Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
May 4, 2009 11:06 AM

My Fajitas were Inedible... What Did I Do Wrong?

Last night I made fajitas for dinner. I marinated flank steak for about 8 hours in a nicely seasoned marinade that included freshly squeezed lime juice, olive oil, crushed garlic, ground cumin, oregano, chopped cilantro and chili powder. I cooked it on a stove-top grill pan until it was slightly pink. I let the meat rest for about 10 minutes while I cooked sliced onions and bell peppers in the same pan. I sliced the meat at an angle, against the grain, and served it.

In a word -- BLEEECH!!! The meat was totally inedible. It couldn't be chewed. It was my understanding that the lime juice would serve to tenderize the meat. It didn't. Maybe I should mention, FWIW, that the flank steak was pre-packaged and was a Swift Premium product. It was the only flank steak the supermarket carried. I tossed the whole thing in the trash.

I'm thinking that if I ever attempt fajitas again, I'll have to use a better, more tender cut of meat. Or is there something else I need to know about using flank steak?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Had it been aged at all?

    1. We used to make fajitas but only with skirt steak, not flank steak. Not sure this would matter that much though...hmmm...hopefully someone will have the answer for you!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Val

        Flank steak (usually) is great for fajitas, I'm assuming you sliced it thinly enough and across the grain- maybe you marinated them too long? Usually we salt & pepper it and squeeze a bunch of lime juice on the up side before throwing it on the grill, then put more lime juice on top after it's turned. Why did it taste bad to you- can you elaborate on why it was so unpalatable? Maybe the meat was over the hill?

      2. It was not aged, Tummy. People don't age flank steak. And this was pre-packaged, remember. You can say it was "wet aged" which just basically means it was left in the cryo-packaging for a while and the natural enzymes in the meat have gone to work on it.

        Anyway, I would say that you should not have used lime juice. Lime juice will "cook" the meat, especially after 8 hours. Not by heat of course but via the acid in the lime juice. Without getting into much detail, I can assume that the meat was a whitish color? Kind of a gray-white? If so, I would also bet that it was kind of mushy on the outside.

        Marinades as a general rule to not tenderize meats by any appreciable measure. You can't take flank steak, marinate it and expect it to be as tender as filet mignon... it just doesn't work that way. For marinades to truly tenderize the meat they would have to penetrate all the way to the center. For true tenderization, go for something like this:

        If the main problem was just that it was tough, I can only tell you that you didn't slice it thin enough. Also, don't worry about angles with fajitas. Angles make things pretty, not tender or tasty. If you're throwing it all into a tortilla for an easy Sunday dinner, don't worry about looks. Think about shaving the meat with the knife, not slicing. That mentality will help ensure super thin slices. Thin=more tender. Go for 1/8 of an inch or thinner. 1/16 is best but just be sure you've got a sharp knife. Thin, thin, thin!

        10 Replies
        1. re: SQHD

          At least some flank steaks are aged, and I bet it would make a difference. I'm not familiar with "Swift Premium", though...

          CindyJ, you may be interested in this site, for more information about flank steak:

          Keep in mind that you may just have got a tough piece of meat, and there was nothing you could do to mitigate that.

          1. re: Full tummy

            I would venture to bet that you cannot walk into any store anywhere and find aged flank steak. You are talking about dry aged, right? The cost of aging (time, cooler space, labor, etc.) does not justify the return. In other words, it would be far more expensive to age flank than the money you would gain by selling the aged product. That's why you only see aged cuts like rib eye, t-bone, etc. because stores can sell it at $20+ per pound.

            Wet aged is basically what ALL supermarket beef is these days so saying that "it would make a difference" is kind of counterintuitive because unless you happen to kill and butcher a cow yourself, your beef IS aged. The beef primal pieces that are shipped to the grocery stores are left in the vacuum packaging for a few days. The enzymes work in much the same way that they do when dry aged, only the process is far easier, you don't have to worry about temperature, humidity and evaporation... you do nothing but let it sit. The end result is a more tender product than it would be if no aging was done, but the flavor is of course no where near the level as dry aged.

            1. re: SQHD

              I'm pretty certain my butcher dry ages skirt. I made a great carne asada once. Well, there abouts anyway.

              1. re: Soop

                All the beef I buy (in the UK:) is "hung" - I'm guessing that's the same as dry aged?

