The absolute BEST tender, juicy Grilled Steak Fajitas bathed in a tangy, rich steak fajita marinade AND a spice rub for the most flavorful meat and veggies ever!
Steak Fajitas have to be one of the most satisfying Mexican meals ever. This steak fajitas recipe is easy to make with a make ahead marinade – then it’s less than 20 minutes to dinner! These steak fajitas are bursting with juicy marinated carn asada, charred bell peppers and onions all wrapped in a warm tortilla and piled with guacamole, sour cream and salsa with a side of cilantro lime rice black beans. These steak fajitas are equally delicious made into steak fajita salads, steak fajita burritos, steak fajita burrito bowls, etc. This steak fajita recipe is also great for crowds and entertaining to create your very own fajita/topping bar!
Steak Fajita Recipe
Happy almost Memorial Day Weekend! I have so many grill recipes I’m eager to share with but these Steak Fajitas won out for Memorial Day because they are AMAZING! Not only are these grilled steak fajitas better than any restaurant at a fraction of the price, they are much less time consuming than kabobs, you can prep almost everything in advance, and friends/family can customize their own grilled steak fajitas with more or less of their favorite toppings. Win, win, win!
Steak Fajitas are only as good as the should-be flavor bursting meat – but all too often the steak is juicy from a marinade but lacking in flavor. Not these grilled steak fajitas! I’ve used my carne asada method like in my California burritos, street tacos and carne asada fries in which we marinate and spice rub the steak so these fajitas emerge unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before – in the most pleasantly jaw dropping sort of way.
Where Do Steak Fajitas Come From?
Steak, chicken or shrimp fajitas have to be one of my favorite Mexican foods and one of the most beloved Mexican foods, so I was surprised to find that fajitas don’t come from Mexico at all! Fajitas originated in Texas in the 1930s when vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) cooked skirt steak – then throwaway butcher meat- over the campfire. In fact, Fajita has its roots in Tex Mex – the word faja is Spanish for “strip,” or “belt,” and “ita” means little describing the little strips of meat. (Austin Chronicle)
It wasn’t until the 1980s that what we know as Steak Fajitas served with sizzling onions and peppers alongside tortillas rice and beans were popularized by numerous restaurants in Texas. Before that, fajitas as we know them, where relatively unknown (except as a cut of meat) even in Mexican food rich states as California and Arizona! Mind blown.
WHAT TYPE OF MEAT SHOULD I FOR STEAK FAJITAS RECIPE?
Steak Fajitas is traditionally made using skirt or flank steak. I prefer flank steak with its wide, flat shape, rich buttery flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture. Flank steak is a little leaner than skirt steak but because we are using a marinade to maximize the flavor, it emerges wonderfully juicy and flavorful.
Can I use skirt steak? If you still want to use skirt steak, take care to cook it rare or medium rare for the most tender texture because skirt steak contains more tough muscles that become exponentially tougher the longer it is cooked.
Steak Fajita Marinade
The steak fajita marinade consists of orange juice, lime juice, soy sauce and a splash of liquid smoke. We add a tablespoon of spiced marinade to our rainbow of bell peppers and onion along with a splash of olive oil (no bland veggies!) and we add the steak to the remaining marinade to soak up all that tenderizing goodness.
The dynamite steak fajita marinade transforms this flank steak into a juicy, flavor bomb as it accomplishes three things: 1) tenderize the flank steak, 2) infuse the steak with flavor and 3) chemically change the structure so it retains juices and actually becomes juicier. I’ve outlined how the ingredients below adeptly accomplish this:
- Citrus: orange juice and lime juice tenderize the steak by breaking down the tough connective tissue. They also infuse the meat with bright floral tones characteristic of steak fajitas that complement the earthy seasonings.
- Soy sauce: enzymatically breaks down the proteins to further tenderize while also adding a rich depth of grounding flavor.
- Seasonings: ground cumin, garlic powder, smoked paprika, chili powder, salt, onion powder, ground coriander, pepper and cayenne. 3 tablespoons of this Spice Mix are added to our marinade and the rest gets rubbed all over our steak before grilling. This allows the seasonings to both penetrate the meat inside and out and is the key to this best steak fajitas ever.
- Oil: is crucial as it spreads the oil-soluble flavors more evenly across the meat and also promotes even browning when cooking.
