What is skirt steak? A comprehensive overview

Skirt steak on a grill
Skirt steak on a grill

Skirt steak is a versatile cut of beef from the cow’s diaphragm muscle, otherwise known as a plate primal. You’ll often find skirt steak in traditional dishes such as fajitas or stir-fries. Nowadays, it’s a highly sought-after steak because it’s relatively affordable and offers excellent flavor and versatility. It’s not the most tender cut. In fact, it’s very chewy, especially if not prepared properly. However, I’ll explain how to make the most out of this fantastic piece of meat.

Skirt steak can be cooked with a variety of marinades and seasoning. However, it does require tenderizing. In this article, I’ll explain how to choose skirt steak. I’ll explain the differences between the inside and outside skirt steaks and show you how to cook them without making them too chewy.

What is skirt steak?

Facts about skirt steak
Facts about skirt steak

Skirt steak is a cut of beef carved from a diaphragm muscle of the cow. It’s located between the rib and the flank. Specifically, it’s the muscle that runs along the underside of the cow. It’s a long and thin cut that has a distinctive “flap” or “tail” that is thicker at one end. It’s a thin steak coming at around 1/4 to 1/2 inches in thickness and 12 to 18 inches in length. It’s one of the tougher cuts with lots of connective tissue. However, it’s one of the most flavorful beef cuts on the market.

Skirt steak is available in two varieties, inside skirt steak, and outside skirt steak. The inside skirt steak is cut from the inside of the diaphragm muscle. Generally, inside skirt steak is more delicate and smaller in size. It has a fine texture and is more tender than the outside skirt steak. That is because of its location closer to the ribs and lack of heavy use of the muscle.

Outside skirt steak is carved from the outside of the diaphragm muscle. It’s a larger and longer cut encased in a membrane that needs to be removed before preparing it. The grain runs perpendicular to the steak’s length and is a bit tougher than the inside skirt steak. However, because outside skirt steak is thicker and has a regular shape, it ends up in restaurants and other food services. What you’ll find at a butcher shop will most likely be an inside skirt steak.

Skirt steak is known by other names depending on the region. Here are some of the most common names: Romanian tenderloin, Romanian steak, Philly steak, and Arrachera.

Skirt steak texture and flavor

Skirt steak has a robust beefy flavor and a chewy texture. Both the flavor and the texture are influenced by the muscle it comes from. The diaphragm muscle is heavily exercised, which gives skirt steak a rich flavor profile and a chewy texture. Even though skirt steak is a lean cut, it still has a moderate amount of marbling which contributes to the flavor and juiciness of the steak.

How to cook skirt steak

Skirt steak cooking methods
Skirt steak cooking methods

You can cook skirt steak in a pan on a grill and in the oven, depending on your personal preference. The inside skirt steak and the outside skirt steak have a decent amount of fat, and both cuts benefit from cooking on high heat for a short time. Even though skirt steaks are quite juicy, they are still tough and chewy.

It’s best to season the steak or marinate them before cooking. To make steak more tender, you can use a simple dry brine. Rub the steak with kosher salt and leave it in a fridge overnight. Salt will tenderize the steak by breaking muscle fibers and denaturing the proteins. However, if you wish to add an additional layer of flavor and tenderize the meat, then marinate skirt steak.

Note that cooking skirt steak past medium doneness 145°F/62°C is not recommended since steak can turn extremely chewy and dry. Here’s an article explaining what makes steak tough.

Once you finish cooking, let the steak rest for 5-10 minutes. Letting the steak rest will allow steak juices to redistribute evenly throughout the steak’s interior. Once the skirt steak is rested, slice the steak thinly against the grain.

To grill skirt steak, prepare a grill for two-zone grilling. The direct heat side of the grill is used for searing the steak, while the indirect heat is used for finishing cooking. Once the grill is ready for cooking, sear the steak over an open flame for 2-3 minutes on each side.

Here’s how to pan-fry skirt steak. Place cast iron skillet on a stovetop over high heat until the skillet starts to smoke. Add two tablespoons of oil with a high smoke point to the pan and place the steak. Cook the steak for 2-3 minutes on each side.

There’s also an option to broil skirt steak. Place the oven rack 4-6 inches away from the broiler. Preheat the broiler to maximum temperature. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side for a medium-rare finish.

How does skirt steak compare to other cuts of beef?

Flank steak and hanger steak
Flank steak and hanger steak

Skirt steak is often compared to other cuts of beef, such as flank steak and hanger steak. They all come from the cow’s abdominal region and have very similar flavors and textures.

Flank steak is a bit leaner and less flavorful; however, it’s more tender. On the other hand, hanger steak is more tender and flavorful, but it’s more expensive.

How to serve skirt steak?

Skirt steak is a versatile cut that can be served in a variety of ways. Serving it with sides such as masked potatoes, roasted vegetables, and some Béarnaise sauce would make anyone happy. At the same time, skirt steak is a fantastic ingredient in iconic dishes such as fajitas, tacos, stir-fries, Philly cheesesteaks, and Carne Asada. Here are some skirt steak recipes to try out:

Feel free to pair skirt steak with sauces such as chimichurri, salsa verde, or aioli. It goes well with a salad as a topping with a vinaigrette or salad dressing.

Skirt steak buying guide

Skirt steak buying guide
Skirt steak buying guide

Here’s how to choose the best quality skirt steak:

  • Check the packaging: Make sure the steak is not out of date. At the same time, check the packaging for any visible leakage or damage.
  • Smell, firmness, and visual cues: Skirt steak should be firm to the touch and not have any visible signs of spoilage. Avoid steak that looks gray or brown, as this indicates the meat is not fresh. Here’s an article explaining how to know if the steak is spoiled. At the same time, smell the steak. If it has an off smell, it might be a sign the steak began to spoil.
  • Marbling: Check if the skirt steak has a decent amount of marbling. Marbling will make the steak taste better.
  • Purchase steak from a reputable source: Buy skirt steak from a reputable source, whether it’s your local butcher shop or a trusted grocery store. Ask about the origin and raising conditions of the cow.

How to store skirt steak

It’s essential to store skirt steak properly for it to stay fresh and maintain its quality. Here’s how you can store it properly:

  • Place skirt steak on a plate or in a container and cover it with plastic wrap: Place it in the refrigerator at a temperature between 32-40°F (0-4°C). This will help to prevent the steak from spoiling and keep the meat fresh.
  • Store it in an airtight container or vacuum seal bag: Storing steak in an airtight container or vacuum sealing it will prevent the steak from absorbing odors and drying out. At the same time, the meat will stay fresh for longer.
  • Use skirt steak within 3-5 days of purchasing it. The longer the steak is stored, the more the quality deteriorates.
  • To freeze steak properly, you must wrap it in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and place it in a freezer-safe bag or container. It can be kept in a freezer for up to 6 months.

To thaw the steak properly, take it out from the freezer and place it in a refrigerator for 24-36 hours. Alternatively, you can thaw the steak under cold running water. It’s essential to handle the steak with clean hands and utensils to avoid bacteria. Also, to keep track of the date of storage, use labels. If you want to learn more about handling meat, storage, and other information, check the USDA website.

Conclusion

Skirt steak is an excellent cut of beef. It’s versatile and highly flavorful. It does require tenderization; however, when it’s cooked properly, it’s a treat. It’s great for your favorite salads, fajitas, or tacos. It can also be paired with a variety of side dishes and sauces.

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