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How-To

How to Grill Skirt Steak

Renowned New York City butcher Pat LaFrieda calls it his favorite cut of beef; here’s why.

August/September 2015 Issue
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Skirt steak has been my favorite cut of beef for as long as I can remember. That’s because it’s also my dad’s favorite, especially for grilling. My dad, Pat Sr., is a third-generation butcher whose own father opened the original LaFrieda Meats. I started in the business when I was 10 and took it over from my dad in 1994 after a brief stint working on Wall Street. But my preference doesn’t stem entirely from tradition and filial loyalty; of all the beef cuts I sell, I simply think skirt steak packs the most flavor.

Two types: outside and inside

Skirt steak is a long belt of a muscle that comes from the belly of the cow, specifically the diaphragm. Outside skirt steak, as its name indicates, is found closer to the exterior of the animal, while inside skirt steak resides deeper, closer to the lungs. The outside is about two-thirds as wide as the inside, and it’s rippled with more fat.

I vastly prefer the outside cut because it has more marbling, which gives it that iron-rich flavor that I love. It’s the only type of skirt steak I sell and the only type I cook at home. But because the outside cut is also a favorite of restaurants, it’s not as easy for home cooks to find. Most supermarkets don’t label their skirt steak as inside or outside, and you can bet that if it’s unlabeled, it’s inside. But don’t hesitate to buy it—though less intensely beefy, it’ll still cook up deliciously, especially when paired with other flavorings.

Just a little prep required

Due to its length, skirt steak is usually sold folded or rolled up. Because it’s so long, you may want to cut it into shorter, more manageable pieces. Otherwise, it needs just a little trimming of excess surface fat. Skirt steak has a very visible grain, and you will see channels of fat that run through the grain (the marbling); these should be left intact. As this fat melts during cooking, it’ll baste the meat, adding loads of flavor.

Because skirt steak tapers, it may not be an even thickness throughout. That can be OK if people like different levels of doneness as the thicker portions will be more rare than the thinner ones. However, you can also lightly pound its thicker areas to even it out.

Looking at a raw skirt steak, it’s easy to see the lines of fat within the striations of meat. Don’t try to remove it. The fat adds flavor and bastes the meat as it melts away during cooking.

A steak that loves marinades and high heat

Skirt steak may not be as tender as sirloin and tenderloin, but it’s boldly beefy. That deep flavor makes it a natural for marinades, which, if high in acid, can also help tenderize it. The steak’s accordion-like structure allows it to hold onto a marinade, too.
 
Because it’s so thin, skirt steak is a natural for searing on a hot grill. (A skillet on the stove or a blast under the broiler works, too.) My dad and I both like our steak rare, but medium rare is also great. I don’t recommend that you cook it beyond medium rare because it gets tough, but do whatever feels right for you. However you cook it, be sure to rest the steak so the juices disperse, and slice it against the grain (perpendicular to its muscle fibers), which shortens the length of the fibers and makes the meat easier to chew.
 
I love to use skirt steak in salads, sandwiches, and tacos, but also on its own, served as, well, a steak—and an excellent one at that.

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