Steak fajitas are one of the most popular ways to serve steak in restaurants and at home. These flavorful dishes have their origins in the Tex-Mex cuisine of the 1930s.
Mexican vaqueros in Texas got paid, in part, in strips of skirt steak, which they grilled and made into fajitas.
Fajitas have one of the most fascinating stories in food history, and their ever-evolving history plays a big role in the best choice of meats for the dish.
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As we mentioned, the original fajitas recipes called for skirt steak (i.e., ranchera meat). If you’re looking for what type of steak is best for fajitas from a traditional standpoint, skirt steak is it.
Skirt steak might be expensive, but counts among the most savory and delicious cuts of meat and versatile for meals. Unfortunately, aside from being a bit tough, the meat itself has a lot of connective tissue in it, which adds to the toughness.
If you’re looking for the most tender skirt steak for fajitas, then look for the outside skirt steak, though it’s harder to find in the grocery store. Cook’s Illustrated reports that the outside skirt steak is less tough than the inside skirt steak.
Each steer only has two types of skirt steak on its body. These are the inside and outside skirt steaks and are taken from either muscle in the abdominal or the chest portion of the steer, just below its ribs. The diaphragm muscle makes up the outside skirt steak.
That said, due to the popularity and the tenderness of the outside skirt, that cut of beef typically ends up in a restaurant, hotel, or some other type of commercial kitchen. If you find skirt steak in the store or butcher’s shop, you have likely found the inside skirt steak.
Once word got around that fajitas were sizzling deliciousness on a plate, demand for skirt steak increased. According to the New York Times cooking section, skirt steak used to be a cheaper cut of meat.
However, this isn’t the case any longer. In its place, the Times recommends using flank steak.
The first thing you should know about flank steak is that it isn’t steak. Yes, it is beef but not steak because, traditionally, flank steak is taken from the fleshy backside of the animal.
The muscles in a steer’s abdomen or chest make up the flank steak. The Spruce Eats points out that this piece of beef often gets sold in one piece. If you’ve had London broil, it’s likely that you’ve had flank steak.
The advantage of flank steak, aside from its lower price, is that it’s both tasty and versatile. That’s why you find it in so many different recipes, from London broil to fajitas.
It’s also a very lean piece of meat, so if you’re looking for a lower fat meat for your fajitas, flank steak might be a good choice for you.
In an informal survey conducted by the foodie site, the Thrillist, a number of professional chefs ranked hanger steak as one of the most delicious, yet underrated cuts of beef.
It’s a meat that nearly drips with beefy flavor. It’s wonderfully marbled, giving it the fatty juiciness that some foodies associate with more expensive cuts of steak.
In fact, some of the chefs polled in Thrillist even go as far to say that its flavor rivals that of the ribeye, but without the ribeye steak’s cost. It gets its name because of its position, which hangs from the cow’s diaphragm.
It makes the list as being one of the best types of steak for fajitas because it grills well and its cost puts it more in the budget ballparks of most home chefs.
What Type of Steak Is Best for Fajitas: Arracheras History
It’s difficult to know what types of meat work best with fajitas without knowing the history of fajitas.
Fajitas got their start on the grills of Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) in Texas.
According to the Austin Chronicle, as part of their pay, these ranch workers received pieces of skirt steak (arracheras), which at the time, wasn’t an ideal cut of meat from a commercial standpoint.
Skirt steak runs on the tough side, so to make it easier to eat, these ranch cooks began experimenting with different ingredients.
Eventually, they discovered that skirt steak tastes great and is easier to chew if it’s marinaded first and quickly grilled (in Mexico, this approach is called ranchera meat).
Over the course of time, word about the deliciousness of fajitas spread until a German-born chef named George Weidmann discovered the recipe. Weidmann worked for the Austin Hyatt Regency in the early 1980s.
Recognizing that “sizzling fajitas” could be a star on the menu, he began serving the dish at the Hyatt.
It was Weidmann’s influence that introduced other types of meats to the traditional fajita recipe. The sirloin was reportedly his favorite.
Eventually, other Mexican food restaurant owners and chefs also began using other cuts of steak and different types of meat in their dishes, too.
Some of them, like flank steak or hanger, are beef. However, it’s now possible to find recipes for fajitas that include other grillable meats, including pork or chicken, according to Serious Eats.
These changes to the traditional meats used in fajitas have given home cooks a lot of leeways to experiment with their favorite meats.
Nearly anything could be fair game – no pun intended – when it comes to creating at-home fajitas recipes.
What Do You Need For Steak Fajitas?
Traditionally, fajitas were basically tacos with skirt steak. That is to say, they were made up of a variety of grilled vegetables, steak, and flour tortillas.
In light of that, if you’d like to create a more traditional fajita, look for the following types of ingredients:
- Skirt steak (or meat of your choice)
- Flour tortillas
- Bell peppers
- Pico de gallo
- Grated cheese
Fajita seasonings include:
- Chili powder
- Garlic and onion powders
- Cayenne pepper
Less traditional seasonings might include soy sauce or butter.
It’s important to note, however, that the recipe for fajitas has evolved to include other types of meats and even vegetarian versions of the dish.
As such, choosing the best type of steak for fajitas rests on two factors: tradition and personal tastes.
What Type of Steak Is Best for Fajitas FAQ
What does the word fajita mean in English?
The name for fajitas is fairly literal, according to Serious Eats. In English, the word fajita means “little bands” or “little skirts.” The name came from where the meat is found on the cow’s body.
Is top round steak good for fajitas?
Part of the fun in serving fajitas is the sizzle in the serve. That’s why meats like top round steak aren’t such great choices for fajitas in their most basic form. This meat, though extremely flavorful, according to Bon Appetit, is on the tough side, to put it mildly.
Slow cooking methods, such as roasting or cooking top round in stews on low heat, work best with a cut of meat like this. Such cooking methods bring out its flavor and make it tender enough to eat. Slow and steady wins the race in this case.
Because of this, you need a little tenderizing intervention before you use this steak for fajitas. Marinading or tenderizing represents the in-between step you need to take before your top round steak becomes delicious fajitas.
Once you take this step, you’re ready to toss your steak on the grill and assemble your fajitas.
Are fajitas nutritious?
According to LiveStrong, they definitely are! Most fajita recipes call for low-fat meats, plenty of fresh grilled vegetables, some healthy fats in the form of avocados, and some salsa.
For those who want to make them completely meat-free, tofu is a great meat substitute. All around, your average fajita recipe is pretty versatile and healthy.
Why is it important to know the history of fajitas?
Knowing the history of fajitas allows you to choose the types of steak that are best for fajitas (just like burritos & chimichangas). There is more to it than that, however. Recipes evolve for a number of reasons. While experimentation for taste’s sake plays a big role, that’s not the only reason. Recipes arise and then change due to necessity.
Originally, home chefs made fajitas with skirt steak because that’s what they were given. Once the dish became popular, supply and demand kicked in. When demand outstripped supply, necessity forced people to try different meats to make the dish, including non-steak meats, like chicken, pork, and shrimp.
Knowing the history of fajitas encourages you to make them the traditional way with skirt steak because you know why they’re made that way. Conversely, it gives you the freedom to experiment because you realize that the original recipe arose out of the supplies on hand at the time and not due to some rigid rule.
Aside from that, knowing the history of food tells you how people rolled with the changes in food supply chains, according to WeForum.org.
Such knowledge teaches you how to be creative in the face of challenging times. You can see how others handled similar issues in the past, even if the problem at hand is only learning how to adapt your food to your budget.