Skirt Steak Vs Flank Steak: What’s the Difference and When to Use Each

You’d be forgiven for thinking the line up of steaks available is comprised entirely of the big names like filet mignon, t-bone and Porterhouse.

But, there’s much more to the story than just those, wonderful as they are. There are more than a dozen different steaks for the adventurous griller to choose from. Joy!

Today, we’re going to go deep with a couple of lesser-known steaks that deliver fabulous flavor, cook easily, and offer plenty of options for serving in this Skirt steak vs Flank steak battle.

Skirt steak sliced on a cutting board, drizzled with chimichurri

In this article we’re going we shall also share prep and grilling tips, nutritional info, and plenty of facts to help you choose the right cut for you.

To close it out, we’ll tell you which steak wins for flavor, ease of cooking, and more. Plus, we’ve put together three recipes for each cut to get you started.

Is your new favorite steak waiting to be discovered? There’s only one way to find out…

Comparison Table

CutSizeMeat ContentFat ContentAverage WeightAverage Servings Per CutLocation on Cow
Skirt SteakLong and thinModerately meatyModerate to high fat1.25 pounds3Center belly, plate primal, below rib primal.
Flank SteakLarge and squatVery meatyLow to moderate fat2 pounds4Flank primal, below the loin. Rear belly.

Skirt Steak

Inside Skirt Steak isolated on white
Courtesy of BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com

When you picture a thick, juicy steak in your mind, you’re probably not picturing a skirt steak. Skirt is a long and skinny cut that’s dark in color, heavily marbled with fat and connective tissue, and with a pronounced grain.

All in all, not the most photogenic of cuts. But, what it lacks in looks, it makes up for with flavor.

Skirt is rich and beefy and is absolutely delicious. But, you have to cook it and serve it just right – all that connective tissue can make it very tough.

Odds are, you’ve eaten skirt steak already, even if you’ve never ordered it by name; it is commonly used in fajitas and Cornish pasties.

Incidentally, it gets its name from its position on the lower sides of the cow. There aren’t too many other names for skirt steak; you might see it listed as Romanian tenderloin – a highly deceptive moniker – or Arrachera if you’re in Mexico (or a Mexican restaurant).

It is often named interchangeably with flank steak. That’s just plain wrong, however, as you’ll soon learn.

“Skirt steak is a big treat when you cook it right. Sear or grill it quickly, slice it thin, and you’ll have a lean, juicy steak with plenty of flavor.” – Chef Richard Chamberlain

Where Does Skirt Steak Come From?

Diagram of inside skirt steaks position on a cow
Courtesy of BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com

As mentioned above, the it comes from the side of the cow, specifically the plate primal.

There are, in fact, two different skirts – inside and outside. The inside skirt is an abdominal muscle, and the outside comes from the diaphragm. They both work very hard during the cow’s life, which is why they’re tough and fibrous.

The outside skirt is usually wider, longer, and thicker than the inside, and it’s somewhat more tender.

Either cut may be as much as two feet long and anywhere from 1/4 to 1 inch thick.

How Much Meat and Fat Does Skirt Steak Contain?

No matter if you choose the inside or an outside, there’s going to be a lot of fat in your steak. So, don’t be fooled by the thin appearance of skirt; it is by no means a lean cut of meat.

That’s ok – that’s part of what makes them juicy and delicious!

Nutritional Information Per 4oz (1/4 Pound)

NutritionTotal Amount% Daily Value (based
on 2000 calories/day)
Calories26913.5
Total Fat16g25
Cholesterol68mg33
Sodium95mg4
Protein28g
Calcium1
Iron17

Portion Size: How Much Skirt Steak Per Person?

Though it’s tasty, the chewiness of skirt steak makes it a treat to enjoy in smaller portions than more tender steaks. Since it’s so rich, though, you don’t need a lot, anyway.

It is often served sliced and inside a taco, as part of a stir fry, or on top of a salad.

Being part of another dish means you could probably get away with a 4-ounce serving per guest. If the meat is your main, up it to 5 or 6 ounces.

How to Prepare Skirt Steak for Grilling or Smoking

How you prepare your skirt makes a huge difference to the ultimate edibility of your meat. Here’s how to get it grill ready.

