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Carne asada tacos layer super-flavorful marinated, grilled steak with your choice of simple, savory toppings. Don’t miss them.

carne asada tacos
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Why we love this recipe

Carne asada (Spanish for “grilled meat”) always feels to me like it was meant to be. A simple, perfectly balanced marinade imparts tons of flavor while tenderizing a sinewy cut of beef. Quick, blazing-hot grilling creates a beautiful crust outside and leaves the inside a perfect medium-rare.

And carne asada tacos? Almost too good to be true. This recipe:

  • Packs a flavor punch
  • Is a favorite among both kids and adults
  • Makes a flexible, customizable meal
  • Comes together quickly and easily once marinated

I first published this recipe here back in 2018. I’ve since updated the post for clarity and also made a few tweaks to the recipe itself.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

For the beef

ingredients in bowls
  • You can use skirt, flank, hanger, or flat iron steak for carne asada. These are all flavorful, relatively inexpensive cuts of beef. When marinated, grilled to medium-rare over a very hot grill and sliced thinly against the grain, they’ll be beautifully tender, too. If you’d like to learn more, I’ve included a section below that highlights the differences among these steaks.
  • Acid is an important component of a marinade that both flavors and tenderizes. For a beautiful spectrum of flavor, we’ll use red wine vinegar, freshly squeezed orange juice, and freshly squeezed lime juice.
  • A little bit of molasses serves several roles: it balances the acidity, helps tenderize the meat, and helps the steak brown on the grill. You can use an equal amount of brown sugar if you prefer.
  • For savoriness (and to help tenderize), you’ll use both soy sauce and salt.
  • I find that more and more, I’m tending toward dried herbs, alliums, and spices to flavor my marinades. While you could use fresh garlic, onion, and chili, I’m happy to take advantage of the convenience of garlic powder, onion powder, and ancho chili powder to impart even, well-distributed seasoning to this dish, without the risk of scorching.
  • The olive oil in the marinade also ensures that the meat won’t stick to the grill grates. You don’t need to use anything fancy.

For the tacos

ingredients in bowls
  • Here’s how to make a beautiful batch of pickled red onions. It’s quick and easy, and they keep well in the fridge for a month.
  • Refried beans aren’t strictly necessary, but I like to include them as a base layer in these tacos. They’d also be great on the side. You can use your favorite canned variety or make your own.
  • You can use any taco-sized tortillas that you like. I’ve pictured one of my favorite brands of corn tortillas. Or level up and make your own.
  • Carne asada tastes great with a wide variety of cheeses (or without, for a dairy-free variation). I typically choose tangy crumbled cotija or queso blanco.

My favorite sources for meat & pantry staples

For years, I’ve been sourcing our meat from ButcherBox. We love this curated meat delivery service, which provides grass-finished beef, heritage breed pork, organic chicken, and more from small farms direct to the customer. You can learn more in my extensive Butcher Box review and unboxing.

I love Thrive Market for a wide variety of products. Often described as one part Whole Foods, one part Costco, they’re a membership-based online market for healthier products at discounted prices. Plus, they’re mission-driven, engaged in the community, and not currently owned by a giant corporation. You can learn more in my Thrive Market review and unboxing.

Skirt vs. flank vs. hanger vs. flat iron

Here’s an overview of the differences between these flat cuts of beef, any of which will work well for carne asada tacos.

  • Skirt steak is a long, thin piece from the short plate of the cow (part of the belly, below the rib). It’s the fattiest of the four cuts and has a well-developed beefy flavor. It has a thick grain and a lot of connective tissue, which marinating helps to tenderize.
  • Flank steak is wider, shorter, and thicker than skirt steak. It comes from the flank of the cow, lower on the abdomen than the plate. It has a similar texture to skirt steak, but with less marbling and even more connective tissue.
  • Hanger steak also comes from the plate, but is actually very tender, since it sits in a less-used area of muscle. This long, narrow, and thick cut doesn’t have to be marinated but still takes beautifully to marinating and grilling.
  • Flat iron steak comes from the shoulder. Compared to the other cuts, it is thicker, shorter, and much more uniform in shape. It has a rich beefy flavor and plenty of marbling. While tender enough to cook without marinating, it, too, takes well to marinating and grilling.

Equipment

In case you’re in the market, we’ve had this grill for quite a few seasons now, and I love it. If you don’t have a grill, you can still make these tacos — just follow the indoor cooking instructions in the recipe card below.

How to make it

Here’s an overview of what you’ll do to make a great batch of carne asada tacos. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step
  1. First you’ll mix up the marinade. You can do this in a wide, shallow baking dish, but I like to use a zip-top gallon bag to help the marinade coat all parts of the steak.
  2. Add the meat and squeeze most of the air out of the bag. Marinate for two hours at cool room temperature or up to 24 hours in the fridge, turning occasionally.
  3. Grill to medium-rare over direct heat. Let sit for 10 minutes, then slice thinly against the grain.
  4. To assemble the tacos, heat the tortillas and layer on the refried beans (if using), steak, pickled onions, cheese, and cilantro. Give it all a big squeeze of lime. That’s it!
carne asada tacos

Expert tips and FAQs

How should I serve carne asada tacos?

