Mexican-Style Grilled Steak with Red Chile Salsa

To create a recipe for a carne asada platter that satisfies like the original, Cook’s Illustrated started with skirt steak. Alas, our supermarket was not carrying skirt steak at the time, but had some nice flank steaks, so that’s what we went with. Adapt and prosper, right?

Here, a dry salting promotes faster browning on the grill. Afterward you give the steak a squeeze of fresh lime before serving for an added dimension of flavor. To speed up charring even more and create a large enough area of concentrated heat to cook all four steaks at once, Cook’s Illustrated cut the bottom from a disposable aluminum roasting pan and used it to corral the coals. Not us. We didn’t even pound down the meat to a 1/4″. Just gas-grilled them after refrigeration and got a beautiful medium-rare after 4-5 minutes on each side to reach 130°.

Mexican-Style Grilled Steak

For heady garlic flavor, treat the cooked steaks like bruschetta, rubbing their rough crusts with a smashed garlic clove. And don’t forget to make the smoky, earthy guajillo Red Chile Salsa—it’s the perfect accompaniment to the steak. If you can’t locate the guajillos at your grocery store or specialty ethnic market, they are easily ordered online.

In addition, we made Simple Refried Beans from a can of pinto beans, chopped onion and garlic. Even though the instructions indicate to start with a nonstick skillet, we didn’t because the potato masher could mar the surface of the pan.

Mexican-Style Grilled Steak (Carne Asada)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • ¾ tsp. ground cumin
  • (2-lb.) skirt steak, trimmed, pounded 1/4 inch thick and cut with grain into 4 equal steaks
  • (13″ x 9″) disposable aluminum roasting pan (if using charcoal)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
  • Lime wedges


  1. Combine salt and cumin in small bowl. Sprinkle salt mixture evenly over both sides of steaks. Transfer steaks to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 45 minutes or up to 24 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, if using charcoal, use kitchen shears to remove bottom of disposable pan and discard, reserving pan collar.
  3. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, place disposable pan collar in center of grill over bottom vent and pour coals into even layer in collar. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
    FOR A GAS GRILL: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high.
  4. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place steaks on grill (if using charcoal, arrange steaks over coals in collar) and cook, uncovered, until well browned on first side, 2 to 4 minutes.
  5. Flip steaks and continue to cook until well browned on second side and meat registers 130 degrees, 2 to 4 minutes longer.
  6. Transfer steaks to carving board, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 minutes.
  7. Rub garlic thoroughly over 1 side of steaks. Slice steaks against grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices and serve with lime wedges.

Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Red Chile Salsa

Fire-roasted tomatoes are the secret ingredient in this salsa. They add smoky depth without adding extra work. Dried guajillo chiles are toasted and ground for rich, deep flavor. Vinegar and spices round out the mixture for a salsa that is smoky, spicy, and slightly tart.

A guajillo chile (in Spanish, meaning big pod) is the second-most commonly used dried chili in Mexican cuisine after poblanos (ancho). There are two main varieties that are distinguished by their size and heat factors. The guajillo puya is the smaller and hotter of the two. In contrast, the longer and wider guajillo has a more pronounced, richer flavor and is somewhat less spicy, which is what we used here.

Red Chile Salsa

  • Servings: makes 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1 ¼ oz. dried guajillo chiles, wiped clean
  • (14.5-oz.) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
  • ½ tsp. distilled white vinegar
  • ¼ tsp. dried oregano
  • ⅛ tsp. pepper
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • Pinch ground cumin


  1. Toast guajillos in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until softened and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
  2. Transfer to large plate and, when cool enough to handle, remove stems and seeds.
  3. Place guajillos in blender and process until finely ground, 60 to 90 seconds, scraping down sides of blender jar as needed.
  4. Add tomatoes and their juice, water, salt, garlic, vinegar, oregano, pepper, clove, and cumin to blender and process until very smooth, 60 to 90 seconds, scraping down sides of blender jar as needed. (Salsa can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)

Simple Refried Beans

A couple of slices of bacon fat gives the beans meaty depth. Onions and garlic provide savory notes, while the rich canning liquid from pinto beans helps to create a silky texture and a rich flavor. Mash the beans with a potato masher for a partly smooth, partly chunky texture.


  • bacon, 2 slices
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 15-oz. can pinto beans (do not drain)
  • 1/4 cup water


  1. Heat bacon in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat until fat renders and bacon crisps, 7 to 10 minutes, flipping bacon halfway through. Remove bacon and reserve for another use (or eat as a snack while finishing dinner 😉 ).
  2. Increase heat to medium, add onion to fat in skillet, and cook until lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add beans and their liquid and water and bring to simmer. Cook, mashing beans with potato masher, until mixture is mostly smooth, 5 to 7 minutes.
  5. Season with salt to taste, and serve.


Salsa and beans recipes are both from Cook’s Illustrated

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