The flat iron steak is a cut of beef which was discovered by researchers at the University of Nebraska. The researchers were trying to figure out how to use traditionally less desirable cuts of beef, and in the process, they found this extremely tender cut of meat. The cut is also called a top blade steak, in a reference to the region of the cow that it comes from.
The steak is cut from the area just behind the shoulder of a cow. Traditionally, the large cut of meat from this region has been called a blade roast. The meat was generally viewed as tough, suitable for stewing or roasting but not for grilling and other delicate cooking processes. However, a closer examination of the meat led to the discovery that this long held opinion is actually false.
The very top of this cut is really quite tender, but it must first be separated from the rest of the roast. Each shoulder actually yields two flat iron steaks, which are connected by a band of dense connective tissue. This tissue led people to believe that the steaks around it would be stringy and tough, as most cuts of meat surrounded by connective tissue are. This turned out not to be the case; in fact, flat iron steak is one of the most tender cuts of meat.
The origins of the name are a topic of debate. The most obvious explanation is that the steak does resemble an old fashioned triangular flat iron. Some people have also suggested that the steak was named for its supposed hardness, which would have rivaled a solid metal flat iron.
Like many steaks, flat iron steak certainly benefits from being marinated. It does extremely well on the grill, and can also be prepared like other steaks would be. Just as with high quality steak, overcooking tends to turn the meat stringy and dry, rather than tender and moist. It can also be cut into strips for fajitas and stir fries.