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How-To

Flank Steak: Rubbed, Grilled, Sauced

Rub on intense flavor and serve with a zesty topping

Fine Cooking Issue 65
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Flank steak is among the juiciest and the tastiest beef cuts I know; it’s one of my favorites. Flank takes beautifully to just the sorts of punchy flavors that I find myself craving when the weather finally turns warm again. And when grilled, flank tastes its very best.

The quick rubs and chunky sauces I use to flavor flank steak couldn’t be easier to make. The recipes I’ve included here take their cues from Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern and Latin flavors, all warm-weather cuisines where the grill plays a big role. I start by assembling a full-flavored spice rub that stands up to the grill’s smoky overlay, and then I figure out an easy, sensible accompaniment that would speak to the kicky flavors in the rub. No need for advance planning or lots of time in the kitchen–a real boon in the summer.

What is flank?

Flank steak isn’t really a steak at all, but actually an entire cut of meat; it’s a long muscle found along the belly just below the rib cage. At the market, you’ll generally see flanks that weigh between 1-1/2 and 2 pounds. The meat is quite lean, with a fatter end and a tapered end. Look for bright-red meat that looks moist. Any bits of fat should be chalky white.

The grain of the flank steak runs lengthwise from end to end, and during cooking, the steak will shrink noticeably, unlike other steaks where the grain has already been cross-cut when the steaks were cut from a whole muscle.

Flank steaks will shrink noticeably in length during cooking.

Take it easy on the heat

Cooking the inside properly without overcooking the outside is always my main thought when I grill flank steak. So at the grill, you’ll need to back off on intensity: Instead of using a super-hot fire, reduce the heat (or find a more moderate spot on the grill) and turn the steak every couple of minutes. That may sound counterintuitive, since many recipes advise searing steak on one side and then the other and not fiddling with it too much. But this gentler approach allows the relatively thin steak to cook to the doneness you like before the exterior turns black and dries out, and it helps the juices stay evenly distributed.

The angle on slicing flank steak

The best way to slice flank steak inspires heated debate among meat lovers and grill hounds. You’ll always need to cut across the grain, but the question is, do you position the knife blade straight down or angle it? There are two approaches.

Cutting straight down at 1/2-inch intervals produces thick, meaty slices that allow for the best juice retention. They’re also quite chewy, but many people prefer it this way. Flank sliced this way stays juicier if it’s sitting on a platter while you’re enjoying a leisurely supper.
Cutting at an angle into thinner pieces produces more delicate slices of meat, which many people find more pleasant to eat. Thinner, more angled slices are easier to chew, but the downside is that the meat dries out more quickly.

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