If you’re trying to decide between flap steak vs flank steak for a meal, the truth is they’re mostly interchangeable. There are some key differences, but with the right preparation, one can easily be used as a substitute for the other. Whether because it’s cheaper, more available, or a simple matter of preference, almost anything you can do with a flap, you can do with a flank, and vice-versa.
The main differences between flap steak and flank steak are as follows:
- Flap steaks come from a bit further down the cow’s abdomen than flank steaks.
- Flap steak has more marbling than the leaner flank steak.
- Flap steak can be a little cheaper than flank steak.
We’ll get into all of this below!
Flap Steaks Come From Further Down The Abdomen Than Flank Steaks
The flap steak is a lesser known cut found in the bottom sirloin, which is a little further down the abdomen and a little higher up on the sides. The flap is often mistakenly sold as part of the skirt.
While these cuts are very close to one another, the difference here is blood flow and exercise. The flank muscles get a lot of use and a lot of blood. This lends them a beefier flavor compared to the flap steaks.
Flap Steaks Have More Marbling Than Flank Steaks
If you’ve spent much time grilling, we don’t need to tell you that the flank can be a pretty tough cut of meat if you overcook it. That’s why we’re always marinating it in lime and other acidic juices. With the right preparation, there’s a lot you can do with it, but take a fresh flank steak and throw it on the grill and it might end up a bit leathery.
The fattier marbling of the flap steak means that it’s a bit softer, a bit more buttery than the more beefy-tasting flank, but also more likely to char and flare up. An acidic marinade and a high flame are recommended as it can be a bit fibrous, and you don’t want to cook it past medium. An awesome cut if you like it rare, not so much if you like it well-done.
Flap Steaks Are Usually Cheaper Than Flank Steaks
A really cool thing about the flap steak is that you can use it in almost anything that calls for a flank steak, but because it’s a less known, less popular cut of meat, it’s usually cheaper. Grocery stores and butchers have to move their meat before it spoils, so if everyone and their grandma is buying flanks, but nobody’s buying flaps, flaps are going to sell for less than flanks.
On the other hand, because they’re less known, you might not be able to find them at just any butcher or supermarket. You could buy the skirt and cut the flap yourself, but skirts are among the most expensive cuts. So if you’re looking to save some money and try out flap steaks in place of flanks, pick up the phone and make a few calls before you go driving around, and ask if your local grocers and butchers carry flap steak.
Interesting Facts On Flanks And Flaps
There’s always more to learn, so here’s some cool details we couldn’t fit into the sections above:
- Just as peanuts aren’t actually nuts, flanks and flaps aren’t technically steaks, which are defined as a high-quality cut coming from the animal’s hindquarters. But once the lingo catches on, there’s not much you can do about it, so “flank steak” it is.
- Flank steaks don’t actually come from the flanks. The flanks would be closer to the ribs and hips. Flank steak comes from the belly.
- In Colombia, the flank is known as sobrebarriga which translates to “over the belly.”
- Despite the cut’s relative obscurity throughout most of the US, in New England the flap is known as the sirloin tip and has long been a favorite of the bar & grill scene.
- Flaps are often mistaken for hanger steaks, and vice-versa. But the hanger steak actually comes from the other side of the flank, “hanging” from the diaphragm. The hanger’s a nice cut of meat, but you want to make sure you know what you’re getting.
The Bottom Line
Both the Flap and the Flank are fine steaks and are pretty much interchangeable. Flap has more marbling and is more tender than the flank while the flank has a “beefier” flavor profile.
What is critical for both cuts is that they be sliced against the grain for maximum tenderness.