What kind of steak to use for fajitas?

  • Following Steven Raichlen's recipe, we used skirt steak to make fajitas on Sunday. I found the meat particularly chewy/tough and rather unpleasant overall. What can we do to improve the experience?

  • hobodave

    hobodave Correct answer

    10 years ago

    Genuine fajitas are made with skirt steak. The most important thing you can do when making fajitas is marinate appropriately. That recipe calls for a dismally short marination time (30 mins to an hour). When I make fajitas I marinate them a minimum of 4 hours, though typically overnight. I usually use a combination of soy sauce, lime juice, garlic, olive oil and salt in a zip-loc bag.

    Another thing to be aware of is how you slice the meat. If you bought your fajita meat presliced from a good butcher, then chances are he cut it properly - against the grain. If it's a random supermarket butcher you may or may not have had it cut properly. If you cut the meat yourself, make sure you slice it across the grain, otherwise you'll be chewing some very tough long proteins.

    Also, as with any meat, don't overcook it. Medium rare is just fine for a skirt steak.

    Some people will substitute a flank steak for a skirt steak when making fajitas. Flank tends to be a little less tough, but not as flavorful. The above marination and cutting guidelines apply to flank steak as well.

    Update - I also notice that the recipe suggests 3-4 minutes per side for medium rare. This doesn't sound right to me if the grill is on high heat. Skirt and flank steaks are rather thin and 2 minutes per side on a hot grill should be medium-rare.

    Also, make sure you let it rest. I usually rest any steak for 5 minutes, not 3 as the recipe suggests.

    The meat was not presliced. The intention was to cut it across the grain - we pulled on the steak slightly, then sliced it the direction it *didn't* want to pull apart. The meat was medium rare.

    @280Z28, if you can face it, persevere with skirt steak as once it's right it's simply the best for fajitas. A long marinade is the key to it

    I'll give the skirt steak another shot, any tips for picking out the best possible at the store today? I'll marinade it tonight and cook it for lunch tomorrow. :)

    @280Z28: I just realized I was giving fajita advice to a Texan. Get on the ball man! :D If you can get one that was cut today do so. Otherwise you're looking for the "usual" steak properties, great even marbling throughout. The more fat you see _in_ the steak the tenderer it will be. Don't go for one with giant hunks of fat though, it should be laced throughout.

    @280Z28, haven't heard of the pulling technique for deciding the way to cut, so wanted to toss in a description regarding that. On a skirt steak, you should see a lot of lines running across the meat, this is the grain. You want to cut against the lines, not with them, that way each cut will have all of those gaps running through it. Normally a skirt steak cut is a lot longer then it is wide and the grain runs the short way. It will seem counter-intuitive (since cutting the short way gives you fajita-ish length cuts) but you want to cut thin strips the long way, then cut them to length.

    @280Z28: How did it turn out?

    @ManiacZX: Hmm, I've never seen a skirt steak where the grain runs the way you describe.

    I went to a meat market instead of the grocery store and picked up a 2.4 lb skirt steak. The butcher had cut it so the lines ran across the short way. Turned out much better this time - I really need to get an instant read thermometer though because I cooked it medium rare in the thinnest part to rare in the thickest, and it would have been a bit easier to eat if it were medium to medium rare instead.

    @280Z28: I'm glad it worked out better!

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