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Skirt Steak--What Went Wrong--Marinade Problem?

It looked beautiful, but was as tough as nails. I trimmed it well, marinated it for 7 hours (see below), then grilled it on high heat for about 8 minutes total (med rare-med).

Was my marinade the problem?

There's a restaurant that serves a killer grilled skirt steak salad. The waiter gave me the *ingredient list*, but no proportions. Below is the marinade I devised. Do you think it needs more acidity to tenderize the meat? I will add a bit more maple syrup (or molasses?) next time, as it was not as sweet as the restaurant's version.

Funwithfood's Attempt at the...
"Best" Skirt Steak Marinade:

1/4 cup soy sauce (only had TJs low-sodium on hand)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 Tbsp. molasses
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 garlic clove, minced (not in ingr list, I added)
3/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper (" ")

Marinade for 2 pounds of skirt steak.

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    1. re: dano

      Across the grain, like my flank steak.

    2. 8 minutes is insanely long for cooking skirt steak, especially over high heat!

      I'd start testing for doneness after 2 minutes. Press the meat with your finger - medium rare should offer as much resistance as the center of your palm.

      1 Reply
      1. We have ours rare and only marinade in olive oil, S&P, cumin, crushed garlic, chili pep and some brown sugar for about an hour and a half and ours are always super soft. Where did you buy the cut?

        1. I don't think the problem was with your marinade. Having said that, I would have used equal portions salty (soy sauce), sweet (molasses+syrup), and acid (vinegar). But if you liked the taste of the marinade above, no reason to alter it. Adding more acid would have altered the taste (and acid will stimulate your salivary glands) but it will not appreciably tenderize the meat on its own.

          I would suggest two things regarding the meat being tough:
          1. You have to slice relatively thinly and against the grain. Skirt steak is not very forgiving in this regard. Against the grain is very, very important.

          2. Are you sure it was medium/medium-rare? Overcooking could make it on the tough side.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Darren72

            It really was cooked just right. This skirt steak was VERY thin. It seemed thinner than the one served at the restaurant. (I purchased mine from a restaurant supply place.)

            My gut feeling was that it was either the super thin-ness (1/2"-3/4"), or the marinade did not work to soften the meat properly. (I was hesitant to use too much acidity in the marinade *because* of it's thin-ness.)

            1. re: Funwithfood

              It is a common misconception that acid (like lime juice or vinegar) will tenderize meat. The truth is that the enzymes in these acidic ingredients simply aren't strong enough to tenderize meat. Instead, foods marinated in acid will stimulate your salivary glands when you eat them, which does help break down meat. So, upping the acid in the marinade will not literally break down the meat fibers.

              In these situations, all you really can do is experiement. Next time try cutting the steak into thirds and vary the cooking time, or marinade time.

              Also, after you cook it, let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

          2. Try just searing it on high heat on both sides, and then reduce the heat to cook it through to the degree you like.

            1. I agree with some of the other replies, you overcooked it. We grill a couple of minutes a side. It ends up rare in the center with medium-rare ends and always tender and juicy as a steak could be. Remember that it continues to cook after you take it off the grill.

              3 Replies
              1. re: cheryl_h

                I can't imagine cooking a skirt steak 8 minutes and it being medium rare. I've made tons of them and have never cooked it more than 4-5 minutes, tops, which yields meat which is just past rare. Since its so thin, another minute would be past medium rare. Skirt steak is best eaten on the rarer side, so since you said it was med. rare to medium, overcooking is the problem. Since its a fattier cut, I've never had a problem with toughness. just a nice, succulent, beefy steak.

                1. re: ESNY

                  Exactly...it was overcooked.

                  1. re: Aaron

                    It was still red in the middle on the thicker parts--spousal unit claimed it "undercooked".

              2. Merle Ellis' "The Great American Meat Book" states on page 52 for fajitas (I know you did not do fajitas) the following preparation which I synopsized using skirt steak.

                For 1 to 1.5 pounds of skirt steak, make marinade of
                1/2 cup lime juice
                1/4 cup tequila (optional)
                3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
                1 tsp. salt
                1/2 tsp. black pepper (ground I assume)

                Marinate for 2 to 3 hours in fridge, drain and discard marinade.

                Grill for only 2 or 3 minutes per side. Carve into thin slices across the grain.

                My marinade would be equal parts of soy sauce and dry vermouth with slices of garlic and fresh ginger root, and brown sugar. Sounds like teriyaki sauce? Yep!

                Grill for time stated above...

                1. Seven hours' marinating time sounds way long, especially for a thin cut of meat and when the marinade has ginger in it. Personally, I give skirt steak about 2 minutes a side on a hot grill.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: carswell

                    I agree, I think you marinated it too long. I usually don't marinate beef with salt (or soy sauce or other salty item) for that length of time, because my own feeling is that it makes the meat tough. (Marinating with salt or soy sauce is akin to brining, but I think only pork and poultry, and occasionally shrimp, are candidates for brining.)