                1. re: greedygirl

                  Yeah, as far as I'm aware.
                  When I asked my butcher the first time if a steak was aged, he looked at me like he didn't understand the question, and then said it was all dry aged (and you can definitely tell from the colour of a lot of them - lovely yellow fat and burgundy meat)

                  I guess they just hang up the entire cow...

            2. re: Full tummy

              You've got to be kidding. I live in an area where butchers are rare so I have to depend what is available in a regular grocery stor - probaby like most of the country. You;re a beef snob & that doesn;t work for the average cook.

            3. re: SQHD

              The meat wasn't that gray-white color, but maybe that's because the chili powder made everything kind of reddish. The texture still looked okay. And once again, the recipe was to blame, because the instructions said, "Combine all ingredients and mix well. Pour marinade over meat in shallow glass, plastic or other non-reactive container (a 1-gallon plastic zip-top bag works well). Refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours."

              1. re: CindyJ

                Just how much lime juice did you use? Maybe we're all assuming you used a lot when in actuality it could have been a tablespoon.

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    Yeah - sounds like more than was necessary for 8ish hours.

                    If you read over ceviche recipes (and granted, we're talking about fish with ceviche, not beef) you will find comparable amounts of lime juice, maybe a little more, 1/3 to 1/2 cup, and a "marinating" time of anywhere from 2-6 hours on average. During this time the fish protein is cooked by the lime juice.

            4. I use skirt steak for fajitas as well. I make flank steak, grilled, thinly sliced for other meals but it still needs a fork and knife to eat it. That's the nature of the cut.

              1. Try it again, but get rid of the lime juice, and the chili powder (if your chili powder contains salt)

                Also, a more tender cut such as top sirloin or skirt might take the guesswork out of it. I like rare/med rare flank just fine, but once you go a degree past med rare, you might as well braise it. Top sirloin is a tiny biit more forgiving, skirt is a little more forgiving yet.

                You can also use chicken.

                4 Replies
                1. re: gordeaux

                  I wouldn't have used lime juice at all, except for the fact that I'd read it was a tenderizer. I didn't like the citrus flavor it imparted. I've used chicken in the past, and it's been fine. I was going for a variation last night.

                  As for flank steak vs. skirt steak, there were packages of both in the meat counter, right next to each other,both from Swift Premium. They looked like similar cuts; in fact, I'm curious about what the difference is between the two. I chose the flank steak based on illogical reasoning. The flank steak was $1 more a pound than the skirt steak. I figured that maybe higher cost translated into better quality. One thing for sure -- the cheaper skirt steak could not have been any worse.

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    skirt is a much more tender cut, whereas flank is more suited for braising. That's not to say flank is not great when cooked properly on the rarer side of temperature. However, flank is not forgiving at ALL if you cook it past the rarer side of med rare. Skirt, can be well done, and still retain some tenderness.

                    It really sounds like your lime juice for 8 hours might have made a normally decent cut of meat from a bad cow a little worse than it would normally be. My guess is that the inner portion of the meat would have been fine, BUT, the outer portion was probably cooked more than you think. The lime may have cooked it, and THEN the heat may have cooked it more. Add in the fact that the it may have been a bad tough cow, and, it adds up to leather.

                    Skirt steak used to be a "garbage cut" that nobody wanted (except for smart butchers.) It is full of fat and flavor, and incredibly tender for the price when done right. I'd say for the normal price I can get choice outer skirt for of 2.99, there is no better "tender" cut of meat. I can sometimes score top sirloin for the same price which I also adore, but skirt is more flavorful (fatty.)

                    Anyway, you'll probably have better luck next time, and if you didn't like the lime, then omit it. I kinda think you got a bad cow part to start off with - it happens.

                  2. re: gordeaux

                    The chili powder was my own blend, and it contained nothing but toasted, pulverized chili peppers.

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      I would still use lime juice, as I said above, but squeeze it on top of the steak while I was grilling it, some on top with each side up. Thinly sliced, crosswise, and I wouldn't marinate it at all. I don't like pickled meat (my mother cured me of this with her homemade sauerbraten). Swift Premium used to be one of the better brands of meat back in the 1960s, I reallyhaven't followed them since then, but when I shopped with my mom at the local AF Base commissaryas a kid back then they had a lot of Swift products. Hopefully it's still a good bet.