Since both flank steaks and skirt steaks look strikingly similar, it’s no surprise that they often get confused with one another. These beef cuts are inexpensive, relatively easy to cook, and most importantly - incredibly tasty.
While they have quite a few things in common, they’re also two very different steaks when fat content, shape, and grain structure come into play. This causes each result to taste a little different.
However, many people use steaks interchangeably, and both flank steak and skirt streak make a great cut of meat when grilled properly.
After searching many forums and looking up a ton of recipes, I can finally present to you the ultimate skirt steak vs. flank steak battle.
Flank Steak: A Summary
Flank steak, taken from the lower chest or abdominal muscles of a cow, is a cut of beef that provides a strong, beefy flavor profile.
As the name suggests, it comes from the flank, which is full of tough fibers and muscles that help the cow twist and walk.
This causes flank steak to be a very lean and tough cut of meat.
The best way to cook flank steak is to use high heat for a short period of time.
You can also grill or sear a flank steak, and it is best served medium rare. Never use indirect grilling since the flesh is not easily penetrated.
When cooked incorrectly, the tough muscle fibers cause the beef to be very chewy and all-around unpleasant.
Flank steak is known for its intense flavor. Marinating it beforehand not only helps to tenderize the cut but also balances out that intense flavor.
Compared to skirt steak, flank steak (not to be confused with the flat iron steak) is a lot thicker and wider. You’d pick it up from the butchers as an entire muscle, weighing around 2-3 pounds.
It may not be pretty to look at; however, what you see is what you get. There’s hardly any marbling due to the little fat content it contains .
When prepared properly (typically as a thin cut), this tough beef can be transformed into a tender and juicy cut.
Flank steaks are often referred to as London Broil, Jiffy Steak, and Bavette Steak.
Skirt Steak: A Summary
The reason skirt steak and flank steak look and taste similar are down to where they’re sourced from.
Skirt steaks come from the cow’s diaphragm muscle, the plate primal which is close to the abdominal muscle, where the flank steak is taken.
Both steak cuts are fairly lean and tough, however, the skirt is less thick and wide than the flank. Skirt steak also benefits when thinly sliced and cooked medium.
If you cook past medium rare, the entire cut will be practically inedible.
Since the muscle fibers on the skirt are even tougher than the flank, it has a more intense flavor.
To counteract this (as well as reach maximum tenderness), you’ll want to marinate your cut and remove the excess fat.
Skirt steaks taste best when grilled or seared and popped in stir-fries or fajitas. It can also be either cooked quickly or slow-cooked - there is no in-between.
The confusing thing about skirt steaks is you can either get the ‘outside skirt’ or the ‘inside skirt.’ In all honesty, they really aren’t that different.
Both skirt steaks taste the same, the only difference being the outside skirt is a little thicker and more uniform in shape. Because of this, you’ll usually see the outside skirt on a steakhouse menu.
Skirt steaks are also referred to as Romanian Tenderloin and Philadelphia Steak.
Differences & Similarities
- Both come from the underside of a cow and are long, flat cuts.
- Skirt steak and flank both grill or sear great using high heat due to their tough, whole muscle fibers.
- Both have a strong beef flavor.
- Due to the tough fibers, both steaks become more tender when cut thinly against the grain.
- Due to a slightly higher fat content, skirt steak contains more marbling than flank. It is also richer in taste.
- The muscle fiber is tougher on a skirt steak, therefore it has a stronger beefy flavor than flank steak.
- Skirt steak grills quicker than flank steak since it is thinner.
- Skirt steak is made up of more tough muscle fibers than flank steak, therefore it should only be cooked medium rare to avoid overcooking.
- Flank steak is sold by the pound (usually around 2 pounds) therefore it feeds a larger crowd.
- The grain structure on skirt steaks is much more loose compared to the flank. So, when it comes to marinating, the skirt steak can soak the juices up a lot better. However, marinating is not only for taste but for tenderizing too. It may do the flank steak some good if soaked in an acidic marinade.
How to Cut a Steak
Cutting against the grain refers to slicing the cut against the direction that the muscle fibers run.
