There’s nothing quite as satisfying as biting into a delicious piece of steak. The rich flavor and distinct texture of different cuts of steak mean that one cow offers up endless opportunities to try new and exciting cuts.
Two highly delicious types of steak that you might not be super familiar with are flank steak and skirt steak.
These cuts are highly prized by chefs because they are some of the most flavorful parts of the cow. If you’ve ever had fajitas, you’ve likely tried skirt steak.
Both of these cuts are long, oddly shaped pieces of meat that can be used almost interchangeably in recipes, though flank steaks take a little better to a marinade than skirt steaks.
The important thing to remember when using these cuts is to carve them in thin slices against the grain for best texture.
So, what’s the difference between flank steak and skirt steak? While both are long, thin cuts of meat with a thick grain that can be a little tough, they come from different parts of the cow. Flank steak comes from the flank, under the sirloin, while skirt steak comes from the diaphragm or abdominal.
Keep reading to discover what flank and skirt steak are, what they taste like, how to prepare them, and other interesting tidbits about these highly underrated prize cuts of meat.
What Is Flank Steak?
Chances are you’re familiar with filet mignon, tenderloin, sirloin, porterhouse, inside, and outside round steaks, but have you ever heard of a flank steak?
This cut of meat, unsurprisingly, comes from the flank of the cow (the lower abdominals) and is a seriously underrated star of the steak scene.
It comes from the flank underneath the sirloin and loin of the cow.
Since this muscle helps the cow walk and twist about, it gets a lot of exercise, so that means it can be a little tougher than some other cuts of steak. But don’t let that put you off!
This cut is long, thin, and kind of oblong. Typically, one end of the flank steak is roughly 3/4 to 1-inch thick. As it tapers down to the other end, it thins to about 1/2 an inch.
This cut of steak is incredibly lean, though you may see a very small amount of fat near the thinner end.
If you’ve never heard of flank steak, you may see it in butcher shops and grocery stores under the name London Broil.
You may also see it called a Jiffy Steak or a Flank Steak Fillet. In France, it is called a Bavette steak in French, and in Spanish-speaking countries, you will see it called Arrachera.
While it is thin and a little tough, which means it requires some loving care to properly prepare, the payoff you get when you choose a flank steak is seriously worth it.
What Is Skirt Steak?
Skirt steak is another long, thin cut of meat, but it comes from the diaphragm and transverse abdominus muscles of the cow, instead of the flank muscles which make up a flank steak.
Like flank steak, it is one of the most flavorful cuts of meat on the cow, so even though it can be a little tough, it is highly prized.
Skirt steak has quite a bit of connective tissue, which needs to be broken down when cooking or cut thinly against the grain for optimal tenderness.
There are technically two types of skirt steak: inside and outside skirt, which are found in the section of the cow known as the beef plate primal cut.
The inside skirt steak comes from the transversus abdominis muscle, while the outside skirt comes from the diaphragm.
Full-length skirt steak can be about 20-24 inches long and 4 inches across with long with a thick grain that runs throughout the entire cut.
There is a membrane that covers most of the skirt steak, but a good butcher can remove it for you if it isn’t already removed when you buy it.
What Does Flank Steak Taste Like?
Flank steak has an incredibly rich and beefy flavor. It is intense and strong, which makes it an amazing cut to choose if you really love the taste of beef.
However, since it comes from the lower abdominal muscles and does a lot of work for the cow, it can be quite tough.
With that being said, it is still more tender than skirt steak, so if you are unsure about your cooking abilities, then flank steak might be the best one to start with.
The flavor of flank steak is also less intense than skirt steak, though it is still a prized cut of beef.
If you prepare your flank steak properly using marinades and a quick, high heat cooking style, then it can be remarkably tender.
Once rested, make sure you thinly slice your flank steak against the grain to make each bite a tender flavor bomb of beefy goodness.
What Does Skirt Steak Taste Like?
Skirt steak has an even more intense, rich, beefy flavor than flank steak, but it is also tougher, which means you have to be more precise with the cooking of this cut of meat.
A good temperature for skirt steak is medium-rare to medium. Any more than that and it can become like shoe leather.
If you really love the taste of beef and you enjoy your steak medium-rare, then skirt steak might be the perfect choice for you.
You will get a deliciously tender, super flavorful cut of beef that doesn’t take long to cook. Just make sure you thinly slice it against the grain.
How Do You Cook Flank Steak?
If you want to prepare the best possible flank steak that you can, then the grill is going to be your best friend.
You want to get it as hot as possible so that you can cook your steak quick and high. This will keep the middle from overcooking while giving you a nice crust so you get a tender steak.
You can cook this steak anywhere from rare to medium, though rare and medium-rare are likely going to give you the most tender bites.
The muscle fibers in a flank steak can be very strong, so part of the cooking process includes letting it rest for 10 minutes, lightly covered in tinfoil, and then carving thinly against the grain.
You will want to hold your knife at a 45-degree angle, called cutting on the bias, to give you the best results.
