Smoked Carne Asada Recipe – A Guide to Tender Flavorful Grilled Beef

October 6, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Smoked carne asada is a traditional beef recipe made from thinly sliced meat marinated in a blend of citrus juices, garlic, and spices

This is a beloved Mexican cuisine staple, and it’s something I know like the back of my hand. Carne asada was a part of my childhood while growing up in the south, surrounded by lovely Chicanos. The sizzle of the meat hitting the grill, the sound of laughter and chatter, the anticipation of that first juicy bite—it was a sensory experience like no other. 

Today, I’m playing all the memories back in this article as I’ll show you how to make smoked carne asada like in old times. But of course, we’ll be mixing the techniques used with modern ones for a recipe that’s refined and practical. 

smoked carne asada

How to Make Smoked Traeger Carne Asada?

Making traditional smoked carne asada on a Traeger grill is a fantastic way I give this classic dish a smoky twist.

Now here’s an ingredient list and step-by-step guide to help you achieve the same results as I get:


  • 1 ½ to 2 pounds flank or skirt steak (around ½ to ¾ inch thick)
  • ½ cup of freshly squeezed citrus juice
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup diced onions
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh cilantro, for garnish
  • Lime wedges, for serving
Carne Asada with Tomatoes and Asparagus


Step 1: Choose the Right Cut of Beef

Traditional carne asada is typically made with flank or skirt steak. Look for well-marbled, tender cuts of around ½ to ¾ inch thick.

Step 2: Prepare the Marinade

First, you need to mix all the marinade ingredients in a mixing bowl. I’m talking about freshly squeezed citrus juices (such as orange juice, lemon, and/or lime juice), minced garlic, olive oil, chopped cilantro, diced onions, and a blend of Mexican spices like chili powder, cumin, and paprika. Add pepper and salt to taste.

Step 3: Marinate the Meat

Place the beef in a shallow dish or a big, resealable plastic bag. The Spartan Industrial Reclosable Plastic Bag is perfect for this use. Pour the prepared marinade into the bag with the meat to ensure it’s fully coated. 

Close the bag with the zipper. If you’re using a dish, cover it with plastic wrap. Now marinate it in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight, preferably for the maximum flavor infusion.

Step 4: Preheat the Traeger Grill

Start your Traeger grill and set it to the Smoke setting (which is around 160 degrees) with the lid open. Allow the grill to preheat for about 10-15 minutes.

By the way, if you don’t have a Traeger pellet grill like The Ironwood, a gas or charcoal grill is fine. However that traditional taste is best reproduced with a Traeger carne asada recipe. Similarly, other smoker grills aside from Traeger can work too. But ensure it can do up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Step 5: Prepare the Grill for Direct Grilling

Increase the temperature to high heat (around 450-500°F) and close the lid. Let the grill reach the desired temperature for direct grilling.

Step 6: Remove the Steak From the Bag of Marinade

Take the beef out of the marinade and discard the excess liquid. Pat the meat dry with paper towels to remove any excess moisture.

Step 7: Grill the Carne Asada

Place the meat directly on your grill grates and close the lid. Cook for about 4-6 minutes per side or when the internal temp registers up to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. You may also adjust the time to your desired level of doneness to get the right meat texture. 

Now that’s how to make smoked Traeger carne asada recipe.

Step 8: Rest and Slice

Once you cook the carne asada to your liking, remove the steak from the fire and let it rest for a few minutes. This allows the juices to be redistributed. Then, slice the meat against the grain into thin strips for tenderness.

Step 9: Serve and Enjoy

To serve carne asada, you want to arrange the slices on a platter and garnish with fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice. Serve it as the star of delicious tacos, and burritos, or enjoy it with sides like grilled vegetables, rice, or warm tortillas. I also like to serve my carne asada with Grilled Mexican Street Corn or pressure-cooked Mexican Rice for a nice side dish!

Smoked Carne Asada with Lemon and Coriander and

Should I Use Skirt Steak Or Flank Steak For Carne Asada?

Flank and skirt steak meats are excellent choices for smoked carne asada done the traditional way. 

The skirt steak brings the beefy flavor and loose texture to the recipe, while the flank steak is a bit leaner with a tighter grain. 

But make sure you cook that skirt steak to medium-rare, and you’ll be rewarded with tender goodness. Flank steak, on the other hand, needs a good marinating session to boost its tenderness. 

