What is flank steak? A full overview

Flank steak on a grill
Flank steak on a grill

Flank steak is a versatile cut of meat often used for fajita, stir-fries, and other favorite dishes. It’s cut from the abdominal muscles (flank primal) of the cow and is a lean cut with a strong beefy flavor. It doesn’t matter if you like grilling, stir-frying, or braising; this beef cut is an excellent choice.

In this article, I’ll explain the origins and characteristics of flank steak as well as how to cook, buy and store the steak. It’s a tough cut of beef; therefore, it’s best to tenderize the steak before cooking. I’ll explain that later in this article.

What is flank steak?

Facts about flank steak
Facts about flank steak

Flank steak is a cut of beef carved from the abdominal muscles of the cow. It’s a long flat cut about a foot long and one inch thick. Flank steak is located below the loin and sirloin. It runs all the way from the rib end of the cow to the hip section. It has a distinctive grain and is very lean. You can easily identify flank steak by the visible direction of the steak’s long-grained structure. It’s packed with connective tissue because the muscle in this area is heavily exercised.

It’s often used for recipes that require thin slices of quickly cooked-meat. In the United States, flank steak is often used for fajitas and steak tacos. In South America, flank steak is marinated and grilled over an open fire. Flank steak is also a popular choice for Korean Bulgogi and Chinese stir-fries. Depending on the location, flank steak is also known as bavette, jiffy steak, and London broil.

How does flank steak taste?

Flank steak is well known for having a robust beefy flavor and a chewy texture. It has a medium coarse texture, and it’s extremely lean. Because it’s a lean cut, it’s not as juicy. At the same time, it lacks marbling, so the steak doesn’t have a silky smooth texture and a nice buttery flavor like you would expect from a more expensive beef cut. It benefits greatly from steak marinades, rubs, and other seasonings.

How does flank steak compare to other cuts of beef?

Cuts of beef similar to flank steak
Cuts of beef similar to flank steak

Often flank steak is compared to other flat steaks such as hanger, skirt, and flat iron steak. However, flank steak is much leaner than those steaks and must be handled extremely carefully to prevent it from becoming too tough. It also has a slightly different flavor profile due to the lack of marbling and a slightly different texture due to the medium coarse structure. What flat steaks have in common is the price; they are considered affordable steak cuts.

How to cook flank steak

Flank steak cooking methods
Flank steak cooking methods

Flank steak is considered a versatile cut. It can be grilled, braised, pan-fried, or broiled on a broiling pan. Because it’s a lean cut and because it comes from diaphragm muscles, it’s a tough piece of meat. Before cooking flank steak, it’s best to tenderize the steak.

Grilling flank steak is a sure way to add smoky flavor and a char-grilled exterior to the steak. To grill the steak, set up your grill for two-zone cooking. Direct heat is used for searing the steak, while indirect heat is used for finishing cooking the steak. Once the grill is ready, sear the steak over an open flame until the exterior caramelizes. It should take 2-3 minutes. Move the steak to the indirect heat side of the grill and finish cooking to the desired level of doneness. It’s best if flank steak is not cooked beyond medium doneness, 145° Fahrenheit/62°C. Before serving, slice steak against the grain. It’ll make the steak less chewy.

To quickly pan-fry flank steak, preheat the cast on a stovetop over medium-high heat until the skillet is smoking hot. Add two tablespoons of oil with a high smoke point. Lay the steak in a skillet and sear for 1 1/2 minutes on each side until caramelizes. Turn heat to medium and continue cooking for 4 more minutes until steak is medium rare, 135° Fahrenheit/57° C. Leave the cooked flank steak to rest for 5-10 minutes. It’ll allow steak juice to redistribute throughout the steak’s interior, making it juicy and tender.

To broil flank steak, preheat the broiler pan to high heat. Sear steak for 2 minutes on each side until crispy crust forms. Turn the heat to medium and continue cooking the steak for 3-4 minutes until it reaches an internal temperature of 135° Fahrenheit/57° C. Use a meat thermometer to do that.