Steak Fajita Marinade Ingredients:
- olive oil: use quality extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor.
- orange juice: freshly squeezed is best but you can use bottled orange juice if it is pure fleshly squeezed without any additives.
- lime juice: you will need the juice from about one lime.
- soy sauce: use reduced sodium soy sauce so we can control the salt.
- brown sugar: balances the tangy orange, lime juice and umami of the soy.
- liquid smoke: adds a wonderful smokey flavor to the chicken as if it has been grilled on an outdoor barbecue over a hot flame. It elevates these Chicken Fajitas to the best ever!
- fajita seasonings: we make a homemade fajita seasoning blend with pantry friendly seasonings of chili powder, ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika,, chipotle chili powder, dried oregano and pepper.
Do I have to add liquid smoke?
Liquid smoke (it really is liquid smoke!), is worth seeking out. I use it in many of my recipes from Mexican Chicken to BBQ Brisket to these Chicken Fajitas. Liquid smoke is created by capturing smoke as it rises through a combustion chamber filled with wood chips to a condenser. In the condenser, the smoke cools and forms a liquid, thus liquid smoke. (thank you Wikipedia). It is a very common ingredient and should be easy to find next to the barbecue sauces in your grocery store.
WHAT ARE THE BEST TORTILLAS FOR STEAK FAJITAS?
I am constantly getting messages asking what my favorite tortillas are. And I’m glad you’re asking because quality tortillas make a HUGE difference between good fajitas and good tacos and the BEST fajitas and BEST tacos!
The following recommendations are not affiliates, just my affections:
I love La Tortilla Factory Corn Tortillas. They are thicker, homemade tortillas that never break or tear even when charred and piled with toppings. I find mine at Sprouts. They come in 8 per package. They are definitely more expensive BUT less than dining out!
Be aware that this brand of corn tortillas is not gluten free as it does contain corn AND wheat.
I am less picky when it comes to flour tortillas because most brand won’t crumble, unlike corn tortillas. I like Guerro brand tortillas which is probably the easiest brand to find at your local grocery store.
How To Make Steak Fajitas
These steak fajitas are very straightforward to make using pantry friendly spices and ingredients.
STEP 1: POUND STEAK
Using a meat mallet or side of a can, pound steak to an even, thin thickness.
STEP 2: MAKE SPICE MIX
Next, we mix our fiestalicious spices together of cumin, garlic, smoked paprika, chili powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. We add some of this custom spice mix to our marinade and reserve the rest for our Spice Rub. You only have to measure the seasonings once but get double the flavor.
STEP 3: MARINATE STEAK
- Add all Marinade Ingredients (except steak) to a large freezer bag and whisk to combine.
- Add 3 tablespoons Spice Mix to Marinade and whisk to combine.
- Add steak, squeeze out excess air, seal and turn to evenly coat.
STEP 4: WET RUB
- And now the magical depth of flavor difference. About 30-60 minutes before you’re ready to grill, remove your steak from the refrigerator. Mix the remaining spice mix with some olive oil to create a wet rub and slather it all over your steak. Hello gorgeous. I have tried this steak fajita recipe with and without the wet rub, and it is 1000X better with – so please don’t skip!
STEP 5: COOK STEAK
My preferred method for cooking steak fajitas is on the grill. Grilling delivers the characteristic smokey flavor but you can use the other methods such as cooking on the stove or in the oven (directions to follow) if you don’t have a grill or when it’s not grilling season.
- GRILL: Take care to grease your clean grill grates well with oil. Next, close the lid and heat to the highest heat and WAIT to add your steak until the grill reaches temperature, this could take up to 15 minutes, so be patient. Add your steak and reduce heat to medium-high heat. This temperature ensures a smokey charred outside, and pink juicy inside. Grill steak for 7 to 10 minutes per side, turning once, for medium, depending on the thickness. For medium well, continue cooking steak over indirect flame for an additional 5-10 minutes per side, depending on thickness.
- OVEN ROASTED: You may also broil your steak which mimics the high directional heat of the grill. Place steak on a baking sheet. Broil 8 inches away from the broiler for 7-10 minutes on each side or until it reaches desired temperature.
