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infernooo

What the heck is a Flank Steak?

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Hi all!

I have a quick favour to ask some of you the next time you buy a piece of flank steak (the type you often see spice rubbed and grilled till rare then sliced).

I am an Aussie, and when i was visiting the US for business, I had a beautiful piece of steak which was spice rubbed, grilled and sliced across the grain, but not thinly (it was actually a pretty thick slice).. served with a mango and chilli salsa.

Anyways, I have been unable to find that exact cut of meat here in Australia. We have something that I thought would be the same called Skirt Steak (not the same as your skirt steak which doesn't seem to exist here), but it is VERY thin - it is rectangular shaped and the grain is completely visible and runs the length of the meat. However, it is a pain to cook because it is so thin (think minute-steak thinness), and doesn't come out nearly as tender as the one I had in the US (which was NOT pounded or mushy as though it had been tenderised).

So my favour is this: The next time someone buys a piece of flank steak, could you please take some detailed photos (high resolution if possible) of all sides of it (perhaps even with a dollar bill or something of scale next to it so I can judge thickness and size) ? This will help me either finding the cut I am after or as information to use when asking a butcher if I can get this cut.

In the mean time I will buy a piece of what we call Skirt Steak and post pictures of it to show you what I am talking about (i.e. similar yet different).

p.s. Yes I have found pics on the net of flank steak but they are all low/medium-res shots and none are very detailed or indicate actual size + thickness.

Anyways, I apologise for rambling but this difference in meat cuts really bugs me (don't get me started on availability of what you guys call "Brisket" over here! ).

Thanks!

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I'm wondering if what you were served was not flank or skirt steak at all, but another cut of meat we call top round.

The reason I'm thinking this is that the preparation and serving method you describe is typical of one of the many variants of London Broil that are popular here in the States. London Broil does tend to generate all sorts of confusion about what meat cut is involved, because originally the term "London Broil" described a method of cooking rather than a specific cut, and at one time the preferred cut to use was in fact what we in the States call a flank steak ... but then butchers started applying the label "London Broil" to a bunch of cuts of meat that did not even remotely resemble flank steak--most commonly, what we call top round steak (or sometimes, even more confusingly, top round roast), a cut that runs from one to two inches thick and which, while flavorful, can turn tough on you. That makes it a great candidate for the London Broil method, which usually involves marinating it, grilling/broiling it till still quite rare in the middle, and then slicing it across the grain into sorta-thinnish slices.

Right now I don't have a chunk of "London Broil"--ready top round to show you, but this recipe comes with photos that pretty clearly show the kind of meat cut I'm talking about (also note that, instead of a marinade, this recipe involves rubbed-in spices like the dish you were served).

Anyway--do the photos in that recipe match the cut of meat you remember being served? Am I even warm, here? :smile:

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Infernoo

Did you have it at a restaurant, or someones home and in what State...that might help...even from East to West coast there are some different cuts.

I usually have skirt in the freezer but none today

tracey


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Hi there!

All I can say is that I had it at 2 places and both had it on the menu as "Spice-rubbed flank steak"....

Mizducky: Thanks for the info! I have read about the London Broil conflicts :-)

That first photo on the page you linked looks pretty close, except I thought I remembered the meat being slightly wider than it is there. Also, it definately was not sliced in a paper thin manner - I would hazard a guess that it was cut into about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick slices.

rooftop: It was in San Jose in California - just a small cafeteria !

Thanks again :-).

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Hi, infernoo. No worries, you had it right the first time. That's definitely flank steak you're describing and that's exactly how we eat it at home.

Flank, skirt and hanger steak all exist over here. I think I remember reading that hanger and skirt are adjoining and that one of them is the diaphragm -- the one you use when you sing, not the one you use when . . . I'll spare you the innuendo. Flank steak is from the belly. I think it's the cow equivalent of bacon meat, but with the fat layers stripped off and only the lean abdominal muscle left (this last part is a guess). I usually only buy a half-piece, but the whole slab is about two feet long (or more) about a foot wide (or a little more) and a consistent two inches think, though this tapers at the ends of course. And the grain runs lengthwise and is really obvious, as with brisket.

I poked around online briefly and found a picture. I'll try to attach it.

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Okay, it took me a little while to figure out that image database thing. I think the cut in the picture looks kind of small, or that's a really big knife and lettuce leaf.gallery_39288_4422_51769.jpg

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Hi fellowpeon!

