Hanger steak, also known as butcher’s steak or onglet, is a cut of beef prized for its rich flavor and tenderness. It is found in the diaphragm area of the animal, hanging between the rib and the loin, hence its name, “hanger”. This particular cut is less common in supermarkets due to its limited availability; there is only one hanger steak per animal. Despite its scarcity, hanger steak is popular among meat enthusiasts for its robust flavor and affordability. To achieve the best results when cooking hanger steak, it is typically marinated or seasoned, then quickly seared or grilled to medium-rare or medium to maintain its tenderness.
In this article, I’ll explain the unique characteristics of hanger steak, its origins, what sets it apart from other cuts of beef, and how to cook it without making it dry and chewy.
What is hanger steak?
Hanger steak comes specifically from the diaphragm area of the animal, situated between the rib and the loin. Due to its anatomical location, there is only one hanger steak per cow, which contributes to its scarcity and exclusivity.
Regarding texture, hanger steak has an interesting balance of tenderness and robustness. While it is not as tender as some premium cuts like filet mignon or ribeye, it offers a distinct, rich flavor that meat enthusiasts appreciate. The muscle fibers in the hanger steak are finer, and when cooked properly, they render a tender and succulent result.
Some key features that make hanger steak stand out include its strong beefy flavor, the long, narrow shape of the cut, and the presence of a central membrane that runs through the middle. This membrane should be removed before cooking, as it can be quite tough and chewy. Due to its robust flavor, hanger steak is often marinated or seasoned before being cooked quickly over high heat, usually by grilling or pan-searing, to maintain its tenderness and juiciness.
What does hanger steak taste like?
The taste of hanger steak is often described as bold and beefy, with a rich, pronounced flavor that sets it apart from other cuts of beef. The unique taste can be attributed to the muscle’s function within the animal; as a support muscle that doesn’t bear much weight, it doesn’t develop the toughness that other muscles might.
The texture and flavor of hanger steak are also influenced by its fat content and marbling. The intramuscular fat within the meat contributes to its tenderness, while the marbling enhances the taste by providing a richness that is both savory and satisfying. However, hanger steak does not possess the extensive marbling seen in some other cuts, which can result in a slightly leaner taste.
However, keep in mind that the cooking method can greatly impact the flavor and texture of the hanger steak. The high heat of grilling or pan-searing helps to create a delicious crust on the surface of the meat, which not only adds an appealing textural contrast but also enhances the overall flavor. In order to maintain its tenderness, hanger steak is best cooked to medium-rare or medium doneness, allowing the natural juices and flavors to remain intact.
How to cook hanger steak
When it comes to cooking hanger steak, certain methods are particularly well-suited for achieving the best results in terms of flavor and tenderness. Two of the most popular methods are grilling and pan-searing, both of which involve high heat and quick cooking times.
Grilling is an excellent choice for cooking hanger steak because the high heat creates a flavorful crust on the exterior, while the interior remains tender and juicy. The open flame of a grill also imparts a smoky, charred flavor that complements the natural richness of the meat. To grill hanger steak, simply preheat the grill, season the meat with your preferred spices or marinade, and cook for 4-5 minutes per side, depending on your desired level of doneness.
Pan-searing is another effective method for cooking hanger steak, as it also allows for high heat and quick cooking. This method creates a beautiful, caramelized crust on the exterior while keeping the interior tender and moist. To pan-sear, heat a heavy-bottomed skillet or cast iron pan over high heat, add oil, and sear the seasoned steak for 3-4 minutes per side or until it reaches your desired level of doneness.
Regardless of the cooking method, it’s important to remember a few key tips for preparing hanger steak:
- Remove the central membrane: Before cooking, ensure that the tough central membrane is removed, as it can be quite chewy and unpleasant to eat.
- Marinate or season well: Hanger steak’s robust flavor pairs well with bold marinades or seasonings, which can also help to tenderize the meat.
- Don’t overcook: To maintain its tenderness; hanger steak should be cooked to medium-rare or medium doneness, with an internal temperature of 130-135°F (54-57°C) for medium-rare, and 135-140°F (57-60°C) for medium.
- Let it rest: After cooking, allow the hanger steak to rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing, as this helps to redistribute the juices and maintain its tenderness.
How does hanger steak compare to other similar cuts?
When considering hanger steak, it’s helpful to compare it to other similar cuts of beef that fall within a similar price range. Three popular and affordable steak cuts are flank steak, skirt steak, and flat iron steak.
- Flank steak: Cut from the abdominal muscles of the cow, flank steak is a lean, flavorful, and relatively affordable cut of beef. It has a coarse, fibrous texture and should be marinated to help tenderize the meat. Flank steak is often cooked quickly on high heat and is best when served at medium-rare to medium doneness. Like hanger steak, it should be sliced against the grain to ensure tenderness. In comparison, hanger steak offers a slightly more tender and robust flavor, while flank steak is leaner and may require more tenderizing.
