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The Best Substitute For Flank Steak: Meat-Based And Plant-Based

Recently, I discovered flank steak, and I’m surprised that it tastes as good as other prime cuts. This beef cut tastes excellent on the grill and adds more flavor to fajitas and stir-fries. However, it’s rarely available in grocery stores, so I’m on a mission to look for a good substitute for flank steak.

A few beef cuts can replace flank steak in recipes. Such meat cuts include skirts, top rounds, and hanger steaks. If you want a richer flavor, try flap, tri-tip, flat-iron, and top sirloin steaks. Use chicken breast, tofu, portobello mushrooms, cauliflower, and vegan steaks for non-beef alternatives.

Before we learn each flank steak substitute, let’s understand the flank steak below.

What Is A Flank Steak?

What Is A Flank Steak

Flank steak is a flavorful piece of beef cut from the cow’s abdominal muscles. Because the cow works this part constantly, the texture tends to be tough. The meat can be tenderized when marinated before cooking and cooked rare to medium-rare.

This type of cut has visible grains. The size is around 12 inches long and one inch thick. It’s thin and flat, so it quickly cooks over high heat.  

There’s no need to trim this meat because it’s pretty lean. Besides cooking on a grill, you can cook this steak for stir-fries and fajitas. When cooked, it asserts a strong beef flavor with extra flavors from the marinades.

What can I substitute for flank steak? Here are the following alternatives that you can try at home.

Substitutes For Flank Steak With The Best Flavor And Texture

Flank steak has a strong beefy flavor without almost no fat. It’s very lean, so it’s a little tough but can be tender when prepared properly. If flank steak isn’t available, here are the substitutes that can replicate its flavor and texture.

1. Skirt Steak

Skirt Steak

Not far away from the source of flank steak, you can find the skirt steak which is cut from the cow’s diaphragm muscle. Both of these beef cuts are long and lean, so I use them interchangeably in many dishes and no one notices any difference.

I was taken aback when my butcher asked me to choose between the inside or outside skirt. To be honest, there’s not much difference except for the thickness. The inside skirt tends to be thinner than its outside counterpart. 

I prefer the outside skirt because it retains its shape better after cooking. For that perfect medium-rare doneness, cook each side for 2-4 minutes.

Skirt steak has a tougher texture than flank steak, but it offers a more intense flavor. To make it tender, I like to cook this steak rare or medium rare. I also like to use it as a substitute for flank steak in stir fry and fajitas because it tastes even better seared. 

Cut against the grain to break down the hard muscle fibers and tenderize the meat.

2. Top Round Steak

Top Round Steak

When I’m on a budget, I prefer to use the top round steak over the flank steak. This affordable beef cut is taken from the cow’s leg back round section. It has a lighter flavor than flank steak, but it has the same bold and meaty characteristics.

Just like flank steak, the top round cut is also lean. This means low calories and fat, perfect for a healthy diet. This type of cut can be a good source of protein without worries about cholesterol.

I like to use this cut when roasting because the meat gets juicy, thanks to the little marbling present. Marinating or cooking the meat in a sauce for a long period also guarantees excellent results. To enjoy a tender steak, grill this meat for 5 minutes each side with a cover.

Look for top-round steak with a bright red color to ensure the best flavor.

3. Hanger Steak

Hanger Steak

Sometimes, I like a little tenderness on my beef, so I opt for hanger steak instead of flank. Hanger steak is taken just in the lower belly of the cow, which is a less worked-up muscle. It’s more tender than flank because it has more marbling and fat.

The flavor of hanger steak is robust and meaty, almost the same as flank steak. I like to grill this cut because it tastes richer and cooks pretty fast in high heat. I also love to ground them and make them into wonderful burger patties. 

You should never cook hanger steak overdone or undercooked. The meat can be tough when overdone and can be a little slimy when undercooked, so cook about 2-3 minutes each side. Aim for medium-rare with an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

No need for marinades because hanger steak is good as it is. Simply, season with salt and pepper. After firing up the grill, cook each side for two minutes.

