The Most Flavorful Fajitas Ever – Flank Steak or Chicken Breast

June 8, 2009 in Entrees

Marinate your fajita meat with this flavor packed marinade for fabulous results!

In February, my sister and I went to Santa Fe and took some classes at the Santa Fe School of Cooking – it was an incredible culinary experience – I highly, highly recommend it for a fabulous getaway for any foodie interested in southwest foods.  I learned so much in just a few days – but I heard one thing that shocked and puzzled me. I attended a class called “Fajitas!,” with Chef Susan Anzalone. She said this –

“Never add acid to marinades for meats. NEVER. It will toughen the meat, just like it does in ceviche. Use zest if you want citrus flavor.”

This stunned me, because for years I have used lime juice in fajita marinades – with chicken and flank steak. So, I did some research seeing what some of my favorite chefs recommend for fajita marinades.

Alton Brown, a culinary hero of mine, calls flank steak “the most marinatable hunk of beef there is” in his book I’m Just Here for the Food. But, he does NOT use citrus in his marinade. On Good Eats, he does use lime juice, but says it does NOT tenderize the meat but only adds flavor. (((Hhmmmm . . . OK, Alton, one question:  if you’re not using juice for tenderizing meat but only flavor, why not use ZEST – it’s 1,000 times more flavorful than juice?)))

Some of my favorite magazines – Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Cooking Light – all use lime juice in their marinades, all recommend varying times for marinating.

And the amazing source America’s Test Kitchen (Cook’s Illustrated February 2007) uses lime juice, but sprinkles it on right before cooking. So, obviously ATK does not recommend citrus as a marinade.

I went to some of my favorite food blogs – Simply Recipes uses lime juice as a marinade. Kalyn’s Kitchen uses just a little lime juice during crock-pot cooking. Serious Eats uses lime and orange juices but a very short marinade time.

Now that grilling season is here, I plan on doing more than my share of feasting on fajitas – but I was confused: how to marinate?

I decided that the only solution in the quest for a perfect fajita marinade was  a true “Donna’s Test Kitchen” test: juice vs. marinade. The two marinades I used were identical except one used zest and one used juice.


I marinated two hunks of flank steak  for one hour on the countertop.

I then sprinkled a little lime juice on both hunks of meat and then cooked the two hunks side by side on the grill with the veggies – same temperature, same length of time.

I took off the meat, let it rest about 10 minutes and sliced it.

The clear, not-even-close winner was the ZEST marinated meat. Both hunks were equally tender – because of thin slicing. But, the ZEST marinated meat was by far the most flavorful.


2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Zest from one lime (about 2 teaspoons full)
1/4 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Place in a zip lock bag with one flank steak (about 1 1/2 pounds). Let stand on counter 1 hour, turning occasionally. ( You can marinate in the fridge overnight – I tried both ways with the same results.)

Remove meat from bag, wiping excess marinade off. Spray both sides of meat with oil.

Grill meat over very high heat for 3 to 5 minutes on each side according to desired doneness. Remove meat from grill and let stand 10 to 15 minutes. Slice very thinly across the grain. Serve with grilled veggies and tortillas.


– posted by Donna