Cook's Illustrated

How to Shop for and Cook Skirt Steak

This lesser-known cut is worth seeking out: It's quick-cooking; its loose, open fibers are great at soaking up a marinade; and it's beefy, tender, and juicy.

Published June 18, 2018.

We highly recommend tender, beefy skirt steak. But it turns out that this cut takes 2 different forms, and we strongly prefer one type over the other. We'll show you what to look for to ensure you get the right type of skirt steak, explain why marinades work so well with this cut, and give you some great recipes to try. 

What Type of Skirt Steak to Buy

There are two types of skirt steak: outside (top photo) and inside (bottom photo). The more desirable cut is the longer, more narrow, and very tender outside skirt. The less desirable inside skirt is thinner and very chewy.

Why Skirt Steak is Hard to Find

If you have trouble finding skirt steak, that’s because it’s a hot commodity: There are only four skirt steaks (two outside, two inside) on each cow. Since we only recommend the outside skirt, that means there are only 2 desirable cuts per cow. (If you can't find skirt steak, flank steak is a reasonable substitute.)

Why Skirt Steak is Hard to Find

Why Skirt Steak is a Great Cut to Marinate

We don’t typically marinate steak since we have found that marinades don’t penetrate more than a few millimeters beyond its surface. For a thick-cut steak, that means minimal flavor impact. But skirt steak is different: It has much more surface area than other cuts. And because it’s so thin, the ratio of surface area to volume is quite large. That means there is a lot of exterior space for a marinade to flavor. If you look carefully, the grain of a skirt steak forms peaks and valleys like, well, a pleated skirt: The amount of fabric required to make a pleated skirt is much greater than the amount required to make a straight skirt. To illustrate this, we placed a measuring tape on a skirt steak and carefully pressed it into the valleys. When we removed the measuring tape, we found that the surface area for a skirt steak was three times that of a strip steak of the same weight.

Much like a pleated skirt, the surface of a skirt steak has lots of nooks and crannies. That means it has a large surface area for a marinade to flavor.

Skirt Steak Recipes

Because skirt steak is so thin, you need to cook it over high heat to ensure that the outside is well browned by the time the interior is tender and juicy. Here are some of our favorite recipes:

Philly Cheesesteaks

Mexican-Style Grilled Steak

Grilled Mojo-Marinated Skirt Steak


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