Skirt steak, hanger steak, and flank steak are the three flat steaks you should know about or at least heard about. Unlike traditional steak cuts from the loin and rib sections, skirt, flank, and hanger steaks are known for their unique flavor. However, they are pretty tough due to the abundance of connective tissue and the fact that muscles, where steaks come from, are heavily exercised.
Traditional steaks are sliced and prepared by the butcher. Flat steaks come as they are. They are sold by the pound as a single steak which varies in size. Flat steaks require marinating or tenderization before cooking. In this article, I’ll explain each cut of beef and how to prepare and cook them.
Skirt steak, also known as “Romanian tenderloin” or “Arrachera,” is a cut of beef located along the diaphragm of the cow below the rib and the loin. It’s a long and thin cut, 1/4 to 1/2 inches in thickness and 12 to 18 inches in length. It’s a lean cut with visible marbling running throughout the meat. While a well-exercised nature of the muscle makes skirt steak incredibly flavorful, it’s enhanced even more by the marbling. At the same time, it’s a juicy cut, especially when grilled over an open flame. Skirt steak is still a tough piece of meat because of its amount of connective tissue. It requires marinating or tenderizing before cooking. You’ll often find skirt steak in fajitas, tacos, stir-fries, Philly cheesesteaks, and Carne Asada.
Hanger steak, also known as a “butcher’s steak” or “hanging tenderloin,” is a cut of beef carved from the cow’s diaphragm. It has an elongated shape, with one end being thinner. It typically weighs between 1-1,5 lbs (450-675 grams). It has a rich beefy flavor and a slightly chewy texture. It’s essential not to overcook the steak. Cooking hanger steak to a medium-rare level of doneness will produce a juicy and quite tender steak. Hanger steak is not as popular as a skirt and flank steak. You’ll have a hard time finding it at your local supermarket. Instead, try to look for it online.
Flank steak, also known as bavette, jiffy steak, and London broil, is a cut of beef carved from the lower abdominal muscles of the cow. It’s a lean cut with a chewy texture and a robust beefy flavor. The well-exercised muscle heavily influences steak’s texture and flavor. The steak benefits from grilling, pan frying, and broiling. You can quickly identify flank steak by the distinctive grain running throughout the meat. It must not be cooked past a medium level of doneness and must be sliced against the grain. You’ll often find flank steak used in fajitas and carne-asada.
How to prepare flat steaks before cooking
Since all flat steaks have a chewy texture, you should tenderize them before cooking. If you wonder what makes steak tough, read this article to learn more.
Marinading flat steaks such as flank, skirt, and hanger steaks are common. Steak marinade can add flavor and tenderize the steak. Since flat steaks are tough and chewy, they benefit from a marinade that consists of citrus juice, oil, salt, and other seasonings. The marinade’s acid and salt help break down the muscle fibers, making flat steaks more tender. Additionally, the flavorings in the marinade penetrate the steaks, adding an extra depth of flavor. At the same time, marinating keeps the meat moist and juicy. However, it’s essential not to over marinade the meat as the surface of the steak can become mushy.
Dry brine is an excellent method to tenderize the steak and enhance the flavor of the meat. To tenderize steak with salt, you’ll need to apply a generous amount of kosher salt on all sides. The salt will flavor the steak and tenderize it by breaking down the proteins. Place steak uncovered in a fridge for 4-24 hours. The longer you dry brine the steak, the more pronounced the dry brine effect will be. Before cooking the steak, pat it dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture from its exterior.
How to cook flat steaks
Essential tips for cooking flat steaks:
- Cook on high heat for a short time: Flat steak benefits from cooking on high heat for a short time. Therefore grilling, pan frying and broiling are the best cooking methods for the skirt, hanger, and flank steaks.
- Bring steak to room temperature before cooking: It’s essential to bring flat steaks to room temperature before cooking. It’ll allow steak to cook evenly throughout and speed up the cooking process. If you want to learn more about the benefits of leaving the steak out, read this article.
- Monitor steak’s internal temperature: Check the steak’s internal temperature. Flat steak can become extremely tough if overcooked. Flank, skirt, and hanger steaks are best when cooked to a medium-rare level of doneness, 135°F/57°C. It’s best to avoid cooking them past medium doneness, 145°F/62°C. You can use either a meat thermometer or a finger test method to check the temperature.
- Leave the steak to rest after cooking: you should leave the steak to rest for steak juice to redistribute throughout the steak’s interior. It’ll make steak juicy and tender. If you cut into the steak right after it was cooked, the juice would run out of the steak, making it dry and chewy.
- Slice against the grain: Slicing steak against the grain is essential because it makes fibers much shorter, thus making the meat more tender. It’s important to identify the direction of the grain and cut it perpendicular to the grain.
To grill flat steak, prepare the grill for two-zone grilling. Half of the grill is used for searing the steak over direct heat, while the other half is used for finishing cooking. Once the grill is ready, place the flat steak over the direct heat side of the grill. Sear the steak for 2-3 minutes on each side until medium rare. Remove the steak from the grill and let it rest.
To pan-fry flat steak, preheat the cast iron skillet on a stovetop over medium-high heat. Add a few tablespoons of cooking oil for steak and sear the meat for 2-3 minutes until a medium-rare level of doneness.
Place the oven rack 4-6 inches away from the heat source above. Preheat the broiler to maximum temperature. Cook the steak for 2-3 minutes on each side for a medium-rare level of doneness. Remove from the oven and let it rest
Some prefer to braise flat steaks as it makes them tender. To braise flat steak, preheat the dutch oven on a stovetop over medium-high heat. Add two tablespoons of cooking oil and place the steak into the dutch oven. Sear until the exterior of the meat is golden brown. Take the steak out of the dutch oven and set it aside. In the same dutch oven, saute onions, carrots, celery, and garlic until soft. Add a cup of wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add 2 cups of tomato sauce and 2 cups of beef broth. Bring liquid to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and cover the dutch oven. Cook the steak for 3-4 hours.
Flat steaks buying guide
Whether you’re buying flank steak, skirt steak, or hanger steak, there’re a few things you need to consider to get the best quality steak possible. But first of all, read this article to learn more about how to tell if the steak is bad.
- Check the expiration date: Ensure the steak is within the expiration date.
- Check the steak’s smell and texture: Steak should have a firm texture and no slime on the exterior. If flat steak has an off smell, it can signify the steak is spoiled. It should have a mild beefy flavor.
- Look for a consistent color: Steak should have a deep red or slightly pinkish color, depending on how the cattle were raised. If the steak has a brown or grey spot, it’s a sign steak has begun to spoil.
- Check for marbling: Marbling is the fleck of white fat distributed throughout the flat steak. It adds flavor and moisture to the steak. Make sure the steak has a decent amount of marbling. Though worth mentioning that grass-fed beef contains less marbling, while grain-fed has quite a bit more.
- Purchase from a reputable source: Ensure to buy quality beef from a reputable source such as your local butcher or grocery store. Ask about the cow’s origin and raising conditions to understand where your meat comes from.