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What is the best beef for carne asada?

Carne asada is a popular Mexican dish of grilled and sliced beef. When selecting the right cut of beef for carne asada, there are a few key factors to consider:


You’ll want a cut of beef that is tender and slices easily when grilled. The most tender cuts come from the loin section of the cow. This includes cuts like:

  • Strip loin (New York strip)
  • Tenderloin
  • Top sirloin

These cuts have less connective tissue and marbling that helps keep them moist and tender during the grilling process.


Beefy, robust flavor is important for carne asada. While tenderloin is exceptionally tender, it lacks the rich beefiness desired in carne asada.

Cuts from the loin or rib section offer more beefy flavor. The sirloin also offers great flavor for carne asada.


You want some marbling (intramuscular fat) in the cut you choose. This adds juiciness and flavor when grilled. Heavily marbled cuts like prime ribeye are excellent choices. Lean cuts can become tough and dry on the grill.

Recommended Cuts for Carne Asada

Taking tenderness, flavor, and marbling into account, here are the best cuts of beef for carne asada:

  • Ribeye – Well-marbled with great flavor. The cap on the ribeye offers extra richness.
  • Strip Loin (New York Strip) – Tender with good marbling and beefy flavor.
  • Top Sirloin – Budget-friendly choice that is tasty and tender.
  • Tri-Tip – Flavorful with decent tenderness and marbling.
  • Skirt Steak – Thinly cut and flavorful. Needs to be sliced against the grain.
  • Flank Steak – Relatively tender and lean. Must be sliced against the grain.

Quality and Grade

Selecting high quality beef regardless of the cut will result in the best carne asada. Look for beef that is certified USDA Choice or Prime. The higher levels of marbling in these grades adds moisture and flavor. Lower quality beef may turn out tough and flavorless on the grill.

Most beef labeled “Select” grade at the grocery store makes decent carne asada but Prime and Choice are better. Grass-fed beef works fine as long as it has good marbling.

Proper Thickness

The thickness of the raw steak is important for proper cooking and slicing. Here are good thicknesses to aim for:

  • Strip, Ribeye, Top Sirloin – 3/4 inch to 1 inch thick
  • Skirt, Flank, Tri-Tip – 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch

If the steak is too thin it will overcook. If it’s too thick it won’t cook through. Shoot for the thickness recommendations above.

Against the Grain

Always slice carne asada against the grain of the meat fibers. This ensures it will be tender.

Look at the direction of the meat fibers in the raw steak and then slice perpendicular to them. This goes for any carne asada, but especially important for tougher cuts like skirt or flank steak.

Marinade Time

A good marinade adds lots of flavor and tenderizes the beef. For best results, marinate the beef for 1-2 days in the refrigerator. This allows the acidic ingredients like citrus juice to break down the meat fibers.

If you don’t have that much time, you can get away with just 2-4 hours of marinating. But the longer the better!

Cooking Over High Heat

Carne asada is best when grilled over high heat. This gives it a nice char while cooking the inside quickly to prevent toughening. Heat your gas or charcoal grill as hot as possible, aiming for at least 450°F to 500°F at the grilling surface.

Let the meat rest a few minutes after grilling before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute.

The Best Cuts for Carne Asada

To summarize, here are the best cuts of beef for authentic carne asada:

Cut Description
Ribeye Most tender and well-marbled. Provides rich, beefy flavor.
Strip Loin (New York Strip) Tender with good marbling. Full beef flavor.
Top Sirloin Budget-friendly but still tender and flavorful.
Tri-Tip Good tenderness and marbling with robust flavor.
Skirt Steak Thinly cut and packed with flavor. Must slice against grain.
Flank Steak Relatively tender but needs to be sliced properly.

For the very best results, choose USDA Prime or Choice grade beef exhibiting good marbling. Allow 1-2 days to marinate the steaks for enhanced flavor and tenderness.

Grill the carne asada over high heat, letting it char on the outside while cooking to medium doneness inside. Let rest before slicing thinly against the grain. Serve this flavorful grilled steak on warm corn tortillas with your favorite taco toppings!

Tips for Flavorful Carne Asada

Here are some additional tips for getting the most flavor and tenderness out of your carne asada:

  • Use a strongly flavored marinade that includes ingredients like garlic, citrus juice, cilantro, cumin, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, or oregano.
  • Let the meat marinate in the fridge for 1-2 days, turning occasionally.
  • Bring the steaks to room temperature before grilling.
  • Pat the steaks dry before seasoning and grilling.
  • Season with just salt and pepper before grilling.
  • Get the grill very hot, around 500°F.
  • Use a digital thermometer to check doneness, removing at 135°F for medium-rare.
  • Let the steaks rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
  • Slice across the grain in thin slices for tenderness.
  • Serve with warm corn tortillas, guacamole, salsa, cilantro, lime, and onion.

Common Questions

What cut of steak is best for carne asada?

The best cuts for carne asada are ribeye, New York strip, top sirloin, tri-tip, skirt steak, and flank steak. Go for cuts from the loin and rib that offer tenderness, marbling, and beefy flavor.

Should carne asada be marinated?

Yes, marinating greatly enhances the flavor and tenderness of beef for carne asada. Let the meat soak for 1-2 days in the refrigerator, turning occasionally. The acidic marinade helps tenderize the meat.

How long should you marinate carne asada?

For best results, marinate the beef for 1-2 days. If you’re short on time, 2-4 hours of marinating will still add good flavor.

What is the best cut of steak for carne asada?

Ribeye is considered the absolute best cut for carne asada due to its tenderness, heavy marbling, and rich beefy flavor. New York strip, top sirloin, tri-tip and skirt steak are also excellent choices.

How do you keep carne asada juicy?

Choosing well-marbled cuts of beef ensures juicy carne asada. Marinating for 1-2 days also helps by tenderizing. Grill over high heat for a nice char while keeping the inside moist. Let the meat rest before slicing to retain juices.

Should you slice carne asada against the grain?

Always slice carne asada against the grain of the meat fibers. This results in the most tender texture. Look at the direction of the fibers and slice perpendicular to them.

Instructions for Grilling Perfect Carne Asada

Follow these steps for tender, juicy, and flavorful grilled carne asada steaks:

  1. Choose a well-marbled cut like ribeye, strip, or sirloin approximately 3/4 inch thick.
  2. Make a strongly flavored marinade with garlic, citrus, chili powder, cumin, etc.
  3. Place steaks in a shallow dish and cover with marinade. Refrigerate 1-2 days.
  4. Remove steaks from fridge and let come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  5. Pat the steaks very dry with paper towels.
  6. Season steaks lightly with salt and pepper.
  7. Prepare grill for direct high-heat cooking, around 500°F.
  8. Place steaks directly over the heat. Grill 2-4 minutes per side for medium doneness.
  9. Use a digital thermometer to check doneness, removing at 135°F.
  10. Transfer steaks to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes.
  11. Slice steaks thin against the grain to maximize tenderness.
  12. Serve the carne asada with warm corn tortillas, pico de gallo, guacamole, etc.


For fantastic carne asada, choose flavorful cuts like ribeye, strip, or sirloin. Marinate the steaks for 1-2 days for the most tender and flavorful results. Grill over high heat to get a nice char while keeping the interior moist. Let rest before slicing thinly against the grain. Follow these tips and you’ll be enjoying amazing carne asada tacos and fajitas!