If you’re lucky enough to find an outside skirt (they’re usually snapped up by restaurants), you’ll find a papery membrane attached. Remove and discard this unnecessary add-on. For an inside cut, you may have a bit of excess fat sticking out – trim it to keep the shape even.

Because it is tough, it will benefit from a marinade, despite being so flavourful. Let it sit in your mix for several hours to overnight for maximum impact. If you prefer, you can just go with a dry rub, including kosher salt, to tenderize the meat.

How to Cook Skirt Steak

The trick to grilling it perfectly is cranking up the heat. Get your grill screaming hot before the meat meets the metal.

Once you’re up to temperature, place your steak on the grill, but do not go anywhere!

Because skirt is so thin, you’ll have it cooked to medium-rare within 2 minutes per side or less, depending on the thickness. Absolutely do not cook past medium rare if you want to be able to chew through it.

Once cooked, slice it thinly, cutting against the grain. Doing so will make it much easier to eat. It’s also great for serving over sides or salads, or tucking inside pitas, fajitas, wraps, and so on.

We’ve seen recipes that call for about 45 minutes of smoking before finishing with a reverse sear.

Try it if you like, but, honestly, we doubt you’ll see enough benefit from that to the effort. You’ll risk drying it out, too. Sorry, smoke-lovers, but we recommend skirt steak for the grill only.

Flank Steak

Flank steak isolated on white background
Courtesy of BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com

Shifting towards the rear of the cow, we find the flank steak. That’s perhaps why in Brazil, it’s called fraldinha, or “little diaper.” More appealingly, the French call it babette, or “bib.” Other alternative names include beef flank, plank steak, and, our favorite, Jiffy Steak. It’s also a big hit in Colombia, going by the name sobrebarriga.

Being from low on the belly, the muscle from which this cut comes from gets a serious workout, for a bovine, toughening it up over the life of the cow. Despite that, it can be cooked into a delicious meal, and has terrific flavor. It often finds its way into fajitas (if there’s no skirt steak) or London Broil.

“Flank steak is what cooks and chefs love the most. A beautiful marbled meat, it’s also one of the best values for your money.” – Chef Marcus Samuelsson

Where on the Cow Does Flank Steak Come From?

Diagram showing where on the cow flank steak comes from
Courtesy of BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com

Flank steak is cut from the flank primal, naturally, and it’s an abdominal muscle. You generally get the whole muscle from the butcher, and it’s thicker and wider than skirt, but not as long.

You’ll notice right away that this cut is heavily grained, not unlike the skirt. It is, however, much leaner.

How Much Meat and Fat Does Flank Steak Contain?

One look at a flank steak is all you need to see how low in fat it is. A lean cut, there may be half as much fat as there is on a skirt.

You may see some fat at the edges and very light marbling, but the rest is all meat.

Nutritional Information Per 4oz (1/4 Pound)

NutritionTotal Amount% Daily Value (based
on 2000 calories/day)
Calories21711
Total Fat9g14
Cholesterol89mg30
Sodium64mg3
Protein32g
Calcium2
Iron11

Portion Size: How Much Flank Steak Per Person?

Flank steak is meaty but lean, so a larger portion may be in order. Consider up to 8 ounces per guest if the meat is the star of the show.

How to Prepare Flank Steak for Grilling or Smoking

Set yourself up for success by prepping your flank before you start grilling. Just follow these simple steps.

You should not need to trim anything off your flank steak since there’s very little fat already. That means you can move straight to marinating or rubbing.

The heavy grain allows this cut to take marinade nicely, adding a lot of flavor and tenderness. You could also opt for a seasoned rub, including salt, to tenderize and flavorize (if that’s a word) before grilling.

For a more hands-on approach to tenderizing, you might want to hammer your flank steak with a tenderizing mallet. Unlike the skirt, the flank is thick enough to make this an option.

How to Cook Flank Steak

Your best bet for perfectly grilled flank steak is to cook it over medium-high to high heat for just a few minutes per side. You don’t want to go past medium-rare, or you risk making it inedibly tough; it’s a fine line between delicious and disaster!

