Grilling skirt steak is the easiest, fastest way to get steak into multiple people at the same time. This makes it well suited to Labor Day's two traditions: the notion of a holiday from work, and the often contradictory practice of throwing a big exciting cookout on this day when you're supposed to be taking a break from doing work-like things. That the skirt steak also happens to be an uncommonly delicious and somewhat under-appreciated cut of beef seems almost beside the point, which is that, if you proceed purposefully through its preparation, you can usher the thing from your countertop to the inside of your ungrateful guests' torsos without putting in more than 11 minutes of cooking-related activity.
No, really! Eleven minutes! I timed it. With a stopwatch and everything.
The skirt steak comes from a part of a cow called the "plate"; this is an area on the underside of the cow, up toward the front, kinda behind the forelegs, and oh my God you soooooo don't want to know about this and it is kind of bumming you out, I am sorry, never mind.
The skirt steak is not as tender as a filet, but thankfully nowhere near as tough as the flank. Like the flank, it's a communal steak, but smaller: a typical skirt steak won't satisfy more than two adults, unless they are two adult housecats. The important things to know are that the skirt steak is pretty long (usually around a foot; sometimes longer), thin (virtually always less than an inch thick), narrow (usually not wider than a deck of playing cards), and flavorful (almost always tastier than hell, often to the max).
With that in mind, let's make some skirt steak. Eleven minutes of actual cooking activity. I promise. Ready?
First you will need to acquire skirt steak. This will not count toward the tally of time consumption, mostly because the tally of time consumption is being computed by an internet food person and not, say, Google Maps, which is to say that I have no idea how far you live from your nearest purveyor of edible meatstuffs. Plan on each pound of uncooked skirt steak feeding two adults; planning on a half-pound of red meat per adult may seem excessive at first, but a) the skirt steak will lose some mass as it cooks, and b) man, people are really going to like this food. The typical skirt steak you find in the typical grocer or butcher shop or supermarket will fall somewhere between two-thirds of a pound and a pound; if you're serving, say, four adults, you'll need two pounds of skirt steak, so, like, probably three individual steaks.
Let the skirt steak come to room temperature on the countertop, inside its packaging so that it will be safe from bugs. Since simply allowing a thing to sit on a flat surface for a while hardly constitutes work, even when that thing is tasty-looking and you must exert psychological effort toward restraining yourself from eating it, this also will not count toward the tally of time consumption involved in preparing skirt steak.
After, oh, a while, when the skirt steak has come to room temperature and/or you have decided to put a stop to this nonsense, remove your skirt steak from its packaging, rinse it briefly under cold water, and pat it dry with a paper towel. This will require you to maneuver (some of) your sorry-ass limbs and extremities, so it counts as work; assuming that you are proceeding at a purposeful but calm pace, and that your roll of paper towels is in the same time zone as your kitchen sink, this will take you one minute and 9.77 seconds.
Set your unpacked and rinsed and patted skirt steak aside for a moment, and make a fire in your shitty charcoal kettle grill. Now, listen. Perhaps you have your preferred method of producing a fire in your grill. Perhaps you are the sort of person who scoffs at fire-creation methodologies more expedient than nurturing an ubame oak from its acorn stage through 25 years of carefully tended growth, chopping it down with a ceremonial hand-forged single-use artisanal hatchet after an emotional firelit farewell ceremony, sectioning the wood into brick-sized chunks, assembling the chunks into a conical heap around a freestanding brick chimney, covering the heap with soil and clay, lighting a low fire in the chimney, allowing pyrolysis to slowly transform the wood into hardwood lump charcoal over the course of five days, then harvesting the newly formed charcoal, piling it into a chimney starter, and igniting it with old-growth Scottish pine needles you ordered from a grilling hobbyist website for $10 a needle. Perhaps you will visit the comment section below to talk about this; perhaps you should go to hell instead. If you put a shitload of charcoal in your shitty charcoal kettle grill, hose it down with a shitload of lighter fluid, and light it with a shitload of, uh, fire, you will have your fire started in precisely one minute and 14.99 seconds.
