Ask the Butcher: Skirt Steak

Marinated, sliced, and grilled  skirt steakfor a perfect summer grill treat

As we’ve discussed in our pieces on the loin and rib  primals, the area of the steer between the fifth rib and the hind-end of the tenderloin is primarily split into two sectors: 1) the area lining the backbone which produces organized, pricy steaks, and 2) the belly area, comprised of fibrous, messy muscles that carry big flavors and cheaper prices. The skirt steak is in the latter category, working its life away supporting the massive viscera (again, four stomachs) of the animal.

Shop skirt steak.

More work means more connective tissue

The skirt muscle is found in the belly region of the rib primal, next the navel, analogous to the flank and bavette (flap) muscles in the loin. As muscles strain during an animal’s life, the body compensates by forming stringy connective tissue that lends a hand in doing hard work. In culinary terms, this produces a less tender muscle, and every attempt should be made to shorten the length of the fibers while preparing the cut (cut against the grain!). However, the proteins that make up these connective tissues also produce a richer, beefier flavor that isn’t available in super-tender cuts like the tenderloin.

Tenderizing skirt steak

Well-marbled Wagyu skirt steak.

Along with cutting against the grain right before serving (a mechanical process for tenderizing), there is also a familiar chemical process for breaking down the tough tissue in the belly muscles: marination. A combination of salt and acid works as a double-front against tough meat: acid slightly “cooks” the meat while salt infiltrates and rearranges the meat’s protein structure, allowing water to make a safer home within the tissue. As the king of modern food science Kenji López-Alt notes time and time again, marinades only really affect the surface level of a meat, even after several days. In the case of the thin skirt steak, this works just fine. A zesty lime-infused marinade brightens up the flavors and tenderizes the protein, allowing a cheap cut to be a favorite on the summertime grill ( the original meat for fajitas, in fact).

Recipe: Grilled Skirt Steak

Skirt steak is the ideal meat on the grill: it’s thin enough to cook fast without leaving the center raw, and it carries a big beefy flavor with a structure that takes well to marinades. For family grill night, it’s a cost-effective way to get everyone fed — and fed well.

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