4. Flap Steak

Flap Steak

Another affordable alternative to flank steak is flap steak. This type of cut is sourced further down the abdomen of the cow. If you can’t find this in any store, you can buy the skirt and slice the flap out.

Flap steak has more marbling than flank, making it juicier and more tender. Because of its rich flavor, I also like to use this cut as a pork belly substitute. The best part is that I can eat it without the guilt of extra fat.

While flank steaks come to the market at around 2 lbs, flap steaks are available in larger sizes of about 3-4 lbs. It’s a long cut but I recommend cooking it in one piece for easy flipping. When used for stir-fries and stews, cut against the grain.

This steak comes out the best when cooked in rare or medium, so around 2-3 minutes on each side. You don’t want to overdo it because the meat can be a little fibrous. Since this cut is thin, it can cook for about two minutes or so on each side. 

5. Tri-Tip Steak

Tri-Tip Steak

Using tri-tip steak as a substitute for flank steak brings more complex flavors. It has the same bold beef flavor as flank but with a hint of sweetness and iron-like savory notes. The flavor is more buttery because it has a more generous marbling composition.

This type of beef cut is sourced from the triangular-shaped part of the loin butt. The texture is firm yet succulent because of its dense marbling. Before trimming, this cut comes large at around 5 lbs on the market.

You can cut this meat into smaller pieces, but I prefer it whole. Trim the meat from excess fat and any silvery membrane because this is tough and chewy. Cook rare to medium-rare to achieve the best flavor and texture.

To cook, season the meat with salt and pepper then sear for 3-5 minutes for each side. Roast the meat in the oven for 10-15 minutes per pound. So, if you have 5 lbs of tri-tip, roast for 50-75 minutes.

It’s done when the internal temperature rises to 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. Top Sirloin Steak

Top Sirloin Steak

Only a few steaks can cook quickly on a hot grill, and the top sirloin steak is one of them. This type of cut is sourced from the upper bit of the cow’s short loin. Just like flank steak, top sirloin is lean with an intense beefy flavor.

Top sirloin steak is a lot more tender than flank steak. All the bones and harder muscles are removed to provide a juicier steak. I like to substitute sirloin in any recipe or barbecue recipes that call for flank steak.

The best way to cook top sirloin is to grill it on high heat. The high flames will give that good sear on the surface. For a one-inch thick sirloin, cook it for around 8-10 minutes. 

When buying a good quality sirloin, look at the color. It should be pinkish and red. Avoid those that have already turned brown because it means that the meat is no longer fresh.

7. Flat-Iron Steak

Flat-Iron Steak

No one is as versatile as the flat-iron steak. This cut works great in fajitas, stir-fries, and grilling. If available, choose a 1-lb flat-iron steak because it grills faster.

This type of cut is sourced from the cow’s shoulder area. It yields a richer flavor, thanks to its generous marbling. The texture is also more tender because of the higher fat content.

To get the best results, cook the flat-iron steak medium-rare. Every side needs 4-7 minutes to cook evenly. The internal temperature should be around 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

This steak tastes even better when paired with a salad. I mix grilled corn and zucchini with some lemon to brighten the flavor. Roasted Brussel sprouts also work great as a side dish for steaks.

Substitutes For Flank Steak: Best Substitute Non-Beef Based

If you steer away from beef entirely, here are the best substitutes for flank steak that you can use.

1. Chicken Breast

Chicken Breast

If you’re on a low-calorie diet, chicken breast might be a good substitute for flank steak. Flank steak contains 192 calories while chicken breast only has 114 calories per 100 grams of meat. Chicken also has a lower fat content, making it an excellent alternative if you’re trying to lose extra pounds.

Chicken breast tastes way milder than flank steak. It’s similar to mild sourdough bread but moister. When cooked properly, chicken becomes tender.

The best way to improve the flavor of chicken breast is to marinate it before cooking. You can use species, herbs, and sauces. Marinate the chicken for at least two hours before cooking.

