Is London Broil a Meat Cut or Cooking Technique?
There are many common misconceptions about London broil and what exactly it is. When I was a kid, my mother would make London Broil for our family on occasion. She would walk into our local butcher, ask for “London broil,” and was inevitably handed a piece of top-round or flank steak.
She would bring home the “London Broil” cut and typically cook it under the broiler until it was totally overcooked, then my father would cut it, and we would sit down and try to get it down with a gallon of milk. Her mistake? She never marinated the meat.
A London Broil is similar to the cut of beef used in a fajita. Fajitas are grilled strips of meat (often skirt steak) that are marinated and wrapped in a tortilla. For both dishes, you can take pretty much any kind of meat, marinate it, cook it, and then slice it thin.
Here’s the deal: my mother may have asked the butcher for something specifically labeled “London Broil” but that can refer to any of the lean, tougher cuts like top round, sirloin tip, chuck shoulder, or flank steak.
The reality is, London broil is really a way to prepare meat and a style of cooking.
I did a little research and will share with you what I learned and some tips on how to prepare it.
First a Little History
Despite its name, this beef dish does not come from London, England. In fact, the meal isn’t even served there. The etymology of the name is unknown, but it’s actually a North American creation—believed to have started in my current hometown - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1931.
The original method of the London Broil was using a flank steak that was pan-fried medium rare and then cut across the grain to be served. This basic method eventually evolved to include marinating the flank steak and broiling it—hence the name. Now, we tend to grill London Broil instead of pan frying or broiling it.
Traditionally, the marinade for this dish included a wide variety of ingredients, because chefs in those days pulled anything they had on hand in the kitchen to season the dish, rather than abide by a specific recipe. Today, people commonly use a mixture of olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, and ginger to marinate the London Broil.
A London broil used to be an inexpensive meal, but with the popularity of flank steak and skirt steak resulting in higher prices, London Broil is not a cheap meal anymore. It’s not filet mignon expensive, but costs a lot more than ground beef. You can generally buy a piece of meat suitable for a London broil for just under $10 per pound.
I remember not too many years ago butchers had a hard time selling these cuts and would just about give it away. Then came our obsession with Fajitas and the price skyrocketed.
How To Cook a London Broil
You’re going to start with any cut of beef that is fairly lean and much less tender. This could be flank steak, top-round, or even bottom sirloin. Any tough cut of meat can be a London broil as long as you follow the specific cooking style.
First, you want to marinate your flank steak or top-round with something acidic like vinegar or soy sauce and then add seasoning and spices. There are endless marinating options available so it’s up to you what flavors and seasoning you want to add.
The marinating process is important to add flavor. It does not tenderize the meat like many people are led to believe but it can add surface flavor. I think it’s best to let the piece of meat marinate for 4 - 6 hours but letting it sit overnight will not hurt it but I'm not so sure it's going to add that much more flavor.
Back in the day, I don’t remember my mom ever marinating any piece of meat or steak that she bought. The most she would do is add a touch of seasoning before the broiling process which often included adding a touch of Adolf’s Meat Tenderizer (back then, we didn’t think about how unhealthy this probably was for us to ingest).
I suggest that you grill the meat using a two-zone method where you sear the piece of meat on the hot part of the grill and finish on the cooler section. This is described more in-depth at Grilling Tips
If you’re not grilling the meat outside, you could start in the house using a frying pan and finish the process in the oven (which should be preheated at 300 degrees F). However, be sure to have the fan running when you sear the meat in a frying pan because the sugars in the marinade can create a lot of smoke inside your kitchen. If you can grill outside, I suggest you do so.
Grill until the meat thermometer reads 130° to 135° F.
When the steak is ready to go, remove it and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Next, slice across the grain of meat to cut it into thin strips and prepare to serve. As a kid, our family used to eat our London broil alongside red cabbage and new potatoes. If the meat was too tough, we would hide it under the cabbage.