Skirt Steak vs. Flank Steak: What’s the Difference?

And can you use them interchangeably?

February 21, 2023

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Homemade Cooked Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce and Spices

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Homemade Cooked Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce and Spices

Photo by: bhofack2/Getty Images

bhofack2/Getty Images

By Alice K. Thompson for Food Network Kitchen

Alice is a contributing writer and editor at Food Network.

Both skirt and flank steak are delicious, economical cuts that are more popular than ever in home and restaurant dishes. Learn their differences and similarities, plus how to substitute one for the other.

Overhead of raw skirt steak on white parchment paper on a light wooden cutting board that is sitting on a white surface.

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Overhead of raw skirt steak on white parchment paper on a light wooden cutting board that is sitting on a white surface.

Photo by: Annabelle Breakey/Getty Images

Annabelle Breakey/Getty Images

What Is Skirt Steak?

Skirt steak is a long, thin, ribbon-like cut that comes from the plate (belly) section just below the rib of the cow or steer. The steak’s muscle fibers are visible, giving it a “pleated” look that explains its name. A full skirt steak weighs from 1 to 2 pounds and is a slim 1/2 inch or so in thickness. The animal produces two “inside” and two “outside” skirt steaks. While the outside steak is thicker and slightly more tender, this cut usually goes directly to restaurant kitchens; but don’t fret, both versions are excellent and with proper cooking you’re unlikely to tell the difference.

Skirt steak is cut from a muscle that gets plenty of exercise, so it’s fairly lean and has excellent beefy flavor. You’ll clearly see muscle fibers running across the meat, and these give the steak its distinctive chew. This also means cooking it to the proper temperature is important: Undercooking it will fail to soften the muscle fibers sufficiently, while overcooking can make it dry and tough. At least medium-rare but no more than medium is ideal.

Raw Grass Fed Flank Steak Ready to Season

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Raw Grass Fed Flank Steak Ready to Season

Photo by: bhofack2/Getty Images

bhofack2/Getty Images

What Is Flank Steak?

Flank steak is a flat, oval steak cut from the flank area located just behind the plate and just in front of the rear legs of the cow or steer. It’s very lean, requiring minimal trimming, with muscle fibers running the length of the steak. A whole flank steak weighs from 1 to 2 pounds and is typically about 3/4 to 1 inch in thickness.

Flank steak is famous for its meaty flavor, but its lack of marbling (interior fat veins) means that it’s tougher than some other cuts. Cooking it to medium-rare will keep it juicy, and slicing it very thinly across the grain will reduce its chew. A marinade is also recommended for flank steak; one that contains oil, salt and an acid is best for penetrating the meat.

Set of fresh raw alternative beef steaks on a wooden Board: Denver, Skirt, Flank, Machete and rosemary, top view

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Set of fresh raw alternative beef steaks on a wooden Board: Denver, Skirt, Flank, Machete and rosemary, top view

Photo by: Andrei Iakhniuk/Getty Images

Andrei Iakhniuk/Getty Images

What’s the Difference Between Skirt and Flank Steak?

While they’re both from the group known as “flat steaks” and have deep, beefy flavor, there are a few differences; namely, skirt steak is longer, thinner and richer in flavor than flank steak.

  • Shape: Skirt steak is a much longer, narrower and thinner cut. Flank steak is broader and more oval in shape and close to twice as thick as skirt.
  • Muscle fibers: The steaks have muscle fibers that run in different directions: You’ll see the fibers of skirt steak running across the width of the steak, while flank’s fibers run down its length.
  • Taste: Both skirt and flank come from well-used muscles that give them their famously deep, beefy flavor. Both are also fairly lean, although skirt has noticeably more fat, giving it richer flavor.

Can Skirt and Flank Steak Be Used Interchangeably?

With bold flavor and lots of good surface area for searing, skirt and flank steaks make good substitutes for each other in most dishes. But keep these differences in mind when preparing recipes:

  • Marination: Marinades typically penetrate skirt steak’s rough surface more quickly; flank steak will benefit from a slightly longer marinade, up to 24 hours.
  • Cook time: At about 1/2-inch thick, skirt steak is also much thinner than flank steak, so you should adjust your cooking time accordingly so each is properly cooked.
  • Doneness: Aim for the meat to be well caramelized on the outside and no more than medium-rare for flank steak (130 to 135 degrees F) or no more than medium (135 to 140 degrees F) for skirt steak.
  • Slicing: When slicing, remember that the grain of each runs in a different direction. Slice flank across its narrow end. For skirt, first cut the strip of steak into a few shorter, manageable pieces with the grain, then turn them 90 degrees and slice across the grain.

Skirt Steak Recipes

A super-easy version of fajitas with skirt steak briefly marinated and grilled, but you could also pan-sear it on the stovetop. The peppers and onions are cooked separately, and everything is rolled in flour tortillas.

Chef Name: Food Network Kitchen

Full Recipe Name: 15-Minute Stir-fried Steak Tacos

Talent Recipe: 

FNK Recipe: Food Networks Kitchen’s 15-Minute Stir-fried Steak Tacos, as seen on Foodnetwork.com

Project: Foodnetwork.com, Beat the Clock Dinners / Thanksgiving

Show Name: 

Food Network / Cooking Channel:

FNK_15_MinuteStirfriedSteakTacos_H

Chef Name: Food Network Kitchen Full Recipe Name: 15-Minute Stir-fried Steak Tacos Talent Recipe: FNK Recipe: Food Networks Kitchen’s 15-Minute Stir-fried Steak Tacos, as seen on Foodnetwork.com Project: Foodnetwork.com, Beat the Clock Dinners / Thanksgiving Show Name: Food Network / Cooking Channel:

Photo by: Renee Comet ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Renee Comet, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

This speedy but delicious recipe shows you how you can cook skirt steak in minutes. The technique of cutting the steak into sections with the grain and then slicing them in thin strips across the grain is ideal for tender results.

Food stylist: Jamie Kimm 
Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin

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Food stylist: Jamie Kimm Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin ,Food stylist: Jamie Kimm Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin

Photo by: Antonis Achilleos

Antonis Achilleos

Skirt steak makes an awesome, easy stand-in for lamb in these gyro sandwiches. Skip the pita, add a few more handfuls of greens and you can also have the makings of a wonderful main-course salad.

Flank Steak Recipes

Flank Steak with Smashed Potatoes

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Flank Steak with Smashed Potatoes

Photo by: Ryan Dausch

Ryan Dausch

This recipe’s pan-searing is an easy and classic way to cook flank steak. Adding smashed potatoes and a chimichurri-like parsley sauce makes for a standout meal.

Photo by: Ryan Dausch

Ryan Dausch

Not just for Tuesdays: This is a fabulous any-night dinner that comes together in just about half an hour. If you have more time, however, you can give your flank steak a couple hours of marinating in the fridge — it will only get tastier.

Flank steak is great choice for stir-frying: It has flavor to stand up to bold seasoning, and slicing it thinly across the grain keeps it tender for cooking under brief, intensive heat. What could be more delicious?

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