What is hanger steak?
Hanger steak is an inexpensive cut of beef that that packs a big, beefy punch — and, if you cook and cut it right, it’s amazingly tender.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of it. I only know about it because I love to cook and did a deep-dive researching cuts of beef; I had never actually seen it in a store. But my local Fresh Market just started carrying it. Sometimes theirs is vacuum-packed, and sometimes it’s sold by the piece, but it’s always good. And I’m pretty sure I’ll fall into a week-long crying jag if they stop carrying it. Because this lowly (but delicious!) cut is also called “the butchers’ cut” for a reason: This is the one they save it for themselves.
How to cook hanger steak
I’m going to give you some tips for turning out a meal that you’d usually only get with a much more expensive cut of beef. If your family loves steak as much as I do, this will soon become your favorite meal!
Step 1: Trimming the steak
While this is a lean cut of beef, it usually needs some trimming. Marbling is good, but I always trim away any big hunks of fat. (I use the trimmings for fish bait, but that’s a story for another day!)
You’ll also want to trim away the silverskin: the thin, translucent stuff that covers the meat like plastic wrap. It’s not the end of the world if you leave some, but trimming it away makes the steak more tender.
Step 2: Seasoning the steak
As far as flavoring, the only thing this cut really needs is salt — all meat needs salt, and not just for taste. Salt is critical to the Maillard reaction — a complex chemical reaction that delivers the dark, aromatic crust that makes everything from pork roast to hamburgers delicious.
And, of course, the Maillard reaction temperature plays a big role in cooking hanger steak. The Maillard reaction temperature starts when the surface of the meat is around 300°. That’s why it’s important to cook hanger steak hot and fast. If the heat is too low, your steak will be well done by the time the outside is hot enough to start the Maillard reaction. And a well done hanger steak is a tragedy.
But we like things spicy, so I’m going to give you my special method of layering flavors.
I start by marinating it in some sort of spicy off-the-shelf marinade or cooking sauce. I think an hour is just about right, but this is an area where you can safely experiment.
The dry rub
After about an hour, I remove the hanger steak from the marinade, pat it dry (don’t skip this step; it’s important for the Maillard reaction), and coat it with my favorite seasoning (Fresh Market’s Chili Lime rub) and let it sit out on the counter for about an hour.
Note: If you use a rub like I do, you probably don’t need to add salt separately, since it’s included in most seasonings.
Step 3: Cooking it hot and fast to reach the Maillard reaction temperature without overcooking
Once again, our friend the Maillard reaction comes into play: High heat is essential. Since this cut is too lean to have to worry about flare ups, I don’t bother setting up direct/indirect zones. I use a gas grill with all burners on high. As soon as I have a good sear on the first side, I turn it over and let it finish cooking.
Step 4: Letting the meat rest and adding one last shot of flavor
Whether or not beef needs a nap before being eaten is a matter of some controversy. Some chefs say your steak will be ruined if you don’t let it rest, while others warn of the dangers of overcooked beef (since it will continue to cook a bit from residual heat). I always give mine a 5- or 10-minute nap while I wrap up the rest of the meal, but I compensate by taking it off the grill while it’s still a little rarer than I want.
One advantage of letting steak rest is that it’s a great opportunity to add one last shot of flavor: Compound butter, which you make by letting butter sit out until it’s soft and then stirring in the flavoring of your choice. I almost always use this Chile Crunch. If you can’t find it at your grocery store, you can order it from Amazon (and, yes, that is an affiliate link!). Mix it into the softened butter and plop a dollop on each piece of beef, cover it in foil, and let it sit until you’re ready to ring the dinner bell.
Step 5: Slicing for tenderness
I know it would be more appetizing to show you the final product (as shown at the top of this post), but it’s easier to see the grain before you cook it.
One of the great things about hanger steak is that it’s easy to see the grain. One of the not-so-great things is that cutting against the grain on hanger steak is counterintuitive. Most of us are used to cutting steak from the short side. With this cut, that would mean cutting with the grain, which would yield overly chewy slices. So you first have to cut it lengthwise, then cut those longer slices against the grain to get it right
Well…I just decided what to have for dinner tonight! I hope you give hanger steak a try, because it’s just that fabulous. If you do try it, let me know in the comments below. What seasonings did you use? And what did you think of the results?