When it comes to steak fajitas from the El Paso border region, we’re talking about skirt steak, cooked over mesquite wood at extremely high temperatures. Mesquite is the only hardwood to be found in the desert area where I grew up; it imparts a very distinctive and robust flavor, and also happens to produce the hottest coals for cooking. We use a commercial log-burning grill at my restaurant, Rancho Lewis, in Charleston, South Carolina, but this method is really easy to execute at home on the backyard grill using a combination of charcoal briquets and mesquite chunks available at any hardware store.
I recommend seeking out sun-dried chile powder if you can, as it makes a world of difference. It’s sweeter and less bitter than the typical mechanically dried chile powder—think of the flavor difference between oven-roasted dried tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes. It’s very easy to source online.
If you are looking for the restaurant-style “sizzling beef fajitas” presentation, top a hot cast-iron griddle (that you heat in the oven or on the stove) with the grilled onions and peppers, followed by the sliced steak, and finish with a drizzle of the melted seasoned butter over the top—specifically on some of the exposed edges of the cast iron. You’ll get a definite audible and visible smoke show. —John Lewis
Editor’s note: If skirt steak is unavailable, you can use flank steak for this easy recipe.