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With all the fajitas and pollo asado and guacamole and salsa here on Wholesome Yum, it’s probably no surprise that Mexican food is by far one of my favorite cuisines. It’s usually very easy, the flavors are bright with a hint of spice, and it’s almost always packed with fresh, simple ingredients. This carne asada recipe is no exception — and there are endless ways to turn this one dish into so many different meals.
What Is Carne Asada?
Carne asada is a Mexican steak dish that is marinated, grilled or seared, and then sliced. It literally translates to “grilled meat” or “roast meat” in Spanish. It’s often used as a component of other Mexican dishes like tacos, burritos, tortas, or even salads.
This carne asada marinade is loaded with classic Mexican flavors like lime, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, and cumin. It reminds me a little bit of chimichurri sauce, but with bolder undertones. After marinating, I’ll show you how to make carne asada meat on the grill or on the stovetop, with minimal effort. It feels like summer on a plate!
Why You’ll Love This Carne Asada Recipe
- Smoky, spicy, and savory flavors
- Perfect crust on the outside
- Juicy and tender on the inside
- Just 7 common, natural ingredients
- Fast and simple to make (with hands-off marinade)
- Naturally healthy and gluten-free
- Perfect for all kinds of Mexican meals
Ingredients & Substitutions
This section explains how to choose the best ingredients for carne asada steak, what each one does in the recipe, and substitution options. For measurements, see the recipe card below.
Selecting Your Steak:
The best meat for carne asada recipes would be flank steak or skirt steak. These cuts of beef have the perfect characteristics for this cooking method:
- Relatively lean – Lean meat does the best job of absorbing the flavors of the marinade.
- Good marbling – We want lean but not too lean. Marbling makes for a juicy, tender, and flavorful steak.
- Thin – This means the steak cooks quickly and evenly, absorbs the marinade well, and has plenty of surface area to form a crust on the outside.
That being said, if you have sirloin steak on hand, that will work as well. It will just take longer to cook and takes on less of the carne asada marinade flavor.
Carne Asada Marinade:
Carne asada marinade recipe comes together in just a few minutes, with fresh, simple ingredients:
- Olive Oil – You can also use other heat-safe cooking oils, such as avocado oil.
- Lime Juice – The acidity from lime juice not only adds flavor, it also helps to break down tough muscle fibers, making the meat more tender and allowing the marinade to penetrate deeper. You could also use lemon juice instead. While bottled versions work, fresh juice tastes best here.
- Jalapeno – Mince them finely. You can leave the seeds in the marinade for a little heat, or remove them for milder result. I recommend wearing gloves when you cut the pepper, so none of its oils will burn your hands (or eyes)!
- Garlic – I used fresh garlic, but you can substitute 2 teaspoons of jarred minced garlic instead.
- Fresh Cilantro – Adds a bright and fresh flavor to make the best carne asada marinade in my book. You can use other fresh herbs here if you’re not a cilantro fan.
- Spices – My version keeps it simple with just cumin, sea salt, and black pepper, but see variations below.
- Sea Salt & Black Pepper
VARIATION: Add other Mexican spices!
Chili powder, coriander, oregano, and paprika (or smoked paprika) all make nice additions for additional flavor and aroma.
How To Make Carne Asada
This section shows how to cook carne asada on the grill or stovetop, with step-by-step photos and details about the technique, to help you visualize it. For full instructions, including amounts and temperatures, see the recipe card below.
- Make the easy carne asada marinade. In a small bowl or jar, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, cumin, salt, and pepper.
- Marinate the steaks. Place the steak(s) in a glass baking dish. Pour the marinade over them and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- Cook. You can cook carne asada using a grill pan (or cast iron skillet) on the stovetop or using an outdoor grill. Preheat to medium-high heat first, then see the time chart below for cook times and recommended internal temperatures.
- Rest. This is important for juicy beef (and only takes 5 minutes), so don’t skip it!
- Slice. For a classic presentation, cut the steak into thin strips.
Cook Time Chart
Grilling carne asada and cooking it in a cast iron skillet (or grill pan) on the stovetop both take about the same amount of time. Typically, this cut is cooked to medium-rare, but you can choose your desired doneness. These times are based on 1-inch-thick steaks:
|Doneness||Internal Temperature||Cook Time Per Side|
|Rare||120 degrees F (49 degrees C)||2 minutes|
|Medium rare||130 degrees F (54 degrees C)||3-4 minutes|
|Medium||140 degrees F (60 degrees C)||5-6 minutes|
|Medium well||150 degrees F (66 degrees C)||7-8 minutes|
|Well done||160 degrees F (71 degrees C)||9-10 minutes|
The cook exact time will vary depending on the thickness of your steak, and the internal temperature will rise 5 more degrees higher than the above temps while resting. Your grill can also have an impact — the heat from gas grills (which I used to test this recipe) is not as intense as a charcoal grill, so carne asada might cook a bit more quickly on a charcoal grill.
