Can you tell the difference between flank steak and flap steak? If not, you’re certainly not alone. These two cuts have plenty in common.
However, this isn’t a case of the same cut masquerading under several different names. Flap steak isn’t the same cut as flank steak. In this guide, we’ll go over the similarities and differences.
Flap Steak vs Flank Steak
Flap steak and flank steak are both cut from the abdominal muscles of the cow, and can be tough if they’re not sliced against the grain. Since flap steak has more fat, it’s a tad more flavorful than flank steak, but the latter is a better choice for steak sandwiches and fajitas. Flank steak is also a more solid option if you’re grilling the meat.
What is Flap Steak?
Flap steak comes from the abdominal muscles of the steer. As the name suggests, the cut is very flat and long, resembling a “flap” of meat.
You can usually procure flap steak at a low price—mainly because not many people have heard of it. It also has a tendency to be chewy and tough. But if you prepare it right, this is a flavorful cut with plenty to offer, especially for serious steak lovers.
What is Flank Steak?
The cut we know as flank steak also comes from the cow’s abdominal region. It’s long and thin, with a vivid grain running through the steak. This grain makes flank steak highly recognizable—and also quite tough, if you don’t know what you’re doing.
You need to cook flank steak quickly over high heat in order to preserve its texture. Marinating the steak also helps to break down some of the tougher fibers. It’s imperative to slice flank steak very thinly across the grain, or else it will be hard to chew.
Flap Steak vs Flank Steak: Breaking It Down
How are these cuts similar, and in what ways do they differ? Let’s go over the finer points.
Though both of these cuts come from the abdominal area, they’re cut from two different primals.
The flap is cut from the bottom sirloin. That’s located further back toward the hindquarters.
Flank steak, on the other hand, comes from the lower abdomen, beneath the ribs. In fact, purists deny that it’s even a steak, despite the fact that it’s cooked and eaten as such.
You might think that this is a minor point, but the spot where a cut is located on the animal has a significant impact on the characteristics of the steak. For example, cuts like tenderloin, which get almost no exercise, will be very tender.
As you probably know, flank steak and flap steak do get a decent amount of exercise. As such, the meat tends to be tougher, though you can tenderize it by using the correct techniques.
Flavor and Texture
Here’s where the two cuts have a bit more in common. Though flap steak is higher in fat than flank steak, both are characterized by a rich beef flavor and a coarse grain. The higher fat content gives the flap a bit more flavor, but it’s not that noticeable.
Since flank steak is leaner, it’s a better choice for fajitas, steak sandwiches, and stir-fries. Flap steak holds up better to sous vide cooking, and can even work well in a braise.
While we’re on the subject, of preparation, we should reiterate that flank steak is at its best when grilled or seared rapidly. Flap steak, on the other hand, might be too chewy if you attempt to cook it too quickly. Try putting it in a stew or braise instead.
If you do opt to grill flap steak, it’s best when cooked to medium. When you cook it low and slow, obviously the meat will be well done, but the long exposure to the heat will be sufficient to tenderize the meat.
Flank steak, meanwhile, showcases its flavor and texture best when grilled to medium rare. Since it’s so thin, it cooks quickly, so keep an eye on the temperature while it’s on the grill.
As we mentioned before, you can usually find flap steak for sale at an affordable price. It’s not an easy cut to deal with, and it isn’t as well known as flank steak.
Despite the fact that flank steak isn’t as tender as ribeye, it’s gaining in popularity as more people become familiar with it. Therefore, it will probably be pricier than flap steak unless you can find it on sale somewhere.
Most of us don’t purchase steak for the nutritional bounty that it offers, but if you’re concerned about fat and calories, flank steak is the better choice.
Flap steak is higher in saturated fat than flank steak, and is more caloric as a result. On the plus side, it’s an excellent source of protein, as well as iron.
Flank steak is leaner than flap steak and offers similar levels of protein, iron, and B vitamins. Though it’s still not necessarily a diet food, this should be your choice if you’re looking for a healthier option.
How long does flap steak last when compared to flank steak? Interestingly, the flap steak has a slightly longer shelf life. You can keep it around for up to a week without seeing signs of spoilage, though we would still recommend cooking it within 5 days.
Because flank steak doesn’t have as much fat as the flap, it will only keep for 3 to 5 days. Try to buy flank steak on the same day you plan to cook it, or just a day or two prior if you want to marinate the meat first.
Once they’re cooked, any flap or flank steak leftovers should keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
You need to cut these steaks across the grain to showcase their best qualities. Because the grain is so thick, cutting the steak parallel to it would make the meat very difficult to chew.
Carve both steaks in thin slices, ensuring that you hold the knife perpendicular to the grain. Since the muscle fibers in flank steak are highly visible, this task should be easier than it would be with flap steak.
Does Marinating Tenderize Meat?
Since these cuts are naturally tough, you’ll probably be looking for ways to make the meat more tender. As we mentioned, slicing the steak against the grain goes a long way toward helping you achieve that goal.
That said, there are other steps you can take to ensure that the steak isn’t too chewy. For one thing, you can use a marinade. These seasoning mixtures typically include at least one acidic or enzymatic ingredient, which break down the steak’s protein fibers.
Marinades don’t penetrate very far beneath the surface of the meat—just a few millimeters at most. But they still promote tenderness to a degree. In fact, if you leave the steak in the mixture too long, that outside layer will be mealy or mushy after it’s cooked.
Be sure to choose a marinade recipe that will complement the natural flavor of the steak. Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, garlic, and fresh herbs are all good choices. Teriyaki marinades also make good use of pineapple juice and grated ginger root.
One final reminder: Don’t overcook the steaks when grilling them, particularly flank steaks. When the meat is well done, it will toughen up, even if you enlisted the help of a marinade and sliced it against the grain.
Is flap steak better than flank steak, or vice versa? We would say not. It all depends on the recipe you have in mind, as well as your personal preference. We think flap steak has a bit more flavor, but flank steak takes well to marinades, which helps in this regard.