Flank steak is a lean, flavorful, inexpensive cut that feeds a crowd in a hurry. Learn how to cook it right, and it’ll be juicy perfection every time!
Flank steak is definitely one of my favorite cuts because, like skirt steak—another favorite—it’s easy and inexpensive. Better still, it’s jam-packed with big beefy flavor.
But there are a few tricks to bringing out the best in flank steak. Ignore them and you risk a steak that’s tough and dry. Follow them and you’ll have a satisfying meal, in about 15 minutes, every time.
What Is Flank Steak?
Flank steak, sometimes referred to as a bavette, comes from along the abdominal area of the animal, near where the skirt steak comes from. Like skirt steak, it’s rectangular shaped and not very thick. But flank steak is a wider at about 8 to 10 inches and little thicker at about 1 inch.
Also like skirt steak, flank steak has a visible grain running through it. But while a skirt steak’s grain runs width-wise, a flank’s runs lengthwise. The grain looks like stripes of muscle running down the meat, and it comes into play a little later, when it’s time to slice your steak.
Cooking Flank Steak
Because flank steak is lean, it can become dry and chewy if overcooked. So go for rare to medium-rare. And because flank steak is relatively thin, it’s best to cook it over relatively high heat—so it can develop a flavorful crust on the outside before it’s overcooked on the inside.
All in all, that means a flank steak will do best with quick, high-heat cooking methods like grilling, broiling, and pan-searing. I prefer grilling for the easy clean-up, but you can adjust my recipe below for broiling (which is basically upside-down grilling). I don’t tend to pan-sear flank steak because I don’t have a pan large enough to hold one. But if you have a griddle or something similar, that will absolutely work.
Another trick to getting a good crust—pat your flank steak dry before cooking.
Remember the grain in the meat that I mentioned earlier? That graining is long muscle fibers and they can be stringy, chewy, and tough to eat. If, however, you slice your flank steak against that grain—in other words, at a 90° angle to those fibers, or width-wise—you’ll be essentially breaking down those long strings before they even get on your plate. Resulting in a more tender eating experience.
Of course, before you do any slicing, you want to let the meat rest for at least 5 minutes. This helps the meat stay juicy, even after it’s cut. (This electric knife is my favorite tool for perfect, even slices.)
Enhancing Your Flank Steak
My recipe below keeps it simple, just seasoning with salt and pepper. But you could absolutely add whatever additional herbs and spices you like. Garlic powder and onion powder would be great. Or chili powder and cumin—that would especially make sense if you’re using flank steak for fajitas, which is common.
It’s also common to marinate flank steak, which I imagine comes from its perceived toughness (which you now know is really just the chewiness of the muscle fibers if they’re not sliced right). The truth is, though, that because a marinade doesn’t really penetrate much beyond the surface of the meat, it doesn’t really tenderize. (Here’s a good article about that from Cook’s Illustrated.)
That said, a marinade can be a way to add flavor—to anything from flank steak to pork chops to chicken to artichokes. So if you have a favorite, go ahead and use it on your flank steak. But don’t forget to pat it dry before cooking so you can get that nice crust.
You can also add flavor after or during the last few minutes of cooking, in the form of a sauce. I like flank steak brushed with barbecue sauce for the last couple of minutes on the grill. And also with salsa or chimichurri at the table
In any one of those variations, flank steak is a great main dish. But it’s also great in tacos, burritos, sandwiches, and salads—all great ways to repurpose any leftovers. Try to avoid reheating, though, because that can lead to the meat becoming more than medium-rare—in other words, overcooked and dry.
Flank steak is a lean, flavorful, inexpensive cut that feeds a crowd in a hurry. Learn how to cook it right, and it’ll be juicy perfection every time! And while it’s plenty tasty with just salt and pepper, you can definitely add your favorite herbs and spices, a marinade, or a sauce on the side. With flank steak, it’s all good!
Pat the flank steak dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper.
Prepare a grill for direct cooking over medium-high and lightly oil the grate.
When the grate is good and hot, add the steak and cook to an internal temperature of 120°F for rare or 130°F for medium-rare, 4 to 5 minutes per side.
Transfer to a cutting board and let rest about 5 minutes.
Notice the grain or the stripes running lengthwise in the meat. Thinly slice the steak width-wise, across the grain (at a 90° angle to the stripes), and serve.