How Long to Cook Carne Asada?

If you’re going for that juicy medium-rare deliciousness (around 130 to 140 degrees F internal temperature), aim to grill your carne asada for about 4-5 minutes per side. But keep an eye on it. Nobody wants an overcooked piece of meat. We want it tender and full of flavor, not like shoe leather.

But there’s a little variance in cook time, depending on the steak you’re using. For skirt steak, we’re talking about a quick grill sesh. Give the skirt meat about 3-5 minutes per side on a hot grill. We want it tender and juicy, no doubt!

Now, flank steak needs a little more heat. It likes to hang out on the grill for about 4-5 minutes per side to get that medium-rare goodness going. Give the flank steak the time it needs to reach that perfect balance of flavor and tenderness.

How to Tenderize the Meat for Carne Asada?

Here are a couple of tricks I use to make my carne asada meat more tender:


This is a rule. Don’t skip it. Flank and skirt steaks are naturally tough cuts of beef. So, whip up a killer marinade using citrus juices like orange juice, lemon juice, or lime juice, along with garlic, spices, and herbs. 

Let that skirt or flank steak take a nice long soak in the marinade for a few hours, or even better, overnight. The acids in the citrus juices will work their way in. They’ll break down those muscle fibers and turn your steak into a tender dream.

Break It Down With a Meat Mallet 

Now, if you want to go the extra mile, grab a meat mallet or a rolling pin and give that meat a gentle pounding. It might sound a bit aggressive. But it helps break down the fibers even more and takes the tenderness to another level.

Slice Against the Grain 

When it’s time to cook, make sure you slice that meat against the grain. Look for the lines in the meat and cut across them. This ensures each bite is tender and juicy rather than chewy like an old tire.

Raw Beef Skirt Steak

What’s in Carne Asada Marinade?

First off, we always have citrus juices as the base. These marinade ingredients add some tang and zing to the meat and help tenderize it. 

You may also add some fresh garlic to the marinade ingredients. Smash, chop, or mince garlic cloves to release that fantastic savory flavor. 

To spice things up, get some traditional Mexican spices like cumin, chili powder, cilantro, and oregano. Sprinkle them in and adjust the amounts to your liking. Want a bit of heat? Toss in some cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes. 

Fresh herbs are a must. Chop up some cilantro or parsley to add that vibrant, fresh kick to the marinade. 

To enhance the taste, you may want to add some soy sauce and olive oil. Soy sauce is used in marinating and gives the steak an umami flavor.

Of course, we can’t forget the salt and pepper. Give them a generous shake to ensure the marinade is perfectly seasoned.

Mix all these in a bowl or a bag, throw in your meat, and let it hang out in the fridge for a few hours or even overnight. The longer, the better!


1. Is Carne Asada Good Smoked?

Oh, heck yeah! Smoking carne asada is like taking it to flavor town and back. When the beef slowly soaks up that smoky flavor from the wood, it gets into every nook and cranny of the meat. This is a great option if you’d like to take a break from ground beef tacos.

And let’s not forget about the texture. Smoking gives that carne asada a wicked char on the outside. Then it keeps it tender and juicy on the inside. 

2. What is the Best Temperature to Smoke Carne Asada?

When it comes to temperature, the sweet spot is usually around 225°F to 250°F. This is where you get that low and slow action for tough steaks like skirt and flank steaks.

3. What is the Best Wood to Smoke Carne Asada With?

Mesquite wood, like Oklahoma Joe's, adds some serious sweetness and smoke to grilled carne asada. Now, if you’re looking for a more mellow yet fantastic flavor, oak is the way to go. Oak gives a well-balanced smoke that lets the meat’s natural flavors shine through. You can use maple wood for lighter smoke. You can find mesquite, oak, and maple wood chips, chunks, or pellets at your local stores or online. 

Carne Asada on the Charcoal Grill


We’ve reached the end of our smoking journey. From choosing the right cuts of meat to crafting the bomb marinade and nailing that perfect temperature, I’ve covered it all. Now it’s your turn.

Remember, experimenting and putting your spin on things is part of the fun. While the traditional style is classic and easy to go wrong with, don’t be afraid to get creative. 

Adjust the spices and the herbs however you want. Make this smoked carne asada your very own masterpiece. But remember, it’s either flank or skirt steak. And you need the marinade – and of course, citrus juice as the base. 

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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