Skirt Steak vs. Rib-Eye Steak

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While rib-eye remains a high-end restaurant expensive cut of steak, skirt has thrown off its image as a budget cut grocery store buy suitable only for fajitas or stir fry.

The primary differences between ribeye and skirt steak are that ​ribeye is a very tender, heavily marbled steak, while skirt steak is lean and chewy and must be sliced thinly.

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Skirt steak is a completely different cut of meat from rib-eye, and the difference in price between the two may be unshakable. But with the right preparation, skirt steak can pack all the succulence and flavor of rib-eye, leaving steak lovers satisfied.

What is a rib-eye steak?

Rib-eye looks every bit the steak, with thick seams of fat, a smooth-grained center and a short section of bone.

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  • Source.​ Usually at least an inch thick, rib-eye is cut from the area between the sixth and 12th ribs on the steer, not as lean or tender as steaks cut from the short loin, but not as tough as cuts from the chuck.
  • Texture.​ The more tender rib-eyes come from those cut toward the short loin rather than the thicker chuck end.
  • Bones.​ Rib-eye steaks can be bone-in or boneless, the latter called a Delmonico.

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What is a skirt steak?

Skirt steak comes as a long strip of sinewy muscle cut from the diaphragm area of the cow. When comparing flank steak vs. skirt steak, you'll see they have a similar appearance, but the skirt steak has a grain that runs cross-ways rather than along its length.

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  • Characteristics.​ Also known as short plate, skirt steak has a covering of thin membrane that needs to be removed before cooking.
  • Texture.​ Tougher than rib-eye, skirt steak nevertheless has a strong, beefy flavor and higher fat content than flank.
  • Serving.​ Cheaper than rib-eye, skirt is also thinner, lending itself to slicing into strips rather than serving whole.

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Skirt Steak vs. Rib-Eye Steak

Characteristics

Skirt Steak

Rib-eye

Source

A long, thin strip of muscle running down either side of the abdominal cavity (the animal’s diaphragm).

Cut from the large, tender muscles along the top of the rib bones, between the animal’s 7th and 11th ribs.

Description

Lean, with long muscle fibers. Chewier than typical grilling steaks, but with an intensely beefy flavor. Must be cut thinly across the grain.

An exceptionally tender cut and well marbled, very rich and with a good, beefy flavor.

Recommended Preparation

Grill or broil whole to medium-rare, then slice thinly across the grain (best option). Alternatively, slice the uncooked skirt into strips and stir-fry quickly.

A superb steak for grilling, broiling or pan-searing. Less than ideal for sous vide, which may not properly render the fat that makes this cut of steak so luscious.

Nutritional Value (3 oz portion)

Calories: 187

Protein: 22.2 g

Total Fat: 10.2 g

Saturated Fat: 3.97 g

Cholesterol: 51 mg

Calories: 249

Protein: 27.3 g

Total Fat: 14.7 g

Saturated Fat: 5.72 g

Cholesterol: 89 mg

Source: USDA

How to flavor rib-eye and skirt steaks

Skirt steak benefits enormously from marinating because there is less marbling to keep it moist and sustain the flavor than a rib-eye. Rib-eye, on the other hand, draws its flavor from the rendered fat and needs just a straightforward seasoning with salt and black pepper.

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For either approach, the steak needs to be left to season in the refrigerator, but the meat should return to room temperature before cooking. In the case of rib-eye, this can take up to an hour.

  • Marinate skirt steak in a standard acid, olive oil and spice marinade.
  • Lime juice or balsamic vinegar will both penetrate the piece of meat sufficiently and tenderize it.
  • Soy sauce gives color, whereas a straightforward kosher salt rub draws out moisture to enhance caramelization in the pan.
  • Look to Asian flavors for a skirt steak stir fry, such as ginger, garlic, chili and cumin.

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How to prepare and cook skirt steak

Skirt steak dries out easily, so it either needs a short passage across a high heat hot skillet or slow-cooking in a braising liquid.

  • Preparation method.​ Flash-fry skirt in a little butter or oil for just two to three minutes per side, then let it rest.
  • Degree of doneness.​ For a moist and tender steak, rare to medium is sufficient. Anything more and the steak is likely to be tough and chewy.
  • Slow cooking.​ If braising, slow-cook skirt in a Dutch oven or pressure cooker until it begins to fall apart, then shred it with a fork to make a thick stew.

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How to prepare rib-eye steak

Rib-eye is one of the best cuts for pan-frying in a cast iron skillet, where the steak will cook in its own rendered fat. Cook it for five minutes on each side, to medium, just enough time to render some of the fat and break down some of the tougher connective tissue.

Once the steak is removed from the skillet, cover it with aluminum foil and let it rest for at least five minutes while the juices consolidate.

BBQ Tip

If you're grilling rib-eye, bear in mind that the steak will ooze hot fat that not only draws away flavor, but also risks causing flare-ups. Set up a two-zone grill and char the steak first over the hot coals for just long enough to get the requisite crosshatch marks, then transfer it to the cooler side for a few minutes.

Meal ideas for rib-eye and skirt steaks

Rib-eye is a centerpiece steak, perfect for serving with just a side of fries or vegetables. However, a red wine sauce is a neat way of deglazing the skillet after cooking the steak to gather the remaining flavors.

Cut skirt steak against the grain to sever the tough sinews, and slice it into thin, juicy strips, ideal for fajitas, stir-fry or sandwiches.

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