Flank steak is one of my favourite cuts of beef for the barbecue, because it offers big beefy flavour, and is extremely tender when cut and prepared properly.
Due to the fact that there are many people that don’t know much about this specific cut, it tends to be a very underrated steak in comparison to more popular cuts such as strip loin, sirloin, rib-eye, etc.
There is also a lot of misinformation about flank steak and I hope to clear up some of this confusion for you.
Beef flank steak is a long and flat cut of meat from the abdominal muscles of the cow. It is significantly tougher than other cuts of meat as it comes from a strong well-exercised part of the cow. The direction of the grain of the meat and connective tissue is prominently visible, especially in the raw form.
Moist heat techniques, such as braising, will be successful in making the meat tender, but it can also be simply grilled to a rare/medium-rare/medium doneness and then sliced thinly across the grain, and still be very tender.
I have witnessed many chefs on TV state that one must marinate a flank steak before grilling for it to be tender. This is not true. Although marinating is fine to do with a flank steak, it is an optional step, not a requirement.
The acid in a marinade will break down the connective tissue over time, but I have barbequed so many flank steaks that have been “melt in your mouth” tender, with no marinating whatsoever. The secret is to make sure you don’t over-cook the steak and then slice it thinly in the opposite direction of how the grain of the meat is running (across the grain).
For optimal flavour, my preferred way of preparing flank steak is to first coat it with a spice rub, grill it to the desired doneness, let it rest for a few minutes, slice it very thinly across the grain, and then drizzle it with garlic butter.
When slicing it thinly, I also make sure I slice it on an angle, approximately 45 degrees. Flank steak is a very thin cut of meat and slicing it on a 45-degree angle will make more elongated slices and provide better plate coverage, or sandwich coverage.
Letting it rest after cooking will help the steak to retain more of its juices. All meat, from a small steak to large roasts or turkeys, should have a resting time for this reason. The bigger the size of the meat, the longer it should rest. I let a flank steak rest for at least five minutes.
I have also seen chefs on TV take a knife and “score” the flank steak before going into their marinade – in my opinion this is incorrect as well. Although at first it may seem to make sense to put cuts into the surface of the meat to aid in the penetration of the marinade into the inside of the steak, however this goes against one of the golden rules of grilling meats: Never pierce the meat.
The goal of cooking meat is to have the end result as a juicy flavourful product. If you pierce your meat (by jabbing a fork into it for flipping, or cutting into it), then valuable juices will be lost. Meat that has been scored prior to cooking will suffer the same damaging situation, and always use tongs to flip your steak, not a fork.
Many premade spice rubs for meat can be purchased, but I find it more satisfying to create different ones myself with ingredients I have on hand already.
If available in your area, try replacing the paprika (or at least a portion of it) with a sweet smoked paprika for more flavour.
Cajun Blackening Spice Rub
A perfect way to add tons of flavour. Store in an air-tight container for three to six months.
1-quarter cup paprika
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper, or more if you like it hotter
Mix all ingredients together.
Use it to liberally coat beef, pork, poultry, or fish before grilling or pan-frying.
Finish cooked product with a drizzle of garlic butter.
Makes just over 1/4 cup of spice
Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor. Visit him at chefdez.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4