A quick smoke is an option to add a little extra flavour to your flank steak. Just be sure to take it out of the smoker when the temperature is still low enough to finish with a sear.

Like with the skirt, the length of time in the smoker is very low and may not be worth your while. We’d suggest it’s not, but that’s up to you.

Once it’s cooked and rested, be sure to slice the flank steak thinly and against the grain to create easy to chew morsels for yourself and your guests.

Skirt Steak Vs Flank Steak

Now that we know how to tell a skirt from a flank and some of the key characteristics of each, let’s compare them head-to-head.

Cooking Methods – is One Easier to Cook Than the Other?

Neither is especially difficult to prepare or to cook; barely any trimming is required, and you need just a few minutes over the flames.

Arguably, skirt steak is just a bit easier to cook. Because it’s so thin and even, you’ll only need about 2 minutes per side, and you’re done.

Is One Better for Grilling Than the Other?

Honestly, these are both great steaks for grilling. While the extra fat on a skirt can lead to flare-ups, you have to be very attentive with both these cuts, anyway.

Looking around the internet, there seems to be a slight preference for flank over skirt steaks among grillers, and we mean slight. Both are great options.

Difference in Tenderness

This section is a bit tricky. If you’re comparing inside skirt with flank steak, the winner is flank. You won’t mistake either cut for a filet mignon, mind you. Overall, the flank is a bit easier to chew.

However, if you’re able to snag an outside skirt, the playing field suddenly levels. In fact, it tips over to the skirt steak’s favor. If you see one, grab it!

Which is More Flavorful?

They both have a lot of beefy flavor. Skirt steaks, however, take top prize with a more robust taste than flanks, no matter if you’ve got inside or outside.

You can thank the extra fat for the flavour advantage.

Which is USUALLY Bigger?

They are entirely different shapes, so it’s a bit hard to tell which is generally larger. While skirt steaks are much longer than flank steaks, the extra thickness of the flank usually means it will weigh more.

Remember, though, you’re almost always going to serve both sliced, allowing you total control over portion sizes.

Which is Better – Skirt Steak or Flank Steak?

Skirt and flank steaks each yield similar results, and each one has its pros and cons. And, of course, each one has its supporters, proclaiming it to be the better choice for some reason.

While both are terrific cuts of meat, if we had to choose sides, we’d go with skirt. Yes, they’re less tender, but if you cook and cut them right, that won’t be an issue.

Skirt cooks faster, offers more flavor, and are usually less expensive than flank. It’s a close call, but we’re declaring skirt steak to be the winner of this showdown.

When Would You Pick One Over the Other

For certain dishes, skirt is always the preferred choice, including fajitas, Cornish pastries, and stir-fry. It’s also the go-to for bold, beefy flavor if you want to minimise add-on flavorings like sauces and marinades.

Now, if you’re making Philly Cheesesteak, go with the flank steak. Also, the lighter flavor makes it the perfect vehicle for experimenting with marinades and complex rubs.

3 Best Recipes for Skirt Steak from Around the Web

Excited for some steaks? Here are some inspired recipes to get you started:

Beer-Marinated Grilled Skirt Steak

Beer and steak? Yes, please! The chef clearly had some fun developing this sudsy marinade that also includes the bright taste of orange slices. If you have time to let it sit overnight, you’ll be rewarded with deeply embedded flavor without fear of leaving the steak too mushy.

Part of what’s great about this recipe is its simplicity. There are no exotic ingredients (you probably have everything already), and the preparation is a piece of cake – 10 minutes total, including slicing the orange and opening the beer.

It’s not spicy, so it’s highly versatile – but it is very flavorful.

For the full recipe, please cook here: Beer-marinated grilled skirt steak

Thai Grilled Skirt Steak

If you love the exotic taste of Thai cuisine, or you like trying new flavor experiences, this recipe has your name on it. The long list of ingredients includes Thai staples like cilantro and peanuts, and classics including brown sugar and black pepper.

For all that, though, the only tool you’re going to need to make the marinade is a whisk.

Don’t expect a ton of heat in this one, but you should feel a tingle. Of course, you could always ramp it up if you like a few more Scovilles.

