Memorial Day is the unofficial start of barbecue season, especially around here in the Pacific Northwest. While some diehards grill year-round, others wait for the warmer months so they can enjoy a beer outdoors while tending to the fire. Traditional Memorial Day barbecues feature hot dogs and hamburgers. I wanted to take a different approach this year, one with a Latin American twist. So I thought I would spend my Memorial Day enjoying some grilled carne asada.
Memorial Day is about honoring and remembering those who died in the service of their country. It’s also about coming together and celebrating. Which is why grilled carne asada is a perfect menu choice. Latin American cultures are well known for their ability to gather as a group and celebrate. Whether you are family, friends, or neighbors, you will have a spot at the table for some great South of the Border barbecue.
Ingredients For Delectable Grilled Carne Asada
Carne asada can come in many different varieties. When translated into English it literally means grilled meat. For the purpose of this recipe we are using skirt steak. Depending on where you shop, you might find pre-packaged slices of meat called carne asada meat. Some people also use flank steak. Carne asada, however, is typically skirt steak. Skirt steak comes from the plate cut of beef, between the front shank and the flank. There shouldn’t be a ton of connective tissue or fat, but you should see very obvious muscle fibers. This will come into play later when it comes to slicing, as you are going to want to slice against the grain.
The rest of the ingredients will be making up the marinade. They include both wet and dry ingredients. Starting off with the wet ingredients we have the juice of one lemon, one lime, and one orange. For added citrus flavor you can zest peel of one, or all, of your citrus fruits into the marinade. I suggest getting yourself a zester like the OXO Good Grips Etched Zester, and zesting your fruits before cutting and juicing. A majority of the flavor comes from the oils within the peel of these fruits.
You’ll also want to add olive oil and apple cider vinegar. This will help in coating all of the ingredients of the marinade to the meat. It also adds acidity and will help tenderize the meat as well as provide flavor.
For dry ingredients, you’re going to want to add cumin and coriander seed. Whole seeds are best if you have a molcajete or spice grinder, but pre-ground will work as well. Be sure they are thoroughly mixed into the liquid ingredients. Add salt and pepper to your taste.
For fresh produce you’ll want to use cilantro, finally chopped. You can use both the stems and the leaves. Just be sure to rinse well, as cilantro that is fresh can have dirt and mud on it from where it was harvested. For an added kick of heat finely dice up a jalapeno pepper that has been seeded with the stem removed. You’ll also want to dice 2-4 cloves of garlic.
Marinating the Skirt Steak: Enhancing Flavor and Tenderness
Before adding your meat to the marinade be sure to trim it. Skirt steak shouldn’t need too much trimming, just any loose pieces of fat or connective tissue. This particular recipe, and this cut of me in general, is going to cook at a very high temperature very quickly. Which doesn’t leave much time for big pieces of fat or connective tissue to break down as you would expect in cooks like a brisket or pork shoulder. Hot and fast is the name of the game with carne asada.
Once all of your marinade ingredients are mixed dip your skirt steak into their marinade. Be sure to coat both sides as if you are dredging chicken through a breading mixture. Place the skirt steak into a glass container and pour any remaining marinade over it. Place the container in the refrigerator for anywhere from 30 minutes up to 8 hours. Any longer than 8 hours and the acidity of the vinegar and citrus juice will begin to break the meat down.
Preparing the Grill: Setting Up for Grilling Success
For this recipe I am using my Weber kettle Grill. Starting off with a charcoal chimney, place bunched up newspaper in the bottom section of the chimney and fill the top section with charcoal briquettes. Light the newspaper in the bottom section of the chimney and allow roughly 15 minutes for the briquettes to heat up. When your briquettes are ready, place in the bottom layer of the Weber kettle. Place the grill grate back on the top layer and put the lid on the kettle to allow it to heat.