Now. The fire is working its way into the charcoal in your shitty kettle grill. If—if!—( if) you (as in you and not I) want to marinate your skirt steak, this is the time to do so (yourself). Marinating your skirt steak isn't necessary at all—it's plenty flavorful on its own with just a seasoning of salt and black pepper—and so it won't count toward the clock, here, but maybe you (you alone, acting independently of my advice and the strictures of my you-can-do-it-in-11-minutes gimmickry) are into that sort of thing. As with flank steak, soy sauce and honey and scallions and garlic and salt and a few splashes of white or rice wine vinegar will make a lovely marinade; so will freshly-squeezed lime juice, diced red onion, chopped cilantro, a few big glugs of canned pineapple juice (to tenderize the steak and balance the lime), powdered cumin, a sliced chili pepper of your choosing, a modest drizzle of honey, and a big pinch of salt. If you're marinating your skirt steak, seal it into a big heavy-duty one-gallon freezer bag with the marinade and leave it alone for however long the fire takes to get its shit together. On the other hand, if you're skipping the marinade, season your skirt steak with some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Press the salt and pepper gently with your fingertips to help it adhere. This will take 31 seconds. Any more than that, and you must bite one of your fingers off.
In any case, whether you're marinating your skirt steak or just seasoning it and moving on, at some point your grill fire will be ready for cooking things. Grill your skirt steak! Three minutes per side over a very hot fire will get it medium-rare in the interior with some nice char action on the outside. Including the time required to get the steak onto the grill, flip it after three minutes, and get it off the grill when it's done, this will take you exactly six minutes and 42.57 seconds, unless you're lousier than hell with a pair of tongs.
When it's had a good three minutes to cook per side, remove the skirt steak from the grill and let it sit under a tinfoil tent for, oh, maybe eight or 10 minutes. (Once again, allowing a thing to sit undisturbed is not work, so this doesn't count.) You've probably heard this already, but allowing the steak to rest after cooking is crucial to a good steak: It permits the steak to redistribute its juices and coast to perfect doneness on its own residual heat.
(If you'd like to use this time to, oh, prepare some typical fajita fixings to go with your steak, or toss some greens and other stuff for a terrific steak salad, or, hell, nuke a sad bag of frozen broccoli, go for it. This is not my formal advice! So I'm not on the hook for any work you do. Take it up with your own Puritanical notions of a "balanced meal," man.)
OK. You've given your steak some time to rest and do things with its juices or whatever; now, haul out your biggest, sharpest knife, and slice the skirt steak at a slight angle across its width, producing what will probably be vaguely finger-length slices of steak. (Don't worry if they wind up being a bit shorter than your fingers, as this just means that you probably suffer from gigantism, caused by a life-threatening tumor on your pituitary gland. On the other hand, if the slices of steak are longer than your fingers, ha ha you have gross little raccoon-hands, you creepy fuckin' weirdo.) If you have three skirt steaks to slice, this will take you exactly one minute and 12.21 seconds.
Hey, know what? You just cooked some delicious skirt steak via 10 minutes and 50.54 seconds of actual work, spread out over maybe an hour of mostly standing around with your finger in your nose. Now let's stop doing math and eat some fuggin' steak. You "earned" it!
Whether you are serving your skirt steak as fajitas or in a salad or just on a goddamn plate for people to snatch up with their fingers, whether you marinated it or just seasoned it or completely forgot to cook it and are trying to push it on your wary guests as "uh, like, really bovine tuna sashimi," you'll notice right away the intense iron beefiness of it, the deep savory richness and slight red tang, the way it—
Oh. Finished already? Jesus. 9.01 seconds. I hope you remembered to chew.
Happy Labor Day.
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Image by Sam Woolley