Often times a hunky piece of ribeye or filet catches your attention at the market. However, there are other options for tender, flavorful, and more affordable cuts that are often overlooked. The next time a beef craving creeps up, try something new and exciting, and grab the unsung skirt steak.
Skirt steak can be simply seasoned or marinated for extra gusto — it’s often used to make fajitas. It’s best cooked in high heat for a short time, to deliver juicy slices of meat quickly to the dinner table.
WHAT IS SKIRT STEAK?
Skirt steak is a thin, long cut with visible grain. It comes from the short plate or diaphragm area of the steer, just under the rib section.
There are actually two types—the outside and the inside skirt steak. This is important to know because the texture and tenderness will differ, especially since this cut tends to be quite lean, with some tough muscle fibers.
- The outside skirt is more desirable, because it’s tender and less coarse. It will be about three to four inches wide, about 1/2- to 1-inch thick, and noticeably longer compared to the inside cut.
- The inside skirt is wider, about five to seven inches, half as thick, and yields a more chewy bite. If only the inside skirt is available, tenderize it with a mallet to 1/4-inch thickness, plus a marinade.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the steak you’re looking at is an inside or outside cut, especially since the beef is folded when packed. If the butcher is available, I recommend asking about the location of the cut.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SKIRT STEAK AND FLANK STEAK?
Both skirt steak and flank steak are lean cuts of beef that are often grilled, pan-seared on the stovetop, or stir-fried.
Flank steak comes from the flank primal, the abdominal area right next to the short plate, where the skirt is located. It has a less intense beefy flavor compared to the skirt, and it is noticeably thicker.
A good visual cue is that skirt steak has its grain running across the width of the meat, whereas flank runs lengthwise. With both steaks, you want to cut them across the grain to end up with a tender slice.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO COOK SKIRT STEAK?
Skirt steak is best seared in a hot pan. A cast iron skillet or a sizzling grill are my top picks. Here are some more tips for cooking the best skirt steak!
- Dry the surface for better crust: I always dry the surface of my steak before seasoning or searing. Any excess moisture will create steam and reduce the likelihood of creating a nice crust on the steak.
- Do not overcook: A quick hot sear will create a flavorful browned crust, and undercooking by just a minute will reduce the fear of going too far. The best texture comes with just a few minutes of contact on the heated surface, to medium-rare doneness. Skirt steak is thin and lean, so going past medium-rare or medium doneness will yield an extremely dry and chewy steak.
- Cook it hot! Cook it fast with high heat, instead of low heat for slow cooking. There is not much connective tissue in skirt steak. Fattier cuts of meat with lots of connective tissue fare better when cooked over low heat for long periods of time, because the low-and-slow method helps to break down connective tissue. That’s not an issue with skirt steak.
Hot and fast is the best way to cook skirt steak to end up with a tender piece of meat. The brief flash time, just a few minutes on each side, ensures a juicy finish.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO SLICE SKIRT STEAK?
Make sure to slice the skirt steak across the grain in thin pieces, about 1/4-inch thick. I like to hold my knife at a 45-degree angle to create a bias cut. This ensures additional tenderness by creating more surface area between the muscle fibers, so they aren’t stacked, making it easier to eat.
SHOULD YOU MARINATE SKIRT STEAK?
Marinating the steak can add interesting flavors and aromas onto the meat.
Skirt steak has a unique accordion-like structure of coarse muscle fibers that provide increased surface area. That means more flavor can be captured, giving the meat a tasty boost.
No more than 30 minutes is needed for marinating time so that the taste does not overpower the beef. Instead, serve with some additional sauce for dipping or topping. Make sure to dry the meat after marinating (before cooking).
NEED SOME FLAVOR IDEAS?
The robust flavors of skirt steak can handle some hearty dry rubs or marinades.
Try creating a customized blend using coarse salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, thyme, oregano, mustard, chili powder, cayenne pepper, or coriander, or use this recipe for Steak Dry Rub!
Get creative with marinades like citrus juice, chopped fresh herbs, garlic, red wine vinegar, or soy sauce for an Asian twist.
HOW DO YOU SERVE SKIRT STEAK?
Skirt steak can be served as a main dish with roasted potatoes or grilled vegetables.
My sauce of choice is a tangy avocado chimichurri. Slice it up for fajitas with sautéed peppers and onions. Put it on a salad, with greens like romaine, spring mix, or arugula with a tangy vinaigrette. Chop it up to make quesadillas or nachos.
If I ever have leftovers, I always look forward to the next morning’s breakfast, so I can enjoy it with over-easy eggs, sliced avocados, and sautéed spinach.
NEED MORE STEAK RECIPES?
How to Cook Skirt Steak
- 1 pound skirt steak
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, as needed for seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, as needed for seasoning
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Cut the steak: If the skirt steak comes in a long strip, cut into 2 or 3 smaller pieces, 5 to 7 inches in length. This will allow them to fit better in the pan, and make them easier to slice later.
2 Dry and season the steak: Thoroughly pat steaks dry with paper towels on each side. The surface should be very dry to help brown the surface of the meat. Generously season each side of the steaks with salt and pepper.
3 Heat the pan: Heat a large 12-inch cast iron skillet over high heat for 3 minutes. Once hot, add the olive oil.
4 Cook the steak: Use tongs to carefully add the steak to the pan, then press down firmly on the surface a few times for more contact. Sear the first side until browned, about 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meat. Flip and cook another 2 to 4 minutes. For medium rare doneness, cook steak until it reaches an internal temperature of 130ºF. Work in two batches if needed.
5 Rest the steak: Transfer steak to a cutting board, loosely cover with foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
6 Slice and serve the steak: Hold the carving knife at a 45-degree angle, and then slice the steak across the grain, about 1/4-inch thick slices. Transfer skirt steak to a serving plate.
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