What's the Difference Between Skirt, Flank, Hanger, and Flat Iron Steaks?
Ribeyes, filet mignons, T-bone steaks, and most other higher cost cuts of beef are pretty easy to spot in a butcher's case because they all sport some kind of obvious identifier. Oftentimes they're bone-in, super thick, rich with marbling, and they're hand-cut individually by the butcher – all of which can give away their specific cut. In other words, I know a New York strip when I see one, you know?
However, when you move away from these richer cuts of beef in the rib, short loin, and sirloin area (the back area of a cow), and move to the front in the short plate and flank region (the lower abdomen area), all the different cuts of meat start to look exactly the same: long, relatively thin, and without a ton of marbling. This is where you'll find skirt, hanger, flank, and flat iron steaks.
What these cuts all have in common is that because they're from relatively hard-working areas of the animal, they will be leaner cuts than those from the loin area, and they will have tougher fibers and more silver skin. That said, because they've traditionally been deemed somewhat "less desirable" cuts of meat, they're much more affordable. These steaks happen to still possess tons of flavor, it's just a matter of preparing them correctly. One key rule of thumb that applies to all four is that they should be sliced thin for serving.
Now, here are the subtle, yet important, distinctions between these frequently confused cuts of beef.
Skirt steak is cut from the short plate region of the cow and is the fattiest cut out of the four. It comes from two separate muscles within the chest and abdomen, which are referred to as the inside (transversus abdominis muscle) and outside (diaphragm muscle) skirt. Skirt steak is longer (we're talking up to 24-inches-long, folks), more narrow, and slightly thinner than flank steak, and it's best prepared to medium-rare for tender, mouthwatering results. Comparatively speaking, skirt steak is said to have a beefier flavor than flank.
Skirt Steak Recipes To Try:
Be sure to explore our entire collection of Skirt Steak Recipes for more inspiration.
If you've ever enjoyed a sizzling hot plate of steak fajitas, there's a good chance you were enjoying skirt steak. Because of the thick grain and connective tissue, this cut of meat takes extremely well to a punchy marinade and a quick, hot sear on a grill or cast iron pan. (Note: You can marinate skirt steak anywhere from 30 minutes up to 24 hours; the longer it marinates, the more flavor imparted.) It's helpful to cut this lengthy steak into more manageable portions when it comes time to cook it. For the most delicious results, always slice it across the grain to keep your steak juicy and flavorful.
This slightly less popular cut of steak can oftentimes be confused with skirt steak. Though the two are very similar, flank steak is a wider, shorter, and thicker cut of meat. It comes from the flank region of the cow (even lower on the abdomen than skirt) and possesses slightly less fat than skirt steak.
Flank Steak Recipes To Try:
Be sure to explore our entire collection of Flank Steak Recipes for more inspiration.
It is slightly tougher and more fibrous than skirt steak, but is very similar in that it takes quite well to marianting. Deploying an acidic, flavorful marinade is the perfect way to tenderize most any tougher cut of protein, such as flank steak. Flank is ideal for grilling or pan-searing to a juicy medium-rare. Try it in anything from carne asada tacos to a toasty sandwich. Flank steak can also be stuffed and rolled after marinating for another tasty (and impressive!) dinner option.
This cut of beef is from the lower abdomen/diaphragm area between the rib and the loin, and it is long, narrow, and thick. Because it comes from an area of the cow that is not as hardworking as flank and skirt, it is more tender in texture. But (again) similarly to flank and skirt, it can always benefit from a marinade, even if it isn't essential. It is recommended not to cook hanger steak any further than a medium-rare temperature, as it can start to become tough if cooked much further.
Hanger Steak Recipes To Try:
Like skirt steak, hanger steaks possess more fat and marbling than flank steak. It is definitely a less common cut of beef (sometimes referred to as a "butcher's steak" because despite being delicious when prepared correctly, it isn't top-of-mind for most consumers); however, hanger steak is growing in popularity and its price tag will reflect it, depending on where you purchase your meat. In general, hanger steak can be used interchangeably for both skirt and flank steak.
Flat Iron Steak
This flat cut of meat is found closer to the chuck/shoulder area of the cow. It is not as long or narrow as the other cuts – instead, it has a rectangular shape and a uniform thickness throughout. Additionally, it possesses more marbling than the other flat cuts. While you could prepare this steak as-is, it is ideal to throw it in a marinade before cooking to tenderize the fibers and impart some flavor. That said, it is quite rich and beefy on its own.
Flat Iron Steak Recipes To Try:
Be sure to explore our entire collection of Flat Iron Steak Recipes for more inspiration.
Flat iron steak can be used interchangeably with skirt, flank, and hanger, and similarly, it is not recommended to cook it past medium-rare, as it can become tough and unpleasant. If you're in the market for a go-to cut for a steak sandwich, this is a great option because it's relatively affordable, rich in flavor, and easy to prepare.