Back to Basics: How to Grill Tender, Versatile Skirt Steak


Back to Barbecue Basics



Back to Basics - Skirt Steak

Popular from Texas to Thailand, this robust steak from the underbelly of the steer (we call it skirt steak) has everything a carnivore hungers for: bold flavor, juiciness, and no-nonsense texture you can sink your teeth into. Let’s face it: Anyone can look good cooking a tender filet mignon. It takes skill—even cojones—to turn out a great skirt steak. We’ll share our how to grill skirt steak step-by-step method below.

In the US, skirt steak is nearly synonymous with fajitas (in Spanish, the word means “girdle”), a specialty of the Tejano culture. Food historians say Mexican ranch hands working near the Rio Grande in the late 1930s and early 1940s resourcefully turned humble cuts like skirt steak into satisfying meals by marinating the meat, grilling it over their campfires, and serving thin slices in tortillas.

Skirt Steak on the Grill - How to Grill Skirt Steak

There are actually four per animal: one pair of muscles is known as the outside skirt steak, and is preferred by restaurants and in-the-know meat eaters (NAMP 121C) as it is longer—up to 20 inches—and thicker than its counterpart, the inside skirt steak. Though upscale meat purveyors and higher-end supermarkets sometimes carry outside skirt steaks, inside skirt steaks (NAMP 121D) are more common. If the label simply reads “skirt steak,” ask your butcher for clarification. (Note: A third designation, NAMP 121E, refers to an outside steak that has had the thin membrane encasing it removed.)

Because the steaks are frequently sliced into sections before being sold, most packages will weigh 14 to 16 ounces and serve 2 to 3 people, depending on the preparation and the number of side dishes.

If you can’t find skirt steak locally, many online purveyors sell them. We’ve even found Wagyu skirt steaks. Prices vary widely, of course, and shipping costs are always a consideration.

How to Grill Skirt Steak

  1. Dry the steak thoroughly with paper towels. If it is a whole steak (18 to 20 inches), you may need to cut it into sections before grilling. Cover and refrigerate until it’s time to cook.
  2. If desired, soak the steak in your favorite marinade for 2 to 8 hours (covered and refrigerated). When raw, the meat is a bit like a wide elastic belt or a pleated skirt, meaning its greater surface area really soaks up marinades.
  3. If you opt not to marinate the meat, brush it with olive oil and season it well on both sides before grilling with coarse salt or your favorite rub. (We recommend Steven’s Santa Fe Coffee Rub as it really complements the beefy flavor of skirt steak.) For the best crust, let the meat rest for 15 to 30 minutes before grilling.
  4. Heat your grill to high (about 500 degrees). Oil the grill grate well.
  5. Grill the steak(s) for 2 to 4 minutes per side, depending on the meat’s thickness.
  6. Transfer the meat to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. If desired, top when hot with a few pats of butter or compound butter.
  7. Using a sharp knife, slice the meat against the grain holding the knife at an angle to the cutting board. (This technique shortens the meat fibers, making for a more tender bite.) Top with any accumulated juices and serve with your desired sauces or condiments.

Skirt Steak Recipes

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