An easy preparation for the best Tacos al Carbon, made at home and indoors! Featuring full-flavored flank steak marinated in a simple cilantro-lime marinade. The beef cooks quickly on the stovetop and the dish comes together fast! Making this the perfect weeknight dinner!
Slice the beef, wrap it in flour tortillas, and serve it with a medley of favorite fajita toppings like guacamole, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, and sour cream. Want more beefy Tex-Mex Recipes for your at-home menu? Tex-Mex Beef Enchiladas, Beef Empanadas, and Steak Quesadillas belong on your dinnertime radar!
In addition to a new family-favorite Tex-Mex Recipe, we’ll also cover:
- The evolution of a Tex-Mex favorite and how Tacos al Carbon came to be.
- Tacos al Carbon — what it means and how it’s served.
- How to make the absolute best rendition in your very own home — no grill and no charcoal necessary!
THE EVOLUTION OF A TEX-MEX FAVORITE
Ninfa Rodriguez Laurenzo (a native of Rio Grande Valley in South Texas) is responsible for the beloved dish, Tacos al Carbon, which she proudly began serving at her famous Tex-Mex restaurant Ninfa’s.
As some might have guessed, Tacos al Carbon is an evolution of the sizzling spectacle you can hear coming a mile away — fajitas. And, both dishes are about as Tex-Mex as it gets in origin.
The history of fajitas has been traced back to the 1930s in the ranchlands of South and West Texas. Ranch owners would give throwaway cuts to the Mexican ranchhands and cowboys as part of their pay — throwaway cuts like skirt steak. The Mexican cowboys would cook the skirt steak over coals and this is where the beef fajita tradition began.
WHAT ARE TACOS AL CARBON?
Tacos al Carbon are essentially assembled fajita tacos, and they have the same main components: fajita beef (or chicken), tortillas, with a Mexican salad of pico de gallo and shredded lettuce served on the side. They are usually rolled with flour tortillas, and if you’re really lucky, come equipped with its very own side of queso on the plate.
The difference is that Tacos al Carbon comes plated as assembled tacos, whereas fajitas come over a bed of cooked onions and peppers, and land on the table in a sizzling cast-iron platter with tortillas on the side.
WHAT DOES TACOS AL CARBON MEAN?
Tacos al Carbon translates to “grilled taco” or “meat over charcoals,” which makes perfect sense if we recall its fajita origins of skirt steak over an open flame.
However, this is not necessarily the case for Tacos al Carbon…anymore. Often, Mexican restaurants are preparing the beef over commercial flat tops, and their patrons are none the wiser.
For the home cook, by far the simplest preparation method is to cook/sear the beef in a cast iron skillet.
TACOS AL CARBON INGREDIENTS
- The Steak — Yes, fajitas are typically made with skirt steak, but for your homemade rendition, you should go with flank steak. It’s not as tough as skirt steak but still boasts that great big beefy flavor we know and love. Plus, it’s way easier to fit in a cast iron pan. You’ll want your flank steaks to be no more than 3/4″ thick for this recipe, so go for thinner cuts of beef over the great big, thick ones!
- Flour Tortillas — Tacos al Carbon comes standard with flour tortillas, but if you have a gluten allergy, you can (of course) sub in corn tortillas.
- The Marinade — The steak served at Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants is usually marinated before cooking, and it’s a step well worth taking. A simple marinade of lime juice, cilantro, garlic, and oil is perfect for getting the most flavor out of your steak.
- Sides and Toppings — Tacos al Carbon traditionally comes with a side of Spanish Rice and Charro Beans. Some restaurants serve it with a bonus side of queso and guacamole, but almost all will include the standard Mexican side salad of shredded lettuce and pico de gallo.
HOW TO MAKE TACOS AL CARBON
- Make the marinade and marinate the flank steak.
- Pat beef dry and season.
- Ready a skillet over high heat and add oil.
- Sear the beef for 4-5 minutes on the first side, flip and sear 4 minutes more. Set aside to rest.
- Slice the beef as thin as possible, cutting against the grain.
- Serve Tacos al Carbon rolled in flour tortillas with desired toppings and sides!
A WORD ON FLANK STEAK
The thickness of your flank steak matters. If it is thicker than 3/4″, it will very likely be rare if you use the indicated cook times in this recipe. Thinner flank steaks are best for quick cooking on the stovetop, but if you cannot find one, there is a fix.
If your flank steak is between 1 to 1 1/4″ thick, do this:
- Before searing the steak, preheat your oven to 375°F degrees.
- Cook the steak as indicated in the recipe card.
- Then, transfer it to a baking sheet and bake for 7-10 more minutes, depending on how “done” you like your beef.
6 MORE TEX-MEX DINNERS YOU’LL LOVE
- Tex-Mex Beef Enchiladas are the best enchiladas you’ll ever taste and feature a flavorful enchilada gravy, a taco-seasoned ground beef, and melty cheese!
- Chicken Tacos served fajita-style, wrapped in tortillas, piled high with flavorful strips of juicy chicken and your favorite taco toppings are a quick and easy dinner idea!
- Ranchero Chicken is a healthy take on a Mexican classic. Perfectly baked chicken topped with Ranchero Sauce and Monterey Jack cheese. Slice it up and serve it with tortillas and sliced avocados.
- King Ranch Casserole may be a Texas-born casserole, but it’s most definitely earned its ranking amongst Mexican food favorites. A stacked enchilada casserole featuring shredded chicken, corn tortillas, hearty vegetables, cheese, and a creamy Tex-Mex sauce to bring it all together. This recipe feeds a crowd and is guaranteed to be a new dinnertime favorite!
- Steak Quesadillas are an easy, crowd-pleasing dinner loaded with flavor thanks to quick-cooking, taco-seasoned steak strips, melty Monterrey Jack cheese, and sauteed onions and peppers.
A quick and easy preparation for the best Tacos al Carbon at home (and indoors)! Featuring flavorful, pan-seared flank steak and flour tortillas.
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 4-6 limes)
- 1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, separated
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 3 teaspoons black pepper, separated
- 1 cup + 4 tablespoons canola or avocado oil, separated
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 pounds flank steak (no more than 3/4" thick -- see note below)
- 12 flour tortillas
- Topping Ideas: Queso, shredded cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, or sour cream
Add the lime juice, 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, sugar, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper to a small mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly drizzle in 1 cup of oil, whisking all the while. Then, add the cilantro and garlic and stir to combine.
Transfer the marinade to a zip-top bag and add the flank steak. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
Remove the beef from the bag and pat dry with a paper towel. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil and sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Rub all over to adhere, and set aside until ready to use.
Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to a large, skillet (preferably cast iron) over high heat. Once the oil has come to temperature, sear the steak for 4 1/2-5 minutes on the first side, turn, and sear for 4 minutes more.
Allow to rest 10 minutes. Then, slice the beef as thin as possible (cutting against the grain), roll in flour tortillas, and top as desired.
The thickness of the flank steak matters. If it is thicker than 3/4", it will very likely be rare if you use the indicated cook times. Thinner flank steaks work best for this recipe, but if you cannot find one, there is a fix:
If the flank steak is between 1 to 1 1/4" thick (before searing the steak) preheat the oven to 375°F degrees. Cook the flank steak as indicated in the recipe card. Then, transfer it to a baking sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes, depending on how "done" you like your beef.