That is definately what I have been referring to as the "Australian version" of "skirt steak" (as it is called in supermarkets and asian butchers here).

I can find that at supermarkets but I'm pretty sure it is not the same as the piece of meat I had in the US that they called flank steak ? (the one I am after). It's hard for other people to see in that picture, but its a thin piece of meat, and as I described before, the one I had in the US would have been around twice as thick if that is indeed as thin as the ones I get here. Furthermore, the texture was very different from what I remember (unless its a US beef vs Australian beef difference).

To get a piece of the same dimensions as the slices I had in the US using that cut, I would have to slice it at an extreme angle, which would end up not being against the grain but almost running with it - less tender.

Thanks for the picture! I will take some photos when I pick up a piece of "skirt steak" tomorrow so everyone can see the difference in dimensions I am speaking of and in the hope of clearing this up.


Edited by infernooo (log)

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Hi, again. The next time I go to the butcher, I'll get pictures of all three steaks in a line up -- hanger, skirt and flank -- and we'll see which one it was that mugged you in that dark alley of America.

One thing, though: one can get a slice of steak twice as thick out of that cut, but one has to cut on the bias. That is, don't cut straight down across the 1" width if you want a 2" thick slice, but cut at an angle that slants into the cutting board. Okay, had to recall a lot of lost trig but I think that means cutting at 60 degrees off the norm, or 30 degrees off parallel with the cutting board.

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Haha I just edited my post - I re-read it and it wasn't very clear and to be honest was a bit flippant - I must not have checked over it when I typed it !

That would be terrific ! Thank you for offering to do that :-).

I'm with you on the cutting at an angle... I just don't want to cut at too much of an angle otherwise it might be chewy/less tender due to the distinct direction of the grain in this cut.


Edited by infernooo (log)

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Hi, again.  The next time I go to the butcher, I'll get pictures of all three steaks in a line up -- hanger, skirt and flank -- and we'll see which one it was that mugged you in that dark alley of America.

One thing, though: one can get a slice of steak twice as thick out of that cut, but one has to cut on the bias.  That is, don't cut straight down across the 1" width if you want a 2" thick slice, but cut at an angle that slants into the cutting board.  Okay, had to recall a lot of lost trig but I think that means cutting at 60 degrees off the norm, or 30 degrees off parallel with the cutting board.

Agreed. I'm pretty sure this was the thick end of a flank steak that was cut on a long bias. I've had it that way. FWIW, Alton Brown says that while cutting flank/hanger/skirt steak on the bias is pretty, it makes the meat tougher because the fibers are longer.

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Since no one has linked to this yet, I guess I'll take the opportunity: http://www.foodsubs.com/MeatBeefB&F.html


So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money. But when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness."

So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

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This is quoted from "The Meat Buyers Guide" printed by the North American Meat Processors Association and I hope it helps so you can define flank steak to your butchers. I really like flank, and it used to be a cheap cut of beef in the US until people realized how good and relatively lean it is...now it is more expensive...but still tasty!

This boneless item consists of the rectus abdominis muscle from the flank region of the carcass.  The flank steak is located at the cod or udder end.  It is separated from the transversus abdominis, obliquus abdominis internus and obliquus abdominis externus muscles through the natural seams.  The item shall be prepared practically free of fat and the membranous tissue.

And, infernooo, you're right, it should be about an inch thick (possibly a tiny bit thicker) and I've purchased pieces that were about five pounds in weight, so it can be pretty big. They sell it at Costco here for about $3.99USD/lb (but I'm probalby low on the price) and the piece is usually folded into thirds.

Good luck hunting this down!

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OK, I bought a piece of "Skirt Steak" and have taken some pictures of it...

Of course it had to happen that the piece I bought was thicker than usual on one end (to slightly negate my earlier description of it) - most of the time it is less thick so the uniformness is more apparent and it doesn't seem to taper off so much...

Oh and I included a ruler and one dollar note (souvenir from my trip) for rough size comparisons.

Here goes, included are thumbnails - click on each one for a larger version:

tn_gallery_22943_4429_132162.jpg

tn_gallery_22943_4429_308501.jpg

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tn_gallery_22943_4429_39396.jpg

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tn_gallery_22943_4429_55185.jpg

tn_gallery_22943_4429_134844.jpg

tn_gallery_22943_4429_380236.jpg


Edited by infernooo (log)

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Sounds like it may even be hanger. Was it intensely beefy? Almost bacony?