                    I usually marinate skirt steak with a rub of minced garlic, cuming or chili powder, and cilantro, with some olive oil, which I put on the meat in the morning of the day it's to be cooked. I do add salt, but I rub it in about a half hour before I grill the meat.

                    1. re: carswell

                      I'm also with carswell on this. Too long a marinade, and it SOUNDS as though you cooked it for too long. If your S/o though it was undercooked, then you might not have great results for skirt steak. If someone thinks red is undercooked, then the pieces of meat that should never be cooked past med rare might not be the best cuts for you.

                    2. What grade of meat was your skirt steaks -- USDA Select. USDA Choice or USDA Prime?

                      I've found that USDA Select Skirt Steaks can be pretty tough -- not enough marbling.

                      id you trim off the thin membrane covering the skirt steak?

                      Funwithfood, you live in Los Angeles, right? If you do, you can purchase USDA Prime Skirt Steak from Hows Markets at a very reasonable price (as little as $4.99/lb). Hows Markets' Prime Skirt Steaks are tender as butter!!!

                      Are you sure you purchased skirt steaks? Flap meat and carne ranchera are NOT skirt steaks (as I learned from a previous post on Chowhound).

                      Eight minutes of cooking time seems too for skirt steak. Skirt steaks are pretty thin. You may have purchased another kind of steak that is thicker than a skirt steak. I grill skirt steaks 2 minutes a side (4 minutes total cooking time) for medium rare.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Norm Man

                        I really like How's. This was from a restaurant supplier ($2.69/lb). There was a lot of membrane, which was a pain to remove from 4 lbs of meat!. It was very, very thin (scant 1/2" in parts).

                        The grilled skirt steak served at my fav. rest. is more than 2x as thick as the one I purchased, and served as a steak (not cut), medium (no red), but is tender.

                        The ones I purchased (vacuumed sealed) were called "Skirt Plates". You may be right about the grade--I'd love to try the prime.

                        (I've grilled a lot--it was done to the right temp--not sure the exact minutes. I let it rest for 10 mins.)

                        1. re: Funwithfood

                          first off, when purchasing prime steak/meat, i would definitely buy "fresh", not "vac sealed" meat. no telling what you will get. i am cooking fresh skirt steak tonite and it will be fabulous, as always. even tho i use a cast iron skillet on the stove, all my steak dishes are wonderful. when my patio area is completed, my dishes will be even more delicious. enjoy...

                      2. For rare, my husband does 3 mins per side on a grill pan on high heat and then in foil in the warm oven for a tiny bit...sliced on the grain. Keep in mind, this is for RARE (the way we likes). The marinade I mentioned above was correct except I forgot I also added one lime's worth of juice. The marinade was just over an hour, no more. We bought Painted Hills corn-fed from New Seasons in Portland...I am not sure of what the equivalent is where you are.

                        1. I really like the skirt steak from Costco -- it's very tender when sliced thin across the grain. I usually add more vinegar or lime juice (if doing fajita style) to my flank steak and skirt steak marinades too. I marinate them for an hour or two, then grill about 3-4 minutes on each side over high heat for medium.

                          1. Actually there are two types of skirt steak. Inside and Outside. From the same area of the beef steer but the inside is a bit less tender that the outside and generally meat counters don't tell you what they are selling. You'll have to ask. Hopefully they'll know and tell you. The outside is the one to try. But like all those postings above you have to cook it quickly, medium rare side of rare and then slice it thin like flank.

                            1. I've recently discovered the joys of freezing meat first and then defrosting before marinading and cooking: the water molecules expand when frozen and help to break down the toughness of the meat.

                              1. My DW likes meat med to med-well (I'm working on it) and we have skirts almost every Sunday night. I also cook 5-6 minutes per side (crying at the same time) and they are still tasty and still somewhat tender.

                                I have marinaded two skirts simultaneously and cooked them side by side on the grill and could taste the difference in each. One was tasty and tender, the other a bit tangy and stringy. I also do not slice at all but serve as a piece about 3-4 inches long.

                                I think the combo of the thinness of the steak, the length of the marinading and maybe the quality of the steak itself had a lot to do with it with the quality probably the chief culprit.

                                I'd give the marinade another chance with a thicker cut to rule out the meat versus the method.

                                1. I cook skirt steak all the time - with just salt and pepper before broiling and it is always tender. I think you got a lousy piece of meat.

                                  1. So sorry to hear that your steak went wrong! I hate to tell you this, but I used your recipe w/ a few variations, ie, no molasses, used honey and brown sugar and no red wine vinegar. Then marinated for about two and a half hours and took out just before I was ready to cook. Then I put a little butter ( what the big steak houses use) in a nonstick fry pan (heat very high) then threw on three pieces of steak for a total of aprox. 5-6 minutes on but in this fashion, 2-3 minutes on either side then took off to let the marinate & butter carmalize, (which I slide to the side of the pan while cooking the meat) let the meat rest then cut it ( against the grain)to see if it was ready was too red for me so I threw on again (on high though.)

