Skirt steak is my favorite cut to use for beef fajitas. It’s easy to cook, takes well to marinades, and has just the right amount of “chew.”
The downside? It’s not always easy to find, especially if you live in a less-populated area. Fortunately, there are a few alternatives that should yield satisfactory results.
Skirt Steak Alternative
If you can’t find skirt steak, or if you want to try a steak with a different texture or flavor for a certain dish, there are several adequate substitutes. Flank steak, flap steak, and hanger steak are my favorites. Strip loin steak and beef tenderloin can work as well, but only if you’re looking for an alternative with a tender mouthfeel.
What is Skirt Steak?
This cut comes from the plate primal in the chest and abdominal region of the cow. Specifically, it’s taken from a set of muscles that run below the animal’s rib cage.
Skirt steak can come from either the diaphragm muscle or the transversus abdominis muscle. The former is labeled the outside skirt, while the latter goes by the name inside skirt.
Both cuts are flat and long, with a coarse grain. Each one measures 20 to 24 inches long and 3 to 4 inches across after trimming. Most outside skirts go to commercial kitchens, while the inside skirts are easier for home chefs to find.
Is there a noticeable difference between the two? Yes, but it might not be relevant anymore after butchering. The outside skirt is encased in a natural membrane that butchers typically remove while trimming the steak. Once it’s removed, any differences are negligible.
If you’re looking for a skirt steak substitute, chances are that you encountered a recipe that calls for this cut. It’s best when grilled over a medium-hot fire, then carved into thin slices against the grain.
You can also carve it into strips and then sear the meat quickly on a hot griddle. This is a great option when you’re making fajitas. For more recipe ideas, see the separate section below.
Skirt steak has a wonderful beefy flavor that holds up well to marinades and spice rubs. Since the meat is naturally tough, it’s important not to overcook it. In my opinion, medium-rare is the best temperature for this cut.
Why Look for a Skirt Steak Alternative?
There are a couple of reasons why you might be looking for an alternative cut:
—The grocery store or butcher shop didn’t have any skirt steak in stock, and you don’t have time to wait for them to make a special order.
—The price was a little bit too high for your budget.
—You’ve tried skirt steak before, and while you appreciate its qualities, you’re looking for a slightly different texture or flavor profile for this particular recipe.
Whatever your reasons, you should be able to find a steak on this list that will fill in the gaps.
Skirt Steak Alternative
Another long, flat cut taken from the belly region, the flank would be my first choice for a skirt steak alternative. It’s leaner and therefore a tad less flavorful than skirt, but as a trade-off, it has a lovely tender texture when it’s done right.
Flank steak has a visible grain that comes in handy when slicing the meat. As is the case with skirt steak, you want to make sure to carve in very thin slices, working against the muscle fibers so that every bite is as tender as possible.
Try to cook flank steak to medium-rare or medium. Overcooking the meat results in an unpalatable gummy texture. Due to its thick grain, this steak takes especially well to marinades.
Sometimes called bavette or sirloin flap, this cut is taken from the bottom sirloin of the cow.
This section sits just above the flank and the muscles are responsible for helping the animal twist and move around. That gives the flap steak into a tough texture that requires a great deal of care.
The first thing you’ll notice when looking at a flap steak is the wide, ropy grain. The cut is long and thin, with a decent helping of fat. It marinates well and has a robust beef flavor that makes it a great skirt steak substitute.
Home chefs aren’t always familiar with the hanger steak, but it’s gained popularity on the restaurant circuit in the past couple of decades. It may also be labeled as the “butcher’s cut” because butchers like this cut so much they’ve been known to keep it for themselves.
The hanger steak can be found between the ribs and the loin. In fact, it’s a portion of the diaphragm muscle, which means it has more in common with the skirt steak than many of the other cuts on this list.
Hanger steak has a medium-coarse grain and a slightly chewy texture, with a hefty does of beef flavor. Like the skirt, it should be cooked to rare or medium-rare to give it the ideal texture.
You can marinate hanger steak without sacrificing the taste, as its flavor is strong enough to hold its own against other ingredients. The same rule applies if your recipe calls for a bold spice rub.
Flat Iron Steak
This cut, also known as top blade steak, is part of the chuck primal. That means it comes from the shoulder of the cow. If you’ve ever prepared a chuck roast, you’ll know that the meat is flavorful yet tough, but the flat iron is a surprisingly tender cut.
The flat iron steak has a rectangular shape and a uniform thickness. The grain is somewhat irregular and harder to locate than on some of the other cuts I’ve listed here.
Nonetheless, there’s no reason why you can’t prepare it as you would a skirt steak. The flavor is definitely there, and you can usually find the cut at a decent price.
Speaking of affordability: If your budget is your primary concern, you might want to think twice about substituting ribeye for skirt steak. This is a pricey cut by anyone’s standards, but for steak lovers, the rewards are well worth the cost.
Ribeye comes from the rib primal and includes a ton of marbling, which gives it flavor and juiciness. Because it’s so popular, you should have an easy time finding it at your local butcher counter or supermarket.
The main difference between ribeye and skirt steak is that the former is quite tender, while the latter is naturally chewy. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once you’ve prepared the steak according to your recipe, you should be pleased with the outcome.
Strip Loin Steak
Strip loin comes from the short loin subprimal, which doesn’t engage in much exercise. As a result, the meat is both tender and tasty.
Opt for boneless strip loin steaks instead of bone-in, as they’ll hew more closely to whatever recipe you have in mind. Also, be prepared to spend more money than you would on a skirt steak—its marbling and tenderness combine to make this a premium steak cut.
I’ve opted to list this one last because it doesn’t really have much in common with the skirt steak in terms of texture or flavor. It’s a very lean and tender cut with an almost buttery mouthfeel. What’s more, tenderloin is one of the priciest steak cuts you’ll find.
Keeping all that in mind, the tenderloin makes an apt substitute for skirt steak if you’re looking for a milder taste and softer texture. Thinly sliced beef tenderloin makes an excellent filling for sandwiches and fajitas, and its mild flavor will allow the other ingredients to shine.
Skirt Steak Recipe Ideas
Grilled Marinated Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
The bright, savory herbs in the sauce will complement the naturally sweet flavor of the beef.
Jalapeno Popper Skirt Steak
Stuffing the steak with bacon, jalapeños and pepper jack cheese gives it a delicious and unusual flair.
Skirt Steak Crostini
Marinate and grill the meat as you normally would, then drape the slices over thin toast rounds and top with dollops of horseradish cream.
Skirt Steak Fajitas
Thin slices of skirt steak, tender-crisp peppers and onions, soft flour tortillas—how could it get better? By adding shredded jack cheese, homemade guacamole, and pico de gallo, of course.
Stir-Fried Skirt Steak and Mixed Vegetables
When adding skirt steak to a stir-fry, make sure to add it toward the end so that the strips don’t overcook and become too tough.
It shouldn’t be difficult to find a skirt steak alternative if you’re having trouble locating the real thing. When it comes to cooking, sometimes you have to be flexible and make compromises with your ingredient list. It’s not the end of the world.
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!