Chicken breast is versatile, so you can substitute it in fajitas and stir-fries. Season the chicken, then sear and add the vegetables. You don’t want to overcook the chicken because it will get stringy and dry.

To cook on a grill, you might need to flatten the chicken breast with a mallet before marinating. Slice in half like a butterfly so it cooks evenly. Once you’re ready to cook, heat the grill or pan and cook each side for ten minutes.

2. Tofu

Tofu

Tofu is always a popular vegan alternative to meat. It’s a good source of calcium and protein due to its high soybean content. I thought that tofu is soft and bland, but I found out that there’s extra-firm tofu available in the market today.

Extra-firm tofu contains less water than firm tofu, making it easy to stir-fry and pan-fry. When you freeze this tofu, the texture can be as firm as flank steak. The taste can easily be improved with a simple rub of seasonings and spices before cooking.

To replace flank steak in recipes, press the tofu to remove the excess liquid. You want the tofu to be super dry to become crispier. Wrap every block in thick paper towels, then pat dry and press down to squeeze out excess liquid.

If you find the pressing process a hassle, look for super firm tofu. The texture is so dense that it can easily replace flank steak in recipes without the need for pressing. To prepare for cooking, gently pat dry.

It usually takes 3-5 minutes to cook tofu in the pan.

3. Portobello Mushrooms

Portobello Mushrooms

Recently, I’m loving the versatility of portobello mushrooms because they’re delicious yet contain a few calories. While flank steak is a good source of vitamin B12 and zinc, portobello mushrooms contain selenium to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses.

Portobello mushrooms can pass as a flank steak substitute because they have the same meaty texture. The flavor can be more savory, but it’s surprisingly satisfying. It adds a rich flavor to vegetarian stir-fries and fajitas.

Since these mushrooms contain lower protein than flank steak, make sure that you up the protein sources of your meal. For example, you can add half a cup of dried beans to fajitas and stir-fries.

These mushrooms also cook well on the grill or skillet as a steak. Simply marinate a few whole portobello mushrooms with spices and seasonings. Heat the grill or pan and sear for 4-5 minutes on each side.

The best part about these mushrooms is that they soak up the sauce and marinade of the dish, providing a more delicious meal. They’re also affordable and readily available anywhere. Cut them into pieces or use them as a whole, the choice is yours.

4. Cauliflower

Cauliflower

Sometimes, I like to switch it up. When I’m tired of portobello mushrooms, I turn to cauliflower for a flank steak substitute. Cauliflower is a favorite for many vegetarians because it’s rich in nutrients.

Flank steak has more protein than cauliflower, but is higher in fat and calories. Unlike flanks, cauliflower has fiber and carbohydrates, making it more filling. This cruciferous vegetable also has higher vitamin C and vitamin K.

Before, I’m hesitant to use cauliflower because it looks bland. To my surprise, it can taste like flank steak when seasoned and cooked right. The flavor has earthy notes with a hint of sweetness and nuttiness, bringing a more exciting flavor to the dish.

Cauliflower has a meaty texture, making it a good substitute for flanks in fajitas, stir-fries, and steak. I like to grill this vegetable because it becomes tender in the middle yet crispy outside. It only takes 4-5 minutes to grill this vegetable into a wonderful steak.

One of the challenges of preparing cauliflower is that it easily falls apart. The best way to prevent that is to slice it in half first, then cut each of them into thick slices vertically. Pull each floret apart if you want to add it to fajitas and stir-fries.

5. Vegan Steaks

Vegan Steaks

Plant-based foods are growing popular, so you can find many vegan steaks on the market today. 

My favorite is Juicy Marbles which offers a vegan filet mignon. The texture is firm, like flank steak, but juicy and tender. There’s abundant marbling from different soy protein layers. 

The center remains tender, similar to a wonderfully medium-rare flank steak. Unlike the real flanks, this plant-based steak develops a crust with a hint of sweetness. It normally takes 10-11 minutes to cook, flipping occasionally.

