Tacos and fajitas are staple dinner dishes in many American households (who doesn’t love Taco Tuesday?). However, most tacos use the traditional ground beef, while some families like to switch out the primary ingredient with beans, chicken, or — our favorite — steak. Fajitas are more accustomed to hosting steak as the star of the show.
But you probably don’t want to spend a fortune on steak for tacos and fajitas that are just going to get cut up and thrown into a tortilla or taco shell. Plus, tacos and fajitas usually have sauces and other ingredients that somewhat cover up the flavor of steak, unlike a steak that sits apart from everything else on your plate.
But if you go too cheap, you’ll risk getting chewy beef that makes for anything but a palatable taco or fajita experience. Use this guide to find some of the best steaks for tacos and fajitas.
The Best Steaks for Tacos and Fajitas
Determining the best steak for any kind of dish is somewhat of a subjective thing. However, you’re here to find the best steak options for tacos and fajitas, so we’re here to give you our input. Here are a few of the top choices for your Latin-inspired steak dishes.
Flat Iron Steak
Flat iron steak is one of the more costly versions of taco and fajita steaks, so this is one to choose if you don’t mind sticking with a bit of a higher budget. This cut comes from chuck shoulder portion of the cow, making it more muscle-rich than other steaks. But when it’s cooking all day in a slow cooker, you’ll enjoy a high-flavor and super tender cut of meat.
Flat iron steak also works well with a marinade that breaks down some of its toughness as it works its magic. If you love flavorful steak with a bit of tang or spice for your tacos or fajitas, a flat iron steak will do the trick.
Flank steak is one of the most well-known kinds for anything that requires thin steaks. This thin cut works well for slicing, as required for tacos and fajitas. It’s also relatively affordable compared to top-of-the-line steaks like ribeye and New York strip.
While flank steak doesn’t have as much full beef flavor as other options, it’s still an excellent choice for tacos and fajitas, especially if you go for more understated versions without a bunch of sauces and ingredients. It’s also one of the healthier cuts of steak, boasting 2.6 grams of saturated fat per 3-ounce serving.
Skirt steak is another affordable steak option for fajitas and tacos. It comes from the diaphragm area of the animal, making it pretty tough when it’s not given the care it needs to cook. Like other steaks best for tacos and fajitas, this one should have plenty of time to cook on low heat slowly, allowing its fibers to break down over time.
This steak cut tends to have a heartier beef flavor than flank steak, making it a good option for tacos or fajitas with lots of ingredients that could overwhelm a milder steak. Use a marinade to tenderize the steak and add even more flavor before the cooking process.
There’s no doubt about it: A hanger steak will cost more than flat iron, flank, and skirt steak, so it’s definitely not a go-to for sticking to a strict budget. But if you’re making an upscale version of steak fajitas or tacos, hanger steak will be right up your alley.
This steak cut offers rich beef flavor and a tender bite, similar to what you’d find with a ribeye. It comes from the upper belly area of the cow, so it has a good balance of muscle and fat. Season it with some salt and pepper, give it a good sear, and let it rest for several minutes before slicing it for your tacos or fajitas.
While on the upper end of the budget for tacos and fajitas, boneless strip steaks are a prime choice for steak lovers. Strip steak is full of flavor and, when cooked properly, super tender. Still, it works well with a marinade if you decide to go that route or keep it classic and simple with a good helping of salt and pepper.
How to Prepare and Tenderize Not-So-Tender Steaks for Tacos and Fajitas
Generally, cheaper cuts of steak require a little more care to make them ready for steak tacos and fajitas. That’s because they’re naturally not as tender, so they may need a little extra cooking time over low heat or a marinade that’ll break down the toughness of the meat resulting in a better texture for each bite.
First, let’s talk marinating. A marinade should have an acid, oil, and spices. The acid helps break down the meat to let it absorb the flavor, while the oil works as a tenderizing component for touch meat. Keeping steaks in the fridge soaked in a marinade overnight is best, but even a few hours can do the trick.
Next, consider the cooking method. Tougher cuts, like flank and skirt steak, should be cooked slowly in a crock pot or smoker to create more tender meat. However, a strip steak, which is already pretty tender on its own, can work for quicker cooking methods, like searing or grilling.
Slicing the steak correctly is also an important step for keeping it tender. Let your meat rest for at least five minutes before slicing to let the steak soak up juices from cooking. Then, slice the steak against the grain, the opposite direction of its muscle fibers. This results in a more tender piece of meat, regardless of its price point.
It’s Taco and Fajita Night!
Now that you know what steaks to buy, it’s time to prepare for your taco or fajita night. Whether you buy a cheap cut of meat or go a little more extravagant with hanger steak or strip steak, you can still have a yummy meal with all your favorite toppings. Check out our guide to making cheap steak taste delicious if you’re sticking to a budget, or try some of our strip steak recipes for more upscale dishes.