If you’ve always wondered about the difference between flap steak vs skirt steak, wonder no more. Our guide is here to tell you everything you need to know about each of these delicious cuts of beef—including which one might be a better deal.
Flap Steak vs Skirt Steak
Flap steak comes from the bottom sirloin, whereas skirt steak is cut from the plate primal, near the ribcage. As a result, skirt steak has a slightly beefier flavor, while flap steak is a bit more tender. Both are popular choices for tacos, fajitas, steak salads, and carne asada.
About Flap Steak
Flap steak is cut from the bottom sirloin, the loin subprimal that sits just over the steer’s hind legs. It’s a thin cut, usually sliced across the grain, and is best when cooked rapidly over high heat.
Though it closely resembles skirt steak in flavor and texture, flap steak is a different cut. We think it’s important to understand the distinction; however, you should be able to use the two interchangeably in recipes.
Like many cuts of meat, flap steak goes by a few different names. Faux hanger and sirloin tip are common. If you’re in France, you’ll probably find flap steak on restaurant menus, listed as “bavette” steak.
About Skirt Steak
The skirt is cut from the plate primal, below the steer’s ribcage. It’s a long, narrow cut, with plenty of marbling and a thick grain. These qualities give it a tough texture and an irregular appearance, but what it lacks in eye appeal, it makes up for in flavor.
Skirt steak is available in two classifications: the “inside” and the “outside” skirt. As these names suggest, the inside skirt comes from the inside of the chest wall, while the other comes from the outside and is cut on the diagonal.
Skirt steak might also be called Romanian tenderloin, or Romanian steak. Philadelphia steak is another alias, but don’t confuse this cut of meat with the Philly cheese steak, which is a name for a sandwich and not an actual steak.
What They Have In Common
Both flap steak and skirt steak are long and lean, so it can be easy to confuse them at first glance. The meat can also be tough if it’s not prepared and sliced correctly. When overcooked, both have the potential to turn rubbery, as is the case with most lean cuts.
If you want the meat to be tender to the bite, you’ll need to slice it thinly against the grain. Fortunately, both of these cuts have a thick ropy grain that’s easy to identify, even once the meat is cooked.
Skirt steak and flap steak both benefit from high-heat cooking applications, like searing and grilling. They’re best served rare to medium rare, so make sure to keep a close eye on them once they’re on the heat.
As far as flavor is concerned, both cuts have plenty of it. You’ll often find one or the other in steak tacos, fajitas, carne asada, and London broil. They also make fabulous salad toppings.
How They Differ
As we pointed out above, these two cuts come from different parts of the cow. The skirt is taken from the plate, while the flap steak is cut from the bottom sirloin. Although the bottom sirloin sits near the abdomen, it’s located closer to the hindquarters.
Though you can often find the inside and outside skirt steaks sold whole, flap steak is usually sold in strips or cubes. However, you can always ask the butcher to trim up a whole flap steak—you just might have to order it in advance.
Flavor and Texture
Another difference between flap steak and skirt steak involves the structure. The fibers in a skirt steak are well defined, but they’re not as closely woven together as the ones in a flap steak.
This gives skirt steaks the edge when it comes to marinating. The looseness of the fibers makes it easier for them to absorb marinades. With flap steaks, the closely knit fibers make it hard for the flavors to penetrate deeply enough.
You’re bound to notice a slight difference in the textures of these cuts as well, especially if you perform a side-by-side comparison. Both can be tender to the bite when sliced against the grain, but flap steak is noticeably softer.
On the other hand, the flavor of skirt steak is just a shade more intense than that of flap steak. If you don’t mind a tougher bite and prefer a steak with tons of beef flavor, then the skirt steak is for you.
We should also point out that you can offset the tougher texture by marinating the meat in advance. Since skirt steaks absorb marinades so well, you might not even notice the difference by the time you’re through.
Nutritionally speaking, the cuts are similar. A 3-ounce serving of flap steak contains about 225 calories and 13 grams of fat, along with 25 grams of protein. The same amount of skirt steak contains 200 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 25 grams of protein.
You might have a hard time finding either of these cuts, particularly if your shopping is limited to supermarkets. The inside skirt is easiest to find, but the outside skirt is often reserved for commercial kitchens, and the flap steak is even more elusive.
If you can’t find the cut you’re looking for, ask your butcher if they can procure it for you. Otherwise, you might have to resort to online retailers.
Flap steak tends to be cheaper than skirt steak, likely because the latter is more labor intensive. It takes more time for the butcher to trim and clean the skirt, plus the cut has greater name recognition, so it may not spend as much time on the shelf.
If cost is a major issue for you, go for the flap steak. The flavor is excellent, and you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck. You can even use it as a substitute for skirt steak or hanger steak.
Both subcategories of skirt steak measure about 2 feet long and 2 to 4 inches wide after they’ve been cleaned and trimmed. Each should weigh 1 to 2 pounds before cooking.
Flap steak is a bit larger. When sold whole, you can expect this cut to weigh 2 to 3 pounds.
How To Cook Flap Steak and Skirt Steak
Grilling and searing are the best cooking methods when dealing with whole flap steaks. If the meat is cut into cubes or strips, you’re better off putting it in a stir-fry. The lean nature of this cut means the beef will dry out and toughen when given the low-and-slow treatment.
Though you can also grill skirt steak to great effect, it has a tougher texture than flap steak. That means you can get away with braising it, assuming you use sufficient liquid to prevent it from becoming too dry.
If you opt to marinate the steak before cooking it, use an acidic ingredient such as vinegar or citrus juice. The acid will help to break down the muscle fibers, thereby tenderizing the meat.
Don’t overdo it with the marinade, though. 6 to 12 hours should be sufficient. If you leave the meat in the mixture too long, it may turn out too tough as opposed to tender and flavorful.
Why You Should Cut Against The Grain
If you’ve ever cut one of these steaks with the grain instead of against it, you’ll already know why it’s important to get it right.
The term “grain” refers to the long muscle fibers that run throughout a cut of meat. Cutting the steak with the grain—that is, in a way that runs parallel to the fibers—will leave too many of them intact, so the meat will be difficult to chew through.
Conversely, when you carve the steak against the grain, the fibers will break down into smaller pieces. This has a tenderizing effect. What’s more, when you take this step before adding the meat to a marinade, it will allow the mixture to penetrate better.
Since the fibers in a flap steak run crosswise for the length of the cut, carving it into bite-sized pieces can be problematic. Try dividing it into a few smaller pieces by slicing with the grain, then rotating these 90 degrees before carving them into slices.
The grain on a skirt steak will be more visible, making your job that much easier. If you need to cut it into smaller pieces first, feel free to do so, but the step usually isn’t necessary with this cut.
The Bottom Line
So, is one of these cuts better than the other? We would be hard pressed to choose a favorite.
That said, if you’re looking for intense beef flavor and don’t mind taking the time to marinate the meat, skirt steak would be a better choice. Flap steak might be harder to find, but you’ll be rewarded with a more tender texture and a faster prep time.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!