For a 1 inch thick piece of flank steak you will want to cook it on the grill for about:
- Rare: 8-11 minutes (125°F)
- Medium-Rare: 9-12 minutes (135°F)
- Medium: 10-13 minutes (145°F)
There is a bit of overlap in the times since barbecue temperatures can vary and impact cooking times. Your best bet is to invest in a meat thermometer so that you can be sure you are preparing your steak to perfection.
Remember to sear your steak for 1-2 minutes in direct heat and then move it to a side of the barbecue that has indirect heat for the remainder of the cooking time.
An important tip to remember is that you should take the steak off the grill when it reads 5 degrees below its doneness temperature since it will continue cooking as it rests.
If you want to add some extra flavor to your flank steak, you can try making different marinades and letting them sit in it overnight.
The flavors will sink into the steak and can even help to tenderize the meat depending on what is in the marinade. Cook normally.
The most important part of cooking a flank steak is salt. Don’t be shy with the salt shaker since it helps to bring the intense, beefy flavor to life.
How Do You Cook Skirt Steak?
Just like flank steak, skirt steak is best prepared quickly over high heat. And the best way to do that is on the grill.
Cook it at a high temperature for a shorter amount of time so that the outside gets the perfect crust while the inside of your steak remains juicy and tender.
You might want to cut your skirt steak into a few portions before you grill it since this can make it easier to maneuver as it cooks and also easier to carve once it has rested.
Like flank steak, this cut does well when cooked to a medium-rare or medium temperature.
You will also want to let it rest for 10 minutes and then carve it thinly against the grain so that it becomes melt-in-your-mouth tender.
An important tip to create the best possible skirt steak is:
- Sear your steak for 1-2 minutes in direct heat and then move it to a side of the barbecue that has indirect heat for the remainder of the cooking time.
- Cooking it in the direct heat for the entire cook time can cause the outside to burn without properly cooking the middle of the steak.
For a standard piece of flank steak you will want to cook it on the grill for about:
- Rare: 4-6 minutes (125°F)
- Medium-Rare: 5-7 minutes (135°F)
- Medium: 6-8 minutes (145°F)
As you can see, skirt steak cooks more quickly than flank steak so it can help you get dinner on the table in a flash, depending on the temperature you prefer.
The overlap in times means that you may have to pay attention to your steak and test it with a thermometer since grill temperatures aren’t consistent.
Like flank steak, you will want to take it off when the thermometer reads 5 degrees below its doneness temperature since it will continue cooking as it rests.
Best Ways To Use Skirt Steak
While preparing your skirt steak on the grill might be my favorite way to get the most tender and delicious piece of meat, there are lots of other ways you can enjoy and prepare this cut.
Keep reading for some of the best ways to use skirt steak in your kitchen.
- Skirt steak is the ideal cut of meat to use for fajitas. You can season it and cook it in a skillet before carving.
- This cut is also perfect to use for a stir fry.
- It tastes great broiled in the oven (though it may get a little smoky).
- Try searing it in a cast-iron skillet to mimic the intense flavor of the grill.
- Top it with some delicious chimichurri for a perfect main course.
- Thinly slice it and serve it over your favorite green salad or grain salad.
These are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. You could even try making steak pinwheels or something fun like that.
Best Ways To Use Flank Steak
Flank steak can also be prepared in a hot cast-iron skillet or broiled in the oven (just don’t forget that it’s in there!).
It is more tender than skirt steak, so there is a little more flexibility in how you use it in the kitchen. Check out some of these ideas for inspiration:
- Try making flank steak pinwheels in a Braciole recipe.
- Slice and roll your flank steak into pinwheels and pierce with a skewer. Grill high and fast and serve with a delicious sauce.
- Grill your flank steak with peppers and onions and serve in a soft taco shell with salsa and avocado.
- Try a recipe for the slow-cooked Cuban dish, ropa vieja, for a tender taste explosion.
- Thinly slice it and serve it with chimichurri and roasted potatoes.
- Add thin slices to salads and grain bowls.
- Try making a flank steak beef stroganoff for a spin on a classic.
- Pop it into a slow cooker to make a spin on Mongolian beef.
- Marinade it and make your own beef jerky.
- Try stuffing something inside your flank steak, rolling it up, and grilling it to perfect. Mushrooms make a great choice. Or you can stuff them with cheese and spinach. Or peppers and onions. The combinations are endless.
Flank steak and skirt steak are two highly underrated cuts of beef that can bring a ton of flavor and creativity to your kitchen.
Both are long, oddly shaped cuts of meat that are thinner and leaner than many of the traditional steaks you might see on the shelf.
You can find flank steak underneath the sirloin and loin of the cow and is made from the lower abdominal muscle.
It gets a lot of work, which can make it a little tough. Skirt steak comes from either the diaphragm (outside skirt) or transverse abdominal muscle (inside skirt).
Both skirt steak and flank steak have incredibly intense, rich, and beefy flavor, with skirt steak just edging out flank steak when it comes to taste.
Flank steak, on the other hand, is more tender than skirt steak and is the perfect cut to use to make a variety of steak pinwheels.
The key to getting the perfect piece of skirt or flank steak is to cook it quickly over high heat, let it rest for 10 minutes, and then very thinly slice it against the grain on a 45-degree angle.
This carving helps to break down the fibers so it becomes melt in your mouth tender.
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