Tips For The Best Carne Asada
Not all carne asada recipes are created equal. With some simple tips, you can ensure you end up with the juiciest, most flavorful steak possible! Here are a few tips for making it perfect:
- Marinate for no longer than 12 hours. I recommend anywhere from 2-12 hours, but no longer as you don’t want to end up with mushy meat.
- Bring your steak to room temperature before cooking. Remove your steak from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking. This makes it cook more evenly, but you can skip this step if you forget.
- Cook over medium-high heat. A blast of heat makes the carne asada cook fast, which translates to a nice outer crust (yes please!) and ensures that the inside doesn’t overcook (no thanks!).
- Use a meat thermometer. A probe thermometer is my favorite because I don’t have to monitor it and it beeps when the steak is ready, but a regular meat thermometer works as well. If you have neither, use the time chart above.
- Let it rest. Don’t forget to rest the steak after cooking! This is important because it lets the juices redistribute in the meat for a juicy result.
- Slice against the grain. For a more tender meat, slice the carne asada against the direction of the muscle fibers. This will help break down the muscle fibers and make each bite more tender.
- Store: Wrap leftovers tightly in a plastic wrap or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- Meal prep: Make the marinade in the morning or mid day and let the steak marinate until it’s time for dinner. If you want to prep it further ahead than the 12 hours, you can mix the marinade ahead but only add the steak 2-12 hours before cooking.
- Reheat: Wrap the meat in aluminum foil and place in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes, until warm.
- Freeze: Wrap leftovers tightly in plastic wrap, and place in a freezer bag or an airtight container. Store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
What To Serve With Carne Asada Recipes
Traditionally, this meat is served as a component of a meal, but you can really go in so many directions with it:
- Tacos – Make carne asada tacos with corn tortillas, flour tortillas, fresh jicama tortillas, healthy cauliflower tortillas, or even grain-free almond flour tortillas. For the fixings, try avocado (or guacamole), shredded cheese, fresh cilantro, chimichurri sauce, and fresh tomato salsa (or avocado salsa verde).
- Greens – Serve the steak over a bed of greens with fresh veggies, like tomatoes and avocado. You can also replace the meat in taco salad with carne asada instead.
- Lettuce Wraps – If you want to avoid tortillas altogether, stuff the carne asada and your favorite fixings into lettuce leaves instead.
- Carne Asada Fries – Make fries using your favorite method, then top them with the sliced steak, guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream. You can also use the same toppings over air fryer sweet potatoes.
- Nachos – Make homemade nachos with shredded lettuce, onion, olives, fresh tomato salsa, sour cream, guacamole, or slow cooker queso.
- Carne Asada Burritos – Tuck the fixings suggested above into burritos along with rice (or cauliflower rice), or add it to a healthy burrito bowl.
- Sides – Pair this Mexican dish with a side of black bean soup (or plain beans), Elote, or cilantro lime cauliflower rice.
More Easy Mexican Recipes
Mexican-inspired meals are my fave because they’re so fast, easy, and fresh! Try these next:
- Glass Baking Dish – These are great for storage, but also for marinating meats.
- Cast Iron Grill Pan – My favorite pan to make carne asada when it’s too cold to grill outside. You still get the grill marks!
- Meat Thermometer – Use a probe thermometer for grilling carne asada fuss-free (I’ll never cook steak without it again!), or a regular meat thermometer.
Carne Asada Recipe
Carne Asada Recipe (With Easy Marinade)
This easy carne asada recipe has the BEST marinade for juicy meat, with just 7 common ingredients! It's perfect for tacos, salad, and more.
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Tap on the times in the instructions below to start a kitchen timer while you cook.
In a small bowl, whisk together all the carne asada marinade ingredients (everything except the steak).
Place the steaks in a single layer in a glass baking dish. Pour the marinade over the steaks and turn to coat.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 12 hours. (The meat may get mushy if you marinate for longer.)
If you have time, remove the steak from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. (This is optional, but will help the meat cook more evenly.)
Preheat an outdoor grill over medium-high heat for at least 10 minutes, or a grill pan (or cast iron skillet) on the stovetop for at least 2-3 minutes.
Place the steak(s) on the grill over direct heat, or onto the grill pan or skillet on the stove. Cook for 2 minutes per side for rare, 3-4 minutes per side for medium-rare, 5-6 minutes per side for medium, 7-8 minutes per side for medium-well, or 9-10 minutes per side for well done. (Medium-rare is recommended for carne asada.) For best results, use a probe thermometer or meat thermometer to cook to 120 degrees F for rare, 130 degrees F for medium-rare, 140 degrees F for medium, 150 degrees F for medium-well, or 160 degrees F for well done.
Rest for 5 minutes. (The internal temperature will rise an additional 5 degrees.)
Slice the carne asada very thinly against the grain.
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Serving size: 5-6 ounces of steak
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