Tacos Al Carbon

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Some dishes are so easy, they almost don’t need a recipe. Tacos al carbon is one of those “recipes”. Living in Southern California, we have access to excellent Mexican restaurants. Most grocery stores sell pre-marinated flank steak with delicious rubs or marinades, which are great for throwing on the BBQ. But if you live in an area where good Mexican food is scarce, or you’re like us, and avoid seed oils, this recipe will give you authentic street tacos in less than an hour.

tacos al carbon on cutting board.

What does “al carbon” mean?

In Spanish “al carbon” means charcoal grilled. Cooked over an open flame gives these tacos a delicious smoky flavor. But don’t worry if you don’t have a charcoal grill, you can still make them on a gas grill.

This recipe is from Sonora, in northwest Mexico where there are an abundance of cattle ranches. Either beef or chicken can be used, but beef is more common, and what we’ll be using today. What’s not to love about charcoal-grilled meats?

Tacos al carbon in hand.

What’s the difference between “al carbon” and carne asada?

While both recipes use the same cuts of meat, “al carbon” is cooked over charcoal, whereas carne asada can be cooked in either on a griddle (comal) or open flame. Tacos al carbon are often considered “street food”.

Sliced tacos al carbon.

Unlike American tacos which are loaded with shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, tomatoes and hot sauce, tacos carbon are served simply, in warm corn tortillas, with some lime wedges, grilled jalapeño chiles or charred green onions, cilantro, and maybe some Mexican crema. 

Cilantro and lime.

What the best type of meat to use for this recipe?

Either skirt or flank steak work well for this recipe. Hanger steak is delicious as well, but isn’t as easy to find. They are all relatively thin, and cook up quickly, which is also a bonus. I usually buy whatever is on sale. There’s also a lovely jalapeños and charred onion salsa that accompanies, and enhances this dish, and cooks quickly alongside the meat. 

​What’s in tacos al carbon?

Let’s get to the flavoring. Once again, simple is always best. Most cuisines don’t require a crazy assortment of spice mixes. Mexican food is no exception. Guess what? Taco seasoning doesn’t exist in Mexico, just like “Italian seasoning” doesn’t exist in Italy. 

Marinade for tacos al carbon.
  • Chipotle chile in adobo sauce; This ingredient sounds exotic, and hard to find, but is readily available in most large grocery stores nationwide in the Latin food section. 
  • Cumin;. Cumin is a very common spice used in Mexican food. It comes either ground or seeds. We’ll use ground for this recipe. 
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds flank or skirt steak.

For the jalapeño and green onion salsa, you’ll need:

  • 2 jalapeño chiles
  • 10 green onions (about 1 bunch)
  • fresh lime juice
  • Some of the adobo sauce from the marinade/paste above.

That’s it! Simple ingredients make the best dishes! 

tacos al carbon on cutting board.

What’s the best tortilla to use for tacos al carbon?

​Traditionally, soft, warm corn tortillas are used. I like to use the smaller “street taco” size tortillas, but you can use larger tortillas if you can’t find the smaller ones. I love this tortilla warmer!

How to make this recipe

  • Mix 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, one diced chipotle chile, and 1 teaspoon of the adobo sauce, kosher salt. and cumin into a paste.
Adobo paste.
  • Cut the flank steak into 2-3″ wide strips. This will allow the paste to cover more of the meat’s surface. It also means that when it’s sliced, it’ll be the perfect size to fit into a small tortilla.
flank steak raw.
  • Rub the marinade/paste all over the meat and allow it to rest while you prepare your barbeque or grill. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the meat for several hours, or overnight to let the marinade further work its magic if you’d like.
Rubbing sauce on the flank steak.
  • Wash several green onions and jalapeños for grilling. No need to trim or seed. They’ll go on the grill as is.
  • Heat up your grill or get your charcoal going. No matter which type of grill you’re using, the key to perfectly cooked meat is to turn it frequently. Don’t worry if your grill has a flare-up, that just adds to the smoky flavor of this dish. For best results, turn the meat every 2-3 minutes until it reaches 125 degrees F. or medium rare. Remember, meat continues to cook after it’s off the heat.
  • If you want, you can cook the green onions and jalapenos on the cooler part of the grill, and the meat on the hottest portion, or cook them on their own before the meat.
  • Once the meat is cooked to medium rate (125-130 degrees F.), remove it from the grill, along with the charred and blistered green onions and jalapeños.
  • Cover the meat and while it rests. Place the jalapeños and green onions into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam.

