Skirt Steak vs Flank Steak – Big Differences?

Is there any significant difference between skirt steak vs flank steak?

The answer to that question is both yes and no. The Skirt Steak and the Flank Steak come from the same general region of the steer and the cuts are somewhat similar but the flavor and the texture of these two cuts are slightly different and worth understanding so that you can grill it in the best possible way. Let’s have a deeper look.

Main Differences Between Skirt Steak vs Flank Steak

The Main Differences Between Skirt Steak vs Flank Steak Are:

  • Skirt steak is cut from the diaphragm muscle, whereas flank steak is cut from the abdominal muscle
  • Skirt steak has a higher fat to protein ratio, whereas flank steak has a lower fat to protein ratio
  • Skirt steak tends to be a bit tougher, whereas flank steak tends to be a bit less tough
  • Skirt steak has a stronger beef flavor, whereas flank steak has a mild beef flavor

What makes them similar?

Skirt Steak

  • They are both from the belly/chest region of the steer and they sort of straddle the “plate” and “Flank” regions on the Butcher Shops map of cuts.
  • They are both lower in fat and higher in protein than many other cuts of beef
  • They are 2 of the 3 steaks in the category of “flat Steaks”
  • They both are low in connective tissue
  • They are both considered medium to medium tough cuts of beef
  • They are both inexpensive cuts of beef
  • They are both most ideal for thin strips in stir fry and fajitas

What makes them different?

Skirt Flank
Cut is from the Diaphragm Muscle The cut is from the Abdominal Muscle
Higher fat to protein ratio Lower fat to protein ratio
Tends to be a bit tougher Tends to be a bit less tough
Stronger beef flavor Mild beef flavor
Thinner cut more ideal for fajitas and stir fry Thicker cut, closer resemblance to a premium steak
Harder to find as there are only 2 per steer Easier to find and a bit more versatile

Skirt Steak

Skirt Steak 1

This is also known as “Arrachera” in Mexico and is the top choice for making amazing steak fajitas. As a tougher cut of beef, the skirt steak can be made to taste more tender by short cooking time and by cutting “cross fiber” to make the meat easy to chew.

It is usually cut thin for tenderness and also because it is a relatively small cut. The skirt only accounts for about 4 pounds of a whole cow.

The Skirt is the diaphragm of the steer and is divided into 2 cuts. The outer skirt cut is connected to the chest wall and is more cherished in the restaurant business for the slightly thicker cut and a more consistent shape. The inner skirt is slightly thinner and runs back to the flank. The inner skirt has a greater tendency to shrink up during cooking but the flavor is equal throughout.

The skirt has long muscle fibers and is low on connective tissue so there is little chance of running into “gristle” on a skirt steak. The fat content is low compared to other cuts but there is still plenty to provide a rich moist flavor when cooked right. The long muscle strands are also ideal for capturing and holding marinades, enriching the flavor of your steak.

As a “flat steak” it can be cooked and eaten in the way you would any steak and being one of the least expensive cuts from beef the flavor does not disappoint. You will never get a thick cut from the diaphragm because it is thin to start with but with a skirt, you want to cook it fast. A thick cut of skirt would only render and very tough steak.

A 4oz skirt has about 28g of protein and 16g of fat

Flank Steak

Flank Steak

Also known as Vacio in many Latin American countries. Vacio means “empty”. This is not to say that it is empty in flavor but rather it is a pretty lean cut so it is nearly empty of fat. Fat is often valued for the flavor and tenderness it gives to the meat when it is cooked. However, for those who desire a lean cut that is less fatty and stronger in a beef flavor, flank is a good option.

Flank can be thick or thinly cut. It is the second choice for stir fry and fajitas when skirt steak is not available. Since the fat content is lower, it can end up a little dry when grilling, a marinade is recommended with flank steaks.

Flank is the abdomen of a steer and so its degree of toughness is dependent on the amount of exercise the steer had. Therefore, a strong steer can mean a tough flank. Flank, as well as skirt, can be made a little more tender with a few good hits or a tenderizing mallet. If you think you have a tough flank thinner is better, tenderize it with a mallet then marinate it for about 30 min. You should be fine with that.

Like skirt, the flank has long muscle fibers and almost no gristle. This is ideal for soaking in a marinade as it will easily penetrate into the spaces between the muscle fibers and enhance the flavor and juiciness of your steak.

