Forget tenderloins, porterhouses, and rib-eyes—I'll take a skirt steak any day. It has been, and will probably always be, my favorite cut of beef. So when Kenji asked me to write about grilling skirt steaks, I was only too happy to oblige.
I know my love for skirt steak is not universal, but I'd wager that skirt-haters (are you out there? really?) have tried steaks that are cooked or sliced improperly, hence some pretty tough, chewy stuff. When done right, skirt is the steak of the gods, and luckily for us, preparing it to heavenly results is well within reach for anyone with a grill.
What is Skirt Steak?
Skirt steak can be a difficult cut to decipher at first. Sometimes confused with flank because of its similar properties, there are really two distinct cuts from the diaphragm of the steer.
The outside skirt steak is from the plate section, below the rib and between the brisket and flank, and usually comes with the membrane still attached, which needs to be trimmed before cooking.
Inside skirt comes from the flank—it's narrower and thinner than the outside skirt, and comes with the membrane removed.
While outer skirt is traditional for fajitas, it's the inside cut that you will find at most butchers today (I've only picked up an outside skirt while in Texas), so it will serve as the basis for the rest of this post and recipes.
Food writer Robb Walsh has a fascinating story on why we mainly only see inside skirt, plus everything you'd every want to know about this great cut.
Grilling Skirt Steak
There are really only two important steps to fantastic skirt steak, the first being grilling. The best skirt steaks I've had all come off a grill or an incredibly hot cast iron pan. Skirt steak loves, and needs, intense heat.
Since it's a very long, flat steak, there's a lot of surface area to develop an outstanding crust, but this shouldn't be done at the expense of overcooking the inside, which is easy to do given the thinness. The solution is a blazing hot fire to sear the steak quickly before it cooks all the way through.
The grill is the best place to build up this type of heat, where a chimney full of lit coals piled close together can get you up to 700°F of direct heat. Also, the grill provides the best surface area for this very long steak—my piece of skirt actually had to be cut in half to fit on a 22 1⁄2 inch Weber kettle.
Over this blazing heat, a skirt steak (salted and rested, of course) will sear in a matter of minutes on each side, while finishing medium rare to medium on the inside. You don't want to cook the skirt over medium, or you'll start running into the off-putting chewiness factor.
Like any steak, once the skirt is done grilling, it's going to need a ten-minute rest. Then comes the second most important part of skirt steak success: the slicing.
We already know meat should be cut against the grain, but this couldn't be more true for skirt steak; its long muscle fibers will be incredibly chewy if not cut properly.
To slice the steak, first cut each piece of skirt into a three-to-four-inch section with the grain. Then, slice each of those sections into thin strips about 1⁄4-inch thick against the grain. This will ensure you have the shortest muscle fibers, creating nothing but a tender, flavorful steak.
I'm totally happy with skirt steak done with salt, pepper, and a little oil. This is how I usually prepare it for salads, where I like to use the dressing to add the flavor at the end as opposed to a marinade. This arugula salad with a cilantro-lime dressing is the perfect pairing for some well-cooked skirt.
While this cut has huge flavor on its own, it just gets better with a marinade. My personal favorite is Alton Brown's fajita marinade, or a carne asada, but I switched up my steak flavoring this time and tried out a chile-spiced marinade to excellent results.
Whenever I grill skirt steak, it's impossible to leave even the tiniest piece of leftovers. When working on this piece, I made enough skirt for at least four people. My wife ate for one, while I took on the role of three, struggling against an overloaded stomach at the end to eat every last piece. Resistance was futile for a steak that's as good as this.