Flank steak is somewhat of an underappreciated part of the cow. Where I'm from in New England you won't see it often in the grocery store, but when I do, I usually buy it and freeze it.
Flank steak is super flavorful, versatile, and is actually fairly affordable in comparison to something like a ribeye.
Flank steak comes from the beef flank primal; The flank primal only produces one sub-primal cut, the flank steak.
The name "flank" is derived from it's anatomical location - the flank of the steer's carcass; It is situated just below the loin.
Cattle don't have collarbones and much of their weight (roughly 60%) is supported by the brisket. However, the plate and flank are also supportive in nature and are heavily exercised. As a result, the muscle is fibrous with a long, defined grain structure.
Skirt steak is sourced from the beef plate primal. The primary difference between the two cuts is that Flank steak contains less fat. Truth be told, the proper trim/butchering of a flank steak contains minimal, if any fat.
Both cuts are cooked similarly - seared over high heat on the grill, served rare/medium-rare, and then sliced against the grain.
The flank steak goes by a number of different names depending on the Country and regional differences.
These are some of the more common names you'll see:
It should be noted that due to the similar texture and different shapes of meat as they're removed from the carcass, there has been a proliferation of names.
For instance, some resources will say "Arrachera" refers to flank steak - while this may be true depending on the region - direct translation from Spanish tells us that Arrachera is skirt steak.
Again, this same sort of thing is seen across the globe for any number of different cuts of meat.
The best alternatives to flank steak are skirt and hanger steak. Of these options, the closest is skirt steak.
Like flank steak, both the skirt and hanger steak take well to marinades and can be substituted in recipes that call for flank steak quite easily. They are also cooked quite similarly - seared over high heat and served rare/medium-rare.
Flank steak takes well to marinades as it is a thin cut of meat. I personally like to use Flank steak for beef on a stick; You can check out my recipe here.
The most common cooking methods for flank steak include:
The most common dishes that use flank steak:
Flank steak can be served as a stand-alone steak, however, it's not very common.
As I mentioned above, Flank steak is almost never at the grocery store where I live and/or shop. Luckily, a number of online platforms sell flank steak. I've also personally tested these companies and can vouch for the quality of their meat.
With that said, it's likely that the beef will be cheaper at your local supermarket. Snake River Farms sells American Waygu flank steak and Porter Road's isn't graded - however it is dry-aged.
It's hard to express to someone via the internet what something tastes like, however, flank steak has a true beefy flavor.
To reiterate the above, Flank steak lacks fat and is a long, lean cut of meat. This is the main reason people marinade flank steak.
Often, the marinades will include fruit that can tenderize meat. For example, pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain that can degrade the collagen fibers that make flank steak tough.
Other examples of fruits that contain digestive enzymes include payapa (papain), kiwifruit (actinidin), and figs (ficin).
Combining these tenderizers with other ingredients in a marinade and coupled with the fact that flank steak is a thin cut of meat, allows flank steak to take on marinades super well.