Indulge me in a little bragging - I make the best fajitas in the world. I’ve searched everywhere and never found better ones than these. Frankly, it’s not even close. This is bold I know. But when you’ve got it, flaunt it, right?
What’s fascinating about this dauntless claim is that the recipe and techniques are quite simple and nothing secret. Indeed, the simplicity is one of the keys. When cooking Tex-Mex style foods we often gravitate towards intense marinades and complex spice mixes. With fajitas though, the best results are achieved by allowing the primary flavors of the meat (usually steak or chicken), the peppers, and the fire itself, to shine.
The other key to success is understanding and timing three distinct stages of cooking. First, sear your steak or chicken as hot as possible to a beautiful char and crust. While the meat is resting, cook the vegetables over a medium high heat. Finally, slice the meat, toss with the vegetables, and allow the mix to finish at a low temp while swirling in wood smoke.
Gather your equipment:
- Your grill and your fuel. I use a charcoal grill for the entire process. It’s the simplest option and produces the best results. Hardwood / lump charcoal is recommended. Briquettes can also work well. Avoid using Matchlight or other similar briquettes. You can make excellent fajitas on a gas grill, but you’ll need a smoker box or other wood burning accessory to approximate the charcoal grill flavor. Similarly, a Traeger or other pellet cooker can work wonderfully for the final stage of cooking, but you’ll need a different apparatus with a higher and more direct heat for first stages.
- Your basic grilling tools: tongs, spatula, fork, oil, onion, rake, apron, and gloves.
- A grill basket is highly recommended to cook the vegetables.
- Wood chips. And a chip soaker is super convenient.
- Cutting board, knife and fork, serving dish.
Gather your ingredients:
- 1 flank steak OR 5-6 chicken breasts as desired
- 2 large red onions and 4 large sweet peppers (green, red, orange, yellow, or a mix as desired), cut into thick strips
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- vegetable oil
- lime juice
- salt and pepper
- tortillas (see my recipe for homemade flour tortillas)
- toppings (see my suggested favorites below)
Instructions (assuming a charcoal grill; adjust as appropriate for other devices):
Mix garlic with a splash of lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Rub onto the steak or chicken. Set aside at room temperature while you ready the vegetables and the grill.
Toss the peppers and onions with vegetable oil, salt and pepper. Set aside at room temperature while you prepare the grill.
Set your wood chips to soak in water.
Light your charcoal (a chimney is recommended) and allow to burn until evenly ashed over and very hot. Gather your coals together in a single zone of your grill in order to focus the heat for the searing stage.
Sear the steak or chicken over your hot searing zone for ~3-4 minutes or until a nice crust has developed. Flip and sear the other side for ~3-4 minutes and nicely crusted as well. Don’t worry about doneness at this point. Remove from the grill, cover loosely with foil, and set aside.
While the protein is carryover cooking / resting, spread out your fire for a more medium heat zone. Using a basket, cook the peppers and onions, turning occasionally until tender and lightly charred - ~10 minutes. Depending on the size of your grill, fire, and basket, you may opt to cook the vegetables in more than one batch. Remove the vegetables from the fire.
Slice the steak or chicken on the bias and against the grain, into thin strips. Toss the meat with the cooked vegetables in the grilling basket. Sprinkle your soaked wood chips onto the coals. Put the basket over the coals and wood. Cover the grill with a lid to trap and swirl the smoke. Reduce the openings of the grill vents to reduce the burn rate and temperature.
Check and stir your mix approximately every 5 minutes. Cook until the peppers have a wonderful wood smoke flavor and the meat is done to your desired temperature. Warm your tortillas during this time. Serve immediately, hot from the grill.
Homemade Flour Tortillas Ingredients:
- 2 ¾ cups of flour
- 6 tablespoons of choice of fat - I prefer 3 tbs European butter with 3 tbs of lard. However using 6 tbs of just one works fine. Substituting vegetable shortening works too.
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- ¾ cup of warm (~110 F) water
Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter and lard until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the warm water and stir until combined. Knead briefly - the goal is to make a smooth and cohesive mix, but to not develop the gluten as much as you would for bread.
Divide the dough into 8-12 (depending on desired size) even pieces and roll into 1-2” balls. Cover and transfer to the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
When you’re ready to cook the tortillas, pre-heat a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over a medium heat.. Remove the balls from refrigeration and roll into 6-9” rounds.
Lightly grease the hot skillet and reduce heat to medium low. Lay tortillas onto hot skillet and cook for ~1 minute on each side or until lightly browned and nicely puffed. Remove from heat and cover with a towel.
Note that although the tortillas are best right from the skillet, they can be made several hours or even a day in advance. Simply rewarm pre-made tortillas briefly in a microwave prior to service.
Favorite Fajita Accoutrements:
- sour cream
- cheese - especially mild, moist, soft, and easy melting cheese
- avocado - can be fresh sliced avocado, guacamole, or both
- fresh or grilled jalapenos
- your favorite hot sauce
- fresh cilantro
- lime wedges
And finally, fajitas are a dish made to be shared family style around a table with plenty family and friends. During quarantine though, your immediate family only is perfect. We suggest perfecting your fajitas now. And as soon as it's appropriate, invite the neighbors over for dinner.