How to Slice or Cut Skirt Steak: Identify the Grain

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
November 3, 2022

The easiest way to explain to someone how to slice skirt steak is to slice against the grain.

However, not everyone knows what "grain" means in regards to muscle composition. Thankfully, the grain structure of skirt steak is readily apparent (pictured below), which makes slicing super straight forward.

What is Meat "Grain"?

Before jumping into the slicing process for skirt steak, it's beneficial to understand what grain is with respect to meat.

Meat muscle is made of muscle fibers that are then bundled together by connective tissues. These muscle fibers or myofibrils are comprised of filaments that are arranged in a repetitive pattern alongside other myofibrils.

The direction in which these long strands of muscle fibers form is the "grain."

This concept is in a similar vein to the wood or lumber industry; The grain describes the growth pattern of the tree.

Identifying the Grain of Skirt Steak

No matter the cut of meat you're working with - whether it's a piece of skirt steak or a ribeye, the grain structure of meat is easier to identify when the cut is raw or uncooked.

Meaning, before you cook the meat, make note of the way in which the muscle fibers run.

To illustrate, here's a picture of skirt steak raw or uncooked:

raw skirt steak

Here's a picture of skirt steak while being seared:

skirt steak cooked

As I hope is readily apparent, it's significantly easier to know which way to slice when the meat is uncooked.

Granted, skirt steak probably has the most evident grain direction of any retail cut of meat as it's also rather loose, even in comparison to flank steak.

How to Cut Skirt Steak Against the Grain

To start, you will need:

  • Sharp knife
  • Plastic cutting board or disposable work surface
  • Raw or cooked skirt steak

1. Start by looking at the skirt steak and identifying the grain structure.

Here's another picture of skirt steak for reference:

skirt steak grain direction

The grain direction is illustrated by the dotted white line.

2. Whether you're slicing the meat raw or when it's cooked, simply slice the meat perpendicularly or against the grain.

skirt steak perpendicular slice

In the above photo, we have the grain running vertically (pictured with white arrows). Meaning, you'd slice against the grain horizontally (pictured in dotted white lines).

That's truly all there is to it - identify the grain direction and slice perpendicular to it.

skirt steak sliced against the grain

You could take this a step further to minimize the fiber lengths by slicing on a bias (knife angled at 45 degrees) which also improves presentation.

However, this is less important than simply slicing perpendicular.

Why is Skirt Steak Sliced Against the Grain?

The reason for slicing skirt steak against the grain has everything to do with the eating experience.

To put it simply: The goal when slicing meat is to shorten the muscle fiber lengths as much as possible in order to make chewing easier.

Cutting with the grain leaves the strands of muscle fibers in tact. Cutting against the grain effectively shortens the fiber lengths.

The next time you have a piece of skirt steak, slice the meat against and with the grain.

  • Attempt to tear the muscle fibers with the grain - it's almost impossible.
  • Attempt to tear the muscle fibers against the grain - it's much easier.

America's Test Kitchen did a quantitative analysis of this concept. They used a CT3 texture analyzer in order to simulate how much force is required to cut (or bite) 5 mm into the meat.

In their example, they used a piece of flank steak.

Force Needed to Bite

Flank Steak
with the grain 1729g
against the grain 383g

On a working muscle like the flank steak, you need 4.5x more force to bite with the grain.

Technically, through trigonometry and knowing that you need to slice perpendicular to the grain, you can minimize the length of the muscle fibers, ie. making the lengths of the fibers the same as the width of the slice.

However, this isn't practical as not many home cooks are using protractors to cut their meat.

Are Grill Marks the Same as Meat Grain?


This is a common mistake that people make when looking at the grain. Sear and/or grill marks have nothing to do with the meat.

This is also the reason it's easier to identify meat grain before cooking.

Sear marks are the result of the maillard reaction of amino acids and reducing sugars and are completely independent of grain structure. The maillard reaction effectively browns the meat, making the grain harder to identify.

Grill marks can also be manipulated in any direction based on how you place the meat on the grates or cooking surface.

Dylan Clay
I've grilled and smoked meat for roughly half my life. While i'm not a professional Pitmaster, I've worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands on guide to teach them BBQ. It's my hope that Barbecue FAQ can be that helping hand.

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