What’s the difference between skirt steak and flank steak – and what about the hanger steak, bavette and onglet?
Cheaper cuts of beef have been popular for many years. The so-called ‘butcher’s cuts’ are now sold on display rather than kept back as a perk of the trade. All the cuts mentioned above come from the underside of the animal around the abdomen (flank) and the diaphragm (plate or skirt). They work hard so they are tough and were traditionally used for mince. I imagine the strips of muscle needed to hold in the gut of a huge animal to be rather like rope – so I associate the stringy textured cuts come from nearer the heavier front of the animal. They form part of the diaphragm muscle so are nearly offal. Indeed some are still classed as offal. For this reason many say the skirt, bavette, and onglet taste gamey or of offal. Many of these cuts are known by different names depending on the butcher and regional variations. Further, the distinctions between outer and inner muscles adds to the confusion of these cuts and they are often not shown on meat charts.
Hanger steak and onglet
The hanger steak hangs inside the animal holding up the diaphragm. It’s known as the ongley in France and often used for steak frites. Antony Bourdain swears by the cuts and they feature in his Les Halles cookbook. It’s a rough old cut and looks rather like very thick and unraveled rope. It has a distinctive ‘V’ shape pattern to the meat and a tough sinew running down its length.
Skirt – bavette
The skirt is taken from the outer part of the front flank or skirt/plate area of the animal. It’s characterised by pronounced muscle striations and plenty of marbled fat. It’s famously used for fajitas in America and Cornish pasties in the UK. I’m going to stick my neck out here and declare that a skirt steak and bavette are more or less the same cut of meat.The skirt and the bavette both have a deep beefy flavour.
The flank is taken from the abdomen (in the flank). It comes as a flat rectangular thick steak. The muscle strands are strongly pronounced, but more even and dense than the skirt, it is also quite lean. The flank is tenderer than the skirt.
All these cuts take marinade very well. They should all be grilled very quickly on high heat and served rare to medium. Most are best when cut thinly on a diagonal against the grain.