The Ideal Cut Of Beef For Carne Asada, According To An Expert

Translating to "grilled meat" in Spanish, carne asada is more than just a dish — it's a celebration of flavors, culture, and the art of grilling. To achieve the perfect carne asada, the choice of beef cut plays a pivotal role, and understanding this dish is crucial for any aspiring grill master. While this classic recipe is often associated with one cut of beef in particular, it's time to reimagine which cuts of beef you can and should use.

According to the author of best-selling Mi Cocina, Chef Rick Martínez, you can use almost any kind of thinly cut beef. In his book, Martínez explains that meats prepared and sold for grilling in Mexico tend to be half an inch thick or thinner. Following the half-inch rule, he suggests using cuts of beef such as short ribs, ribeye, or even chuck steaks.

At its core, carne asada celebrates the meat. Traditionally, it's marinated with an array of flavors, from citrusy lime to fiery chilies and fragrant cilantro, before being swiftly seared on a hot grill. This fast and high-heat grilling imparts a smoky char on the outside, while the inside remains juicy and tender. Most importantly, carne asada is traditionally made using flank or skirt steak.

Why thin cuts are best

Known for their marbling and tenderness, short ribs provide a flavorful base for carne asada. While they're usually thick, asking your butcher to slice them thinly, or "flanken style," makes them perfect for this dish. Ribeye is a favorite for many due to its tenderness and rich marbling. A thin-sliced ribeye offers a perfect balance of fat and meat, ensuring every bite is succulent. Finally, while not as luxurious as ribeye, chuck steaks, when thinly sliced, can hold their own in a carne asada setting. They absorb the marinade beautifully and provide a robust beefy flavor.

While Martínez loves grilling these cuts of beef, it all comes down to the logistics of grilling the meat for carne asada. Thick cuts of meat require more time to cook thoroughly and can often end up unevenly cooked, with the exterior being overly charred while the inside remains undercooked. Thin cuts, on the other hand, ensure that the meat is cooked through perfectly in the short searing time, capturing the essence of the marinade and the smokiness of the grill uniformly.

So, the next time the grill beckons, remember to champion the thin cuts and let the carne asada festivities begin.