You can assemble the tacos for everyone if you like, but we prefer to put all the ingredients out on the serving table and let people taco themselves. Kids always seem to eat better when they’re in control of the assembly process, and this goes for some adults, too.

Can I make this recipe in advance? What about leftovers?

You’ll need to marinate the steak for at least two hours, up to 24. After that, everything comes together quickly and easily. I prefer to grill the steak shortly before serving, but if you need to grill it in advance, that’s okay. You can reheat sliced steak with a very brief stint in the microwave at half power.

Pickled onions can be made well in advance, since they keep beautifully in the fridge for a month. Prep the other toppings and heat tortillas at serving time.

Assemble tacos right before serving (or better yet, let diners assemble their own).

Leftover steak will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week.

More favorite taco recipes with meat

carne asada tacos

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carne asada tacos
4.84 from 12 votes

Carne Asada Tacos Recipe

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
Carne asada tacos layer super-flavorful marinated, grilled steak with your choice of simple, savory toppings. Don't miss them.
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 7 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total: 2 hours 37 minutes
Servings: 8
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Ingredients 

  • 2 pounds (907 grams) skirt, flank, hanger, or flat iron steak

For the marinade

  • ¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) molasses
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt

To serve

  • 2 16- ounce cans refried beans
  • 24 taco-size corn tortillas
  • 2 ripe Hass avocados, sliced
  • Pickled red onions
  • 8 ounces queso blanco or cotija cheese, crumbled
  • 1 handful cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges

Instructions 

  • Pat steak dry with paper towels. If there is If pieces are too long to fit on grill, cut into manageable sections. 
  • In a gallon-size zip top bag, mix together the olive oil, orange juice, lime juice, vinegar, soy sauce, molasses, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, and salt.
  • Add meat to bag. Squeeze out most of the air from the bag and seal. Arrange bag so all meat is in contact with marinade.
  • Marinate at cool room temperature for two hours, on in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, turning the bag over occasionally.
  • About 45 minutes before you're ready to eat, preheat grill to high. 
  • Remove steak from bag and let excess marinade drip off, leaving a little bit clinging to the meat.
  • Arrange meat in a single, uncrowded layer on the grill, all over direct heat. Grill the steak until nicely browned on the underside, 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Flip once and grill until internal temperature reaches 120°-125°F for medium-rare. (Temperature will continue to rise while the meat rests.) Timing will vary quite a bit depending on the cut and thickness of the steak. A thin skirt steak will be done very quickly, and a thicker cut will take longer. While personal preference plays a part, it's widely agreed that all of these cuts thrive at medium-rare.
  • Let steak rest for 10 minutes, then slice thinly against the grain.
  • While steak rests, warm refried beans and tortillas and prepare the toppings. Set out ingredients buffet-style or assemble tacos by layering some beans, steak, avocado, onions, cheese, and cilantro onto each tortilla.

Notes

  1. You can use skirt, flank, hanger, or flat iron steak for carne asada. These are all flavorful, relatively inexpensive cuts of beef. When marinated, grilled to medium-rare over a very hot grill and sliced thinly against the grain, they'll be beautifully tender, too. If you'd like to learn more, I've included a section in the post above that highlights the differences among these steaks.
  2. A little bit of molasses serves several roles: it balances the acidity, helps tenderize the meat, and helps the steak brown on the grill. You can use an equal amount of brown sugar if you prefer.
  3. Refried beans aren't strictly necessary, but I like to include them as a base layer in these tacos. They'd also be great on the side. You can use your favorite canned variety or make your own.
  4. You can use any taco-sized tortillas that you like. I've pictured one of my favorite brands of corn tortillas. Or level up and make your own.
  5. Carne asada tastes great with a wide variety of cheeses (or without, for a dairy-free variation). I typically choose tangy crumbled cotija or queso blanco.
  6. Make-ahead instructions: You'll need to marinate the steak for at least two hours, up to 24. After that, everything comes together quickly and easily. I prefer to grill the steak shortly before serving, but if you need to grill it in advance, that's okay. You can reheat sliced steak with a very brief stint in the microwave at half power. Pickled onions can be made well in advance, since they keep beautifully in the fridge for a month. Prep the other toppings and heat tortillas at serving time. Assemble tacos right before serving (or better yet, let diners assemble their own).
  7. Leftover steak will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week.
  8. Indoor cooking instructions: If you don't have a grill or prefer to cook indoors, you can broil or pan-sear the steak. To broil, preheat broiler to high and place a rack as close as possible to the heat source. Place steak on a foil-lined rimmed sheet pan and broil according to the same timing and doneness indicators used for grilling. To pan-sear, preheat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over high heat on the stovetop. Cook steak, in batches if necessary, according to the same timing and doneness indicators used for grilling. Regardless of method, let steak rest for 10 minutes before slicing thinly against the grain.

Nutrition

Calories: 522kcal, Carbohydrates: 20.9g, Protein: 39.8g, Fat: 31g, Fiber: 8.1g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Mexican-Inspired
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

4.84 from 12 votes (12 ratings without comment)

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