I discovered my favorite steak at Costco, of all places. I was perusing the meat case when I spotted what I thought was a big tray of skirt steak. Going in for a closer look, I realized that the label said “flap meat.” Flap meat? “Sure doesn’t sound tasty,” I thought. But it had the coarse grain of skirt, flank, and hanger steak—cuts I already knew were awesome on the grill—and compared to all the other steaks on offer, the price couldn’t be beat. Since I had a small crowd coming for dinner that summer night (good friends who would forgive me if I was making a mistake), I decided to give it a shot.
Back at home, I mixed up a teriyaki(ish) marinade and tossed in the flap meat. That evening, as my friends enjoyed drinks and nibbles on the deck, I fired up the grill and threw on the flap meat. Mere minutes later, the meat was beautifully charred and ready to come off the grill. After giving it a quick rest, I sliced it up, arranged it on a platter, and watched my friends devour it in equally short order. Not only did I become a flap meat evangelical that night, a few of those friends did, too.
What exactly is flap meat?
Flap meat or flap steak is a thin, relatively lean, coarse-grained steak that comes from the belly of the steer, near the same area as flank steak. Technically, flap meat is part of the bottom sirloin butt, though that’s not really important to know when you’re shopping for it. What is important to know is that flap meat goes by other names and may be cut in different ways, depending on where you live. In the Northeast U.S., flap meat is more likely to be called “sirloin tip,” and it’s often sold in cubes (for kebabs) or in long, fat strips (which is how I first encountered it at Costco). In other parts of the country, finding it as a whole steak may be more the norm. You might also see flap meat going by its French name, bavette, or more correctly, bavette d’aloyau; bavette (which means bib) can refer to any number of thin steaks, but bavette d’aloyau (bib of the sirloin) is specific to flap meat.
The other thing to know is that it should be one of the more inexpensive steaks in the meat case. It’s still flying under the radar (and I selfishly hope that the weird name will help it stay that way), but I have seen prices that vary widely. At one supermarket, I found that flap meat was going for $8 per pound, while flank steak was $10 and skirt steak was $15. But at another market, literally across the street, flap meat was $15 per pound (on sale for $13) with no apparent difference in grade or other quality factors.
Load it up with flavor
Flap meat’s coarse grain makes it a champ at holding on to the flavors of a marinade, which can easily penetrate the loose structure of the meat. And if your marinade has something like minced garlic or ginger in it, those little bits can snuggle between the meat fibers, where they have less chance of burning. Just be careful not to soak flap meat for too long, or you run the risk of the marinade overwhelming the meat, particularly if the marinade contains soy sauce, fish sauce, or some other salty ingredient. Four to six hours seems to be the sweet spot for flap meat.
That said, a marinade isn’t always required. Flap meat has plenty of rich, beefy flavor on its own, so I’ll often just hit it with a good dose of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper before cooking it, and then finish it with a compound butter or dab it in some good old-fashioned steak sauce.
Use high heat
You can cook your flap meat using any dry heat method—grilling, broiling, pan-searing—so long as the heat is relatively high. High heat makes for better browning and crispy, charred edges. Charred edges, by the way, are the reason I like cooking flap meat in big, fat strips—more angles and surface area increase the likelihood that charring will happen.
Cook it almost to medium
As someone who usually loves her steak rare to medium rare, I almost feel like a heretic when I say this, but I think flap meat is really best when it’s more on the medium side of medium rare. Unless it’s been sliced super thin, flap meat that’s too rare can be unpleasantly chewy. And cooking it too much will obviously make it tough and dry. My approach is to cut the meat into pieces of even thickness so it’ll cook evenly and shoot for right around 140°F. After resting, flap meat cooked to that temperature will be pink (not red), tender, and juicy.
Temp at an Angle
The hardest thing about cooking flap meat is knowing when it’s done. With experience, you’ll be able to tell by poking it with a fingertip; when it feels a little firmer than it started out, it’s ready. But until you’ve cooked it enough to know what that feels like, you’ll need to use a digital instant-read thermometer. Digital instant-reads typically don’t need to be pushed very far into the meat to get a good reading, and that’s key when you’re temping something as thin as flap meat. Going in at an angle will also help you get a truer read of interior temperature since more of the probe tip is likely to hit the center. If you’re in the market for a new instant-read thermometer, the super speedy and accurate Thermapen from Thermoworks is worth every cent of its $99 price tag. Plus, it comes in a rainbow of fun colors, so you’ll never lose it in a drawer.
Slice against the grain
Cooked flap meat should always be thinly sliced across the grain to make those coarse meat fibers short and easier to chew. I like to do this before serving because I figure that even if my guests already know they ought to be cutting their steak against the grain—which is true for all meat—it can be hard to pay attention to that when there’s conversation and good times going on.
So that’s it, everything you never knew you needed to know about flap meat. Read on to find four delicious ways to enjoy what I hope is about to become your new favorite steak.