- STOVE TOP: You may use the stove, but unless you have a large grill pan, your steak might not fit in your skillet and you may need to cut your steak in half and work in batches. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Cook for 6-8 minutes per side or until it reaches desired temperature.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN THE STEAK IS DONE?
Flank steak is a lean cut of beef, so it is best not cooked above medium or else it can be tough and chewy instead of juicy. I would aim for medium, meaning it will be pink in the middle. That being said, the marinade gives you a little wiggle room, but I wouldn’t push it.
To check the steak for doneness, insert an instant read thermometer into the center of the steak.
- Rare steak: 125 degrees F
- Medium rare: 135 degrees F
- Medium: 145 degrees F *RECOMMENDED*
- Medium well: 155 degrees F
- Medium Well (not recommended)
- Well done: 165 degrees F (not recommended)
STEP 6: LET STEAK REST
- Remove steak and let rest 10 minutes before slicing. While the steak cooks, the juices are forced away from the heat to the middle of the meat. The resting time allows for the redistribution and reabsorption of the juices throughout the whole steak.
STEP 7: GRILL BELL PEPPERS AND ONIONS
While our steak is resting, we grill our marinated bell peppers and onions. My secret to easily grilling the bell peppers and onions is to grill them while in chunks and then slice them afterwards. Eazy peazy!
STEP 8: WARM TORTILLAS
Warm tortillas will elevate your steak fajitas to a whole new level of YUM. Not only are they softer and the ideal non-jarring, melt-in-your mouth temperature, but the flavors are accentuated when warmed. If you attempt to use room temperature or cold tortillas, you’ll find their temperature isn’t nearly as appetizing and they aren’t as pliable and soft. Lower quality corn tortillas are also likely to break if not warmed.
You can easily warm your tortillas in SECONDS using any of my below methods: open flame, skillet, microwave or oven, with the microwave being the quickest.
- Open Flame (gas stove or grill): this method is how I achieve the smoky char you see on the tortillas and is best with FRESH/homemade tortillas as previously discussed. I simply add the tortillas directly to the burner of my gas stove then flip with tongs once they are charred on one side. You can also accomplish this on the grill as well. If you are using lower quality tortillas, you will want to take special care not to over-char or they will become brittle and break. You still want the tortillas soft and pliable.
- Skillet: heat a skillet (or griddle if you have one) to medium high heat (do not grease). Working with one tortilla at a time (more for a griddle), heat each side of the tortilla for approximately 20-30 seconds until warm and soft. You are not looking for char marks with this method.
- Microwave: working with about 5 tortillas at a time, stack tortillas on a microwave safe plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 20 seconds on high, then repeat at 10 second intervals if needed until warmed through.
- Oven: create separate stacks of about 5 tortillas each, then wrap each stack in foil. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until heated through (you can bake all stacks at once).
Once your tortillas are warmed (with any method), keep them warm and pliable by stacking on a plate and covering with a slightly dampened, paper towel or clean towel.
STEP 9: ASSEMBLE!
- Pile your warm tortillas with steak, bell peppers and desires toppings such as salsa verde, Homemade Salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, cilantro and hot sauce. And now we’re ready to gobble up BEST steak fajitas of your life!
How do I slice my steak fajitas?
Make sure you slice your steak THINLY across the grain for optimal juicy tenderness. The thinner slices the better in my husband’s book. You can see the “grain” running through the meat in one direction. The grain is essentially the muscle fibers running through the meat.
You want to cut perpendicular to the muscle fibers so they become as short as possible. You can a have melt in your mouth steak off the grill but if you cut it parallel to the grain you will end up with long muscle fibers AKA chewy, rubbery tough meat. So cut AGAINST the grain!
What Toppings go with Steak Fajitas?
My favorite toppings for steak or chicken fajitas has always been my Homemade Salsa or salsa verde, and either avocado crema or sour cream. The cool refreshing creaminess against the dynamic sizzling steak and peppers is a must in my book. Here’s the best to choose from:
- Sour Cream: Adds delightful tangy creaminess. If you are trying to save some calories, you may the substitute the sour cream with plain Greek yogurt. Although not authentic, it gets the job done and you don’t have to feel guilty about piling it on.
