How To Order Arrachera Steak For The Most Tender Texture

In Mexico, arrachera typically refers to skirt steak. Arrachera is a classic dish at a carne asada — the name for a Mexican cookout literally translating to "grilled meat" — typically skirt steak but sometimes flank steak. Skirt and flank steak are often confused because they come from adjacent muscles of the cow and look very similar. Either works for arrachera, and both can be on the tough side, so tenderizing is a great step to take. Since carne asada also refers to marinated grilled steak (usually flank but sometimes flap or skirt), it's easy to get these two dishes confused.

There is an inside and outside cut of skirt steak, but usually, a package won't specify, and Latin American markets may simply label the meat as arrachera. The outside skirt steak is quite tender, but also not a widely available cut — you would probably have to place a special order at a butcher shop.

Inside skirt is much more common, and probably what you would find at the meat counter. It is much tougher than the outside skirt, so sometimes it is sold already tenderized — also referred to as needled — but if not, you can ask your meat cutter to tenderize it for you. Just ask the person at the counter to run the cut of beef through the machine — they have a mechanical meat tenderizer that works wonders for texture. "Needle tenderization utilizes a set of needles or blades which pierce the meat, cutting through muscle fibers and connective tissue and improving tenderness," notes Beef Research.

How to maximize tenderness in arrachera

A classic Mexican arrachera gets loaded into corn tortillas with onion, cilantro, and salsa, and washed down with a cold beer. A Tex-Mex version would serve arrachera fajita-style with grilled peppers and onion, sour cream, pico de gallo, and shredded cheese in a flour tortilla with a sweet-tart margarita.

But there's nothing worse than biting into a taco with meat so tough that you can't get through. You end up pulling the whole slice of steak out of the taco and are left battling to chew. Asking a market employee to tenderize your skirt steak is the first step to avoiding arrachera heartbreak.

A marinade is step two. Use an acid like lime, white vinegar, or orange juice like in this citrusy carne asada recipe, or fruit with enzymes that help break down protein fibers like pineapple or papaya — just make sure not to marinate for too long or the texture can turn mushy. Alcohol — like a Mexican lager or tequila — can also tenderize arrachera. Try a Negra Modelo for a richer taste, or mezcal for a smoky touch.

Get the grill very hot so you can quickly get a nice char without overcooking. Let the arrachera rest before slicing so the juices can redistribute, and when you do cut it, make sure to do so against the grain. The grain should be easy to spot on a skirt steak, so it will be easy to slice strips of tender and flavorful arrachera.