What’s the difference between a flank steak and a skirt steak? This is top knowledge right here, as only butchers can quickly distinguish between these thin steaks at first glance. The truth is, for the untrained eye, these steaks might look pretty similar, but they’re as different as a rib-eye and sirloin steak — they’re entirely different cuts of meat.
Before we get started, let’s just say that both steaks are fantastic, and there are many ways of making the most out of these long, flat pieces of meat! Now, you’ll know their differences!
After reading this article, you’ll know the difference between the flank steak and the skirt steak, how to cook them and which one is right for you.
Understanding the Flank and Short Plate Primal Cuts
Both the skirt steak and the flank steak come from the cow’s bottom, around its belly. Still, the similar steaks come from distinct primal cuts, the larger chunks of meat from where all beef cuts come from.
The flank steak comes from the Flank Primal, the lower end of the cow’s belly, just below the loin. The most prominent and basically only cut coming from this area is the flank steak.
The skirt steak has a much more interesting story. The thin muscle actually holds the cow’s diaphragm in place, and it’s part of the Short Plate Primal, just under the rib. From this primal, butchers get plate short ribs, the hanger steak and, of course, the skirt steak.
Steaks from the cow’s top primals are undoubtedly more fashionable and expensive than what you get from down under, but there’s great value in the flank and short plate primals. Let’s show some love to lesser-known steaks!
What is a Flank Steak?
The flank steak is a lean, elongated muscle located below the loin. The meat is chewy here, as there are many fibrous tissues — when cooked right, this is no problem at all.
The flank steak has a low-fat content and rarely displays prominent marbling. Also known as the London broil (when broiled), the flank steak’s adaptability is limitless, and its beefy flavor is hard not to love.
The flank steak might not enjoy the popularity of rib-eyes and New York strips, but it has a fantastic quality-price ratio. And talking about comparing it to skirt steak, you can substitute them in most recipes; it’s no biggie. We should mention humanity has enjoyed flank steaks for millennia and they play a critical role in the beef steak’s repertoire.
What is a Skirt Steak?
The skirt steak is an inner muscle that supports the cow’s diaphragm, and for many years, the membrane-like steak was discarded as offal. The frowned-upon steak was, of course, given to field workers for a cheap, energy-rich meal. This is the origin of the authentic fajitas! Who knew?
The skirt steak, though, is kind of tough, so it benefits from an acidic marinade and cutting the meat against the grain is strongly advised. Today, the skirt steak is immensely popular, and just like the flank steak, it is a great bang for your buck. Skirt steaks might be the new kid on the block, but they have the same high quality found in more favored steaks.
Similarities and Differences Between the Flank Steak and the Skirt Steak
- The skirt steak comes from the Plate Primal; the flank steak comes from the Flank Primal.
- The skirt steak has more fat (AKA flavor) and marbling than the leaner flank steak.
- The skirt steak is often thinner than the flank steak.
- The flank steak has been enjoyed since forever, while the skirt steak became a popular cut as early as the 1930s.
- Flank steaks are thicker and wider than skirt steaks, and they can even be stuffed. Skirt steaks are often cut into strips.
- Both steaks are fibrous and can benefit from a marinade.
- You should cook both steaks at high temperatures with dry heat methods.
- Both steaks are pretty beefy and flavorful.
How to Cook a Flank Steak?
Marinades are less effective in flank steaks than skirt steaks because of the tight muscle tissue but marinating them is still recommended. A dry rub will also give personality to the lean meat.
Flank steaks can be stuffed, rolled and broiled for the most sophisticated meal, but you can also slice them into strips and cook them in a thick-bottomed skillet or grill for great results.
As with any other beef steak, resting the meat for a few minutes after cooking is ideal to allow the meat to relax and the juices to redistribute.
How to Cook a Skirt Steak?
Did someone say fajitas? Skirt steaks are the ultimate cut of beef to grill, pan-fry or sauté over high heat with tender results. Slicing the meat against the grain, just like you do with flank steaks, is highly recommended.
For skirt steaks, an acidic, beer-based marinade is typical and will infuse the meat beautifully. Skirts steaks are best cooked to medium-well temperatures to tenderize the muscle fibers and render the intramuscular fat.
For Asian-inspired stir-fries, fajitas or skewers, skirt steaks rarely disappoint, and they’re crowd-pleasers that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
What’s the Right Steak for You?
When it comes to flank steaks and skirt steaks, people rarely have a preference. After all, both are fantastic, inexpressive cuts of meat with great dexterity in the kitchen and grill. The steaks are different, for sure, in size, flavor, texture and fat content, but they’re not all that dissimilar. You can use one or the other. Better yet, use them both!
The best way to understand the difference between flank steaks and skirt steaks is by visiting your local butcher, getting them both and cooking them side by side. Only then can you consider yourself a true connoisseur.
Please share with us your favorite ways of cooking flank steaks and skirt steaks! We’d love to know what you make with these bad boys.