flavorful
- Sirloin flap/Picanha – Popular Brazilian cut used for steaks
The key is choosing steaks that can withstand high heat grilling while staying tender. Leaner cuts may dry out while higher fat content provides more juiciness. Marinade time also varies depending on the tenderness of the cut.
Tips for Grilling Carne Asada
Grilling carne asada to perfection relies on a few key tips:
- Bring meat to room temperature before grilling for more even cooking.
- Use a generous seasoning of just salt and pepper or simple marinade.
- Grill over high heat for best results with char and caramelization.
- Flip meat just once during grilling unless it is very thin.
- Allow meat to rest 5-10 minutes before slicing for juices to redistribute.
- Slice thinly across the grain for optimal tenderness.
The preparation for carne asada is meant to be simple to let the natural flavor of the beef shine. Use a hot grill and don’t overcomplicate the cooking process. Allow the meat to rest properly before slicing for best results.
Carne Asada Marinade Ideas
A simple marinade goes a long way in boosting flavor for carne asada. Here are some easy, tasty marinade suggestions:
- Lime juice, salt, pepper, garlic
- Soy sauce, lime, chili powder, cilantro
- Worcestershire sauce, garlic, onion powder, olive oil
- Beer, garlic, cumin, orange juice
- Olive oil, lime, jalapeño, oregano
Use about 1/4 cup marinade per 1-2 pounds of meat. Let the meat marinate for at least 30 minutes but preferably 1-2 hours for best flavor in the meat. Turn the bag or dish occasionally to distribute the marinade.
Putting It All Together for Carne Asada
Follow this straightforward process for flawless carne asada every time:
- Choose your favorite cut of beef – skirt, flank, ribeye, etc.
- Make a simple marinade – lime, garlic, pepper is classic.
- Add meat to the marinade to soak for 1-2 hours.
- Grill over high heat for 4-8 minutes per side depending on thickness.
- Allow meat to rest 5-10 minutes before slicing thinly across the grain.
- Chop or slice the carne asada to add to tacos, burritos, nachos, etc.
With a good cut of meat and straightforward grilling, you don’t need complicated steps to end up with amazing carne asada full of flavor. Now that you know which cuts of beef make the best carne asada, you can savor tasty results off the grill.
Frequently Asked Questions
What cut of beef is best for carne asada?
The best cuts for carne asada are skirt steak, flank steak, hanger steak, and ribeye steak. Skirt steak is the most traditional choice, while flank steak is a great budget option. Ribeye provides delicious richness.
What is the difference between skirt steak and flank steak?
Skirt steak comes from the diaphragm muscle while flank steak comes from the abdominal area. Skirt steak has more visible grain while flank steak has more marbling. Skirt steak is considered more flavorful while flank steak is a bit cheaper.
Should carne asada be marinated?
Marinating is highly recommended for carne asada to enhance the flavor. A citrus-based marinade with garlic, pepper, cilantro, and spices for 1-2 hours greatly improves the taste. But good beef can be seasoned with just salt and pepper too.
How do you keep carne asada juicy?
Slicing across the grain after cooking maximizes tenderness and juiciness. Letting the meat rest after grilling also helps keep carne asada moist. Grilling over high heat gives it a nice char while preventing overcooking and drying out the meat.
What is the healthiest cut of steak for carne asada?
The leanest and healthiest cuts for carne asada are top sirloin, eye of round, and flank steak. They have less saturated fat than ribeye, tenderloin, or skirt steak, while still providing plenty of flavor and nutrition.
When it comes to the quintessential Mexican dish of carne asada, skirt, flank, hanger or ribeye steak are your best bets for incredible flavor and texture. A simple preparation of a salty, acidic marinade and quick grilling lets the natural beefiness shine through. Slice across the grain and serve with warm tortillas, guacamole, beans and salsa for an amazing meal. With a good cut of meat as your foundation, carne asada makes for fantastic tacos or Nachos any night of the week.