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"The Meat Buyers Guide" printed by the North American Meat Processors Association

The NAMP guide is one of my favorite books to curl up with, however I try to mention every year or so that the same information is available online for free (the NAMP book costs US$65).

The NAMP guide, as best I can tell, is a prettied-up version of the IMPS (Institutional Meat Purchasing Specifications) guides published by the USDA. IMPS is the go-to source for definitive answers about American meat cuts. Just about everything else you'll find out there is either derived from IMPS or not authoritative.

Flank steak is cut number 193 (on page 75) in the IMPS illustrated beef guide.


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P.S. The Australian equivalent seems to be the AUS-MEAT guide. I haven't fully explored the website, but here's the basic guide to Australian cuts.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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OK, I bought a piece of "Skirt Steak" and have taken some pictures of it...

Of course it had to happen that the piece I bought was thicker than usual on one end (to slightly negate my earlier description of it) - most of the time it is less thick so the uniformness is more apparent and it doesn't seem to taper off so much...

Oh and I included a ruler and one dollar note (souvenir from my trip) for rough size comparisons.

Here goes, included are thumbnails - click on each one for a larger version:

infernooo, since no one else has answered this post either way, i will: that is indeed what we generally call a flank steak here in the US. i buy them all the time; it's one of my favorite cuts of beef.

what we call a skirt steak can be seen here or here. it's significantly thinner than what you bought and as you can see the grain runs across rather than along it.


Edited by mrbigjas (log)

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I just want to say thank you for everyone who has chimed in to help - it appears that I am buying flank steak, but it must be some difference between US and Australian beef or cooking/marinating method... the stuff I have bought isn't nearly as flavourful or tender (which is odd as Australian beef is usually some of the best you can buy). I have tried marinating in a spice rub and lime juice overnight, but it was still pretty average...

Oh well, thanks once again everyone - I appreciate it!

p.s. what you call skirt steak I have _NEVER_ seen for sale here, so unfortunately if I were ever to need that I think I would be out of luck :-).

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it's really important with flank steak that it be sliced very thin--hold your knife at an angle so you're almost cutting a wide scallop. it is a very tough piece of meat that is tenderized by being sliced this way. also, it may not go without saying that you should slice it across the grain, rather than with it.

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Thanks for the chart Fat Guy!

Ive got it downloaded on my computer. I've been looking for this type of meat chart for a long, long time-photos and a corresponding chart showing what part of the steer the darn thing came from.

Infernooo-I'd avoid marinating your flank steak, or any meat, in lime juice, especially if it marinates more than about 30 minutes. Like raw seafood in a dish like ceviche, lime juice is an acid that will actually 'cook' meat or seafood. I've found that if you leave say flank steak in a lime marinade for more than 30 minutes,it will start to turn grey. Then when you slap it on a hot grill, you don't get that nice crusty black/brown char and the insides may be a bit grey, not the nice juicy redness of medium rare that is desired for flank steak. I'd recommend the spice rub, and you can even tenderize the flank steak cut using an old fashioned fork. Just jab the steak a few times with the tines of a fork. Cook it only for about 5-6 minutes per side on a very hot grill or grill pan on top of the stove, and slice across the grain. It is very good with this simple sauce-a bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, a buch of fresh cilantro (I think you call it fresh coriander), a tablespoon of white vinegar, salt, pepper, about a 1/2 cup of olive oil. Chuck it all in a blender and puree. It's basically an Argentinian Chimichurri Sauce-ideal for rich grilled meats. Enjoy.

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Hi, infernoo. I was intending to go over to the butcher's today for chicken stock material and checked to see if those photos were still needed. I'm glad to see the issue of which cut has been solved.

But it seems you're still unsatisfied with texture and flavor. Flank steak is a staple at my house now so I hope you don't mind but I'll chime in with some advice (ignore anything that's obvious). First, I noticed the steaks in your photos still have silver skin (that membrane-y stuff) on them. Take all that stuff off. You'll probably want to slice a bit off, then do a sort of peel-and-slice strips of membrane off the meat. But get rid of everything that's not meat and that will get in the way of the rub.