                                    I gotta tell ya, there is a famous steak house where I live, don't want to say which one but, this recipe that I came up w/ using your original recipe, is almost identical to this places. If I put it to the test I bet you one no could tell the difference. WOW! Darn good recipe though!!! Thanks for the idea!

                                    Tip- "They say" you should take whatever meat you are cooking out before you are ready to cook to get close to room temp. That's fine for roasts but, I found that taking the skirt steak out last minute help to keep it from over cooking. I pulled the steak out right before I was ready to use and it came out perffffffffffect. The inside red the outside nice and cooked w/ the marinate carmalized and a hint of crunch from the carmalization. Very sweet as well!! Could have been the temp of your steak before you cooked it!! - If this helps!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: skirtsteakmama

                                      It is a great marinade (and ALMOST) like the one I was trying to replicate.

                                      I've concluded it was not my technique (I'm pretty thorough here), but in fact a bad piece of meat. I will attempt it again though...thanks for the reminder :)

                                    2. I just started using this steak. My brother-in-law gets superb results just using a little sea salt and an inexpensive charcoal grill. He cuts the meat into CHUNKS (I guess he doesn't know about cutting across the grain) and serves it. Always tastes exquisite. The only time he had a tough result he was drinking and forgot--overcooked them a bit. It may be the store where he buys it--a spanish food market. I got my steaks from a grocery chain and had tough results both times. I have read all the responses but don't see that anyone has used meat tenderizer? Might this work?

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. Would slicing against the grain AND at an almost paralell angle to the cutting brd make a difference? My skirt was also tough but rare but I did cut it ONLY against grain - just straight up and down (perpendicular to the cutting brd) and thin. I'm thinking that the angle cut could make a difference but the second time I used Flank and not skirt.

                                        1. Some skirt steaks are commercially tenderized and some are not. Possibly yours was one of the non tenderized and/or the inner cut.

                                          Some info:

                                          1. Funwithfood, I am sorry it did not turn out well! You said that it was thinner than the grilled skirt steak you had in the restaurant.

                                            One possibility: that thinness, combined with the 8 minute cooking time, was the culprit. Another possibility: you said that your husband actually thought it was too rare. Did you take it directly out of the refrigerator and then grill it on high heat? If so, under those circumstances, you could have had an (over)cooked outside and a near raw inside.

                                            Third possibility: you just got a tough steak. Have you used your source before? If have found that meat sellers are generally pretty consistent--both good and bad. Here in Florida, Publix sells consistently good, tender meat, while Albertson's generally sells tougher meat. (Of course, the supposedly same cuts sell for about 40% less at Albertson's. So you "pays your money and you takes your choice" ! I hope that some of this guessing on my part helped.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: gfr1111

                                              I live outside New Orleans and can not find any typical super market that carries any cut of skirt steak? Can any one point me in the right direction? I can't wait to try the marinade suggestions!

                                            2. I found this thread yesterday before making skirt steak for the first time and found it interesting, and I just wanted to throw in my experience. I hit it with a meat tenderizer, then marinated it in olive oil, lime juice, garlic, onion, a little cumin, salt and pepper, for about a half hour. Then I threw it on the grill for 90 seconds on each side (it was rather thin, and I have had some traumatic experience with overcooking steak), took it off, and let it rest for about 5 minutes. It was perfectly medium rare, tender, and delicious. I served it on tortillas with grilled onion, avocado, and a spicy yogurt dip. I'm sure any more than that 3 minutes total on the grill would have ruined it. I can't imagine leaving it on for 8 minutes.

                                              1. If you cooked it for 8 minutes and it was medium rare your grill was not hot enough, despite your comment that you cooked it on high. I think the other mistake you may have made was putting iron the grill "wet". The steak should have been patted dry before grilling. That may explain why it was med rare despite the grilling time. I just cooked two pounds tonight on a gas grill and total cooking time was five minutes. Marinated at room temp for an hour in lime juice, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, and soya sauce. Salted before throwing on the grill. Delicious.

                                                1. I don't think it was the marinade at all. I have been experimenting with skirt steak only to get tough meat. It is always rare too. So this time around I decided to tenderize it with my mallet (you can always use a fork too but the mallet is much easier OR you can have your meat guy at the market run it through the tenderizer. After cooking it the same way as always, it melted in my mouth. I am one happy camper now. PS: I marinaded over night (had nothing to do with the length of time so I'm not buying into that) Good luck!!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: sarasotacook

                                                    I've never made this before and I noticed everyone is using lime Juice - I have a ton of lemons on my tree, would lemon juice do the same job?

                                                    Also, my mallet has a rough side and a flat side - use the rough side?

                                                  2. I happen to know if you get some papaya juice & use about a couple tablespoons, it is a natural tenderizer. It's also great for your skin as well but uf you;re looking for tender meat, try this method. I use it all the time & it works great