What is Skirt Steak: Cut Explained

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
May 17, 2022

Skirt steak is a rather versatile cut of beef and has a decent price/quality ratio. Skirt steak has also become rather popular, and considering there are only four per steer, it can be hard to find.

What is Skirt Steak?

skirt steak

From a single steer, there are two inside skirt steaks and two outside skirt steaks. Both are long (20-24 inches), thin (3-4 inches across), cuts of meat.

The inside and outside skirt steak are boneless, trimmed cuts from the diaphragm muscle, attached from ribs 6 through 12 on the underside of the short plate.

A Quick History Lesson on Skirt Steak

Skirt steak used to be considered offal (refuse or waste) - more specifically, organ meat.

Cattle Ranchers in the American South would give these tough cuts of meat to field workers - typically of Mexican origin.

In these fields is where skirt steak gained popularity as the famous "arrachera" and became a key ingredient in dishes of Mexican inspiration like fajitas and steak tacos.

The word fajita is Spanish for "little belt." The skirt steak is a thin cut of meat that resembles a sash, girdle, belt, or skirt.

Skirt steak is also very popular in Argentina for similar reasons. Cattle ranchers would enjoy skirt steak or “entraña” (which translates to entrails or "guts") as part of their asados.

Is Skirt steak the Same as Flank Steak?

No.

Here's a picture of flank steak:

flank steak

The inside skirt steak is often confused for the flank steak and has very similar cooking properties:

  • They take well to marinades
  • Typically seared over high heat on the grill
  • Served rare or medium-rare
  • Sliced across the grain

Skirt steak contains more fat than flank steak; Typically a flank steak will contain minimal, if any fat.

Where is Skirt Steak on the Steer?

The Skirt steak comes from the plate primal - also called the short plate. The short plate is found below the rib primal, behind the brisket, and in front of the flank.

short plate primal

Inside Skirt Steak vs Outside Skirt Steak

There are two types of skirt steak - the inside and outside. The inside skirt steak is from the transverse abdominal muscle. The outside skirt steak comes from the diaphragm - not to be confused with the adjacent hanger steak.

The inside and outside skirt steaks are relatively similar - they have lots of connective tissue and a loose grain structure; These muscles support the steer's diaphragm.

The outside skirt steak is typically sold to restaurants and the inside skirt steak can be found at retail.

This is rather unfortunate as the inside skirt steak is smaller than the outside skirt steak.

How is Skirt Steak Cooked?

Almost all skirt steak recipes will call for marinating the meat before grilling it. Due to it's looser grain structure, skirt steak will readily take to marinades and absorb flavors well.

grilled skirt steak
Searing Skirt Steak on My Weber Kettle

You'll find skirt steak is used for dishes like:

I've also grilled skirt steak several times as I would any steak - using kosher salt, pepper, and Lawry's seasoned salt. When seared to a rare or medium-rare it makes for a tasty cut of meat.

Apart from grilling, you can also broil skirt steak or sear it in a cast iron skillet on high heat.

How is Skirt Steak Sliced?

Skirt steak - like other cuts of meat - should always be cut against the grain. Skirt steak has a very defined grain structure and the way in which you're supposed to slice is readily apparent.

skirt steak grain direction

Note: It is much easier to see the grain structure of skirt steak when it's raw. Make note of this before grilling.

Pictured above is the general grain direction of skirt steak. Simply slice in the opposite direction on a bias (knife angled 45 degrees) - pictured below.

Is Skirt Steak a "Good" Cut of Meat?

While it was once considered offal, Skirt steak is an awesome cut of meat. Truth be told, back when I was a kid you could actually find it for quite cheap in the grocery store.

sliced skirt steak

These days, most folks are aware of cuts like skirt steak and as demand increases, so do prices. Granted, it's still not as popular as other types of steak like a ribeye or sirloin.

Since the 1980s, skirt steak has only increased in price. It's not unrealistic to see USDA choice grade skirt steak be an upwards of $15+/lb.

Other Names for Skirt Steak?

At a grocery store in the United States, you're apt to just see it labeled as "Skirt steak" as apposed to any other name.

In other parts of the world you might see it called "Arrachera."

However, in places like New York City, older generations of Jewish Immigrants from Eastern Europe served skirt steak by rolling it and slicing it called Rumanian tenderloin.

Where-as, in Chicago, you might also see it called Romanian tenderloin or Romanian (Roumanian) steak.

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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