Skirt steak is a tender beef cut that’s perfect for high-heat searing on the grill. From meat preparation to steak grilling ideas, discover everything you need to know about skirt steak today.
Skirt steak is a long, rectangular beef cut from the prime cut plate below the steer’s chest. While the meat from this cut can be chewy and tough, it is actually one of the most flavorful cuts of the cow.
The strong flavor and tough texture make skirt steak perfect for different types of barbecue and other similar cooking methods. Let’s take a detailed look at this cut, what makes it so flavorsome, and the best ways to cook it.
What Is Skirt Steak?
Skirt steak is from the cow’s plate region, one of the primal cuts of beef. Each plate cut yields four skirt steaks — two inner skirt steaks and two outer skirt steaks, also called the inside and outside skirt steaks.
The names can be confusing, as the inner skirt steaks are closer to the edge of the cow’s stomach, and the outer skirt steaks are located in the middle of the cow’s body cavity. However, the simplest way to remember these names is to remember that the inside skirt steaks come from inside the plate cut, and the outside skirt steaks come from the topmost outer edge of the plate cut.
Because of the different locations, the tenderness of these types of steak can vary wildly. The inner skirt steak tends to be tougher than the outer skirt. Usually, when skirt steak is mentioned for recipes, it refers to the outside skirt steak.
The entire plate cut, including both skirt steaks, has thick fibers and grains that make the meat tough despite its high fat content (about 12 percent). The fat is visible in the form of marbling—white streaks of various thicknesses run along the grain in a skirt steak.
The fat streaks may not contribute much to the texture of skirt steak, but they contribute greatly to its flavor profile. The fat dissolves and leaves a smooth glaze over the cooked skirt steak as the meat is cooked.
Where in the Cow Does Skirt Steak Come From?
Skirt steak comes from the beef plate, located in the lower portion (under the cow’s ribs and between the brisket and flank cuts). The beef plate is cut into three subsects: short ribs, hanger steak, and skirt steak. Beef pastrami can also come from this prime cut.
The inside skirt steak comes from the transverse abdominal muscle of the cow, while the outside skirt steak comes from the diaphragm muscle. The difference in the muscle contributes to the difference in tenderness between the inside and outside skirt steaks.
Skirt Steak vs. Flank Steak
Skirt steak is often confused with flank steak due to their similar shape and appearance, but there are differences between skirt and flank.
Skirt is also considerably longer and thinner, and has more visible marbling on its surface. It also contains more grain, making it much smoother in texture.
Though it is tougher, skirt steak is also more flavorful when compared to flank steak. While flank steak is better suited for recipes where the meat must be fully cooked, skirt steak is ideal for recipes where the meat is cooked to medium. Even so, the two cuts are often used interchangeably in recipes, with some tweaks to the cooking method.
How to Buy Skirt Steak
The inside skirt steak, being more tough and chewy in texture, is much cheaper and more easily available than outside skirt steak. In supermarkets, the inside skirt steak is often labeled simply as “skirt steak” or “fajita meat.” The tough meat of inside skirt steak is usually marinated with fajita spices and cooked over a high flame to be used in tacos or with rice.
Some stores also sell the entire “short plate” as a whole, which can give you a variety of meat, including inside skirt steaks, hanger steak, short ribs, and beef pastrami.
Outside skirt steaks can be difficult to find in supermarkets, as this cut is mostly reserved for restaurants and eateries. You can get them directly from a butcher or a specialized meat shop.
The cost of skirt steak ranges from $18 per pound for outside skirt steak to $15 per pound for inside skirt steak. The higher price of outside skirt steak is due to its tender and flavorful meat.
Inside skirt steak is less expensive, but it is still very flavorful and can be cooked to retain its juiciness and soften its texture. Fresh skirt steak has a purplish-red hue and contains about 8 to 12 grams of fat per 100 grams of muscle.
How to Cut Skirt Steak
It is best to cook skirt steak as a whole. However, if you don’t have a larger pan or grill or you want to use it in stir-fry recipes, you can slice it before cooking. There are two steps to slicing skirt steak, raw or cooked.
The first step involves cutting it along the grain into slices about 5 to 6 inches wide. Once you have completed these wide slices, rotate them 90 degrees and cut thin slices against the grain. You can cut these slices as thin half-inch pieces.
With thin slices, it’s best to cook in a skillet or wok. However, overcooking pre-sliced steak can be very easy because the cut sides will make it cook much more quickly, so use caution.
Skirt Steak Substitute
If you cannot find outside skirt steak, you can use inside skirt steak. Alternatively, you can easily substitute any skirt steak with flap steak or hanger steak. Both these steak cuts are great for marinating and grilling. If you can tweak the cooking time and method, you can also substitute short loin and flank steak for skirt steak.
How to Grill Skirt Steak
A well-marinated skirt steak only requires 8 to 10 minutes on a hot grill. However, the grill must be extremely hot—500°F or above. Marinate the beef anywhere from two hours to overnight. The longer the marinating time, the more flavorful and tender the meat will be as a result.
Place the marinated steak directly on the high flame grill and let it cook for at least 3 minutes on each side, uninterrupted. For a well-done steak, cook each side for up to 5 minutes. The ideal internal temperature of a skirt steak should be 150°F for well done, 140°F for medium, and 130°F for medium-rare.
Once grilled, let the skirt steak rest on a rack for at least 5 minutes before slicing and serving it.
How to Smoke Skirt Steak
While the thin shape of the cut makes it best for grilling, the tough fibers in the meat make smoked skirt steak a surprisingly delicious dish. Best of all, it can be cooked in under one hour.
Simply prepare the steak with a quick dry brine and smoke at 225°F (107°C) until its internal temperature hits 110°F (43°C). Then, sear it at high heat on your grill or in a skillet for 2-3 minutes per side, until the internal temperature reaches 130°F (54°C). Tent it in foil for 10 minutes while it rests before slicing against the grain to serve.
Ways to Enjoy
There is a good reason skirt steak is sold as “fajita meat.” The flavorful meat is widely used in fajitas, tacos, and quesadillas, and can be further enhanced with marinades and spices. Pre-sliced beef skirt steak can also be used in beef stir-fry recipes with rice, noodles, or vegetables.
Seared beef skirt steaks can also be enjoyed with hearty sides. Searing is an easier method than grilling and is ideal for home cooks who want to level up their lunch game.
All you will need to sear the skirt steak is to heat a heavy skillet. Add a very small amount of refined oil to the pan, so it doesn’t burn. Once the pan is heated to 450°F, add the marinated skirt steak and let it sizzle for 3 to 4 minutes on each side.
This will create a nice sear to the outside of the steak while cooking the inside just to medium-rare. Take the steak off the skillet and let it rest on a plate for 5 to 10 minutes before assembling it in tacos or incorporating it in salads or quesadillas.
How to Store Skirt Steak
While it’s always best to buy fresh meat, you can purchase skirt steak earlier and store it up to four days in the refrigerator. You can also keep it in the freezer for up to 12 months. No matter where you store it, it’s important to store the meat in airtight packaging to reduce spoilage. Cooked skirt steak should also be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and used within three days.