Knife Skills

Videos and step-by-step guides, each highlighting an essential knife technique.

Knife Skills: How To Trim Skirt Steaks

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Unless I'm going for a big, juicy, dry-aged ribeye, the skirt steak is my favorite cut for grilling. It's got a loose texture with a distinct grain and big, buttery swaths of fat that run through it, keeping it nice and moist as it cooks. And while it's no longer necessarily dirt cheap at the supermarket, it's also a cut that comes out juicy and flavorful even when you don't spring for the extra-fatty prime-graded stuff, which can help keep a few bucks in your wallet. At my local supermarket, it runs around half the price-per-pound of a prime ribeye steak—a bargain in my book.

As with any inexpensive steak (see my guide to Five Inexpensive Steaks You Should Know), the key to success starts in trimming it properly to maximize flavor and tenderness. Here's how to do it.

Selecting and Shopping

The outside skirt is the diaphragm muscle of the cow, cut from the plate, and it comes with a tough membrane attached to it, which needs to be trimmed before it can be cooked. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for us, the outside skirt is sold almost exclusively to restaurants, leaving us with the slightly less favorable but far easier to trim inside skirt.

Inside skirt is part of the flank, and it generally comes with the membrane removed, making trimming an easy job at home.

When shopping for skirt, there's no need to find prime grade meat. Even choice beef will have plenty of fat and flavor, and—provided you cook it right—be plenty tender.

Some butchers are more careful than others when they cut their skirt steaks—more than once I've found packaged steaks hiding behind the glass counter that are mangled, trimmed too thin in some spots, or accidentally torn apart. If at all possible, ask your butcher to unfold the skirt steak for you—a whole steak should be about 2 feet long—so that you can make sure it's intact in large enough sections that you can grill it without worrying about thin bits overcooking.

Once it's home, all you've got to do is remove some of the excess fat from the exterior, and you're good to go. Follow our step-by-step guide for more detailed instructions on how to prepare a skirt steak for the grill and then jump to some of the recipes below.

Lay it out and split

Whole skirt steaks are about two feet long and usually come rolled up from the butcher. You'll want to unroll them on a large cutting board, your sharp boning or chef's knife at the ready. Lay the steak fat-side up, then split it down the middle cutting along the very conspicuous grain to get it into more easy-to-manage one-foot-long pieces.

Slide under the fat

Slide your blade underneath some of the exposed fat, being careful not to go too deep. The meat underneath that fat has a rough, ridged surface, so it's very easy to accidentally cut some of it off. Better to take the fat off in thin layers so that you don't accidentally over-trim.

Keep sliding

Work your blade along the steak parallel to the cutting board, always making sure to cut away from your hand. Or, if you'd prefer, cut toward your hand...a single accident should set you straight for life.

Don't trim too much!

Fat = flavor and juiciness, so don't worry about trimming too much! You want to trim just enough that most of the meat surface is exposed, but there's no need to work your knife in between the meat fibers to get at the deeply situated fat striations. They'll help the meat cook better.

Flip and pull

Even though most of the tough membrane in an inside skirt will have been removed for you, some remnants may remain. Flip the skirt steak over to its non-fatty side and pinch the surface of the meat to locate the membrane.

Peel it off

Once you've got the membrane, it should be easy to peel off in large swaths. As with the fat, there's no need to go crazy here—just get most of it, and the rest will melt away as the steak cooks. With skirt steak, undertrimming is always better than overtrimming.

Ready to cook

One skirt steak, ready to be grilled.

Get the Recipes!

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.

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