This is a perfect addition to stir fry or as part of an Asian-themed dinner. With so much added flavor, you don’t have to add much else.

Click here for recipe and instructions: Thai Grilled Skirt Steak

Argentinian Skirt Steaks With Chimichurri

If you know barbecue, you know Argentina is one of the great grilling nations in the world. And if you didn’t know, let this recipe be your introduction.

You’ll need to don your chef’s hat and pull out the food processor, but it’ll all be worth it when you taste the chimichurri. The blend of garlic, jalapeño peppers and herbs is sensational.

Best of all, you’ll get double-duty out of your creation – the steak marinades in the sauce, and you spoon it on the finished product. It’s zesty but not scorching and exploding with flavor.

Spoiler alert: you must love cilantro to enjoy this recipe.

Click the link to accept a moderate challenge for a big return on your investment: Argentinian Skirt Steaks with Chimichurri

3 Best Recipes for Flank Steak from Around the Web

What can you do with a flank steak? What can’t you do! You’ll be all over these three creative recipes we’ve curated for you:

Coffee-Grilled Flank Steak

From Canada’s Captain of the Grill, Ted Reader, comes this java-inspired masterpiece. Using both brewed and ground dark coffee, the recipe builds on the strong beefy, umami flavor of the flank steak.

It all starts with a dark roast rub and ends with a basting sauce you won’t want to eat right before bed. If you think it sounds crazy, you’re right – but sometimes those are the best ideas!

Between the coffee and the brown sugar, it will be a rich sauce, but that will be somewhat balanced by a healthy (literally) does of fresh herbs. Consider this one for an elegant dinner but on a budget.

See what’s brewing for your steak – follow this link: Coffee-Grilled Flank Steak

Flank Steak With Rosemary

You might wonder what rosemary is doing in a steak recipe. Isn’t it reserved for poultry, and maybe pork?

Usually, yes, but the slightly bitter, woody taste actually goes great with beef. And, if you like a bit of heat on your plate, you’ll love the added kick from hot sauce and jalapeños.

It’s a potent marinade, so a few hours is all you need to generate a lot of flavor. It’s surprisingly easy to make, despite boasting 10 ingredients, and the results are killer.

Serve this to anyone who enjoys bold flavors and strong wine. The chef suggests pairing with a green salad – a good idea for a refreshing diversion for the palate.

Point, click, cook, love: Flank Steak With Rosemary

Asian Grilled Flank Steak

This recipe looks to the East for inspiration and totally nails it. The blend of soy sauce and sesame oil is bang on.

Unless you’re already into Asian cooking, you may need to make a special trip to pick up the rice vinegar. Don’t try and substitute white vinegar – it’s much too harsh. If you need a stand-in, try apple cider vinegar, which is a staple for most grillers and smokers.

Flavorful without being challenging, this is a great recipe for dipping your toes into international cuisine.

It’s not in the recipe, but, as the pictures suggest, chopped green onions make an excellent garnish. For a side, go with jasmine or basmati rice. You’ll look like a chef who’s traveled the world!

Here’s how to do it – no passport required: Asian Grilled Flank Steak

Final Thoughts

If skirt and flank steaks weren’t on your radar before you read this article, we’d bet they are now. There’s a lot of bang for your buck locked up in both cuts, and the cooking could not be simpler.

For anyone who wants to do more than just grill a steak and plate it, they offer ample opportunity to get creative with marinades, rubs, and serving choices.

Have we answered all your questions and given you the knowledge you need to expand your beef repertoire? If so, mission accomplished! If not, be sure and get in touch via email or the comment section below. We’ll do our level best to answer all questions. Tips and advice are also welcome – we’re all in this together.

While you’re still here, please take a second and click the link to your favorite social media platform. Stay current with what’s new at FFF and get ideas for taking your grilling and smoking to the next level.

Thanks for reading – now go get that steak!

Mark Jenner

Hi. I'm Mark Jenner, owner and creator of FoodFireFriends.com. I grill and smoke food outdoors at least three days a week on a wide range of equipment, have done so for years, and love nothing more than cooking good food, over live fire, enjoying it with friends. The aim of this site is to educate and help others to do the same.

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