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What is a Hanger Steak?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

Popular Uses

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.

Preparation

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.

Preparation Tips

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.

Possible Substitutions

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.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon336596 — On May 29, 2013

Can you tell me if the hanger steak is the crus [pl., crura] of the diaphragm muscle? The crus is the central part of the diaphragm that anchors it to bone [vertebrae] to help flatten the muscle for breathing. During butchering, it may look like it's oddly hanging from inside of the backbone.

By backdraft — On Oct 14, 2012

I like to use cubes of hanger steak in chilli. I think slow cooking it in the chili gives the sometimes tough meat a tender texture. Plus, it is always cheap, so you can buy a lot of meat without busting your wallet.

By BAU79 — On Oct 14, 2012

Does anyone know of a good steak marinade for hanger steak? I like this cut of beef, but sometime it is so tough and lean that it is really be lacking in flavor.

I think that all meat benefits from a marinade, but especially hanger steak. I have tried a few of my own creation, but if someone has a recipe that they love I would like to know what is in it. Thanks!

By anon157989 — On Mar 05, 2011

There is a great recipe for using hanger steak on 5-Ingredient Fix on the Food Network. It's called Hanger Steak with Shallot Cherry Sauce.

By anon154039 — On Feb 19, 2011

I just had one at a high-end steak house last night and it was the best steak I've ever had. Amazing!

By anon90113 — On Jun 14, 2010

Other than marinating overnight? You might try this. I'm not sure the suggestion will result in the tenderness being achieved. I think tenderness is the result of enzymatic action, which probably needs 12-24 hours to react.

But, as for getting the flavor into the meat, you can put strips into a three-liter bottle, cover them with your marinade. Cap the bottle with a Fizz Biz cap and introduce 60PSI into the bottle with the Fizz Biz co2 dispenser. This will result in excellent flavor ingredient penetration in minutes rather than hours.

By anon77775 — On Apr 15, 2010

Definitely one of my favorite cuts due to its distinct flavor. Can find fresh only at Wholefoods and not regularly so tend to get it whenever I see it. No marinade at all, smoke for an hour turning once, then sear on direct hear 1 min per side and cut across. it's juicy and not tough at all.

By anon77167 — On Apr 13, 2010

This is one of my new favorite cuts of beef - it is so flavorful!

I've been buying prime hanger steak from my butcher in cryo-packs. The package usually has about 2.5lbs of meat, roughly four strips of beef. I do not marinade, just rub generously with coarse sea salt and grill over high heat to medium rare.

Be sure to let the meat rest, then slice thinly across the grain. This is the trick to getting the most tender bites out of this cut. It has a long grain structure and if you cut with the grain you will get long fibers and chewy bites.

By desertdunes — On Feb 08, 2010

I think the marinade process is where I go wrong with this cut. I use lemon most of the time but I've never let it sit overnight, usually no more than 6 hours before I cook it.

Course the fact that some family members refuse to eat any meat unless it's WELL done doesn't help.

Does anyone have any suggestions, other than the overnight marinade, on how to keep it tender while still being fully cooked?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
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