If you’re like me, you’re always on the lookout for a great grilling steak. But there are so many labels out there that it’s easy to get confused, even if you’ve been grilling for years.
Is there a difference between London broil and flank steak? If not, why are they called by different names? Let’s find out.
Flank Steak vs London Broil
While flank steak refers to a certain cut of meat, London broil is a preparation technique. Flank steak is one of the cuts that benefits from this method, but you can use top round or top blade steak to make London broil as well.
Are Flank Steak and London Broil The Same Thing?
Some butchers and chefs will use these terms interchangeably, especially when talking to amateurs who won’t understand the difference. To those in the know, however, flank steak and London broil each have their own distinct definitions.
The flank steak is a specific cut of meat taken from the lower rear section of the steer, beneath the loin. Though it contains very little marbling, it has a nice beef flavor that responds well to marinades.
London broil, on the other hand, refers to a preparation method. Though flank steak can be used in London broil recipes, you can use a number of different lean cuts to prepare the dish.
Flank Steak vs London Broil: Breaking It Down
About Flank Steak
The first thing most people notice about flank steak is its thick, ropy grain, which is more visible than it is in cuts like beef tenderloin.
Flank steak is flat and roughly rectangular in appearance. There may be white flecks of fat dotting the surface, though as we pointed out, there’s not much marbling within the meat itself.
It’s easy to ruin flank steak because the meat is so lean. If it’s grilled too far past medium-rare, it will toughen to the consistency of shoe leather. One exception: If the meat is braised at a low temperature, the meat should remain tender.
Moreover, grilled flank steak should be thinly sliced against the grain. Slicing it with the grain will make it difficult to chew.
About London Broil
Steaks used for London broil need to be very lean, which is why flank steak fits the bill so well. Other good choices for this method include top round and top blade steaks.
To make London broil, chefs first subject the steaks to a marinade in order to promote tenderness. The mixture generally includes an acidic ingredient, such as balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, or mustard. Salt and sugar are also recommended.
Sometimes, chefs will use “London broil” to describe the marinating process alone, and not the actual cooking method. Although marinating is an important stage in the procedure, it’s only one of several. In fact, some people forgo it altogether, favoring a dry rub of salt, pepper, and ground mustard.
London broil steaks are usually brought to room temperature before cooking. At this point, chefs may trim away any connective tissue. It’s also permissible to pound the steaks with a mallet to ensure even thickness.
The next step is to quickly grill the steaks, or pan-fry them in a hot skillet. Due to the lean nature of London broil steaks, you should never cook them past medium-rare. If you opt for the skillet instead of the grill, add a bit of butter to the pan to assist with browning.
After resting the steaks for 5 to 10 minutes, slice them thinly across the grain and serve.
Other Ideas For Flank Steak
The shape and texture of flank steak lend an amazing versatility to the cut. There are many ways to enjoy it, aside from the London broil preparation. To name just a few:
Toss the slices with sauteed onions and bell peppers. Serve with grated pepper jack cheese, flour tortillas, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.
Philly Cheese Steaks
Saute flank steak with onions, mushrooms, and green peppers until the meat is just cooked through. Add salt and Tabasco sauce, then pile the mixture on toasted sub rolls. Top with American cheese and heat in the oven until the cheese melts.
Wrap the flank steak around a mixture of roasted pine nuts, basil, minced garlic, and olive oil. Roast in a mixture of tomato sauce and beef stock until the meat is tender.
Cuban-Inspired Steak Dinner
Marinate steak in a blend of dark beer, cumin, garlic, and scallions. Grill and serve with rice, beans, and guacamole on the side.
About Other London Broil Steaks
Top round steaks are taken from the round primal cut, which consists of muscles around the rump and rear legs of the cow. The meat in this area gets a lot of exercise, which means it can be tough and chewy.
The London broil method is a good one for top round because the meat should be sliced thinly in order to maximize its tenderness. Note that this cut might also be labeled as inside round, as it’s cut from the inside of the leg.
Top blade steak comes from the chuck primal. Unlike the round, the chuck can be found in the front of the steer, around the shoulder region. Just below it are the brisket and the shank cuts.
This primal can be split into two segments: the chuck shoulder clod and the chuck roll. It’s common practice for butchers to separate the clod into individual muscles and sell them separately. That’s where the top blade steak comes from.
To procure a blade steak, the butcher will cut across the top blade muscle, which has a streak of connective tissue running through the middle. As a result, each top blade steak has a gristly center section. Fortunately, the meat also packs a ton of beef flavor.
Is London Broil a British Dish?
Interestingly, no. Both the term and the dish originated in North America, and have nothing to do with the city of London.
According to James Beard, London broil can be traced back to Philadelphia. The term began showing up in the US in the early 1930s. In the earliest incarnations of the dish, the meat was pan-fried before slicing, but eventually broiling became just as prevalent a method, which gave rise to the name.
The Bottom Line
In essence, London broil is a dish that’s prepared by pan-searing, grilling, or broiling a cut of lean steak, then carving it into slices. Flank steak, on the other hand, is a specific cut that can be used to make London broil.
If you’re at the butcher counter and you see a steak labeled as “London broil,” ask the butcher what the cut of meat is. They should be able to provide you with a specific answer. Of course, if you’re planning on using the London broil technique, you might not care about the specific cut, as long as the dish turns out well.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!