I allow my Kettle to heat up for another 5 to 10 minutes and scrub the top grill grate. This is important because there may be some remaining bits from your previous cook still on there. Vent management is an important part of using a Weber kettle Grill. I leave both my bottom vents and top vents wide open. This is especially important when starting the grill and bring it up to a temperature. Keeping the vents closed will starve your briquettes of oxygen and your heat source will burn out quickly.
Step-by-Step Guide: Grilling the Carne Asada to Perfection
Once your grill is fired up, up to temperature, and cleaned, throw your marinated carne asada on. It should be placed directly over the hottest part of the grill. As mentioned before, this is a hot and fast cook. Depending on the thickness of your skirt steak and your preference for the doneness of your beef, grill anywhere from 3 to 7 minutes per side. The juices from the marinade should be dripping off directly over the coals. This could cause some flare-ups, so keep an eye out. However, the drippings onto the charcoal briquettes also add additional flavor to the meat.
Resting and Slicing: Key Steps for Juicy and Tender Results
As with most grilled and barbecued meats, resting after removing from the heat source is very important. For this recipe, allowing the meat to rest from 5 to 10 minutes will allow the juices and fats to redistribute themselves within the meat. Slicing too soon and all of those flavorful juices are just going to end up on the cutting board. This is a great opportunity to throw some tortillas on the grill!
Once the meat has rested, slicing is very important. Skirt steak can be a relatively tough cut of meat if it’s not treated properly. Before slicing, look carefully at the direction of the muscle fibers in the meat. You want to cut against the grain of the muscle fibers, which means perpendicular to the direction they are running. Slicing skirt steak in this way will make the meat easier to chew and bite from, as it should pull apart easily.
Serving Suggestions: Tacos and Accompaniments for an Authentic Experience
I love a good taco, which is exactly how I served up my carne asada for this recipe. You can also put thin strips of carne asada into a burrito, include it into nachos, or add your favorite toppings into a taco bowl with some rice and beans. However you choose to serve your carne asada, most likely the first bite is going to come when you’re standing at the cutting board slicing it up!
Any leftover carne asada (I know, totally crazy, leftovers?!) can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to a week. Or it can be kept frozen for up to a year. Grilled carne asada is a perfect freezer prep meat. When sliced very thin, it can defrost quickly for simple weeknight meals when you are on the go.
However you choose to serve your carne asada, enjoy it with a group! If you try my recipe let me know what you think!
Grilled Carne Asada
- 2 pounds skirt steak
- 1 jalapeño seeded and minced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1 orange juiced and zested
- 1 lime juiced and zested
- 1 lemon juiced and zested
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- salt and pepper to taste
- Zest your citrus fruit into a mixing bowl.
- In a food processor add your rinsed cilantro, minced garlic, cumin, coriander, jalapeno, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and lemon, lime, and orange juice.
- Pulse the food processor until all ingredients are finely chopped and well mixed.
- Pour the contents of the food processor into the mixing bowl and stir well.
- Dip your trimmed skirt steak into the marinade, fully coating both sides, then place into a glass container. Pour the remaining marinade over the skirt steak and place into the fridge for 30 minutes to 8 hours.
- About 30-45 minutes before you want to eat, pull the meat out and allow it to come to room temperature on the counter. While the meat is coming to room temperature, start your grill and set it for high heat.
- Once your grill is ready, place the meat over the heat source and cook for 5-8 minutes per side (depending on the thickness and preferred doneness).
- Remove your cooked carne asada from the grill and allow to rest 5-10 minutes before slicing against the grain and serving.
Cocktails to Pair with Grilled Carne Asada
- The Dirty Shirley – a quick and easy crowd-pleaser.
- Peach Cilantro Mojito – perfect for any summer barbeque.
- Hurricane – only for the brave who plan on sticking around for a while or getting a ride home!
Sides to Pair with Grilled Carne Asada
- BBQ Asparagus – simple, sweet, and tangy side dish perfect for that late spring and early summer BBQ
- Spicy Smoked Veggies – they are hot, you’ve been warned!
- 5 Ingredient Smoked Carrots – the easiest BBQ side dish around!
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