What Type of Meat Is Carne Asada? (3 Top Cuts & How to Cook)

Arianna Foster
Published by Arianna Foster
Last Updated On: December 4, 2023

Carne asada holds a special place in the hearts of Latin American cuisine aficionados, and I'm no exception. This Mexican culinary gem has been a staple in my kitchen for years, captivating my palate with its robust flavors and tender meat.

In the following article, I'll be sharing my tried-and-true tips for crafting the ultimate carne asada. From selecting the most succulent cuts of meat to concocting a mouthwatering marinade, I've got you covered.

So, if you're keen on elevating your carne asada game, you're in for a flavorful journey that promises to transform your cooking and delight your taste buds.

Quick Summary

  • Carne asada is a Latin American dish of grilled steak marinated in a flavorful mixture, usually containing citrus juice.
  • It is grilled over high heat until slightly charred but cooked to the desired doneness on the inside.
  • You can serve Carne asada with various accompaniments, such as tortillas, rice, beans, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.

All About Carne Asada

A top view image of carne asada on a wooden board

Carne asada is a type of grilled beef that is popular in Latin American cuisine. The meat is typically marinated in a citrus-based sauce before grilling, which helps to tenderize the meat and infuse it with flavor.

In Northern Mexico, the term has come to mean more than just a particular type of dish. There, carne asada can also refer to a party where family and friends gather in a similar fashion to a barbecue in the United States [1].

There are many regional variations of carne asada, but the dish is believed to have originated in Nothern Mexico [2].

The phrase translates to "grilled meat," which is the dish's critical element. The meat used for carne asada is typically a cut of beef such as flank steak, skirt steak, or chuck.

Here are some key points to making a mouth-watering carne asada:

  • The meat is marinated before grilling. The components of this marinade will vary from region to region and even family to family. However, some typical ingredients include orange juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin, and chili peppers.
  • Some locales use a rub instead of a marinade. Ingredients for the rub can also vary, but they might include salt, garlic powder, lemon pepper, onion powder, and chili powder.
  • After the meat has been prepared, it is grilled over an open flame. The grilling time will depend on the steak's thickness and your desired level of steak doneness.
  • Getting the charred flavor on the outside of the meat is key to a good carne asada recipe, but you want to be sure not to overcook it.
  • Carne asada can be served as part of the main dish or as an appetizer. When served as a main, it is typically accompanied by tortillas, rice, beans, and salsa.
  • For an appetizer, the meat can be cut into small strips and served with side dishes like tortilla chips, guacamole, or salsa.

The meat may also be used as the base for a variety of other dishes, including carne asada tacos and:

  • Burritos
  • Alambres
  • Gorditas
  • Nachos
  • Huaraches
  • Quesadillas
  • Sopes

Also Read: Different Taco Meats

The Best Type of Meat to Make Carne Asada

An image of raw flank steak on a cutting board

As I mentioned before, the type of meat you use to make carne asada can vary depending on your preference.

Indeed you can use any beef, but some of the most popular cuts include flank steak, skirt steak, and chuck.

1. Flank Steak

Flank steak is a good option because it is relatively lean and has a good amount of flavor. The steak should be cooked rare or medium-rare.

Slice the steak across the grain in thin strips for the best results. This method of cutting the steak helps make this otherwise tough cut easier to chew.

2. Skirt Steak

Skirt steak is another good choice, although it is more challenging to chew than flank steak. It has more fat marbling, which can be a good thing, as it helps keep the steak moist during cooking.

3. Chuck Steak

Chuck steak is a less popular option than flank or skirt steak, but it can still work if you are on a budget or can't find the other cuts of meat. Just be sure to ask your butcher to slice thinly for you, as chuck is typically sold in larger pieces.

You want a thin cut so that it cooks quickly and evenly.

The thick steak will take longer to cook and can also be more challenging to chew.

Try to end up with cuts no thicker than 1/2 inch, and ideally no more than 1/4 inch.