After that, apply the salt/spice rub, but no marinade. I'm totally with David Ross about that cilantro/parsley vinaigrette and no marinade. Btw, salt is by far the most important part of the rub, both for flavor and for tenderizing the meat, and you'll probably want to use a good 1 or 1 1/2 tablespoon of salt per whole steak. I also like to include a tsp or so of sugar with the salt. Since the salt is the major concern, I would even put the sugar/salt rub on first, then spices afterward. You could also use a paste made of spices and just enough oil (olive oil or some neutral kind) to make it all stick, but get the salt in there first.

Let it rest about 24-48 hrs in the fridge.

Bring the steak up to room temperature before cooking. So about a half hour out of the refrigerator. Then get your grill or skillet roaring, smokingly hot (open all windows first), sear enough to char only (only about a minute or two), flip for opposite side, rest for about five minutes after searing, and cut on the diagonal for wide but thin slices. I like my steaks rare with a peppery char on the outside, eaten for breakfast with eggs and grits or hash browns, topped with David Ross's green sauce except we'd use lemon or lime juice instead of the white vinegar.

Hope that helps.

Fat Guy, another thanks for the beef chart! Looks really useful.

[edited, forgot about tempering]


Edited by fellowpeon (log)

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I just want to say thank you for everyone who has chimed in to help - it appears that I am buying flank steak, but it must be some difference between US and Australian beef or cooking/marinating method... the stuff I have bought isn't nearly as flavourful or tender (which is odd as Australian beef is usually some of the best you can buy).

I'm not much up on my cuts of meat, but I've consumed a lot of Australian beef here in the US, & the flavor is markedly different from US beef - generally a bit lighter & less intensely beefy.

Of course this represents only what's available at my local supermarket, so it's highly anecdotal.


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I just want to say thank you for everyone who has chimed in to help - it appears that I am buying flank steak, but it must be some difference between US and Australian beef or cooking/marinating method... the stuff I have bought isn't nearly as flavourful or tender (which is odd as Australian beef is usually some of the best you can buy).

I'm not much up on my cuts of meat, but I've consumed a lot of Australian beef here in the US, & the flavor is markedly different from US beef - generally a bit lighter & less intensely beefy.

Of course this represents only what's available at my local supermarket, so it's highly anecdotal.

It could be grass fed v grain fed, but it could also be down to some other very local factors. Due to the drought lots of beasts are being sold at a much younger age then usual. That is why a lot of the meat at the market is labeled "yearling" beef etc.

I haven't eaten and beef in the USA, but so far I have been very unhappy with the quality of the Australian beef I have had in general, so maybe there is also a basic quality difference.

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OK, I bought a piece of "Skirt Steak" and have taken some pictures of it...

Of course it had to happen that the piece I bought was thicker than usual on one end (to slightly negate my earlier description of it) - most of the time it is less thick so the uniformness is more apparent and it doesn't seem to taper off so much...

Oh and I included a ruler and one dollar note (souvenir from my trip) for rough size comparisons.

Here goes, included are thumbnails - click on each one for a larger version:

infernooo, since no one else has answered this post either way, i will: that is indeed what we generally call a flank steak here in the US. i buy them all the time; it's one of my favorite cuts of beef.

what we call a skirt steak can be seen here or here. it's significantly thinner than what you bought and as you can see the grain runs across rather than along it.

We cut SKIRT in the UK too, although it is only recently becoming popular with some of our cheffy clients with the hold english-cooking-revival. What you have been buying infernoo is, in my oppinion, skirt, as is that pictured in the above links.

SKIRT is indeed the muscular tissue that controls the diaphram, which gives your rib-cage a bellows effect to help you breathe. It is these muscles that spasm when you have the hic-ups, which should help ilustrate their role/position.

The reason for the different appearance of the two cuts shown by you and above is that there are three musclegroups, one down each side between the diaphram and the rib-cage (shown in the links) and one running through the centre (shown by you) which explains why the grain of the muscle runs that way.

Skirt is also used, and much prized by the french and known as "bavette". Standard technique is for the butcher to slash it deeply across the grain to break the long fibres.

FLANK in the UK is a single sheet of muscle that runs along the cod fat on the abdomen. It has a totally different grain due to its fundamentally different function. It is much leaner and paler and very tight grained. We don't use it in the UK as a cut, which is why I'd be curious to try it as described, I'd imagine the charachetristics I've described would lend itself to the types of cooking described.

If you talk to a good butcher, he should be able to cut you some flank meat. If he's English he'd be glad of it, we have practically no market for it.


www.naturalfarms.co.uk ~ our wholesale butchery

www.sussexfarms.blogspot.com ~ our pie kitchen

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