This is the second of the three “flat steaks” in terms of flavor and popularity. It can also be enjoyed as a whole steak or sliced cross fiber into strips for stir-frys and fajitas. Like the skirt, you want to cook it hot and fast. Flank can get very chewy if you go past medium so keep it under 145 degrees F.

A 4oz Flank has about 32g of protein and 9g of fat.

Hanger Steak

Hanger Steak

The third flat steak is the “Hanger Steak”. It is not part of today’s comparison but worthy of mention just for reference. It is like a sling for the diaphragm. It is the least popular of the flat steaks as it is tough and has an inedible membrane running down its center. Another cut that is best marinated and cut for steak tacos, stir-fries, or rice bowls.

What to look for when buying

Like pretty much all steaks they should be nice and red not brown or gray unless they have been pre-marinaded. Proper butchers will have cut away most of the fat and removed the outer membrane. You are not likely to find these “thick”, if somehow you do, cut them thin or pound them out. You need to keep cooking time to a minimum for the best results.

Best Preparation

Both of these cuts are ideal for marinating. The marinades will work in and all around the muscle fibers and make your steak nice and juicy. Keep your marinading time to around 30 minutes, especially if they are acidic types of marinades. Acid marinades are similar to adding cooking time and can “cook” your meat in the way that ceviche is “cooked” in lime juice. It can make your meat tough if you overdo it. Marinades that are oil or butter-based are more ideal for these cuts.

 Whether you are cooking as a steak or as fajita strips you are generally advised to keep them “whole” then cut them into strips after they cook. You will have more tender strips in this way. Remember to cut against the grain of the muscle to make your strips even more tender.

Grill time

Now that you are prepared and ready to go.

First, you want to get your grill good and hot. If you have a thermometer, your aim would be a grill temperature of 400 to 500 degrees.

Next, You will have to judge it for yourself, depending on the thinness of your steaks. You are looking at about 2 min per side, and maybe less. You should aim for a medium-rare doneness (135 degrees F) for the most tender consistency, as they rest these thin steaks may still end up at a medium doneness. That’s ok.

Note: If you are a “well done” steak eater, I would advise you against any of the flat steaks and go for a T-bone or ribeye. Skirt and Flank will be hard to palate if you take them to “well-done”.

Using a grill basket

grill basket

You could use a grill basket to cook your strips. A word of caution, this can lead to inconsistent strips. Some may be chewy, and some will be tender. It’s tricky with Flank and Skirt strips.

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12/05/2022 04:59 pm GMT

The best tip, in this case, is still to cook your steak whole but only to rare or medium-rare and then cut it into strips. Then, you can place the strips in a grill basket along with your pre-roasted peppers. Place the basket on the grill, turning it over once, just long enough reheat all your ingredients moments before you serve. This can also add some nice additional nice grill flavor to your strips and veggies. This makes a great serving presentation. I recommend it.

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12/05/2022 02:40 pm GMT

Some tasty recipes

Beer-Marinated grilled skirt steak

Soy-Marinated flank steaks

Argentinian Skirt Steaks w/ Chimichurri

Grilled Marinated Flank Steak

Grilled Skirt Steak Fajitas Recipe

Get it delivered fresh

Fresh Setak

 Well, freshly frozen. If it comes by mail, it must be frozen but that does not hurt anything. In general, even the butcher’s meats are delivered frozen, only in much larger pieces. Nebraska Star Beef is a great supplier of beef in a wide range of cuts. They also carry a nice line of seasonings. If you have Amazon prime you won’t even need to pay for shipping. It makes things so simple and saves time from shopping for the right steak. Check out their Flank Steaks. The wonderful thing about ordering from Nebraska Star Beef is they have already selected the best beef of any cut for you. Leave some of the guesswork to the pros. 

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This steak is melt in your mouth delicous seared in a cast iron skillet and served up with sides, grilled, or made into sandwiches, salads, fajitas, or stir fry.

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Remember I mentioned that Skirt Steak can sometimes be a challenge to find. Nebraska Star Beef generally has it in stock. Check here on Skirt Steak to see if they have it in stock now.

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Skip the restaurant and grocery line and get this steak pack sent directly to your house so you can spend more time with family and less time shopping for groceries. Get this at Amazon.com.

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Another well-established company is Omaha Steaks. There were around long before the internet and have been delivering quality meats since 1917. In addition to steak they also have poultry and seafood. Check out the broad selection of meats from Omaha Steaks. I refer to them in another article called “Strip Steak Vs. Ribeye”. However, since we are talking about Skirt Steak and Flank Steak in this article, Nebraska is the better choice. Nebraska carries all cuts but Omaha focuses on prime cuts and you will not find Skirt or Flank on their Amazon site.

