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How to Cook Skirt Steak Perfectly

Whether you like it rare, medium rare, or well done, we show you how to cook skirt steak perfectly every time.

I’ve long been a fan of rib-eyes and New York steaks, but skirt steak is fast becoming my new favorite. It has an intensely beefy flavor that’s truly delicious—it’s what I always dreamed a steak could taste like—and is amazingly inexpensive compared to those others.

Skirt steak is also incredibly quick and easy to make. But it’s also easy to make tough and dry. So here’s what you need to know to make great skirt steak every time.

What Is Skirt Steak?

Skirt steak is a thin cut of beef that comes from the diaphragm muscle of the cow, not too far from where a flank steak comes from. Like flank steak, it’s rectangular-shaped and not very thick. But skirt steak is even narrower at just 3 or 4 inches wide and thinner at just 1/2- to 1-inch thick.

Your butcher might have two types of skirt steak, the outside skirt and the inside skirt. If you have a choice, go for the outside skirt—it will be more tender and has a more intense beefy flavor.

Also like flank steak, skirt steak has a visible grain running through it. But while a flank steak’s grain runs lengthwise, a skirt steak’s runs width-wise. That comes into play when it’s time to cut the meat, so before cooking, take a sec to notice those width-wise grains—they’ll look like stripes of muscle running across the meat.

Is It A Good Cut?

Yes! Skirt steak is seriously one of my favorite cuts of beef. It has a lot of flavor and is very tender when cooked correctly.

Skirt steak is not the kind of steak where you have one piece per person and then you dig in with a steak knife and fork though. It instead needs to be sliced before serving. You typically buy one long piece and then either slice it and cook it, or cook it and slice it. This is because the way it is sliced matters to how tender it is. You’ll learn how to slice it properly below.

What is Skirt Steak Best For?

This cut of beef has the grain running through the width, so you need to slice it in a particular way to cut against the grain. If you leave it to the people at the table to cut it themselves, there is a big risk that they will cut it wrong and experience a lot of toughness as a result.

It is therefore best to use skirt steak in dishes where the steak is in slices. That way, the cook (you!) has control over making sure it is sliced correctly.

My favorite things to use skirt steak for are fajitas and stir fries. I will say though, normally when we think of steak for fajitas or stir fries, we think of cutting the steak first and then cooking it. With skirt steak, it turns out much better if you cook it whole first, then let it rest, and then slice it and add it to your dish.

How Do You Make It Tender

A lot of people marinate skirt steak. This adds a lot of flavor, especially since the accordion-like structure of the steak gives lots of surface that you can add this flavor to. If you want to marinate yours, try this marinade, or go Carne Asada-style with this one that’s full of smoked chipotle and citrus flavors.

Having said that, I tend to not use a marinade on skirt steak. I don’t find that it needs it. It has so much flavor of its own. But also, that same accordion structure means that there are a lot of little nooks and crannies for a spice rub to get into. I therefore tend to just season it well with salt and pepper, maybe a bit of garlic powder, and go with that. If I’m doing something Mexican or Tex-Mex, I might also add some chili powder. Rub it all on there, and it’s ready to cook.

The most important two things for making skirt steak tender have nothing to do with what flavors you add though. What matters is how you cook it and how you slice it. If you master these two things, you’ll have perfectly tender skirt steak every time.

Cook It Hot And Fast

Because skirt steak is thin and relatively lean, it can become dry and chewy if overcooked. So your target is rare to medium-rare. If you prefer it a bit more well done, it will still be good, you’ll just want to slice it thinner. Part of what makes beef seem tough in your mouth is if there’s a lot of chewing needed. If you slice it thinner, then that toughness is limited.

Cooking the steak hot and fast will give it the most flavor. You want to really sear it to get that flavor. Cooking it quickly also limits the risk of overcooking the inside. I start cooking skirt steak over high heat, and only reduce it to medium-high or medium if I feel that the outside is getting too dark before the inside is done to my liking.

My favorite way to cook skirt steak is in a pan on the stove. I like a big cast iron skillet for getting the best high heat. If your length of skirt steak is too long to fit in your skillet, cut it into 2-3 pieces first. Below you can see the full size and how I cut it into manageable pieces.

You can also grill it over high direct heat. Another trick to getting a good crust—pat your skirt steak dry before cooking.

How To Slice Skirt Steak (Photo Tutorial)

This is the most important thing when it comes to making skirt steak tender and delicious. You have to slice it correctly. This is true whether you’re slicing it before cooking it or after cooking it.

“Your instructions were spot on, especially about how to cut it. I know I would have done that wrong without your help. It was perfect! Thank you!”

★★★★★

Cheryl, COOKTHESTORY READER

You always want to slice skirt steak relatively thinly and against the grain. Against the grain means that you’re slicing the steak at a 90° angle to the direction that the muscles run. Why? Because slicing against the grain breaks the long muscle fibers. Therefore, when you bite into a piece of the steak, you are not having to bite through that muscle fiber.

