Why It Works
- A Worcestershire and anchovy-based marinade delivers classic A-1 flavor that works equally well as a sauce.
- A two-zone fire gives you more control when you're grilling. Sear over the direct side, then finish cooking over the indirect side.
It's hard to think of a cut of meat that is more conducive to cooking for a crowd than flank steak. It's got a robust, beefy flavor and a pleasantly tender texture with a bit of good chew. It comes in large, regular shapes that make cooking, slicing, and serving easy, and it's just thin enough that it'll cook through in a matter of minutes, but just thick enough that you can still get a nice, medium-rare center.
They're pretty diverse as far as cooking method goes, but the best way, by far, during the summer is on the grill. With their large surface area, they're made for picking up nice char, smoky flavors, and the types of dishes they transform into seem perfect for al fresco dining.
Here are a few tips for marinating, grilling, and serving flank steak.
At one time flank steak was a relatively hard cut to find, reserved for specialty butchers or saved for industrial uses. These days, consumers are wise to its benefits, and it has become as near-ubiquitous a cut as the standard high-end steaks.
When shopping for flank steak, look for an even, deep red color with a fair amount of fine fat running along the length of the muscles. Poorly butchered flank steak will either have a thin membrane still attached to parts of it, or will have had that membrane removed so aggressively that its surface has been shredded. Look for smoothly textured pieces without nicks or gouges.
A standard whole flank steak can weigh anywhere between two and four pounds. Plan on cooking a pound of flank steak for every three diners, a pound and a half if your friends are as hungry as mine.
Contrary to what you may think, marinade actually does not penetrate particularly far into meat—even over the course of a few days, the bulk of the aromatic compounds in a marinade will travel mere millimeters into the meat (the exception being salt, small sugar molecules, and some acids). In reality, a marinade is mostly a surface treatment, and not much benefit lies in marinating for more than half a day or so. If you'd like the flavor of the marinade to completely coat your meat, your best bet is to reserve some marinade and simply toss your meat with it after it has been cooked and sliced.
Here are a few ingredients you should consider when constructing a marinade:
- Salt is absolutely essential. It is one of the few ingredients that penetrates and seasons meat deeper than the outer surface. I like to add my salt in the form of soy sauce or fish sauce, which are also very high in glutamates, adding extra savoriness to my meat.
- Sugar when used in moderation will help the meat brown better on the grill, creating strong smoky, charred flavors. A touch of sugar also balances salt nicely.
- Aromatics are mainly a surface treatment, but they can still be quite powerful. Garlic, shallots, dried spices, herbs, or chiles are all good things to experiment with.
- Oil is often a primary ingredient in marinades. Many aromatic compounds, such as those found in garlic, are soluble in oil but not in water. The oil will help spread these flavors evenly across the surface of the meat, as well as lubricate and protect the meat when it first hits the grill.
- Acid can balance flavors, but should be used sparingly. It can denature proteins in the meat, causing it to turn mushy over time. With very acidic marinades, it's particularly important to not over-marinate—certainly no more than half a day.
As far as specific flavorings go, a Worcestershire and anchovy-based marinade delivers classic A-1 flavor (albeit in a much, much tastier form than the bottled glop). Cutting some Worcestershire sauce and chopped anchovies with a bit of soy, a good amount of Dijon mustard, some sugar, and garlic, then shaking the whole thing up with oil, creates a creamy, emulsified marinade that works equally well as a sauce.
How to Grill
The key to perfectly grilled flank steak is to use a modified two-level fire—that's a fire where all the coals have been pushed over to one side, leaving the other empty (in a gas grill, just leave one bank of burners off). Doing this gives you more control over your cooking, allowing you to sear your meat over the crazy hot side, and finish cooking it through gently with the cover on on the cooler side of the grill. Without this option, there's a good chance that you'll end up incinerating the exterior of your meat before the center cooks through.
Before applying a marinated steak to the grill, it's important to wipe it off using a paper towel. Wet meat can cause a couple problems. First, if the wetness is oil-based, it'll drip down into the fire causing flare-ups that will deposit foul-tasting sooty compounds on your steak. If there's too much water-based moisture, your meat will end up steaming instead of searing, and nobody wants to eat marinated steamed flank steak, do they?
Carving and Serving
Like with all grilled, seared, or roasted meats, it's vital to allow the steaks to rest before slicing into them. As we demonstrated here, cutting into your meat prematurely leads to loss of juices and flavor. A good rule of thumb is to let the internal temperature of your meat drop to a couple of degrees below the maximum cooking temperature. So if you cooked your flank steak to 130°F (54°C) for medium-rare, you should let it rest until it drops to 128°F (53°C) before slicing. For a flank steak, this takes five to 10 minutes.
As for slicing it, we're lucky on this front—a flank steak has a distinct grain, making it very easy for us to properly orient a knife for carving. You always want to cut perpendicular to the grain in order to minimize the length of each muscle fiber you have to chew (for more information on this, see our article here).
This should be done as soon as possible, using the appropriate utensils and degree of reckless abandon.
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
4 anchovy fillets
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 medium shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 whole flank steak, about 2 pounds (see notes)
Combine Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, anchovies, garlic, mustard, tomato paste, and vegetable oil in a blender and blend until smooth, creamy, and emulsified. Transfer 1/3 of marinade to a small container, add chives and shallots, stir to combine, and reserve. Place flank steak inside a gallon-sized zipper-lock bag with remaining marinade. Press out air, seal bag, and allow meat to marinate, turning occasionally, for at least 1 hour and up to 12.
Remove steak from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Light one chimney full of charcoal and wait until they're covered in grey ash. Spread evenly over 1/2 of grate, leaving other half empty. Put cooking grate in place, cover, and allow grill to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate, then place flank steak over hot side of grill, cook until well charred, about 3 minutes. Flip steak and continue to cook until second side is well charred, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer steak to cooler side of grill, cover, and cook until center of steak registers 125°F (52°C) on an instant-read thermometer for medium-rare, or 135°F (57°C) for medium. Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil, and allow steak to rest for at least 5 minutes. Carve and serve, passing extra marinade tableside.
Alternatively, to finish indoors: Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil in a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet over high heat until shimmering. Remove steak from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Add steak to pan and cook, turning frequently, until an instant-read thermometer registers 125°F for medium-rare, or 135°F for medium, reducing heat as necessary if steak smokes excessively or starts to burn. Transfer to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and allow to rest 5 to 10 minutes. Carve and serve, passing extra marinade tableside.
If you're using a gas grill, set half of the burners to high and leave the others off for two-zone grilling.
An equivalent weight of skirt, flap, or hanger steak can be used in place of flank steak.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 25g||32%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||31%|
|Total Carbohydrate 11g||4%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||3%|
|Total Sugars 7g|
|Vitamin C 5mg||24%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|