If you are curious about Hanger steak, the 3rd of the three flat steaks, you can also get that directly from Nebraska Star Beef. This cut is not available on their Amazon site currently.

FAQ

Question:How do you make a Skirt Steak/Flank Steak tender?

Answer: There are many suggestions and ways one can tenderize meat. The most “true” form of tenderizing it to beat it. That’s right you heard it here. You can get a tenderizing mallet from many supermarkets or ask your butcher to beat it for you. This breaks down the connective tissue and creates great nooks and spaces for all your marinades to penetrate the steak. Alternatively, you can stab it into submission with a meat poker. These come in many forms and look like long nails that will break up muscle fibers and connective tissue. The advantage of the poking method is that it will not flatten your steak. It depends on your goals for your steak.
Alternatively, if you don’t need to take your aggressions out on your steak, marinating is another good option. Marinades are plentiful online, and some are downright amazing but one must be careful on this choice. Citrus on a steak is delicious but if left too long it can actually make your meat firmer. Marinades with acids like vinegar and citrus should be limited to 30 or 45 minutes max.
Now, Let’s talk about wet brining. Wet brining is a great way to get your meat to “loosen up”. Tenderizing mallets and pokers physically break down connective and muscle tissues. That is why I say “true” tenderizing. Good ole saltwater on the other hand “relaxes” the fibers instead and infuses good moisture and flavor into your steak. It is also a great option for poultry as it also is good at reducing bacteria while it soaks.
There is a small price to pay when it comes to wet brining steak, however. It adds flavor and it takes flavor away. You can infuse many mouth-watering flavors into a brined steak but you will also dilute that rich “original” steak flavor. Oh, it will still taste like an amazing steak, but some cave-like carnivores will be unhappy with this option as it “thins the blood” so to speak.  Here is a great guide if you want to go this route, Complete guide to wet brining.

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12/05/2022 05:44 pm GMT

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12/05/2022 01:25 pm GMT

Question: What is the best marinade for a skirt steak?

Answer: The best marinade is the one you like. Don’t know what you like yet? No problem, I have you covered. Check out this site, Easy and Delish, for 5 great marinades. Denise Browning is a professional chef specializing in Brazilian food. She will take you by the hand in this article with 5 very different and delicious recipes. You will be making some of the best marinades around! Thanks, Denise.
Skirt is the top meat choice for making fajitas and there are thousands of fajita marinade recipes online , simply pick the level of spice you can handle then experiment untill you find your personal best. Additionally, this cut is equally amazing with recipes of an Asian flavor containing soy, ginger, scallions, and sesame oil. Skirt steak marinates very quickly.

Question: Why is a Flank steak called Vacio in Argentina?

Answer: Vacio means “empty”. It is a lean cut of meat and so I believe, after conversing with some of my Argentinian friends, that it means Flank is “empty” of fat. Another reference mentions that the meat comes from the “empty” space between the ribs and the guts. The truth is it’s not exactly clear as to how that name came to be. One thing for sure, it is not empty on flavor.

Question: What is the preferred steak in Mexican Fajitas?

Answer: The best answer is skirt. It sucks up Mexican marinades like nobody’s business. It is essential to cut the strips against the muscle grain to keep it tender and palatable. If you can’t find skirt, flank is notably second best choice for fajitas. Both of these cuts are super budget-friendly but sometimes hard to find as Mexican and Asian restaurants buy then up quickly. If you live near a Mexican specialty store – start there.

Question: What is the best salt for seasoning steak?

Answer: Strong opinion here. Do not use table salt on your steak. You probably should not use it anywhere. Table salt is Sodium Chloride an is a product created in a lab rather than natural earth mineral salts or sea salts. Your steak deserves the best and so do you. Look into Himalayan Pink salt, Celtic grey sea salt, and my favorite Colima Salt from Mexico. Salt is actually good for you in moderation and from the right source.

Conclusion

Flank and Skirt steaks or high in flavor and easy on your wallet. They are fairly healthy too. The fat to protein ratio is better than many other steak options and because these are thinner cuts you are likely to consume less. They are the meat of choice when it comes to tacos, fajitas, stir fry, and Asian rice and vegetable bowls. The beef flavor is amazing in these low-budget cuts.

It just takes a little practice to not over-grill or over-marinate these flavorful cuts. But once you master it you will be the envy of all your friends for your great culinary knowledge and choice of meat.

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