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What is Flank Steak? Cut Explained

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.

What Part of the Cow Does Flank Steak Come From?

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.

flank primal
Location of the flank

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.

Is Flank Steak the Same as Skirt Steak?

No.

Flank steak and skirt steak are commonly confused for one another. Which isn't surprising as they are visually similar and are in close proximity to each other on the steer.

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 across the grain.

Other Names for Flank Steak

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:

  • Jiffy steak - Named "Jiffy" due to the faster grilling time; Again the meat is seared over high heat and served rare/medium-rare.
  • London broil - Today, this more-so refers to the method of cooking as apposed to the type of meat. However, London broil originally referred to broiling flank steak in the oven.
  • Bavette - French for "Bib." This refers to its flat shape.
  • Zabuton steak - In Japanese it refers to the shape of the steak, translating to "Little Pillow."

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.

Alternatives to Flank Steak

The best alternatives to flank steak are skirt and hanger steak. Of these options, the closest is skirt steak.

  • Skirt steak - Comes from the plate primal. It has a striking similarity to flank steak; It is long, flat, and thin - only with more fat.
  • Hanger steak - Comes from the plate primal. There is only one on the entire animal. It quite literally hangs from the diaphragm of the steer. It resembles the flank steak in flavor and is one of the most tender cuts on the entire animal (apart from the tenderloin).
flank steak alternatives
Skirt Steak pictured left - Hanger Steak pictured right

Like flank steak, both the skirt and hanger 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.

How is Flank Steak Cooked?

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.

beef on a stick
My beef on a stick recipe

The most common cooking methods for flank steak include:

  • Seared hot and fast on the grill
  • Pan-seared in a skillet on high heat
  • Braised in the oven (London broil)
  • In a slow cooker/crock pot

The most common dishes that use flank steak:

  • Stir fry
  • Carne Asada
  • Steak tacos
  • Beef/steak on a stick
  • Mongolian beef
  • Beef fajitas

Flank steak can be served as a stand-alone steak, however, it's not very common.

Where to Buy Flank Steak

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.

What Does Flank Steak Taste Like

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.

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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