Making the jalapeño-green onion salsa

  • Without peeling, cut the ends of the chiles, and seed them. You can reserve the seeds and add more later for extra heat if you choose. Dice the chiles and chop them finely.
Jalapeno and green onion salsa.
  • Chop the green onions and mix both together with lime juice, adobo sauce, olive oil, and kosher salt.
Jalapeno salsa ingredients.

Serving the tacos al carbon

  • Slice the steak against the grain and serve with warm corn tortillas, the jalapeño-green onion salsa, cilantro and lime wedges. Mexican crema or sour cream is also a nice accompaniment.
Sliced flank steak with jalapenos and lime.

What to serve with tacos al carbon

The other great thing about Mexican food in general, is that it’s nice if you’re on a budget. A pound of meat will easily serve 4-6 people since you only put a few pieces in each taco. I serve this Cilantro rice and refried beans whenever I make any Mexican dish. Salsa Fresca or Guacamole is our go-to with tortilla chips. Don’t forget the Margaritas! Ole!

Extra close tacos al carbon.
Tacos al carbon in hand.

Tacos Al Carbon

Tacos al carbon is a Sonoran favorite! Recipe from Cook's Illustrated.
4.89 from 9 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
resting time 10 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Entree
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 6 servings
Calories 370 kcal



Jalapeno-Green Onion Salsa

  • 2 jalapeno chiles (or more if desired)
  • 10 green onions about one bunch
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt


  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves chopped
  • 2 limes cut into wedges
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1/3 cup Mexican crema or sour cream


For the steak rub/marinade

  • Combine 1 Tablespoon oil, 2 teaspoons chipotle, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and cumin in a small bowl.
  • Cut flank or skirt lengthwise into strips approximately 2-3" wide. Rub the chipotle marinade on all sides of the meat.
  • At this point, steak can be frozen or refrigerated until ready to grill.
  • While steak is marinating, prepare charcoal or gas grill.
  • When grill is ready, place steak pieces on the hottest section of the grill and the jalapenos and green onions on the cooler sections. Grill steak until medium rare, about 125-130 degrees F., turning every 2-3 minutes to ensure even cooking on all sides. Grill the onions and jalapenos until charred and blistered. Meat should take about 7-10 minutes.
  • Once meat is cooked, cover it while making the Jalapeno-Green Onion Salsa.
  • Slice meat against the grain and serve with warm corn tortillas, lime wedges, Jalapeno-Green Onion Salsa, cilantro leaves and Mexican crema or sour cream.

Jalapeno-Green Onion Salsa

  • Cook green onions until nicely charred, and jalapenos until blistered. If desired, corn tortillas can be briefly cooked on both sides, and then wrapped in foil or in a clay tortilla warmer.
  • Once green onions and jalapenos are cooked, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
  • Cut the ends of the jalapenos, but do not skin them. Slice in half and remove seeds. Reserve the seeds to add back if you like a spicer salsa.
  • Dice the jalapenos finely, and chop the green onions. Mix with 1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice, 1 teaspoon adobo sauce, 2 Tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Adjust seasoning and add more seeds if you like a spicier salsa.


Nutritional information includes
  • information for whole can of chipotle chilies, even though only one is used.
  • 2 regular sized corn tortillas per person. Information will vary if you omit the tortillas or use street size or flour tortillas.
Meat can be refrigerated for 24 hours with marinade for more flavor.


Serving: 1servingCalories: 370kcalCarbohydrates: 28gProtein: 28gFat: 17gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 75mgSodium: 1061mgPotassium: 579mgFiber: 4gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 412IUVitamin C: 14mgCalcium: 109mgIron: 3mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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  1. 4 stars
    Ooooooh this looks yummy Cynthia!! I love that you don’t overdo the cumin like some recipes where it becomes the star of the show! Lolll! I can’t wait to try this!

  2. I love a good taco! Since moving to West Virginia from California I’ve found it hard to find a decent taco. I can’t wait to try your recipe.

  3. 5 stars
    Tacos al carbon seems so easy to make and looks like the perfect bite! Thanks so much for sharing this simple and delicious recipe!

  4. 5 stars
    Tacos al carbon look amazing! I didn’t know the difference before reading this. I will try making this at home as we don’t have very good Mexican food in Italy.

  5. 5 stars
    Looks delicious! I made Mexican burritos a few times before, but never tacos! Looking forward for making this recipe!!

  6. 5 stars
    Foods cooked Al Carbon has a delicious smoky flavor that I love. Taco al carbon is no different. The ingredients are screaming summer fun in the sun. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

  7. I love to try the Tacos al carbon. The recipe is simple and easy to cook. The recipe of onion salsa is the plus that improves the flavor of every bite. The steak recipes are always fun.

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