by: Ruben Urias
There’s no better way to welcome the Spring and Summer weather than with outdoor grilling. Everyone has their favorite dishes, and each culture has a popular item. Among Mexican food fans, carne asada tops the list! When cooked briefly over the high heat of an outdoor grill, these thin cuts of beef brown beautifully and develop excellent flavor. With additional seasonings, these humble cuts of beef become something memorable!
The cuts of meat you need for making carne asada are most readily found in the butcher section of Mexican grocery stores or stand-alone “Carnicerias.” The meat in those stores will be sold under the name of “Carne de Res Ranchera” or “Aldilla.” Those stores will also sell these meats pre-seasoned or fresh, and will be labeled “preparada” or “fresca/sin preparada” respectively. It is also not uncommon to find these cuts of meats in popular warehouse retailers and national grocer chains labeled as skirt steak or flap meat.
As its English name implies, the skirt steaks and flap meat that are used in carne asada are very thin. But it’s this characteristic that makes them perfect for the high heat of your grill. Normally, these cuts of meat should not be more than 1/4 of an inch thick throughout, and preferably closer to 1/8 or less. So if for some reason, the meat you purchased is thicker, simply filet it or slice it across the grain at a steep angle to make thinner steaks. Once over the hot coals or pre-heated gas grill, these thin cuts of meat will cook rather quickly allowing them to remain tender and juicy.
The recipe below is for a semi-dry rub or marinade that I have worked on over the years. It combines spices, onions, and a touch of oil, to mildly boost the beef’s flavor without overwhelming it. For the purist, however, you may forget the marinade and simply season the beef with salt and pepper and grill per usual.
This recipe will serve 2-4 people depending on whether it is served straight, or as part of another dish, e.g. tacos, salad topping, etc.
- 1 lb. Skirt steak or flap meat; or unprepared carne de res ranchera/aldilla
- 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp. Ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. Paprika
- 1/4 tsp. Chili powder
- 1/4 tsp. Onion powder
- 1/8 tsp. Garlic powder
- 2 tbsp. cooking oil
- 2 oz. White/brown onion, 1/4 inch slices (a little less than 1/2 small onion)
- 2-3 Green onions, cut into 2-3 inch pieces, greens only
- Kitchen knife
- Cutting board
- Medium or large mixing bowl or sealable plastic bag
STEP 1: LAY THE STEAKS FLAT.
For best results in the seasoning process, lay the meat flat on a cutting surface. Doing so ensures that the twists and folds of these thin cuts of meat do not prevent even seasoning.
STEP 2: SEASON.
On the up-facing side of the meat only, evenly coat the steaks with the spices. Note that the measurements of the spices called for in the “Ingredients” section of this recipe are guidelines only. Depending on the specific batch of meat that I am working with, I have often found that the measurements vary slightly. Refer to the first picture above for a rough idea of how the meat should look after the seasoning is added.
Then, with the seasoned meat still lying flat, drizzle the oil over the top. Place into a mixing bowl or 1 gallon sealable, plastic bag and mix. Note that mixing by hand ensures the best coverage of the marinade, but use of a spoon or massaging the exterior of the plastic bag will work too with a little extra effort. The combination of the spices and oil will result in a slightly red mixture as seen in the second picture above.
Finally, add the sliced onions and green onions, and briefly mix to distribute them evenly. You may begin grilling immediately, but for best results, let the flavors meld for an hour or more, or even overnight.
Whether you are cooking over a gas or charcoal grill, a few things will be the same. First, you will need high heat. So prepare your grill accordingly. Second, be sure to season your grill grate. Preheat your grill and clean any stuck on dirt or debris from the grate. Next, wipe the grate with a rolled bunch of paper towels dipped in cooking oil to season it. Let the grill sit for a minute or so, and the grill is now ready for cooking.
Carefully lay the meat flat directly over the heat source. Allow the meat to cook for 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until you see juices starting to form on the up-facing side. This should give you a nice medium rare temperature. If you are using a charcoal grill, remember that the grill's temperature will gradually decrease the longer you are cooking. So be sure to adjust your cooking time as needed. When ready, remove the meat from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes or so.
You may easily adjust the cooking time to fit your preferred doneness, but I highly recommend to not go beyond medium-well as the meat may become tough. These cuts or meat are meant for high heat and quick grilling. So, too much time on the grill may toughen the meat.
SERVING CARNE ASADA
Carne asada is served in a number of different ways. You may serve each steak as an individual portion, or you may chop the meat into small pieces for use in other items. Chopped carne asada may be used for tacos, burritos, tostadas, or as a topping for salads, nachos, or any other Mexican favorite. And of course, the popular Mexican side dishes of rice, beans with cheese, tortillas, and salsa are welcomed companions.