Up until the 1970's, 90 percent of the beef that came to market came in carcass form. All of the further processing was done in the market's cutting room. As a result, you rarely saw skirt steaks or flank steaks in the meat case of any but the largest supermarket.
There is only one skirt on every forequarter and one flank on every hind, hardly enough to make a display. More often than not, the butcher took these cuts home or ground them in with his hamburger.
"Tri-tips", "ball tips" and "flaps" also weren't sold separately.
They are individual boneless muscles of the sirloin section of the carcass and years ago, the muscles of the sirloin were together in one slab of "sirloin steak". Each steak contained a bit of tri-tip, a bit of ball tip, and a bit of flap in addition to larger section of the top loin and tenderloin muscles.
Today, almost all beef is sold boneless, each carcass divided into its individual component parts at the packing plant and shipped to the market in boxes, each box containing so many vacuum-sealed plastic bags of like parts. Most of these "sub-primals" as they are called, require some further cutting at the market level to turn them into the steaks and stew and stir-fry you find in the meat case. Some cuts, however, are small enough to be tossed on the grill just as they come.
The following is a list and description of some of the cuts that you may be able to save some money on if you buy them by the bag: Tri-tip - The tri-tip is not only the tastiest muscle of the sirloin but one of the tastiest of the entire beef carcass. Only a Prime New York strip has the flavor and the tenderness of the tri-tip. Each will weaigh 1½ to 2 pounds and will average 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inches in thickness, a perfect size for the grill. They usually come two to a bag.
Skirt - Another cut of beef in a bag, the skirt steak has become popular in the past few years because it is the cut called for in fajitas. The skirt is the diaphragm muscle of the beef animal. There are only two skirts per carcass - each weighing 1½ to 2 lbs - and because of the popularity of the fajita, plus the popularity of the cut in Japan where it is used for teriyaki steak, the skirt is hard to come by. If you find a market that has some, buy a bag. They come three or four skirts per bag.
Flap - The "flap" is a muscle from the sirloin section of the carcass but its texture is more like that of the skirt steak. It's a small portion of the flank of the beef animal, somewhat akin in texture to the tail of a T-bone or porterhouse steak. they come 4 to 5 to a bag, each weighing just over a pound. They work well as fajitas or teriyaki steak. They are also wonderful sliced thin for stirfry dishes. Since, unlike skirt steak, flaps have not been "discovered" they are still comparitively inexpensive.
Ball tip - The ball tip is a small, round muscle from the sirloin section. It is actually a portion of the sirloin tip muscle left in the sirloin when the hind quarter is divided into its primal cuts.
Each ball tip steak will weigh just over 1 pound and usually come 3 or 4 steaks per bag. They can be grilled or broiled just as they come from the bag, then sliced thin across the grain just as you would a London broil, flank steak.
From Cooking With Meat by Merle Ellis as published in the Hartford Courant, 6/21/95
Submitted By DAVE SACERDOTE On 10-05-95
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