Food & Drink

How To Grill The Perfect Skirt Steak

If you ask a chef what his or her favorite steak is, chances are that he or she will say skirt steak. Skirt steak has the richest, beefy-est flavor around.

Regional Mexican restaurants serving fajitas and Tex-mex tacos popularized skirt steak but it is no longer considered a second cut of steak, often out-pricing or holding bay with more common luxury cuts of steak like the ribeye or the NY strip.

From the first time I tasted it, I have been a fan. I love the pure rich beefiness of skirt steak. I love the loose soft texture when it is sliced right. For me, skirt steak is the essence of the best of beef and benefits from the less is more approach.

The trickiest thing about skirt steak is that there are two kinds of skirt steak. Meaning that there are two skirt steaks to every cow—the inside skirt and the outside skirt. The skirt steak with the richest flavor and best texture is the outside skirt steak.

People who find it tough are probably buying the inside skirt steak. It is a chewier and “tougher” skirt steak. It is also larger and less uniform in size. The flavor is still good, but not as good as the more tender, smaller, and more uniform outside skirt steak.

Most grocery stores simply label their skirt steak, “skirt” but if you can find a butcher who offers both, be sure to ask for the outside skirt. In any case, it is a good idea to buy skirt from the butcher case and not pre-packaged because it is generally rolled up [to save space] and difficult to see what you are buying until you get it home and unwrap it.

And these days, skirt steak can be more expensive than boneless ribeye or NY strip or about a dollar less. I looked up the USDA beef price index for last week, and in a national average skirt steak was only .80 cents a pound less than boneless ribeye coming in at $10.07 a pound. However, you may be paying a lot more where you live. A good friend just paid $24.99 for an outside skirt steak in Los Angeles. With prices like these, you want to make sure that you know how to grill it.

Now that you’ve purchased a good quality skirt steak—hopefully, the outside skirt—what do you do with it? Follow these steps and you will have a perfect skirt steak every time.

Preheat your grill. Preheat with all burners on high or make sure you have gray-ashed charcoal—this is essential

Check your steak. Make sure the tough membrane is removed, and any fat pockets are trimmed. Most of the time, the butcher will have done this for you. But if not, it is simple enough to do yourself.

Prep the steak for the grill. I do not cut it into portions as I prefer to grill it in one piece and cut after it is cooked. That way, you reduce the possibility of overcooking since the smaller the piece of food, the less time it takes to cook.

Season the Meat. I brush all over with a light coat of olive oil and season it with a good portion of kosher salt or a dry spice rub. I rarely marinade skirt steak. If you love to marinate, then you should marinate for flavor, not with the goal of tenderizing.

Grill it hot and quick. If using a temperature controlled grill, reduce the heat to medium-high heat. Most of the time, I grill skirt steak over a medium-high heat, about 550°F, with nothing but olive oil and kosher salt to season it so that I taste all of the natural beef flavor.

Allow a good long time to rest—10 minutes is optimal, 5 minutes minimum.

Carve Correctly. Slice it across the grain so that it is not tough, but has a good “chew” and a good texture. Remember, skirt steak is not supposed to be as soft and tender as tenderloin. You will know that you’ve sliced it correctly if the meat texture looks like “honeycomb” with short pockets. If the fibers of the meat are lined up and long then you have carved it incorrectly and it will be hard to eat.

Skirt steak is prized for its flavor but must be cut against the grain of the meat or else it is hard to chew. And this instruction is always mentioned, but in actuality, it is rarely followed. I see skirt steak carved with the grain in restaurants and among food professionals, and this makes even the outside skirt tough and hard to eat.

And here is my million dollar skirt steak carving hack: Cut the skirt steak into large chunks the same length. You can see how I cut the skirt steak in the photo above. Next, rotate one of the chunks so that one cut edge faces you, and the other faces away from you. Slice the skirt steak from north-to-south. This means that two of the slices will have a crusty edge along the entire length of the piece.

Once I slice the skirt steak, I either serve it on a plate like a traditional steak, or if I have a perfectly ripe avocado, I can’t resist making a steak taco with the meat on one side, avocado (or guacamole) on the other, and salsa in the middle. When you fold it in half, you have a perfect bite every time.

How to Grill a Perfect Skirt Steak and 1-2-3 Guacamole

Nothing beats a steak taco! And my favorite taco combine a tangy and acidic salsa with sliced avocado or guacamole. This is an easy steak dinner since everything except the steak can be set out for assembly just before serving. The 1-2-3 Guacamole is the best guacamole that I have ever had. The secret is in my friend Rick Bayless’s tomatillo salsa that is marketed as Frontera Original Guacamole Mix.

Serves 2

Grilling Method: Direct/Medium-High Heat

1 skirt steak (about 1 pound each)

Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Sliced avocado or 1-2-3 Guacamole (see below)

Favorite Salsa, I like Mateo’s

4 flour or corn tortillas, warmed

Preheat the grill with all burners on high. Once preheated, adjust the temperature to medium-high for direct grilling.

Wrap the meat in paper towels to rid it of excess moisture. Replace the paper towels as needed.

Brush the steaks all over with olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt just before placing it on the grill.

Place the steak on the cooking grate and grill for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size. Turn and cook for 2 to 4 minutes more for medium-rare.

Remove the steaks from the grill and place on a clean platter. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing it against the grain.

Serve with your favorite steak sides or with avocado, or 1-2-3 Guacamole, salsa, and tortillas to make a simple and satisfying taco.

1-2-3 Guacamole

I first made this recipe for a very large event at the Culinary Institute of America Worlds of Flavor conference. Daunted by the task of making guacamole for 500, my friends at Frontera Foods suggested that I try their easy recipe, made with tomatillo salsa. Well, it was so good that it was the hit of the event, and I couldn’t stop eating it myself! Since I tried this recipe, I’ve never made guacamole any other way.

Makes about 2 cups

3 ripe Hass avocados

1 cup store-bought tomatillo salsa, or Frontera Original Guacamole Mix

¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves

Kosher salt

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, scoop the soft flesh into a bowl, and mash. Leave some small chunks of avocado in the mash. Stir in the tomatillo salsa and the cilantro; add salt to taste. Refrigerate with the pit in the center of the guacamole for up to 5 hours (the pit will help keep the guacamole from browning).


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