To braise flank steak, you must first season it and give it a good sear. Preheat the dutch oven and sear the steak until it caramelizes. Remove the steak from the dutch oven and set it aside for a bit. Add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, carrots, onions, and celery in a dutch oven, and saute them until they are soft. Since it’s a slow cooking method, you’ll need to cover flank steak with a flavorful liquid. Add two cups of beef broth, half a glass of wine, and a cup of tomato sauce. Return the steak to the dutch oven, cover it and let it simmer on low heat for 3-4 hours.

Regardless of the cooking method, avoiding overcooking flank steak is essential. When overcooked, flank steak is extremely chewy. Read this article to learn about steak temperatures; however, regarding flank steak, it’s best to avoid cooking steak past medium 145° Fahrenheit/62°C. Medium rare 135° Fahrenheit/57° C produces the juiciest and most tender flank steak.

How to serve flank steak?

Fortunately, flank steak is versatile and can be used with many dishes. First of all, a grilled flank steak goes exceptionally well with roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, or french fries. It also can be thinly sliced and used in fajitas, salads, tacos, and stir-fries. Here are a few flank steak recipe ideas:

  • Marinate flank steak in soy sauce, garlic, and honey. Grill until it reaches a medium rare level of doneness, 135° Fahrenheit/57° C. Serve with stir-fried vegetables and some rice. Here’s a flank steak marinade you should try.
  • Grill flank steak on a grill until medium rare doneness 135° Fahrenheit/57° C. Stir fry some red bell pepper with onions. Serve it with warm tortillas with toppings such as salsa, guacamole, and a bit of sour cream.
  • Dice the steak into long strips and use it in a stir fry with your favorite vegetables, noodles, soy sauce, and a bit of chilly for a bit of spiciness.

Flank steak buying guide

Flank steak buying guide
Flank steak buying guide

When buying flank steak, it’s essential to consider the following factors to ensure you’re getting a high-quality piece of meat:

  • Look for a flank steak that has a red color and consistent thickness. The color of the steak is determined by how the cow was raised. While grass-fed beef is deep red, grain-fed beef is slightly pinkish. Ensure flank steak has a consistent thickness. It’ll make the cooking process more even.
  • Check if the flank steak has some marbling. While it is a lean cut of meat, it still has some marbling. It’s best to choose the one with the most amount of marbling. The more the marbling, the better the flavor.
  • Check if there are any signs of spoilage. Inspect flank steak for any discoloration or ammonia odor. These signs may indicate the steak has started to spoil.
  • It’s important to purchase flank steak from a reputable butcher or meat supplier. You can also purchase high-quality flank steaks online. It’s sold by the pound and comes in different sizes ranging from 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in thickness.

How to store flank steak?

There are multiple ways to store flank steak properly. Store flank steak in an airtight container or on a plate and cover it with plastic wrap. Place it in a fridge at temperatures between 32°F and 40°F. Use the steak within 2-3 days.

There’s also an option to freeze the steak. If you are not planning to use flank steak within 2-3 days, it can be frozen later. Wrap the steak tightly in plastic wrap and place it in a freezer bag. Ensure to remove as much air as possible. It can be stored in a freezer for up to 6 months.

Vacuum sealing the flank steak is the best storing option. It minimizes air exposure; therefore, the steak can be stored in a freezer for up to 12 months, considering it is vacuum sealed properly.

Before storing flank steak, wash your hands properly and handle the steak with utensils to avoid bacteria. At the same time, it’s important to track the steak’s expiry date and use labeling to keep accurate dates of storage. If you want to learn more about storing meats and meat spoilage, check the official USDA page.

Conclusion

In summary, flank steak is an extremely flavorful cut of beef; however, due to the lack of marbling and abundance of connective tissue, it is chewy. Before cooking it, you should tenderize or marinate it to make it more tender. Regarding cooking methods, it’s best to use high-heat methods such as grilling or stir-frying. Let’s not forget braising which is an excellent way to tenderize the steak and make it more flavorful.

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