- Skirt steak: Skirt steak comes from the diaphragm muscles of the animal, similar to hanger steak. It is known for its deep, beefy flavor and its elongated, thin shape. Skirt steak is best when marinated and cooked quickly over high heat, then sliced against the grain. While both cuts boast a rich flavor, hanger steak is typically more tender than skirt steak.
- Flat iron steak: Derived from the shoulder area of the cow, the flat iron steak is a well-marbled and tender cut that offers a great balance of flavor and affordability. It is considered one of the most tender cuts from the chuck section and has a moderate beefy flavor. Flat iron steak can be cooked similarly to hanger steak, with grilling and pan-searing being popular methods. While both cuts are tender, hanger steak delivers a stronger, more pronounced beef flavor compared to the milder taste of flat iron steak.
How to choose a quality hanger steak
When shopping for a hanger steak, whether at a local butcher shop, supermarket, or online, it’s essential to consider certain factors to ensure you’re purchasing a high-quality piece of meat. Here are some tips to help you make the right choice:
- Observe color: A fresh, good-quality hanger steak should have a deep, cherry-red hue. Steer clear of any cuts that appear dull, grayish, or discolored, as these may indicate a lack of freshness or improper storage.
- Check for marbling: While hanger steak is not as marbled as some premium cuts, it should still have some visible fat distributed throughout the meat. This intramuscular fat contributes to the tenderness and flavor of the steak, so opt for a cut with an even distribution of fat.
- Inspect packaging: If you’re purchasing pre-packaged hanger steak from a supermarket, ensure that the packaging is tightly sealed and free of any punctures or leaks. Additionally, check for any excessive liquid within the package, as this may suggest that the meat has been stored for an extended period.
- Consult your butcher: When shopping at a local butcher shop, don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations or advice. Your butcher can provide valuable insights into the quality and freshness of their hanger steak, as well as tips for preparing and cooking the meat.
- Research online retailers: If purchasing hanger steak online, make sure to choose a reputable retailer with a history of positive customer reviews and a commitment to high-quality products. Look for details about the sourcing, handling, and shipping of their meat, as well as any guarantees or return policies in case the product does not meet your expectations.
- Consider the source: When selecting a hanger steak, it’s worth considering factors such as the animal’s diet, living conditions, and the producer’s ethical and sustainable practices. Higher quality meat often comes from animals raised on a grass-fed diet, without the use of antibiotics or hormones, and with attention to animal welfare.
How to store hanger steak
To maintain the freshness and quality of hanger steak, it is essential to follow proper storage techniques. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides guidelines for the safe handling and storage of meat, which can help prevent foodborne illnesses and ensure the best possible taste and texture.
If you plan to cook the hanger steak within a few days of purchase, store it in the refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F (4°C) or below. To prevent any cross-contamination with other food items, place the steak on a plate or tray and cover it with plastic wrap or store it in a sealed container. According to the USDA, raw beef can be safely refrigerated for up to 3-5 days.
For longer-term storage, freeze the hanger steak at a temperature of 0°F (-18°C) or below. To maintain its quality, wrap the steak tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, or place it in a heavy-duty freezer bag. Label the packaging with the date and type of meat to help you keep track of its storage time. The USDA states that frozen raw beef can maintain its quality for up to 12 months, although it remains safe to eat indefinitely if stored at a consistent temperature of 0°F (-18°C).
To thaw hanger steak safely, the USDA recommends three methods: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or using a microwave. Thawing in the refrigerator is the safest method, but it requires planning, as it takes approximately 24 hours for every 5 pounds (2.3 kg) of meat. For faster thawing, submerge the steak in a leak-proof plastic bag in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Alternatively, use the defrost setting on your microwave, but cook the meat immediately after thawing, as some areas may begin to cook during the defrosting process.
If you have cooked hanger steak leftovers, store them in the refrigerator within 2 hours of cooking. Place the leftovers in a shallow, airtight container, and consume them within 3-4 days, as per USDA guidelines. If you wish to store cooked leftovers for a longer period, you can freeze them following similar procedures as for raw meat, with a recommended storage time of 2-6 months for optimal quality.
What is the best way to prepare hanger steak before cooking?
Before cooking, it is essential to remove any excess fat or silver skin from the steak. It is also recommended to marinate the hanger steak for at least an hour, or even overnight, to help tenderize and infuse additional flavors into the meat. Be sure to pat the steak dry with paper towels before cooking to ensure proper searing.
How should hanger steak be sliced for serving?
To optimize tenderness and presentation, hanger steak should be sliced against the grain into thin strips. This helps to shorten the muscle fibers and create a more tender bite. Allow the cooked steak to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing to retain its juices and flavors.
Are there any specific recipes or dishes that feature hanger steak?
Hanger steak is versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes, from simple grilled preparations to more elaborate recipes. Some popular dishes include hanger steak with chimichurri sauce, hanger steak fajitas, and hanger steak salad.