Discover how to cut flank steak to keep this classic beef cut tender when serving fresh off the heat. From prepping raw steak to slicing grilled flank, here’s how to get it right every time.
Flank steak is a classic beef cut that offers great value and an excellent beefy taste, making it a popular choice for home chefs. One critical thing to remember when slicing flank steak that can make or break your meal – flank steak has to be cut against the grain.
Cutting steak against the grain is something that we hear time and time again, but still, some people will only sometimes follow this advice. This can be fine when serving an extremely tender cut of meat, such as filet mignon, with next to no obvious grain and tastes delicious regardless of how it’s cut. However, steak cuts like flank that come from hard-working muscle groups on the steer, the way it’s sliced can make even a perfectly cooked steak chewy.
There’s no need to panic though. We’ve laid out the essential guide to everything you need to know about how to cut a flank steak to ensure that you get a tender bite each time.
Understanding the Flank Steak Cut
Flank steak is a cut of beef that comes from the underside of the steer, between the ribs and hind legs. As it’s an area of muscle that gets worked hard while the animal walks and grazes, beef flank steak features a dense grain of long muscle fibers. While this adds to the flavor of the cut, it also means it can be tough if it’s not butchered, cooked, and served properly.
Flank steak has a long, flat rectangular shape and is often used for recipes such as fajitas or stir-fries as the thin strips cook nice and quickly over high heat.
It also works great as a grilling steak when marinated and then seared over a nice hot grill and served medium-rare.
Preparing the Flank Steak for Cutting
Flank steak is best bought directly from a butcher as it’s common to see similar cuts mislabeled as flank in the supermarket. When buying flank steak from a butcher, it may come with some membrane and fat still attached, which will need to be removed before cooking.
Having a sharp knife when trimming and preparing steak is paramount to getting a good result. Dull blades on knives saw at meat rather than slicing, which causes damage to the proteins and makes the edges ragged. This damage to the steak’s proteins and structure can lead to the loss of moisture from the steak as it cooks.
Not to mention, it’s also a safety risk if you’re trying to cut with a dull blade. The more force you have to use to cut something, the more likely you are to slip and cut yourself.
Trimming Flank Steak
- Remove your flank steak from the refrigerator and place it on a sturdy chopping board
- If your steak still has the membrane attached on one side, slide your knife under one corner of the membrane and slice to release it from the meat so that you have enough to hold on to between your fingers. You should then be able to pull the membrane away from the meat, using the tip of your knife to free any areas that are stuck.
- If your flank steak has any larger areas of fat around its edges, take your knife and trim it off as close to the meat as possible
Meat Grain Explained
The grain in meat refers to the way the muscle fibers are organized and aligned in a piece of meat, particularly beef. These fibers, how they knit together, and the direction in which they run give meat its texture and structure.
You can sometimes see these muscle fibers as the white lines that run through a cut of meat, and this is what can make meat chewy. These long fibers are hard to chew if left as one long string. By cutting against the grain, we shorten these fibers and make the meat less tough.
The grain in flank steak is very apparent because it’s a cut of meat from a group of highly worked muscles. These strong muscles create long, thin muscle strands with a lot of fibers between them. This makes it a delicious cut of meat but also very chewy if the fibers are left long.
To combat this, flank steak is often trimmed down to a rectangular shape, with the grain of the meat running up and down the shortest length of the cut.
How to Slice Raw Flank Steak
Depending on the recipe you plan to use your flank steak for, you may decide to slice it before cooking. This is an ideal way to do things if you want to use it as steak strips for adding to stir-fries or fajitas.
- Ensure that your flank steak is properly trimmed and prepared. It should be free from any slivery membranes on both sides and fat around the edges.
- Identify the way that the grain is running in your flank steak. It should be easy to see and look like long lines neatly running next to each other through the meat. If you are having trouble identifying the grain, you can take hold of the steak at both ends and give it a gentle pull. The meat should separate a little bit along any lines running through it.
- Lay the steak on your chopping board so that the grain is running in lines across your body. To give us the most control over the knife, we want to be slicing and bringing the knife towards us. Cutting from side to side is more of a sawing motion and can make the cuts raggedy. If you’re worried about the steak slipping, you can use a fork in your opposite hand to hold it still.
- To make the muscle fibers even shorter, we can tilt the knife slightly to a 45° angle to cut diagonally through the steak while slicing it into strips.
- Cut your steak so that it is about a quarter-to-half an inch thick. This is the best thickness for recipes requiring steak strips (such as stir fry), as it cooks quickly while still being thick enough to be tender and not overdone.
How to Prepare and Slice Grilled Flank Steak
Grilled flank steak can taste amazing, but it requires some prep work before chucking it on the grill. As flank steak can be tough, it’s a good idea to marinate it for a few hours before cooking to help break down some of its tougher muscle fibers. An acid-based marinade containing something like vinegar or citrus is ideal for flank steaks.
Because flank steak is a thin cut of meat it can cook quickly, it’s easy to overdo. To avoid this, you need to grill it over high heat, giving it a good sear on both sides, for only a few minutes. On average, this takes about 5-6 minutes on each side to get the ideal level of doneness. You’ll need to use a meat thermometer and let the internal temperature reach 145°F (62°C) for a medium-rare steak.
- Make sure that your flank steak is well-trimmed and free from any sliver membrane. Sit your steaks in an acid-based marinade and allow them to tenderize for at least two hours in the refrigerator.
- Remove your steak from the marinade and let them come up to room temperature while heating your grill.
- Once the grill has reached a high heat, sear the flank steak on both sides until it has reached an internal temperature of 145°F (62°). Remove it from the grill and leave to rest for ten minutes.
- Find the direction of the steak’s grain. Slice it so that your knife is cutting across those grain lines at a 90° angle. The grain should still be easily visible on your cooked flank steak. If you’re unsure which way it’s running, you can use the same trick as with raw steak. Gently pull it from both ends; it should separate slightly between the grain lines.
How thick should flank steak be sliced?
Generally speaking, flank steak should be sliced into ¼ to ½-inch strips. This makes sure the muscle fibers are nice and short, keeping it tender and easy to chew.
Do you need to trim flank steak before cooking?
Flank steak bought from the supermarket will usually come fully trimmed, but flank steak bought from the butcher may not.
If your flank steak has a visible silvery membrane on one side of the meat or fat around the edges, it’s essential to remove those before cooking. If left on, they will interfere with the cooking process and texture of the cooked steak.