- Avocado Crema: is my addiction and my preference over chopped avocados or guacamole. Avocado crema is a marriage of avocados, sour cream and lime juice, is wonderfully silky, tangy and just takes minutes in your blender. The luscious, refreshing tanginess cuts through and compliments the robust, smoky flavors.
- Guacamole: use your favorite recipe or my homemade guacamole recipe (amazing!) or you can even use store bought.
- Avocados: chopped or sliced avocados are the easiest avocado option and add a wonderful creaminess.
- Pico de gallo: is fresh tomato salsa that adds a vibrant, punchy freshness. You can use my homemade pico de de gallo recipe or store bought. You can make the pico de gallo ahead of time and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving.
- Cheese: Cotija or queso fresco. Cotija is found with the specialty cheeses and is delightfully salty. It is often called the “Mexican Parmesan.”
- Lime: use lime wedges to add freshly squeezed lime juice if additional tanginess is desired.
- Cilantro: if you skip the pico de gallo, you can load on fresh cilantro and tomatoes instead.
- Jalapenos: you can also amp up the heat with chopped or sliced jalapenos or hot sauce.
- Pickle onions: I can’t believe I haven’t shared a recipe for this yet, but I love pickled onions on fajitas! Tangy, punchy fantastic.
- Salsas: so many to choose from! Store bought salsa is always an easy topping or get fancy with my homemade restaurant salsa, salsa verde, black bean corn salsa, avocado salsa, charred corn salsa, mango salsa, or pineapple salsa.
TIPS FOR STEAK FAJITAS:
- Quality tortillas. try and use QUALITY corn tortillas – you can taste the difference! I’ve discussed this in greater detail below.
- Pound the steak to an even, thin thickness. Even if your steak looks even already, you’ll still want to give it a good pounding to tenderize it (works wonders!). Place steak in between two pieces of plastic wrap or I just place it in a freezer size plastic bag. Pound it evenly with a meat mallet or side of a can.
- Don’t over-marinate. The steak fajita marinade is highly acidic which means you don’t want to marinate the steak as long as you would in a marinade without as much citrus. Don’t marinate much longer than 12 hours or the muscle fibers can break down and become mushy.
- Marinate long enough. I recommend marinating the steak for the maximum 12 hours. This will infuse the steak with TONS of flavor and optimal juiciness.
- Bring steak to room temperature before cooking. You always want to let any protein sit at room temperature before cooking in order for it to cook evenly so you aren’t left with an overcooked exterior and cold interior. This also relaxes the cold fibers for juicier results.
- Use a high smoking point oil. For the grill, generously grease the CLEAN grill with a high smoking oil such as vegetable oil, canola oil or peanut oil. I just use a wad of paper towels to grease the grill. NEVER use spray oils once the grill is on.
- Use a hot grill. Heat up the grill with the lid closed cranked to the maximum temperature so it can achieve temperature more quickly; plan on 10-15 minutes. Once the grill is hot, you can adjust the temperature. Don’t add the steak until the grill reaches temperature or it won’t sear as nicely.
- Don’t overcook. For the juiciest street tacos, don’t cook steak above medium.
- When to use high heat. If you like rare or medium-rare steak, then grill steak on high heat so it’s hot enough to get some color on the outside in a short amount of time.
- Let steak rest. After the steak is grilled, it is important to let it rest for 10 minutes before chopping. While the steak cooks, the juices are forced away from the heat to the middle of the meat. The resting time allows for the redistribution and reabsorption of the juices throughout the whole steak.
- Add something creamy. You will want to add something creamy to the steak fajitas to marry all of the textures together such as sour cream, Greek yogurt or avocado crema.
- Lime juice to taste. Don’t forget the lime! The lime brightens and enlivens the earthy fajita flavors.
- Hot sauce to taste. The steak fajitas aren’t spicy but plenty flavorful. If you are your guests like a kick, make sure to serve with hot sauce on the side.
Steak Fajita Variations
- Versatile bell peppers. You can use whatever combo of peppers you like. You can even add more peppers if you prefer.
- Add beans. Add warmed black beans or pinto beans directly to your tortillas before er piling on the steak and bell peppers.
- Add Veggies. You can add additional veggies or swap some of the bell peppers for veggies such as corn, zucchini, sweet potatoes, etc.
- Corn Salsa. I’m obsessed with sweet, smoky, crunchy, juicy corn salsa. I’ve already used in my pork tacos and think it belongs on everything! OR you can just serve it on the side with some chips.
