These Tacos al Carbón feature grilled flank steak coated in a chipotle rub and a charred scallion salsa tucked into tortillas with tangy Mexican crema and fresh cilantro. Simple to make and so flavorful, they’ve become a staple recipe in Tex Mex cuisine. Perfect for warm grilling weather, it’s a dinner recipe that’s prepared in under an hour.

What are Tacos al Carbón?

Tacos al Carbón means grilling over a charcoal grill. These popular Mexican tacos consist of grilled meat (usually beef, chicken, or pork) that is sliced and served on a warm tortilla (corn of flour tortillas depending on the region) with onions, cilantro, and salsa.

The meat (which in the US is most often beef) is typically cooked over an open flame, giving it a smoky and charred flavor. These tacos have become a staple in Tex-Mex cooking in the US.

We’re giving you the instructions and tips for using either a charcoal or gas grill in this recipe. It’s a great quick cooking or prep ahead meal for a weeknight or entertaining.

Tacos al Carbón vs. Carne Asada

You’ve likely had tacos al carbón, carne asada and even tacos al pastor, in one form or another. But what are tacos  al carbón? And how are they different from carne asada and tacos al pastor?

Tacos al Carbón feature charred grilled meat, most commonly some cut of steak, cooked over a charcoal grill. The meat is served in corn or flour tortillas (depending on the region) and topped with cooked peppers, onion and fresh cilantro. They are also known as street tacos in parts of Mexico.

Carne Asada means “grilled meat” in Spanish, though it most often refers to grilled marinated steak served as a taco filling. Like tacos al carbón, carne asada also commonly uses flank or skirt steak.
But instead of using a spice rub, carne asada calls for marinating the steak for a few hours in a mixture of citrus juice, garlic, cilantro, and jalapeño. It’s then grilled over high heat until charred and juicy.

steak tacos in small sheet pans lined with parchment paper.

What Cut of Steak to Use for Tacos al Carbón

We opted for flank steak here, but you can also use skirt steak. Both are thin, quick-cooking, and deliciously beefy. 

You want to look for a quick cooking steak with nice marbling so that’s it’s tender to bite into after being sliced thin.

raw steak, scallions, oil, chipotle, lime and tortillas set on a table

Ingredients

  • Pantry: you’ll need extra-virgin olive oil and kosher salt.
  • Canned chipotles in adobo: store any leftovers in the freezer so you can use them in recipes like my Shredded Beef Enchiladas and Pozole.
  • Ground cumin: you’ll need two teaspoons for this recipe—I recommend keeping cumin on hand for all kinds of recipes including Guacamole, Beef Kofta, and Sumac Chicken.
  • Garlic: fresh is always best! You’ll need two teaspoons minced fresh garlic, so about 3 small cloves or two large cloves.
  • Lime: just as I say with garlic, fresh is best. Grab two limes—one for the recipe and one for cutting into wedges and serving with the tacos.
  • Flank steak: skirt steak will also work, but I like the beefiness of flank steak here. If you use skirt steak, the cooking time will be shorter.
  • Jalapeños: you’ll need two jalapeños for the charred scallion salsa.
  • Scallions: one bunch of scallions, also labeled as green onions, is needed for this recipe.
  • Corn tortillas or flour tortillas: use whichever you prefer and opt for 6-inch tortillas.
  • Fresh cilantro: if you don’t like cilantro, you can use parsely.
  • Mexican crema: this is for serving. If you can’t find Mexican Crema (most likely Cacique brand), you can use full-fat Greek yogurt, sour cream or creme fraiche as substitutes.

