We’ve all heard of steak types like the rib eye, tenderloin or filet mignon, t-bone, flank, the list goes on But one of the less commonly used, but every bit as delicious, cuts is the skirt steak.
These are essentially cuts of meat that come from the underside of the cow, containing a lot of connective tissues due to the nature of the complex support structure contained within the diaphragm. They are, nevertheless, also one of the most flavorful.
The main difference between the skirt steak inside cut and the outside cut is that the inside cut comes from deeper into the body, and as such contains a bit more fat and weighs a bit more than the outside cut.
The outside is a more even cut that, because of the lower fat content, shrinks a lot less when cooked.
What is Inside Skirt Steak?
Before we get started, one thing to note is these are not always readily available. If you are lucky you might see one at your local grocery store but outside of that, your best bet is to head to your nearest butcher and ask them. They will also assist you a lot in preparing it.
While both outside and inside skirt steak come from a similar place on the cow, there are a few key things that might make you want to pick this cut over the outside one.
The inside skirt steak is quite small, being both shorter in length and width than its outside counterpart. But it’s also much thicker, which makes it fairly easy to identify which cut you are dealing with.
When you buy this from the butcher it also won’t be fully prepared, so you will usually see a fairly thick layer of fat and a quite hard membrane over the surface which indicates that it’s clearly an inside steak.
The inside skirt steak can be quite difficult for your butcher to properly remove from the cow.
This is because of its location and how complicated the muscle structures are in that area. It’s essentially linked to the cows breathing so can be challenging to adequately separate from the cow cleanly.
Even when it’s been prepped by the butcher you will usually need to do some additional cleanup before it’s ready to cook. This can involve removing excess fat and also removing the membrane than runs the surface of the cut.
Both cuts of steak are what we call ‘loose’ in terms of it having this tough muscle fiber. This makes them very easy to marinate compared to other cuts of steak as the marinate can ‘penetrate’ all the way through the meat much faster.
Many recipes call for as little as 10 minutes of marination which is exceptionally quick.
But this is also something you should be careful about because if you marinate it in anything citrus-y for more than a few hours it can really start to break the muscle fiber down. So be very conscious of the time!
How to cook Inside Skirt Steak
The great thing about both the inside and outside skirt steak cuts is that they have a good amount of fat between the muscles. So they don’t dry out easily and have a wonderful juicy quality to them after cooking.
Now out of the two, the inside cut contains more of the fat, and although we need to trim a bunch of it off during the prep state there should still be plenty left afterward for cooking.
However, this also means the steak will shrink a lot during cooking as the fat renders down. This is not a bad thing at all, just something to be aware of. It’s one of the main reasons restaurants tend to lean towards the outer cut because it simply ends up bigger when cooked.
Once it’s all prepared you can simply season and grill it hot and fast. Because of how thin it is, it won’t take long to cook at all; just searing it nice and quick, so it remains a little tender inside, is perfect.
How does Inside Skirt Steak taste?
In addition to that, it does a great job of absorbing whatever you cook it with. This is why both marinating and smoking work so well here! Both of those processes will really impart a ton of flavor to the meat.
What is Outside Skirt Steak?
As you might have already guessed, the outside steak gets its name because it sits further towards the outside of the cow than the inside cut does. In fact, it lays across the outside of the chest wall passing from the 6th down to the 12th rib.
Because of its position and orientation, the outside skirt steak tends to be both longer and wider than the inside portion of the skirt steak. But the actual volume of meat is roughly the same as it’s also a much thinner cut.
In addition, it also tends to have much less fat and also doesn’t have that hard membrane that needs removing (although you probably will still want to go over it with a knife before cooking).
Due to its overall lower fat content, you will notice there is less marbling when compared to the inside cut. This results in a leaner cook that shrinks much less.
This is an important distinction to keep in mind when buying as, depending on your cooking intention, they will react very differently to the same cooking methods.
But that’s if you can even find one as the outside cut, in particular, is highly sought after. And even when a butcher gets one it’s usually snapped up by restaurants pretty quickly.
This is because they want the extra volume, without the shrinkage, and the fact it needs comparatively minimal prep work when compared to the inner cut.
Outside skirt steak will need minimal prep work before it can be cooked. The butcher should have done a good job of cleaning things up beforehand so all you should need to do is quickly run a boning knife over it to clean things up.
You will sometimes be able to get pre-prepared skirt steaks from online meat purveyors which should also reduce your clean-up time a bit!
Because there is a lower fat content between the fibers of the meat, you can get away with a slightly longer marinate on an outer skirt steak because it will take longer to penetrate the meat and break it down.
But remember, although while not quite as fatty as the inner cut, the outer cut still has plenty of fat and marbling, so keep an eye on it!
How to cook Outside Skirt Steak
While grilling this hot and quick just like the inner cut is a great choice, another option to achieve a perfect medium-rare cook is to sous vide it at 130 degrees for a whopping 36 hours (yes, you read right).
After the sous vide is finished we then refrigerate it. Then sear it quickly on a cast iron skillet to give that wonderful outer crust.
It sounds like a long process but really it’s only about 15 minutes of actual cooking, the rest is hands-off work.
Once it’s finished, you can eat it as a full steak, or slice it thinly and serve it in something like tacos or quesadillas.
How does Outside Skirt Steak taste?
Out of the two, the outside cut is going to have a stronger and more flavorful beef quality. Which makes it ideal for any application where you want to lean into the beef flavor more and rely less on the marinade.
You will commonly find that restaurants favor the outside cut because of its lower shrinkage and stronger flavor.
What is the difference between Inside and Outside Skirt Steak?
They are easily confused with one another due to their similar appearance, location on the cow, and the fact we refer to them both as skirt steaks.
To the trained eye, however, they are easy to tell apart. Here’s a quick rundown of how they differ so you can ensure you’re getting the most appropriate one for your desired cooking application.
The outside cut is usually both longer and wider than the inside cut due to its location on the cow. But it’s also much thinner, allowing for a faster cook and it needs less clean-up.
The inside cut on the other hand is more stocky, being both shorter in length and width, but it makes up for it in thickness which allows it to benefit from a delicious marinade and sear.
The inside cut has considerably more fat on it, in addition, it also has a quite thick membrane over the top which needs to be cleaned up before it’s ready to cook.
The outside cut on the other hand is much leaner, but don’t let that dissuade you, there’s still more than enough fat on it to cook up a juice and flavorful steak!
3. Cooking method
Because of its thickness, the inside cut can grill up very nicely without being too prone to overcooking (but do keep an eye on it). Allowing you to develop that delicious crust while still keeping things medium-rare.
On the other hand, the outer cut, due to how thin it is, is easier to overcook if you don’t finish it quickly enough. So this is where the sous vide method comes in handy as you can prepare it beforehand and then sear it using very high heat and have it finished in just a few minutes.
4. Serving application
Because of its more rich beefy flavor and the fact it doesn’t shrink as much, you’ll generally find the outer cut being snapped up and served in restaurants. This can make it hard to source for consumers as butchers are usually selling them out quite fast.
The inner cut is less sought after by restaurants, making it a bit more accessible to the regular customer, just be ready to do the required clean-up work.
Outside vs inside skirt steak: are they the same?
There are indeed many similarities between inside and outside skirt steak in terms of their location on the cow, the muscle density, and general flavor.
Where they differ is in the fat content and how much they will shrink when cooked. You can use these differences to your advantage by making sure you buy the most appropriate one for the particular meal you are cooking.