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Flank and skirt steak both come from a similar area on the cow and are long, relatively inexpensive cuts of beef, with a lean and tough texture, and are best cooked over high heat.
However, there are also several crucial differences between a skirt steak and a flank steak, from the average thickness of cut to each type of beef’s versatility and flavor.
Before you shell out some money on a lean cut of steak, it’s useful to be aware of these differences. Otherwise, you risk buying a skirt steak when a flank option would better suit your planned meal and vice versa.
1. What is Skirt Steak?
The skirt steak comes from the cow’s plate section that hangs below its ribs. This cut is part of the animal’s diaphragm, making it highly fibrous and relatively tough. When you buy skirt steak at the store, you’ll get a long and thin chunk of beef between 18 and 24”.
This cut is versatile. Many marinade it then slow cook it in the oven, but you can also sear it over high heat in a griddle pan, slicing it up before adding the pieces to a fresh garden salad or tacos.
There are two varieties of skirt steak: outside skirt and inside skirt. The outside cut is taken from the area just under the ribcage and comes with a connected membrane, which you need to cut off before you start cooking. The inside skirt comes from inside the cow’s chest and is somewhat tougher than the outside option.
2. What is Flank Steak?
The flank steak comes from a cow’s flank section, behind the plate and below the sirloin area. More specifically, it’s from the lower part of a cow’s abdominal muscles, making it a lean and muscular cut.
This type of cut is quite chunky and broad, with a standard length between 11” and 14” and an average thickness of 1”. When you cook a flank steak, it produces a strong and beefy flavor. The simplest way to cook this type of meat is to cook it over high heat. You can use a grill top or skillet to sear or fry this cut.
3. What Are the Main Differences Between Flank Steak and Skirt Steak?
Both the flank and skirt steaks are long, lean pieces of meat that marinade well and produce a bold, beefy flavor when cooked. However, there are a few crucial differences between the two cuts. Understanding these will help you decide which type of meat suits you better for your specific needs.
Because the flank cut contains a lot of long, substantial muscle fibers that make up the abdominals, it’s leaner than the skirt cut. It’s also usually a thicker and broader steak than its skirt counterpart.
In the skirt steak vs. flank steak debate, flank proponents will often point to the fact that the skirt cut is tougher than its counterpart. However, the skirt is a thin piece of meat that will often marinade better in homemade sauces than the flank cut does.
Taste and flavor
Although both steak cuts produce a robust and rich flavor, the skirt piece often has a more intense beefy taste than the flank option does. However, flank steak contains more muscle grain, meaning it tastes more tender than its skirt counterpart, especially when it is scored before marinating.
Cooking and preparation methods
Because there are key differences in the toughness, fiber content, and thickness of each cut, you’ll need to change your cooking method depending on which type of steak you use.
If you choose a flank steak, you should try to marinade the beef in a home-cooked sauce. This helps this tough cut to tenderize. Before marinating, score the meat on both sides with a sharp knife to help the marinade tenderize the cut. Once you’ve marinated the meat for several hours, sear, broil, or grill this cut rather than slow-cook or roast it. When the muscular cut is cooked, thinly cut it against the grain on a 45° angle with a sharp knife for the best slices.
Meanwhile, the skirt steak often has open fibers and holes on its surface, so it marinades more effectively than a flank steak. When arguing about skirt steak vs. flank steak, those people who prefer skirt cuts will point out that you can also braise or stew a skirt steak, making it a more versatile beef cut than the flank option.
However, because the skirt is tougher than the flank cut, you should really only cook it as rare or medium-rare to avoid a chewy consistency. You should also cut the skirt meat against the grain.
The flank steak is a broader and chunkier cut than the skirt steak, and it looks leaner, with sinewy and substantial muscle fibers flowing through the meat. The flank also tends to have a more vibrant and rich color than the skirt option.
You may find that the thinner skirt steak looks less appetizing than the flank cut, with the chunks of muscle fiber looking like blotches on skin. However, if you slice up this cut to make strips of rare meat for steak salads, tacos, and fajitas, the overall look doesn’t matter.
The skirt steak cut is generally cheaper per pound than its flank counterpart, and you’ll get a lot of beef for your money when you buy this piece of meat. Because the skirt cut is so long and thin, there’s a vast surface area for marinating and grilling.
However, compared to the premium-grade cuts like the ribeye, porterhouse, or tenderloin, both the skirt and flank steaks are relatively cost-effective options and ideal for feeding a family.
If you’re struggling to choose between buying a skirt steak and flank steak for your dinner, it’s useful to be aware of the key differences between the two options.
Consider what type of meal you want to cook and whether you’re looking for a piece of beef that’s thin and long or wide and chunky. Do you want to sear your steak or braise it? Once you’ve decided what you’re looking for from your cut of beef, you can figure out which steak best suits your needs.