Hanger steak is a cut of beef taken from below the diaphragm in cattle and is named for the way the muscle “hangs” over the animal’s stomach. The muscle is typically cut in half during butchering, which means that each steer or heifer produces two steaks. The meat is naturally thin and usually quite lean, making it popular for recipes that call for meat that is cut into strips. Cooking this cut properly can be something of a challenge, though, as it is easy to overcook. The steaks are usually most tender when cooked rare or medium rare; when well done, the meat tends to get tough and stringy.
Where It Comes From
Butchers typically follow a more or less universal pattern for making cuts and carving steaks, which means that a “hanger steak” will be the same thing no matter where it is sold. The cut is sometimes also marketed as a “hanging tender,” “butcher’s steak” or “bistro cut,” but in all instances, it comes from the same place: the tender muscle between the stomach and the diaphragm.
Most cattle do not use the muscles around their diaphragms very much, which makes the meat in this region quite lean. The natural thinness of the cut makes it a favorite for dishes that require strips of meat, as less preparation is required. It can work well for fajitas, Mongolian beef, and steak sandwiches and steak salads, for example.
Butchers may also use this cut to add flavor and tenderness to ground beef, which is often made up of odd scraps or cuts that are not as appealing on their own. Hanger steak isn't always popular with consumers, and its thinness is sometimes unappealing to shoppers who have the option of more substantial steaks. Experienced butchers can almost always find uses for even the most unwanted animal parts, however. Many people believe that the alternative name “butcher’s steak” attached to this cut because the butcher would set it aside for his family, knowing he wouldn’t likely be able to sell it.
There are several ways to prepare this particular cut of meat, but most cooks choose pan frying or sauteing. This is largely due to the beef's relative thinness: it cooks very quickly in most cases, and it is often easier to monitor its progress in a skillet rather than in an oven. That said, baking and broiling can work well, but cooks usually need to be more attentive.
This particular steak is not typically added to stews or other dishes that require a lot of simmering. The meat is usually somewhat tough to begin with, and cooking it for a long time can make it chewy and somewhat unpalatable. A lot depends on preparation, but in most cases, the faster it can be cooked, the better.
Some people enjoy this cut as a stand-alone steak, and it can certainly be prepared this way. It can be cooked whole, then sliced while hot for use in sandwiches or other dishes. This method is often preferred, as the outside is crisp while the inside stays moist and, in most cases, at least a little bit pink. Of course, it is also possible to slice the meat while raw, then cook the strips individually; they often cook quickly, which can be better for people who prefer their meat more well done.
Marinating the steak before cooking it can help it remain tender. There are many different options when it comes to marinades, but soy sauce, vinegar, oil and citrus juices all make good starting points. The main idea is to use some sort of liquid that will help tenderize the meat over time. Most cooks recommend soaking for at least an hour, but many will keep the meat in overnight.
A dry spice rub can also help seal in flavor, although many people find that the steak is equally delicious cooked plain. Cooks can always pair it with different sauces or accompanying flavors as it is served.
Hanger steak is not always easily available, and people cooking for a crowd sometimes have a hard time buying enough. London broil or tri-tip steak are common substitutes, and skirt steak can also be a good option. The main thing most people look for is a thin cut that doesn’t have a lot of fat.
Food Safety Reminders
Most hanger steak recipes call for the meat to be prepared rare, which means that it is pink or slightly underdone in the center. Though this keeps the meat moist and tender, it also means that the inside is not hot enough to kill any bacteria that might be found there and could make a diner sick. Most food safety experts recommend that beef be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F (about 63°C). Beef marinated overnight should also be kept in the refrigerator so that it does not spoil.