To prepare the Juicy Marbles, here are the steps:

  • Sprinkle the vegan steak with salt and leave it for 30-60 minutes to marinate. 
  • Heat the pan with oil and put the steaks
  • Cook the steak for eight minutes until royal brown.

Fortunately, these vegan steaks are versatile. You can cut it up into chunks and make fajitas.

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The Best Dishes For Flank Steak

Flank steak cooks well over high heat because it’s thin enough to develop that wonderful crust on the outside. Here are the best recipes you can do with flank steak.

1. Grilled Flank Steak

The best way to enjoy the flavor of the beef is to grill it. This recipe is flavorful and easy, making it my favorite dish in the summer.

First, make the marinade. Blitz olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and seasonings in a blender to make the marinade.

On a plate, poke each side of the flank with a fork. Apply the marinade, cover it, and let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour.

Oil your grill or skillet and heat on high. After the grill is hot, put the marinated steak and cook for around five minutes. Turn the meat over to the other side and cook for another 3-4 minutes. 

Let the steak rest for about 15 minutes, then slice against the grain. Serve with grilled baby tomatoes or grilled asparagus.

2. Flank Steak Fajitas

Make your family dinner more lively with a serving of flank steak fajitas. To save time, you can use a fajita seasoning to get the authentic taste. Combine the seasoning with lime juice and a bot of oil to marinate the flank steak strips. 

Cook the marinated strips on high heat for 2-3 minutes or until brown. Add the chopped red onion and green red bell pepper, then cook for another 5-7 minutes. Serve the mixture in flour tortillas with guacamole or sour cream.

FAQs

1. Why Use A Substitute For Flank Steak?

Flank steak is a less common cut, so it’s not always available in stores. You have to look for some good flank steak substitutes to prevent interrupting your meal plans. The good news is that many beef cuts can take the place of flank steaks.

Other people, especially vegans, steer away from meat. They use meat-free substitutes like tofu and portobello mushrooms to still enjoy a delectable steak without the guilt.

2. What are the differences between skirt steak and flap steak?

Flap steaks have a more intense flavor than skirts. They’re also more tender. In terms of versatility, the skirt steaks still win because they can be roasted and broiled besides being grilled. 

3.What cut of meat can I substitute for flank steak?

You can substitute many types of meat cuts for flank steak. You can use skirts, top round, flap, hanger, tri-tip, top sirloin, and flat-iron steaks. All of these cuts have the same beefy flavor, though the intensity varies. 

If you don’t like beef, you can try chicken breast.

4. What is flank steak called in the grocery store?

Flank steak is commonly known as “London Broil” in the grocery store. In ethnic supermarkets, this type of cut is also referred to as “Bavette Steak”. Other alternative names for flank steak include “Jiffy Steak” or “Flank Steak Filet”.

5. Is flank steak a cheap cut?

Flank steak belongs among the least expensive cuts. Many people overlook this type of cut because it’s relatively thin. When the demand is low, prices tend to go down.

But compared to skirt steaks, flanks are more expensive because they’re a popular ingredient for fajitas in restaurants. Generally, the price is  $11 or less per pound.

Conclusion

Flank steak is a versatile beef cut that can be broiled, roasted, grilled, or sauteed. Since this cut is less common, it can be hard to find in supermarkets and butcher shops. If this cut is unavailable, the best substitute for flank steak is skirt steak because it has the same visible grain but with a more intense flavor.

You can always choose plant-based substitutes if you’re a vegetarian or vegan. Just don’t forget to season it right. If you’re in a pinch, go for vegan steaks sold in stores today.

 

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Anya Kaats

Hi! I’m Anya, a San Diego-based Holistic Health Coach and Marketing Consultant on a mission to share good food, health & happiness with as many people as possible. I am a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and have worked in the natural & organic products industry for my entire professional career with companies such as Suja Juice, Brad’s Raw Foods, and Mamma Chia. While my life may be totally consumed with healthy food now, nutrition wasn’t always a passion of mine.