I grew up in Southern California, where carne asadas (or barbecues) were a weekly occurrence for my family. It was a way for us to get together at the end of the week and catch up, and a great excuse to turn on the grill and enjoy the warm sunny weather.
On the table we could always expect a variety of dishes, like ensalada de nopales (cactus salad), salsas, guacamole, arroz rojo (Mexican red rice), and frijoles refritos (refried beans) as well as frijoles charros (cowboy beans). The star of the show was always the carne asada.
What Is Arrachera?
My family used diezmillo de res, or thinly sliced beef chuck, to make carne asada. My cut of choice for carne asada is arrachera, or skirt steak. It’s a popular cut of beef for carne asada, and is a marbled, slightly thicker piece of beef than diezmillo.
I think arrachera is a better cut for carne asada because it leaves more room for error on the grill and it takes marinades very well, keeping it tender and juicy.
Prepare the Marinade
To prepare arrachera, I start by making a marinade. Traditionally, a marinade for carne asada consists of either orange juice or lime juice (or a combination of both), a splash of Mexican beer like Corona or Modelo, as well as onion and cilantro.
I take my marinade up a notch by including fresh sweet pineapple juice to balance out the tart and sharp notes from the citrus, as well as opting for green onions instead of white and adding a serrano pepper for even more depth.
Fresh pineapple juice is often used in marinades because it carries an enzyme called bromelain which helps tenderize the protein in meat. I highly recommend marinating the arrachera for 3 to 4 hours before cooking so the meat has ample time to absorb all of the flavor.
Cook the Arrachera
To grill the arrachera, preheat the grill to high and grill for 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Alternatively, you can cook the arrachera indoors on the stovetop. Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat and cook for 4 to 5 minutes per side.
How to Serve
There are many ways to serve arrachera. Aside from using it for tacos, you can also use it as a filling for tortas (sandwiches) or fajitas, but my personal favorite is using arrachera for vampiros.
Vampiros are a type of taco that originated in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico and consist of corn tortillas topped with shredded queso Oaxaca (or mozzarella). The residual heat from the grill cooks the tortilla until it is nice and crunchy and curls slightly inward, mimicking the shape of a bat or vampire. It’s then topped with chopped cabbage, salsa roja, and a generous scoop of guacamole.
To accompany arrachera, you can’t go wrong with the traditional frijoles de la olla (stove top beans), refried beans (or frijoles puercos), or frijoles charros topped with crispy chorizo and queso fresco. Arroz Mexicano, or fluffy cilantro lime rice, are also good choices.
Storing and Reheating
Store leftover arrachera in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes until warmed through, or on a skillet over medium-low heat for 3 to 4 minutes until warmed through.
More Meaty Mains on the Grill
- Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip
- Grilled Pork Chops with Adobo Paste
- Grilled Korean BBQ Pork Ribs (Dwaeji Galbi)
- Grilled Dukkah-Crusted Chicken with Lemon Hummus
Make the marinade:
Add the onions, garlic cloves, cilantro leaves, and serrano pepper to a blender or small food processor. Pour in the pineapple juice, beer, and lime juice. Add in the oil and salt, then blend until completely smooth.
Marinate the steak:
Place the skirt steak inside a gallon-size resealable plastic bag, then pour in the marinade. Gently press out the air and seal. Make sure to massage the bag to ensure all of the steak is covered in the marinade. Let the skirt steak marinate in the fridge for 3 to 4 hours.
Grill the steak:
Once you’re ready to grill, preheat the grill to high heat. If needed, clean and oil the grates.
Remove the steak from the marinade and place flat on the grill, cooking for 4 to 5 minutes. Once the steak releases from the grill, flip and grill for 2 to 5 minutes more for medium doneness, depending on the thickness of the steak and the temperature of your grill. The internal temperature should be 140 to 145°F.
Rest and slice:
Let rest for 5 minutes, then cut the steak crossways into 3 to 4-inch pieces. Slice the pieces lengthwise into thin strips, against the grain. Alternatively, dice for tacos.
Refrigerate leftover arrachera in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes until warmed through, or on a skillet over medium-low heat for 3 to 4 minutes until warmed through.
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