It's time for another round of The Food Lab. Got a suggestion for an upcoming topic? Email Kenji here, and he'll do his best to answer your queries in a future post. Become a fan of The Food Lab on Facebook or follow it on Twitter for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.
Of all the inexpensive cuts on the cow, the skirt is probably the greatest dollar-to-flavor value out there. Riddled with plenty of buttery, beefy fat with a deep, rich flavor and a tender, juicy texture, it's a tough cut not to like. Indeed, I'd say that its flavor is even better than the ribeye and far superior to a relatively bland tenderloin or New York strip.
That is, it's a tough cut not to like if you've had it cooked and sliced properly. All too often you'll head out to a mid-rate taqueria where the skirt steak (known as fajitas—"little belts"—in Mexican Spanish) sits around in a piles on the edge of the griddle, slowly overcooking and turning from tender, juicy, steak-fit-for-a-king into your typical tough, leathery, livery-flavored taco stuffing.
Equally bad is the uncle who throws it onto a too-cool grill, forgets to rest it, then slices it improperly, reducing it to inedibly tough rubber bands.
Do NOT be this uncle. Your family may still love you, but they certainly won't like you.
Here's how to treat skirt steak right.
How To Buy It and Trim It
Alternative Names: Fajita meat or Roumanian Strip (New York).
Where it's Cut From: The outside skirt is the diaphragm muscle of the cow, cut from the plate. It is the traditional cut for fajitas, and is generally sold to restaurants. It comes with a tough membrane attached to it, which needs to be trimmed before it can be cooked.
Inside skirt is part of the flank, and is the more widely available form of skirt steak. Luckily for consumers, it generally comes with the membrane removed, making trimming an easy job at home. All you've got to do is remove some of the excess fat from the exterior, and you're good to go.
Use a sharp knife, and try and take off the fat without digging into the meat. It's totally fine to end up strips of fat still striated throughout the meat. This'll render as the meat grills, basting it as it cooks, giving the steak that much more richness and adding to its intense, beefy, buttery flavor. The photo above shows just about how much you want to trim.
How To Cook It
There's a single rule when it comes to cooking skirt steak: intense, unrelenting, high heat. Forget cooking sous-vide or starting low and slow. Skirt steak should be cooked over the highest possible heat from start to finish, and here's why.
With a normal steak, you have enough thickness that if you were to try and cook it over intense heat the entire time, you'd end up with a steak that's burnt to a crisp on the outside before the center reaches the appropriate medium rare. Skirt steak has the opposite problem. It's so thin that unless you cook it over maximum heat, it'll be overcooked before you get a chance to develop a good sear on the exterior.
I like to light up an entire chimney of coals, pile them all under one side of the grill, then add a few more coals on top just for good measure. As soon as those coals on top are hot, throw the suckers on, cooking them with a single flip.*
*I know I've said to flip your steaks multiple times in the past, but the hastened cooking this produces ends up overcooking your skirt.
If you have hardwood coals, now's the time to break'em out. They burn faster and hotter than briquettes, making them the ideal choice for grilling skirt steak.
Slicing and Serving
Like most of the inexpensive cuts, how you slice the meat is as important as how you cook it. The key, once again, is to let it rest for a few minutes after pulling it off the heat, then to slice thinly against the grain.
If you have a sharp knife and a bit of skill, you can do this pretty easily with a whole skirt. Take a look at the way the grain flows, then slice at a 45 to 60° angle from that grain. Alternatively, you can slice with the grain to divide the long steak into 2- to 3-inch wide segments, then rotate each one of those 90°F and slice into thin strips to achieve the same end result.
Other Flavorings and Sauces
Like hanger and other loosely-texture cuts, skirt takes well to rubs and marinades. At the very least, you should be using plenty of salt and pepper. A good chili rub or a rub made with dried spices and aromatics like coriander, cumin, and cinnamon are a natural pairing. Take a look at the recipes below for some more inspiration.
Get the Recipes!
- Chili-Spiced Skirt Steak Tacos »
- Skirt Steak Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing »
- Skirt Steak Fajitas »
- Skirt Steak with Homemade Steak Sauce »
- Spice Rubbed Grilled Skirt Steak »
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.