When it comes to affordable cuts, you can’t go wrong with the Skirt steak. But what about the similar-looking Flank steak? It’s a good choice for many purposes as well, even though it comes from a different part of the cow. Choosing the right one requires an understanding of how their flavor and texture differ. Both are widely used for dishes like fajitas, so it’s often possible to substitute either cut for the other. However, you may want to alter your cooking processes slightly based on their differences.
What Is Skirt Steak?
The skirt isn’t something a cow wears, but rather is part of the muscle tissue on the underside of the chest. A Skirt steak comes from the muscle group known as the plate that runs along the chest and connects to the ends of the ribcage. It’s a highly exercised area, so this meat is both somewhat tough and full of flavor. Still, it can turn tender with the right preparation and careful cooking. There are actually two distinct types of this cut. Outside Skirt steaks are better because they’re more tender and offer a longer cut. The Inner Skirt piece is shorter and tougher, so it’s better used only for braising or grinding. Skirt steak has long been used for dishes that call for chopped or sliced steak, such as tacos, fajitas, stir-fry, and sandwiches.
What Is Flank Steak?
Also from near the bottom of the cow, the Flank steak originates in the muscle group covering the side to the belly of the cow. It’s part of the abdominal muscle wall, giving it a strong grain and plenty of texture. But it’s also flavorful because of the exercise that it receives when the cow walks. While it was originally cooked on its own and kept whole, it has become a popular alternative for dishes like fajitas when Skirt steak is more expensive or less available. It’s a highly versatile cut of meat if you know how to keep it tender.
What Are the Differences Between Skirt Steak and Flank Steak?
Since both of these steaks come from the bottom of a cow’s sides rather than the top, they feature a strong grain and a similarly long and narrow shape. Yet there are plenty of differences when comparing the Skirt steak vs Flank steak.
Where They Come From
The Skirt steak is found right under the rib cage. It’s part of a larger muscle group called the plate. A Skirt steak cut is near but not the same as the Hanger steak. The Flank steak comes from the next muscle group down the abdomen towards the rump of the cow. It’s found next to the belly, providing strength to the back legs during each step. Both are well-exercised because of their placement.
Both of these steaks tend to be much longer than they are wide. They’re also thinner steaks, rarely reaching a full 1 inch in thickness in most cases. It’s more common to see these cuts reaching only ½ to ¾ inch in thickness. Skirt steak can be six to seven inches in total length, while Flank steaks can reach that long or top out around 4 to 5 inches instead. They tend to be both thicker and wider than the Skirt cut.
Flank steak is generally one of the most affordable cuts of beef you can find. Yet it tends to come at a slightly higher price than the Skirt steak. This is largely because the Skirt cut is a little more tender, and therefore easier to cook with different methods. Flank steak is affordable enough to enjoy on a regular basis, even if other pricey cuts are out of your budget.
Both cuts of steak offer an intensely beefy flavor due to the amount of exercise the tissue receives. Skirt steak has slightly more flavor, in exchange for a rougher grain and tougher texture. For a steak flavor that spreads throughout a dish when a small amount of meat is added, you’ll want Skirt steak rather than the Flank cut.
Neither of these steaks are primarily chosen for their tenderness. However, the Flank steak is more tender than the Skirt steak, especially when cooked slowly and with liquid added. The Skirt steak needs only a little heat added to cook it as quickly as possible so it doesn’t get a chance to toughen up. The texture is one reason it benefits from being sliced thinly and used for other dishes as well.
Neither cut tends to feature any bone. The plate is a boneless segment of muscle under the ribs, so there isn’t any bone to leave in the meat when cutting a Skirt steak. This is also true for the abdominal muscle that makes up the Flank steak. The long pieces of boneless meat are ideal for slicing up.
Flank steak is quite lean, with 9.4 grams of fat per 4-ounce serving. The Skirt steak contains quite a bit more fat, with 20 grams of fat per 4-ounce serving. If lean meat is a priority for your diet goals, Flank steak is a better choice. The Skirt steak’s extra fat content helps contribute flavor when that’s the priority.
Both Skirt and Flank steaks have a tendency to become a little tougher than other cuts of beef. Flank steak is tender enough to easily grill, but Skirt steak needs a light touch to avoid toughness. Yet both cuts work well for frying, braising, and slow cooking.
How to Cut the Meat
Thanks to having a strong grain, both cuts of steak should be cut across the grain. Slicing the meat before you cook it can particularly soften it for stew or stir-fry. The grain is visible and obvious on both cuts, making it easy to orientate your cuts both before and after cooking.
What They’re Commonly Used For
Skirt steak is the primary cut used for fajitas and similar high-heat dishes throughout Mexico and South America. It’s less commonly cooked and served whole like other steaks due to its texture. Flank steak is sometimes grilled or pan-fried whole after marinating to help soften it. Other than that, it’s also widely sliced and cooked in other dishes like fajitas or stir-fry. It adds more flavor to stews than many other cuts of beef recommended for that method of cooking.
You need an appreciation for real beef flavor to make the most of both Skirt and Flank steaks. Yet with some experimentation, you’re sure to find dozens of dishes you enjoy that put their flavor and texture to good use. Explore inspiration from global cuisine to put your steaks from the Chicago Steak Company to good use.