Skirt steak, hanger steak, butchering, marinade, etc.

What’s the difference, right? They’re both beef and cut from diaphragm. Well, yes and no. I didn’t really start wondering about it until I went to Publix and bought some skirt steak. They labeled it as “Skirt Steak-Outer Part.” Naturally, I wondered where the inner part was. I asked the “butcher,” and he might as well have been a cow himself, because I got a blank stare and no answer. Which brings me to another point: where is your meat butchered? At the international market, they might do it right in front of you; at the supermarket, a lot of it is preprocessed to where there’s little butchery involved other than sorting and packaging. Go ask for a Chateaubriand, and I’d wager that many supermarket butchers have no idea what you’re talking about. (answer: it’s the middle third of a beef tenderloin.) Same goes for skirt steak vs hanger steak. First of all, you’re more likely to find skirt than hanger steak. Beware though: I’ve seen sliced sirloin marketed as skirt steak. At least they had “skirt” in quote marks. If you do find either, I highly recommend them, though. And particularly if you can find hanger, you don’t want to pass this up, because it’s really amazing!

So, is there a difference? I’ve had a hard time figuring this out, but thanks to an online textbook of bovine anatomy, here’s the answer as best as I can tell.

As you can see in the diagram, the diaphragm separates the chest from the abdomen. The skirt steak is the outer portion where the muscle attaches to the body wall. There’s two per animal. They just cut out the central tendon, and give it to you in strips or sheets.  You’ll see skirt in a sheet-like steak, hence the “outer portion.”

From 2010-08-03 – 2010-08-06

The hanger steak, on the other hand, is the diaphragmatic crura. It’s where the diaphragm muscle attaches itself to the spinal column, and there’s one per animal. It’s split at the top and bottom to accommodate the esophagus and some blood vessels. If you look closely at the hanger steak, you’ll also notice a distinctive marbling and central tendon. This tendon has to be removed either before or after cooking, as it’s prett much inedible gristle.

From 2010-10-21 – 2010-10-24


First of all, it’s not really necessary. Yes, it will give more flavor to your meat, but you can skip this step, and still have something great. If you do choose to marinate your steak, a word to the wise: beware of how you add acid. The key here is to make a vinaigrette that will neutralize the cooking effect that fresh lime juice, for example, would have on the meat. This is important because that acid can chemically change the meat proteins and partially cook it which I think makes it harder to grill. You want maximum searing and browning, and the acid is going to make that difficult as it will have already reacted with the proteins in the meat. The vinaigrette point is important to remember when you get overwhelmed with a marinade recipe that sounds really complex. It’s also the reason that you can marinate meat in Italian dressing. 4 hours is good, overnight is better.


Cooking this meat is pretty easy. Put it on the highest temperature you can get. Think wide open here. Broiler on high, high heat in cast iron pan, Kamado cooker. You may have missed it, but Haddock commented on the Halloumi post about inverting a cooking grid to get the meat as close to possible to coals as you can. You can take this one step further if you want by placing the meat directly on coals (fast forward to the 10:00 mark).  If you have the ceramic grill, you can invert an upper deck grid and it will do almost the same thing.

From 2010-09-06 – 2010-09-26

Cook no higher than medium rare.  You can check the temperature, or just feel the meat with your finger and have an idea of how soft (or not) it is.  As usual, make sure to rest the meat uncovered, preferably on a rack, at least 5 minutes or so to all the juices to redistribute.  Save those juices to pour over the meat during service.  If you didn’t add acid in a marinade, add it after it rests and cools down.  You don’t want any more steam than you’ll already have.


A final note about slicing.  This is a somewhat toothsome cut.  It’s up to you, but for maximum tenderness, cut against the grain.  If the cut is too long, just cut it down into manageable strips, especially if you’re making tacos with it.  You don’t have to do it this way, though.  If you have a pretty thin cut and don’t mind a little chew, then cut with the grain.  Hanger steak will be more tender than skirt, so go with the grain here.  Again, do it how you like.

For me, if I don’t marinate, I’ll spray or rub on a little olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper, and cook.  Squeeze a little fresh lime juice after resting.  Serve with grilled veggies, corn tortillas, and salsa.

From 2010-10-21 – 2010-10-24

4 thoughts on “Skirt steak, hanger steak, butchering, marinade, etc.

  1. Just got us one of them new fangled Costcos here in the thriving metropolis of Ringgold. In addition to ridiculous good wine buys we can now get some of those “stranger” cuts of meat. Gonna grab some hanger there Saturday mornings and it’s fuh gee tahs for the Had deek ee’s this weekend.

    • Costcos and Walmarts are the worst place to purchase “OLD” meat. Not for our family. HAPPY NEW YEAR

      • Depends on what you care to pay for, I guess. I agree the quality isn’t at the big box store, it’s at a local butcher whose name you know, and from a farm that has been previously vetted. Big box=CAFO.

  2. Pingback: 2010 BDE in review « Big Dawg Eats

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