Here’s what it would look like if you cut WITH the grain. We don’t want that.

As we established earlier, a skirt steak’s grain goes width-wise, running the width of the steak, not the length of the steak.

Lay your skirt steak horizontally in front of you. You’ll see that the muscle fiber “stripes” are running up and down. Picture a compass, and let’s say that the left side of the steak is west, and the right side is east. The muscle fibers are running north to south.

With the muscle fibers running north to south, that means that you need to slice in an east to west direction. The issue is that that is going to give you long and unwieldy slices, and it’s also hard to make those long slices.

Instead, here is what you do. With your knife running north to south, cut the length of the steak into 5-6 inch pieces.

Then, take one of those pieces and turn it 90 degrees. Now, you grain is running east to west. You can continue to hold your knife north to south and begin slicing.

Make thin slices, no more than 1/4 of an inch. Thinner slices are easier to chew and so will be perceived as more tender.

For fajitas, I like to cut the steak into super thin slices.

And if you’d like wider pieces of steak, you can cut along the bias at a 45 degree angle like this. Slicing like this works great for a sandwich.

How Do You Know If You’re Slicing Skirt Steak Correctly?

Cut off a few slices in the direction that you think is correct. Now pick up a slice and look at the cut edge. Is your slice made up of long shreds of meat that run the length of your slice? That is incorrect. You want to be cutting THROUGH those shreds of meat, not along them.

When you look at the cut edge, you should not see any defined shreds. Instead, it should look like a bunch of dots of meat pushed together. That tells you that you have cut through the shreds.

If you’re having trouble visualizing this, don’t worry. Take a look at the comparison photo below. You want it to look like the pieces on the left, not the ones on the right where I cut with the grain.

The final slicing tip for juicy and tender skirt steak is to let it rest. You don’t want all the juices to come out when you cut into it. Instead, let the steak rest for 5 minutes before you cut into it. That way, the juices have a chance to stop moving around and to reabsorb into the meat. Don’t cover it with anything while it is resting.

Tip: This electric knife is my favorite tool for perfect, even slices.

Seasonings

This steak has so much flavor. As mentioned, I usually like it with just salt and pepper. But you could add whatever additional herbs and spices you like. Garlic powder and onion powder, for example. Or chili powder and cumin. It’s also nice with a touch of paprika or smoked paprika.

And while you could enjoy your sliced skirt steak as-is, perhaps with some potatoes or a salad on the side, it’s also great for tacos, burritos, and fajitas. Try it in a sandwich—a cheesesteak, for example. Or as part of a steak and eggs breakfast.

Try to avoid reheating it, though, because that can lead to the meat becoming overcooked and dry.

Skirt steak is versatile, quick, easy, inexpensive (perfect for a crowd!), and really, really good. Use these tips to cook and slice it right, and it just might become your new favorite steak too.

Enjoy! – Christine

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How to Cook Skirt Steak Perfectly (Recipe)

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  • Author: Christine Pittman
  • Prep Time: 3 minutes
  • Cook Time: 8 minutes
  • Total Time: 11 minutes
  • Yield: 34 servings 1x
  • Category: Entrée
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American

DESCRIPTION

Skirt steak is a super-tasty, deliciously beefy cut, but there are a few tricks to doing it right. Learn them, and your skirt steak will be amazing every time!

Listen to me explain briefly about how to make this recipe, with some great tips along the way, by clicking the play button below:


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 lb. skirt steak, ideally outside skirt

  • 1 tsp. salt

  • 1 tsp. pepper

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil 

Instructions

  1. Before you do anything, notice that the grain of the meat (the stripe of the muscle fibers) runs width-wise. This will come into play when you slice it later. Now cut the steak into 2 or 3 5- to 7-inch lengths.

  2. Preheat a large skillet (large enough to hold the steak pieces without crowding) over high heat.

  3. Meanwhile, pat the steak pieces dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper.

  4. When the skillet is good and hot, add the oil.

  5. When the oil is good and hot, add the steak pieces and cook undisturbed until well browned, 2 to 3 minutes. 

  6. Turn the pieces and cook until the other side is well browned, about 2 minutes. If you want your steak a bit more well done, flip it and cook on each side again for a bit. You’ll want to turn the heat down to medium-high or even medium though so that the outside doesn’t start to burn.

  7. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest about 5 minutes.

  8. Notice the grain, or the stripes in the meat, again. Thinly slice the steak pieces across the grain (at a 90° angle to the stripes). Serve (see Note below).

Notes

Note: My photo is a little misleading because it looks like I sliced the steak width-wise, or with the grain, even though I went against the grain exactly as I’m advising you to do. I just rearranged the slices in a row afterwards.