Now that autumn is officially here, are you thinking about rolling your grill into the garage for the winter? Well, stop right there. Leave it out just a little longer because today we’re cooking skirt steak on the grill. There’s simply no better way to get a both a deep char and a juicy interior on skirt steak than over live fire. Still, fire can be intimidating and unpredictable, right? Not always. I’ve got a technique that will make you look like a master of the grill with very little effort. All you need is an understanding of the unique challenges skirt steak holds and then make these challenges work in your favor.
The thing about skirt steak is that it’s quite thin. It cooks very quickly and it’s difficult to get a good crusty char on the outside without overcooking the inside. Overcooking is something that must be avoided with skirt steak. But so is undercooking. I like rare steak as much as the next guy (maybe more than the next guy). Skirt steak, however, is not at its best when served rare because the muscle fibers haven’t had a chance to break down. Ideally, you should serve skirt steak somewhere between medium-rare and medium which is an interior temperature of about 130 to 135 degrees F. You could rely on an instant-read thermometer, but I don’t. Monitoring interior temperature is a dependable trick for thicker cuts of meat, but I find skirt steak too awkwardly thin to easily and accurately gauge the interior temperature at the center. After all, dead-center can be a target no bigger than 1/8‑inch. Instead, I follow a Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton routine that works perfectly every time.
Let’s start at the beginning. When you bring your skirt steak home unfold it and lay out flat in front of you. You’ll be surprised how long it is. One pound of skirt steak is about 2 feet long and so lanky it seems an awkward contender for the grill. But keep reading, despite the appearance of the meat the grill is the very best way to cook skirt steak. So start the fire.
For me, grilled skirt steak starts with a marinade. Ribeyes, t‑bones, even bland tasting filets – I don’t typically marinate before grilling. The exceptions to this rule are flank steak and skirt steak. Their brawny texture, earthy flavor, and loose-knit structure make them perfect for absorbing a marinade. But all marinades are not created equal. I wouldn’t choose the same marinade for a flank steak as I would a skirt steak. While both are cut from the underbelly of the cow, skirt steak is not as thick or dense as flank steak. Skirt steak is also richer and more marbled than flank steak. Which means you should choose to marinate skirt steak in something that is simply flavorful, whereas flank steak needs a marinade that tenderizes as well as flavorizes. My go-to marinade for skirt steak is nothing more than pulverized onion, garlic and olive oil. If you have the time, you should marinate the meat the day before you grill it.
But the marinade is not the secret I want to share today. I want to tell you how to cook skirt steak on the grill to a perfect medium-rare every time without having to think or guess or pray.
How to Cook Skirt Steak
I’ll admit that many of these skirt steak tricks go against everything we all learned about grilling meat, so you may be tempted to doubt one or two of my suggestions. But if you put aside what you think you know about grilling and look at the piece of meat in front of you I think you’ll see these “tricks” are merely common sense.
- First, cut the meat into sizes that will comfortably fit the active area of your grill. This method requires that the skirt steak lay flat and relatively undisturbed during grilling.
- Next, consider the marinade. As I said I marinate skirt steak in an onion puree. You may use whatever marinade you like. However, you if you want to try my marinade let me give you some advice: double wrap the container holding the meat in plastic wrap or tie it tightly into an impermeable plastic bag. Otherwise, your refrigerator will quickly smell like a boys’ locker room.
- When it’s time to grill it’s time to break the first of those grilled meat rules we all memorized. Rather than bringing the meat to room temperature as you would a big thick ribeye, you’ll want to lay the meat on the hot grill straight from the cold refrigerator. This will prevent the inside from cooking too quickly while the outside builds up a nice char.
- Next look at each piece of meat before you lay it on the grill. There will be thicker parts and thinner parts. Adjust the placement so that the thinner areas are next to the cooler outside edges of the fire.
- Lastly and most importantly, forget the thermometer and grab a kitchen timer instead. Cook the meat over medium-high heat for three minutes exactly then flip it over and cook the other side two minutes exactly. Next, transfer the meat to a cutting board to rest two more minutes (exactly). The interior will continue to cook without burning the exterior. At this point move the meat back to the grill and cook it one more minute on each side for medium-rare (if you prefer medium add an extra minute of cooking time when grilling the second side). Resting the meat before finishing cooking the meat may seem rule breakingly counter-intuitive. However, if you wait until the end of cooking to rest the meat (as you would a big thick ribeye) then this thin cut be will cold even before you bring it to the table.
- Finally, cut each steak with the grain into four to six-inch sections then slice each section into thin strips against the grain. Serve it while it’s hot – cuz if you follow this method it will be.