This tender, ultra-flavorful cut is popular in restaurants, but you'll rarely find it at the grocery store. What's the deal?
Take the rich flavor of rib-eye steak—cross it with melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin, and what do you get? Hanger steak, a tasty cut of beef that hangs from the diaphragm of the cow along the plate, or lower belly. Because this muscle does very little work, it’s extremely tender and packed with beef flavor.
Given how delicious hanger steak is, I was surprised by how difficult it was to track down. I've seen it on menus at high-end restaurants, but I've rarely seen it in supermarket meat cases. I searched several large grocery stores in my area—Publix, Whole Foods, and Fresh Market—and was unable to find it. I ended up ordering it from a local specialty butcher, who was beyond ecstatic. "I wish more people would try it!" he told me. He also told me that he’d actually tried to consistently stock hanger steak, but he’d struggled to sell it to his customers.
To find out the deal behind this elusive beef cut, I reached out to Jon Elwood, trained chef and founder of specialty beef delivery service Ranchly. “The challenge with mass marketing hanger steak is not the quality, but quantity. Hanger steak could be more popular with more marketing, but since there’s only one per animal, it’s a cut that’s best considered a treat," he says.
That’s right. For every cow, there’s numerous sirloin steaks, t-bone steaks, and filet mignon—but there’s only one hanger steak. “For a grocery store to sell ten hanger steaks, they would need to buy ten cows,” explains Elwood. “This would not only take up a disproportionate amount of storage space, but it would also would require having to sell thousands of pounds of beef just to secure ten hanger steaks.”
Your local grocery store isn’t carrying hanger steak because it’s a poor quality cut of meat. For large scale beef production, sourcing hanger steak just isn't very practical. "Ideally, hanger steak is better suited for craft butchers or a specialty beef delivery service that takes a whole animal approach to butchery," says Elwood, who sources only pasture-raised, humanely-treated beef for Ranchly.
Here's the other problem—because grocery stores don't typically stock hanger steak, many shoppers are unfamiliar with it. So even if you do find hanger steak, you probably would opt for flank steak, filet mignon, or beef tenderloin instead. “Hanger steak is called the ‘butchers secret’ for a reason," says Elwood. "While we try to stress in our messaging that a cow is much more than a filet mignon, people usually stick with the cuts they are familiar with and know how to cook—New York strip, ribeye, and tenderloin.”
The truth is, cooking a perfect hanger steak at home is ridiculously easy, whether you’re a seasoned home cook or total novice. If you have a great recipe and a little practice, you’ll quickly love this coveted cut. Because hanger steak is so tender and flavorful already, all it really needs is a generous blanket of salt and pepper (but a marinade certainly doesn't hurt).
When it comes to cooking hanger steak, high-heat and dry meat are the keys to your success. A blazing hot grill or a sizzling cast-iron skillet are your best friends. Before you start cooking, your steak should be room temperature and as dry as possible on the surface. If the steak is too cold, it won’t cook as evenly. If it’s too moist, you’ll have a tougher time creating a golden-brown sear.
Grilled Hanger Steak: If you like a smoky char on your steak, grilling is the way to go. For hanger steak, it works wonders. On a hot grill, hanger steak cooks quickly—expect about 3 to 4 minutes per side. To get the best marks, you want to place the steak in the hottest area of your grill, but you don’t want it to be completely engulfed by flames either. Give these grilled hangar steak recipes a shot:
Pan-Seared Hanger Steak: If the grill isn’t an option, pan-searing your hanger steak in a cast-iron skillet is just as delicious. Using a preheated and oiled skillet, expect to cook the steak about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Here’s the best part about using the cast-iron skillet—after the meat cooks, the leftover rendered beef fat in the skillet is perfect for cooking veggie sides like potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, bell peppers, and onions. Try these easy recipes for pan-seared hanger steak:
- Pan-Seared Hanger Steak with Brussels Sprouts, Potatoes, and Lemon-Herb Butter
- Balsamic Hanger Steak with Greens and Parmesan
Regardless of what method you use, aim to cook hanger steak to medium rare (130 to 135° F), and let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. Resting is crucial for keeping meat nice and juicy on the inside. Last but not least—never slice a hanger steak (or any cut of beef for that matter) with the grain! Avoid tough and chewy meat by slicing it against the grain.
Serve hanger steak with a simple green salad and a creamy or tangy dressing for a lighter meal that’s perfect for warmer weather. You can also dress up a hanger steak for special occaisions—top it with a homemade Lemon-Herb Butter or Chimichurri Sauce, then and whip up hearty sides like garlic mashed potatoes and roasted veggies. Leftover steak? Make Hanger Steak Sandwiches.
While you probably won’t see hanger steak at the grocery store anytime soon, ordering it from a specialty butcher shop or beef delivery company like Ranchly are worth the extra step. Don’t get me wrong—I am all about a succulent beef tenderloin or indulgent prime rib. But why not treat your taste buds to something new?