carne asada image for chef willie

Carne Asada – Grilled Mexican-style Steak

This is basically Mexican fast food – thinly sliced grilled beef in a warm flour or corn tortilla with salsa, rice, beans, cheese, shredded lettuce, guacamole, and hot sauce on the side.

My favorite cuts of beef for carne asada are skirt steaks, which are fairly thin to begin with, or hanger steaks, which are great if you can find them, both of which are well marbled and tasty.

After a little trimming to make them manageable on the grill, both skirt and hanger steaks benefit from a good chili rub or a quick marinade of chopped cilantro and garlic, lime juice and canola oil, even a shot of tequila doesn’t seem to hurt one bit, and by all means, season them with lots of Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

I grill my steaks over direct high heat on smoking hot grill grate, either over gas or a mesquite charcoal fire – till they’re well marked on all sides and a little crispy on the edges. Then I’ll move the steaks over indirect heat for 4 or 6 minutes more with the cover closed – to finish them to a nice medium-rare inside.

Then I transfer them to a platter, cover with foil and keep the beef warm and let it rest, which gives me plenty of time to warm up the tortillas, make a fresh salsa and a quick guacamole, heat up some rice and beans, shred a head of lettuce and get out the grated cheese and all my hot sauces.

All that’s left to do is slice the beef against the grain into thin strips, nice and red and juicy inside, and let everyone make their own burrito to their liking with all the ingredients set out before them. Now that’s a Mexican fast food party, better than any taco truck or taqueria in town.

This recipe makes 10-12 burritos or tacos. The key to a great burrito is not only really good ingredients, but not to overload. One skirt steak easily feeds 6 people.



An outdoor gas grill or a charcoal grill (with a cover)

A super-sharp big knife

A big metal bowl

A big spoon

2 forks

A clean cutting board

A shallow ceramic dish to marinate and serve the steak

Spring-loaded tongs

Aluminum foil



1 skirt steak, (or 2-3 hanger steaks), about 2 pounds

S and P


Chef Willie’s Note

I make the cilantro limemarinade by hand in my big bowl. It’s fairly straightforward – it’s a snap to pull together with a super-sharp knife and a big cutting board, but you could just throw everything in a food processor, pulse till everything is chopped up and get the same thing. But why bother getting another appliance dirty? Do it by hand. No big deal.



½ bunch cilantro

3 cloves garlic

½ cup canola oil

The juice of 2-3 limes

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 good pinch hot chili flakes

1 pinch ground cumin

2 shots Patron tequila – one for the cook and one for the steak

S and P



1. Unfold the skirt steak, trim of any excess fat or silverskin and cut the long steak into 3 or 4 pieces – so they’re easy to manage on the grill – and season the beef on all sides with salt and fresh ground black pepper. If using hanger steaks, trim them (if they need it), but leave them whole – about 10 inches long. (Or cut them in half, to about 5 inches long, so they’re easier to manage on the grill.)

2. Make the marinade: Wash and dry the cilantro and pick it over (no yellow or brown leaves or stems please). Mince the leaves with your best knife on a big cutting board (some of their tender stems are OK – no need to pick each leaf – which is a real time saver) and throw them into your big bowl with the canola oil. Chop and crush the garlic and make a paste with some salt (I use the back of my chef’s knife or two forks). Add the garlic to the bowl with the fresh lime juice, chili powder, hot chili flakes, cumin and stir. Take a shot of tequila and add one shot to the marinade. Pour it over the steaks in a shallow backing dish, turning the beef to coat on all sides. Let marinate at room temperature for a good ½ hour, while firing up the outdoor grill.

carne asada grill image for chef willie3. Grill the steaks over direct high heat 2 minutes per side, avoiding excessive flame-ups, till well charred with grill marks and a little crispy on the edges. Discard the marinade and wipe out the dish. Move the steaks over indirect heat, off to the side, close the cover and finish cooking the steaks 4-6 minutes more, till medium-rare to medium. Transfer the beef back to the dish, cover with foil and let rest 10 minutes. Keep them warm while assembling the rest of the ingredients for the burritos.

4. Use a big knife and slice the carne asada into thin strips against the grain and serve wrapped in flour or corn tortillas with fresh salsa, my quick guacamole, shredded lettuce, rice and beans, grated Monterey Jack cheese, with hot sauces on the side. Once you get the hang of it, you can even kiss the burritos on the hot grill to toast them a little, which gives them a nice charred crunch and a little smoky flavor.