How to Make Tacos al Carbón

  1. Make the rub mixture by combining olive oil, minced chipotles in adobo, kosher salt, cumin, garlic and lime zest. This can be done up to 2 days ahead of time. Store the marinade in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator.
  2. Prep the flank steak by trimming some of the fat (not all of it! Keeping thin fat pockets = flavor and juiciness). Cut the flank steak lengthwise into three long strips. This is important for slicing the steak after cooking. Rub the chipotle marinade all over the steak.
flank steak strips covered in a rub on a baking sheet
  1. Preheat the grill. Gas and charcoal both work, but charcoal is more traditional. Whichever method you use, be sure to preheat the grill for at least 5 minutes over high heat.
  2. Grill scallions and jalapeños until charred. In general, it will take about 10 minutes, but remove the scallions as they are done. Transfer the scallions and jalapeños to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, this will steam and soften the vegetables.
charred jalapeno and scallions in a blue bowl
  1. Grill the flank steak, turning every 3 minutes, until charred and cooked to medium-rare (135ºF), this will take 7-10 minutes. Use our favorite Instant-Read Thermometer to closely monitor the internal temperature.  
  2. Transfer steak to a cutting board and let rest. While the steak rests, char the tortillas on the grill then wrap in a kitchen towel or foil to keep them warm.
  1. Make the charred salsa by chopping the charred scallions and jalapenos and combining with the remaining olive oil, adobo sauce, and lime juice. Season the salsa with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Thinly slice the grilled steak against the grain and serve the steak in the charred tortillas with the charred scallion salsa, fresh cilantro and mexican crema (sour cream or Greek yogurt can also be used). 
steak tacos in small sheet pans lined with parchment paper.

Expert Tips

  • Since this recipe is quick-cooking, we recommend prepping all of the ingredients before you start grilling. This will ensure the process is seamless and stress-free.
  • When prepping the steak, it’s imperative that you slice the entire flank steak lengthwise, with the grain, into three long strips. This will ensure you cut against the grain into shorter strips once cooked.
  • Create a two zone grill. Whether you are using a gas grill or a charcoal grill, allow the grill to preheat over high for at least 5 minutes. Then set up a two-zone grill which means one side of the grill is hot while the other side is cool. To do this on a gas grill, turn off one burner. For a charcoal grill, pour the hot ashes over half of the grill.
  • For mild salsa, remove the ribs and seeds of the jalapeños after they have been grilled and cooled.

Best Temperatures to Cook Steak

The best steak is one cooked to your liking. Here are the internal temperatures to note for desired doneness:

  • Rare: 115–120ºF (46–49ºC)
  • Medium-rare: 120–125ºF (49–52ºC)
  • Medium: 130–135ºF (54–57ºC)
  • Medium-well: 140–145ºF (60–63ºC) (recommended USDA temperature)
  • Well-done: 150–155ºF (65–68ºC)

What to Serve with Tacos al Carbón

FAQs

How much taco seasoning is there per pound of meat?

For this recipe it’s about 3 tablespoons per pound of meat (in this case beef).

What does al carbon mean?

The meaning al carbon in spanish translates to “something cooked over coal.” It’s usually used to describe food (generally meat and vegetables) that is cooked over an open flame or hot coals.

What’s the difference between fajitas and tacos al carbon?

Fajitas are made with all different proteins and quickly cooked over a grill or flat top griddle with spices. Serve with cooked peppers and several other toppings usually in a flour tortilla. Tacos al carbon are typically made with steak over a charcoal grill with a rub.

Why do you add water to taco seasoning?

Adding a bit of water to cooked and seasoned ground beef helps to create a sauce that will keep the taco meat juicy.

How should I marinate the steak before grilling it?

Our recipe doesn’t require much marinating time, but if you want to do it ahead, here’s how to do it. Spread the chipotle marinade over the long strips of steak and marinate in the refrigerator for up to 8 hours. Remove the steak from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling.

More Easy Steak Recipes

Tacos al Carbón Recipe

5 from 6 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Yield 4 –6 servings
Category Main Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Author Lauren Grant

Description

Juicy slices of grilled chipotle-lime steak get tucked into charred tortillas with a grilled jalapeno and scallion salsa and Mexican crema. The ideal summer grilling recipe in under an hour!