- Add pineapple or pineapple salsa. Freshly chopped pineapple or grilled sweet and smoky pineapple salsa pair beautifully with steak fajitas and add a delightfully juicy, sweet freshness.
- Add Mexican French Fries. Add Mexican French fries to the bottom of your tortilla like in California Burritos – because fries make everything better!
- Spice it up. The spice level as written should be perfect for most people but if you know you love spicy then feel free to add extra cayenne pepper or you can add hot sauce to taste to the assembled steak fajitas.
What Can I Prep Ahead?
These Chicken Fajitas can be prepped ahead so when it comes time to cook, it’s just 10 minutes to dinner.
- Marinade: Whisk all the marinade ingredients together and either store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or proceed to marinate your steak.
- Vegetables: Slice your bell peppers and onions and store in an an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.
- Toppings: pico de gallo and guacamole are common toppings for steak fajitas. Pico de gallo and guacamole can be made the morning you plan on serving the fajitas.
What Sides Should I serve with Steak Fajitas?
- Chips and salsa. Steak fajitas needs chips and salsa! Up your salsa game with homemade salsa, grilled corn salsa, pineapple salsa, mango salsa, or avocado corn salsa.
- Rice: is a must-have side for any Mexican recipe. We love serving these steak fajitas with cilantro lime rice, Mexican rice, or avocado rice. You can also serve with quinoa, or low carb cauliflower rice.
- Salads: salad is always a win and a great way to stretch your steak fajitas recipe if you’re serving a crowd. These fajitas pair well with: southwest salad, corn salad, or southwest orzo salad.
- Veggies: I HIGHLY encourage you to go with authentic elote (Mexican Grilled Street Corn) – you will not regret it! Other alternatives include grilled corn on the cob, baked asparagus, roasted broccoli, roasted potatoes, roasted cauliflower.
- Fruit: you can keep it simple and serve this steak fajita recipe with watermelon or grapes or any of these fabulous options: pina colada fruit salad, fruit salad with honey lime vinaigrette, grape salad, summer fruit salad or caramelized grilled pineapple.
- Carbs: add some green chiles and or/ jalapenos to my sweet cornbread recipe and watch it disappear (one of my all-time favorite recipes I bring to everything!) or my corn casserole is always a hit.
HOW LONG DO GRILLED STEAK FAJITAS LAST IN THE FRIDGE?
- steak: store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- pico de gallo: is best consumed the same day it is made as the tomatoes will continue to release juices BUT it can be stored for up to three days.
- guacamole: can be stored for 2-3 days. The top layer will begin to oxidize and turn brown upon storage but this doesn’t mean the guacamole has gone bad, but it can be unappetizing. To store guacamole, store in an airtight container with a piece of plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the guacamole. This will help decrease the speed at which the avocados brown due to oxidation.
HOW TO REHEAT STEAK FAJITAS
- Microwave: transfer steak and bell peppers to a microwave safe plate. Microwave for 60 seconds then at 20 second intervals as needed.
- Skillet: warm steak in a skillet on the stove top over medium heat, stirring often until warmed through.
- Oven: Transfer steak and bell peppers to a baking sheet and reheat at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes or just until warmed through.
CAN I FREEZE STEAK FAJITAS?
Yes, you may freeze either the steak after it is cooked or the steak when it is added to the steak fajita marinade. I do not recommend freezing the bell peppers as they will become mushy when defrosted.
- Freeze Marinating Steak: Add steak to the marinade in a freezer bag, squeeze out excess air, label and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight then use immediately. You will still want to use the spice rub on the steak before cooking.
- Steak: After you have cooked the steak, let it cool completely then transfer it to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag and squeeze out any excess air. Freeze for 2 to 3 months.
Looking for More Fajita Recipes?
- Skillet Chicken Fajitas
- Pork Fajitas
- Sheet Pan Shrimp Fajitas
- One Pot Chicken Fajita Pasta
- One Pot Chicken Fajita and Rice Soup
- Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas
- Chipotle Honey Lime Chicken Fajita Chicken Bowls
- Sheet Pan Fajita Salmon with Cilantro Lime Butter
- Fajita Chicken Wraps with Creamy Avocado Dip
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