How to Cut Beef for Perfect Fajitas Every Time

Fajitas are a classic Tex-Mex dish of grilled and sliced steak, chicken, or veggies wrapped in a warm tortilla. Getting that perfect tender and juicy fajita meat requires knowing how to properly cut the beef against the grain. Follow this simple guide to cutting beef fajita meat like a pro.

What Are Fajitas?

Fajitas are composed of thin strips of grilled skirt steak, chicken, shrimp, pork, or veggies served on a sizzling skillet with sautéed peppers and onions. Warm flour or corn tortillas, guacamole, cheese, salsa, and other favorite taco toppings turn these tasty meat strips into amazing homemade tacos and burritos.

The word “fajita” in Spanish simply means “little belt” or “strap” referring to the long thin strips of meat. Fajitas originated in Texas using beef skirt steak. Skirt steak has hearty beef flavor but can be tough if not sliced properly against the grain.

How to Choose the Best Beef Cuts for Fajitas

While skirt steak is the traditional fajita meat, any flavorful beef cut that’s sliced thin will work well. Good options include:

  • Flank steak – Lean and flavorful with prominent grain, flank steak takes well to marinades. Cut across the grain in thin strips.

  • Skirt steak – This long thin steak has tons of beefy flavor. Must cut against the visible grain when raw.

  • Sirloin flap – Also called bavette steak. Cut from the bottom sirloin, it has loose grain that’s easy to slice thin.

  • Top sirloin – A lean and affordable steak with beefy flavor. Cut very thin across the grain.

  • Tri-tip – Small triangular cut with decent marbling. Cut thin strips against the grain.

  • Hanger steak – A flavorful butchers cut. Slice very thin across the prominent grain.

  • Flat iron – Tender and well-marbled but pricey. Cut thin strips against the grain.

  • Top round – Affordable but lean with visible grain. Thinly slice across the grain.

For the most tender fajita meat, choose steaks with visible grain like flank, skirt, hanger, or top round. Cutting properly across the muscle fibers prevents the meat from being chewy.

Why Cutting Against the Grain Matters

Cutting beef against the grain is key for tender fajitas or any thinly sliced beef dish like steak sandwiches or Mongolian beef.

The “grain” of meat refers to the direction that the muscle fibers run. You can see the grain on raw steaks as thin lines running through the meat.

When chewing meat, biting along the muscle fibers makes it seem tough and chewy. Cutting across them shortens the fibers so they are tender and easy to chew.

How to Identify the Grain Direction

On some beef cuts like skirt and flank steak, the grain is quite visible and uniform. But on thicker steaks, the grain may change direction in some areas. Here are some tips for finding the grain:

  • Look closely at the surface and sides of the raw meat. You should see some thin lines running in a direction. This shows the grain.

  • If needed, lightly bend a section of the meat. The grains should separate a bit and become more visible.

  • Cut a small slice across the steak in one direction. If it seems tough when chewing, you cut with the grain.

  • Turn the steak 90 degrees and slice another piece. If this slice seems more tender, you cut against the grain.

Step-by-Step Guide to Cutting Fajita Meat

Follow these simple steps for perfectly cut fajita meat every time:

1. Start with Partially Frozen Meat

Working with very cold meat allows for thinner, more uniform slices. Freeze steak for 1-2 hours until firm but not solid.

2. Trim Off Excess Fat and Silver Skin

Any thick sections of fat or silver skin make slicing difficult. Trim them off first.

3. Look for the Grain Direction

Closely examine the meat. Identify which way the muscle fibers are running based on the line pattern.

4. Slice Perpendicular to the Grain

With a very sharp knife, cut thin slices across the grain, holding meat firmly. Slices should be 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.

5. Cut Remaining Sections Against the Grain

If grain changes direction, rotate meat and continue slicing crosswise along the new grain.

6. Cut Meat Lengthwise If Needed

For longer fajita strips, first cut across grain into 1-inch wide pieces. Then slice lengthwise.

Fajita Marinade and Cooking Tips

Once the meat is perfectly sliced, it just needs a quick marinade and fast cooking time.

  • Marinade at least 30 minutes. Use a wet marinade with oil and acidic ingredients like lime juice or vinegar. This helps tenderize meat and adds flavor.

  • Marinade no more than 2 hours. Too long causes the meat to get mushy.

  • Use thin meat. Thin slices allow the marinade to penetrate deeply and cook quickly.

  • Grill over high heat. Cook just until browned outside but still pink inside, only 2-3 minutes per side.

  • Cook veggies first. Onions and peppers need more time to soften and char.

  • Let meat rest before slicing. This allows juices to redistribute for juicier fajitas.

Fajita Serving Ideas

Traditionally, fajitas are served sizzling hot right off the grill in a cast iron skillet. But you can also build fajitas in fun ways:

  • Make fajita bowls – Load rice, beans, meat, veggies, guac, and salsa into bowls.

  • Stuff quesadillas – Fill tortillas with cheese, meat, and peppers then grill or pan fry.

  • Top nachos – Pile fajita meat and veggies on chips then add all the fixings.

  • Build tacos – Warm corn or flour tortillas and let everyone make their perfect taco.

  • Make fajita salad – Toss sliced meat and veggies over greens then drizzle with citrus vinaigrette.

  • Build fajita subs – Layer meat, cheese, sautéed onions and peppers on hoagie rolls.

Master the Perfect Fajita Meat

Cutting beef properly against the grain is the key to tender and tasty fajitas. Follow these tips for identifying grain direction and slicing thin strips crosswise. Then marinate the meat just briefly before tossing it on the grill or skillet with veggies for amazing homemade fajitas.

How to Slice Fajita Meat


Do you cut beef fajitas with or against the grain?

Steak for fajitas should be cooked to rare or medium-rare for the best texture and flavor. 3. Slice thinly, against the grain. Cutting meat against the grain into thin strips shortens the muscle fibers, reducing the amount of work you have to do to chew them, and making even tough cuts taste tender.

Is it better to cut fajitas before or after cooking?

Marinating only works on the surface of the meat as salt is the only thing that can get inside the slice of meat. So I suggest marinating the meat sliced and then cooking it. Extra bonus – cooking time is shorter!

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