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil divided
  • 1 ½ tablespoons minced canned chipotles in adobo sauce + 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
  • kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced + lime wedges for serving
  • 1 (1½–1¾-pound) flank steak
  • 20 scallions
  • 2 jalapeños
  • 12 (6-inch) corn tortillas or flour tortillas
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Mexican crema, full-fat Greek yogurt, sour cream or creme fraiche

Instructions

  • Combine 1 tablespoon oil, 1½ tablespoons minced chipotle, 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, 2 teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons minced garlic and 1 teaspoon lime zest in bowl.
  • Trim fat deposits on steak to ⅛-inch thickness. Cut steak lengthwise (with grain) into three 2–3-inch-wide strips. Rub chipotle mixture evenly over steak on all sides; transfer to a baking sheet or large plate.

Gas Grill

  • Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, 10–15 minutes. Turn off 1 burner (if your grill has more than 2 burners, turn off burner farthest from primary burner); leave other burner(s) on high.

Charcoal Grill

  • Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter mounded with charcoal briquettes (7 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
  • Brush grill grate clean, then brush grill grate with oil. Arrange 20 scallions on cooler side of grill with white ends towards hotter end of grill. Arrange 2 jalapeños on hot side of grill. Cook, covered, flipping scallions and rotating jalapeños every 2 minutes, until scallions are well-charred, 7–10 minutes, and jalapeños are blistered and charred in spots, 10–12 minutes.
  • Transfer scallions and jalapeños to a large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap; set aside. 
  • Arrange steak on hotter side of grill and cook, covered, flipping steak, every 3 minutes, until meat is well browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the centers registers about 135ºF (57ºC) for medium-rare, 7–10 minutes total. Transfer steak to clean cutting board; tent with foil.
  • Arrange 6 tortillas on hotter side of grill and cook until lightly charred, 45–60 seconds per side. Wrap warmed tortillas tightly in foil or a clean kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining 6 tortillas.
  • Without peeling, stem and seed jalapeños; reserve seeds. Finely chop jalapeños and transfer to bowl. Chop scallions and transfer to bowl with jalapeños. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon adobo sauce, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and 2 tablespoons lime juice. Season to taste with salt, extra lime juice, and reserved jalapeño seeds for spice.
  • Thinly slice steak across the grain; transfer to a serving platter. Serve steak in tortillas, with charred scallion salsa, lime wedges, cilantro, and crema separately.

Equipment

gas or charcoal grill

Notes

Since this recipe is quick-cooking, we recommend prepping all of the ingredients before you start grilling. This will ensure the process is seamless and stress-free.
When prepping the steak, it’s imperative that you slice the entire flank steak lengthwise, with the grain, into three long strips. This will ensure you cut against the grain into shorter strips once cooked.
Whether you are using a gas grill or a charcoal grill, allow the grill to preheat over high for at least 5 minutes. Then set up a two-zone grill which means one side of the grill is hot while the other side is cool. To do this on a gas grill, turn off one burner. For a charcoal grill, pour the hot ashes over half of the grill.
Once the scallions and jalapeños have been charred, steamed and cooled, you’ll need to mince them up for the salsa. Remove the stems, ribs and seeds of the jalaeños but reserve the ribs and seeds for seasoning the salsa to taste right before serving. The ribs and seeds are where the spice of the pepper reside.
The best steak is one cooked to your liking. Here are the internal temperatures to note for desired doneness:
  • Rare: 115–120ºF (46–49ºC)
  • Medium-rare: 120–125ºF (49–52ºC)
  • Medium: 130–135ºF (54–57ºC)
  • Medium-well: 140–145ºF (60–63ºC) (recommended USDA temperature)
  • Well-done: 150–155ºF (65–68ºC)
This recipe was adapted from one by America’s Test Kitchen. 

Nutrition

Serving: 2tacosCalories: 402kcalCarbohydrates: 25gProtein: 35gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 62mgSodium: 868mgFiber: 4.5gSugar: 2g
Like this? Leave a comment below!I love hearing from you and I want to hear how it went with this recipe! Leave a comment and rating below, then share on social media @zestfulkitchen and #zestfulkitchen!
steak tacos in small sheet pans lined with parchment paper.

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This sponsored post is in partnership with the Iowa Beef Council. As always the thoughts, opinions, recipe, photos and content are all my own.

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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