Skirt Steak: Its Location, Names, Flavor Profile, and Size

Skirt steak is one of my favorite steaks, especially for quick and hot grilling. I’m big fan of its robust, beefy flavor and its versatility, but let’s break things down step by step below.

The thing about skirt steak is that it has this really deep beef flavor, and if you cook and slice it just right, it’s super tender. It’s a thin cut, so you don’t want to cook it too long — high heat and a quick sear, especially on a grill, do the trick. Plus, its unique texture soaks up marinades like a champ. No wonder it’s a star in many dishes, like in Mexican food, where they call it “arrachera“.

What is Skirt Steak?

Skirt steak is a cut of beef from a cow’s short plate area. And guess what? There are two kinds of skirt steaks. The inside skirt steak comes from the transversus abdominis muscle, and the outside one? That’s come from the diaphragm muscle. Both are around 20-24 inches long, packed with fat, and pretty thin, just about 0.5 to 1 inch thick. Even though they look similar, they’ve got their differences.

What Are the Other Names for Skirt Steak?

In the US, while most people know it as skirt steak, it also goes by other names like Philadelphia (Philly) Steak, Romanian steak, Fajita Meat, or simply Fajita Steak. Some might also call it Arrachera or Beef Plate. Outside the US, it’s commonly referred to as Arrachera in Mexico or Entraña in various South American countries. Sometimes, the name can even relate to dishes where it’s the main ingredient, like in a tex-mex skirt or a fajita.

By the way, here’s a fun fact: some people get it mixed up in the United States and call skirt steak “flank steak”. But they’re from totally different parts of the cow.

Flank steak on top, skirt steak on the bottom.
Flank steak on top, skirt steak on the bottom.

Where Does a Skirt Steak Come From on a Cow?

Skirt steak comes from two muscles in the plate area of the cow. The inside skirt steak is from the transversus abdominis muscle, while the outside skirt steak comes from the diaphragm muscle.

skirt steak location on cow

Where to Buy Skirt Steak?

Not all places label the skirt steak right, so it’s good to know your stuff. Your local grocery store probably has inside skirt steak. It’s a bit cheaper because it’s not as tender. But if tenderness is your game, you’ll want the outside skirt steak. It’s a bit trickier to find and usually costs more, but man, is it worth it! Check out online stores if you’re set on getting an outside skirt steak and can’t find it locally. I’ve bought from Snake River Farms before. Yes, they’re on the expensive side but believe me, the quality is top-notch.

Check out this photo below. It’ll give you a good look at the differences between the inside and outside skirt steak. It’s a handy guide for your next steak shopping trip.

inside vs outside skirt steak
Inside vs. outside skirt steak photo:

What Are the Best Methods for Cooking Skirt Steak?

When you’re cooking skirt steak, there are a couple of essential things to keep in mind. First, it’s crucial to cook the steak quickly over high heat. This method will give you that delightful char on the outside without overcooking the inside. Secondly, aim to cook the steak to at least 130°F. Ideally, hitting around 135°F will put you in the sweet spot between medium-rare and medium. Why this specific temperature? Skirt steak is pretty fatty, and that fat melts, making the steak juicy and flavorful at around 130-140°F. If you only get it to 120°F, the steak will feel a bit mushy, which isn’t what we’re going for.

But cooking it right isn’t the end of the story for skirt steak, or any other steak with a pronounced grain, for that matter. Take a close look at skirt steak, and you’ll notice the muscle fibers running in one distinct direction. If you cut your steak with the grain, you will end up with long fibers, making each bite feel tough and chewy. Not ideal. Luckily, there’s an easy fix. The simple trick here is to slice the skirt steak against these fibers, or “against the grain,” and to do so thinly. You’ll be amazed how this small step can lead to a significantly more tender bite.

cut skirt steak against the grain
Cut skirt steak against the grain: The yellow line indicates the grain direction, while the red line shows the cutting direction with the knife
Sliced skirt steak: Against the grain vs. along the grain
Sliced skirt steak: Against the grain vs. along the grain

Is Skirt Steak Tender or Tough?

Skirt steak is pretty tender when it is cooked just right and sliced the right way. Try marinating it if you’re not too happy with its natural texture. This makes it tender and gives it an extra kick of flavor. But a heads-up: if you overcook, undercook, or don’t slice it against the grain, you’ll end up with skirt steak that is super chewy and tough.

two raw skirt steaks
Two raw skirt steaks

What is Skirt Steak Used For?

In the US, people love to grill skirt steak, slice it thin, and have it with some tasty sides. Not just that, it’s often the star in many classic American recipes, like the delicious philly cheesesteak. But it’s not just an American favorite. Outside the US, it’s big in Mexican dishes, South American meals, and even some Asian dishes. Get it cooked right, and it’s perfect for stuff like fajitas, Cuban ropa vieja, and those stir-fried beef dishes you find in Asian restaurants.

skirt steak with chimichurri sauce
Skirt steak with chimichurri sauce

What Does Skirt Steak Taste Like?

Skirt steak has a rich, intensely beefy taste. It’s a bit on the fatty side, and believe it or not, it tastes richer than cuts like the strip steak. But if you think it needs more kick, give marinades a shot. Skirt steak is one of the best cuts to go well with marinades.

What is The Average Length and Weight of a Skirt Steak?

The average length of a skirt steak is between 20 and 24 inches, while the diameter is between 3 and 7 inches. On average, a skirt steak weighs about 1.5 pounds.

Is Skirt Steak Expensive?

Inside skirt steak, the more common skirt steak generally sits in the middle regarding price. But the outside skirt steak, the tender one, is very expensive and not as easy to find in many places. Think about it: there are only four skirt steaks on a cow, two outside and two inside, and they total up to about 8 pounds. It’s not a lot to go around, and with so many people loving it, simple supply and demand will tell you why it’s so pricey. But, believe me, even with that price tag, you should try it at least once.

Interestingly, the rise in the price of skirt steak isn’t a recent phenomenon. Back in the late 1980s, thanks to everyone going crazy for fajitas, skirt steak prices soared. Around 1989, skirt steak was the second priciest beef cut, right after the tenderloin. Can you believe that? (source).

What is Similar to Skirt Steak?

The steaks most similar to skirt steak include flank steak, bavette steak, flat iron steak, hanger steak, and denver steak. Skirt steak is a beef cut often used in fajitas, tacos, and Chinese stir-fry dishes. While you can use any of these cuts as a substitute in these dishes, it’s important to remember that their tenderness or thickness may differ. In terms of flavor, all these cuts offer a pronounced beefy taste, but the intensity can vary.

Discover Other Steak Cuts

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Written by: Adam Wojtow

Adam Wojtow is a Polish entrepreneur and writer who founded Steak Revolution in 2020 because of his passion for steaks. Adam has been cooking steaks for over five years and knows a lot about them, including the different types of steak cuts, how long to cook them, and the best ways to cook any steak.

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