4. Other Cuts

There are other options to choose from. For example, I have used hanger steak, tri-tip steak, short ribs, and flap meat in my recipes to good effect.

However, you can't go wrong with a skirt or flank steak, so I recommend sticking with those.

Regardless of the type of meat you choose, get a good quality cut from a reputable source. The better the steak quality, the better your carne asada will be.

Related Articles:

Carne Asada Marinade

An image of marinated carne asada

The marinade is really what gives a homemade carne asada recipe its unique flavor. But that is not all a good marinade does. It also tenderizes the steak, helps it retain its moisture, and improves the surface char.

Many ingredients can add flavor to your marinade. These include garlic, onions, chilis, spices, herbs, and a little olive oil.

  • Chipotle peppers, fresh cilantro leaves, cumin seeds, and freshly ground black pepper are often used in this Mexican meal.
  • Sugars, syrups, and honey will provide even more flavor while simultaneously improving the meat's browning. And oils like olive oil, canola oil, and vegetable oil will also enhance the char on the outside of your carne asada.
  • Acids like citrus juices, wine, and apple cider vinegar are often used in a marinade. They serve to break down the meat fibers, tenderizing the meat in the process.
  • Similarly, proteases like meat tenderizers and soy sauce can also help soften tough connective tissues in this Mexican dish.

Most marinades combine these ingredients to give you the best of all worlds.

This is why you will often see recipes that combine flavor ingredients, an acidic ingredient like lime juice or orange juice, and a sweetener like syrup or honey.

Once your marinade is complete, place it in a large or medium bowl to cover the meat. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate the steak in the liquid for at least two hours.

Twenty-four hours in the marinade will give even more time for the flavors to permeate the meat.

Then, remove the steak from the marinade and grill it over very high heat. Any excess marinade can be discarded.

The Best Way to Cook Carne Asada

An image of carne asada on a grill

There are a few different ways to cook marinated carne asada, but the best way is definitely on an open fire or outdoor grill. The hot coals impart a unique flavor to this Mexican cuisine that you can't get from other methods.

If you don't have a charcoal grill, or if it is not practical to use one, you can cook your skirt steak or flank in a cast-iron grill pan on the stovetop.

This will give you a good sear on the outside of the meat, but it will not have that wonderful smoky flavor.

"Carne asada is an excellent source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, iron, selenium, and zinc; and a good source of fiber."
- New Mexico Beef Council

Initially, sear the meat in a smoking hot cast-iron pan to get a solid char on the outside. Then, move the lean flank steak to an area of medium-high heat and cook until it reaches your desired level of doneness.

Remember, you want to cook your flank steak rare or medium rare for the best results. This will ensure that the meat is tender and juicy.

Anything more than that, the steak will become tough and dry. Use a meat thermometer in your marinated flank steak for the best results.

Once your skirt steaks are cooked, remove them from the cast-iron pan and allow them to rest for a few minutes - do not serve immediately.

This will allow the juices to redistribute throughout the marinated meat, ensuring they don't all run out when you cut into it.

The key to a delicious carne asada is having high-quality meat in a flavorful marinade. For top-tier steak delivered directly to your door, look at our roundup of meat delivery services.


What Cut of Meat Is Carne Asada?

Carne asada is not limited to any particular cut of meat. However, flank and skirt steak are commonly used because they are both flavorful and reasonably priced.

What Is Carne Asada Made Out Of?

Carne asada is made out of beef. Carne asada tacos and other Mexican dishes with this marinated beef are distinct from recipes using other meat.


  1. https://web.archive.org/web/20190320215632/http://www.mexiconewsnetwork.com/en/gastronomy/carne-asada-norteno-tradition/
  2. https://www.mashed.com/702961/the-untold-truth-of-carne-asada/
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About the author

Arianna Foster
Nutritionist/Editorial Director
Arianna Foster is the editorial director and senior reviewer at Carnivore Style. She loves sharing her passion for nutrition, diverse cooking techniques, and the many health benefits of a meat diet with readers.
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