Cuts such as Hanger Steak (Hanging Tender), Flatiron Steak (Petite Tender), Top Blade Steak, and both Flank and Skirt Steak have longer fiber than most. This is because those muscles work harder.
“A steak with a distinct grain will be inedible unless cut against the direction the grain runs.” - Chef Yankel Polak, ButcherBox's In-House Chef
Cuts from the rib and loin (such as filet mignon) are more tender since the muscles there are used a lot less.
While cutting against the grain for these steaks is advised, it isn’t as important as for tough steaks.
You may have noticed that cutting with the grain causes the meat to become a lot chewier.
This is because the muscle fiber remains intact and isn't broken up when the blade slices through the meat .
Read More: How to Cut Tri Tip Steak
How To Cook A Flank Steak
The best way to cook flank steak is on the grill at medium-high to high heat.
You only need a few minutes on either side to avoid overcooking. If you go past medium-rare, you’ll have a very hard time getting your teeth through it.
Flank is also great when popped in the smoker for a while to add a little extra flavor. You do have to keep an eye on the temperature, though, because it has to be low enough that you can finish it off with a sear.
If you’re looking for a simple flank steak recipe, try this one:
- 3 pounds of flank
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons of chili powder
- 3 tablespoons of distilled vinegar
- 1 cup of soy sauce
- ¼ cup of honey
- ⅓ cup of vegetable oil
- To prepare the marinade, you’ll want to add the honey, soy sauce, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and chili powder into a bowl.
- Whisk everything together and place the flank into a shallow dish.
- Let it rest inside the marinade.
- Fire the grill up to 375 degrees F.
- Sear the flank for 3-4 minutes on either side or until the internal temp reaches 135 degrees F.
- Place the steak on a cutting surface and let it rest for 5 - 10 minutes. When cutting, assure it’s against the grain.
- Place on a warm plate and serve.
How To Cook Skirt Steak
Since skirt steak meat is thin, you’ll only need 2 minutes or so per side. The key is to get your grill flaming hot before you start cooking.
If you enjoy a chewy steak, then, by all means, cook it well done. If you like it tender, stick to medium rare.
Skirt steak works wonders inside pitas, wraps, fajitas, and with salads or over sides.
Try this simple yet delicious lime and chili skirt steak recipe:
- 2 pounds of trimmed skirt steak
- 1 teaspoon of chili powder
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- 2 - 3 tablespoons of lime juice
- 3 cloves of garlic
- To prepare the marinade, place the lime juice, chili powder, olive oil, salt, and garlic into a bowl.
- Whisk together.
- Pop the skirt steak in a shallow dish and cover with the marinade.
- Wrap the meat and place it in the fridge for 6 - 24 hours.
- Fire up the grill at medium-high heat.
- Season both sides of the skirt with salt and pepper.
- Cook the skirt for 2 - 3 minutes inside a cast iron skillet on either side or until the internal temperature reaches 130 - 135 degrees F.
- Rest the meat for 2 - 3 minutes.
- Once slightly cool, slice the meat ensuring you go against the grain.
- Place on a warm plate and serve.
Flank Steak Vs. Skirt Steak: Which Is Better?
If you’re having a hard time choosing between the flank and skirt steak, it’s best to pick what you’re going to cook first.
Great skirt steak recipes include bibimbap, fajitas, Philly cheesesteak, and stir fry.
A good marinade will help tenderize the meat while still keeping that tasty, beef flavor.
On the other hand, flank steak is better when cooked hot and fast, and good flank steak recipes include bulgogi or Carne Asada.
Skirt Vs Flank Steak Takeaways
While many people use skirt steak and flank steak interchangeably, they are, in fact, different when it comes to size, tenderness, and texture.
Skirt contains tougher muscle fibers and gives a stronger beefy taste. Flank is thicker therefore it takes a little longer to cook.
Either one of these cuts works great in BBQ recipes such as stir fry, tacos, and fajitas. As long as you remember not to overcook them, they’re equally great steaks - delicious and versatile.