What Is the Difference Between Cube Steak and Round Steak?

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I’m really trying to cook more at home, but sometimes I’d like to make substitutions, but I’m just not sure when it’s ok to substitute round steak for cube steak or vice versa. I’m just not comfortable talking to the butcher. I just want to grab whatever happens to be in the meat case and make dinner. Is that so wrong?

Shy Shopper

Cuts of Beef Chart

No, it’s not wrong at all, I know as a customer it’s perfectly acceptable for me to ask the butcher questions, but I don’t want to bother him. Heck, on busy shopping days—which I try to avoid like the plague—I have a hard enough time just getting up to the beef case.

I’m not sure what some of those people are doing? Is it fun to hang out over the meat cooler? They sure do take their sweet time.

The names of beef and pork cuts vary by region.

You’ll notice that the names of cuts of beef and pork can vary by region and country, which makes everything extra fun for the novice cook.

Cube steak usually is round steak that has been tenderized.

In general, a cube steak IS a round steak that has been run through a machine that tenderizes the cut by physically breaking down some of that tough connective tissue.

A tenderizer is an interesting machine. It looks sort of like a giant pasta roller with lots of square teeth. These teeth pre-chew the meat for you breaking up the muscle fibers making them—wait for it—more tender.

You’ll notice the round cut is from the hindquarter of the cow. Most cuts from the hindquarter are tougher than those from the front.

Occasionally cube steak can be a top sirloin.

Sometimes, to keep things interesting, cube steak is top sirloin that was run through the tenderizer.

In some areas of the United States, you’ll also find cube steak labeled as minute steak. Please keep in mind that minute steaks are generally very thin cuts of top round or top sirloin in most of the US. I’ve also read but never actually seen that cube steak can be found labeled as bucket steak in some parts of the US. I’m just the messenger.

So when considering a substitution (like I’ll be doing later today in beef stroganoff), remember that cube steak is round steak. Since it is a round steak, it can be used in any recipe that calls for a round steak. The reverse isn’t true, at least without some work on your part.

Round steak has not had that extra tenderizing step performed. Using a meat tenderizer, which looks like a mallet with teeth, you can tenderize the meat yourself. There is an upside to this. It is an excellent stress reduction technique. Take that, jerk in traffic. Oh, like you are a paragon of virtue? Sure.

If you don’t have some pent-up aggression to get out or just lack the proper tools, it’s best to stick with either rapid cooking methods (and very thin slices cut against the grain) like stir-frying or to use a slow, wet cook like braising.

Cube steaks have a little more versatility and can be pan-fried, which is a  slower cook than a stir fry, to make dishes like country-fried steak or braised for dishes like a country-style cube steak.

You’ll find cube and round steak much easier to slice before cooking if you cut them while partially frozen. You can place them in the freezer for ten minutes or so to get them to this state.

 Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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20 thoughts on “What Is the Difference Between Cube Steak and Round Steak?”

  1. thank you! i’m always confused about what meat is what! I need to keep that chart in my iphone.

    I’m a NY strip man b/c i know there are no bones and they are delicious

    • @deneicer1 my good friend, Bran, who occasionally writes for this site, left his slow cooker here after our NYE nerd’s night in. I’m beginning to think my hatred of slow cookers may actually be my personal feelings about the one I own.

      • @HeatherSolos Why do you dislike your slow cooker? Does it have the digital buttons? (I HATED the one I had with buttons because I couldn’t stop it from cooking. It had set cooking times and that was it. I even wrote to the company asking them to have a button to manually switch the appliance to warm.) Does it cook too quickly?

        • @deneicer1@HeatherSolos Mine is digital but I can set it in 1/2 hour increments. When it is “done”, it switches to “warm” until I turn it off. I have seen versions that have 2-4-6-8 hour buttons and I think that would be extremely limiting. I rather like my Crockpot now that I have the hang of it (there’s a learning curve, I think.)

        • @KarenKellySunderland@deneicer1 I really can’t put my finger on what it is exactly. I think it might be the large ceramic insert of mine is a giant pain in the rear to clean, it’s ugly as sin, too. So you’ve got the whole, oh man, I’ll have to clean this thing that I don’t even want to look at shading my perception of casserole-y foods that aren’t my first preference. I’m not a person who doesn’t like their food to touch, but I do tend to more fully enjoy foods with many distinct textures and flavors.

        • @HeatherSolos@KarenKellySunderland@deneicer1 That’s funny because I AM a “thoufoodshallnottouch”sort of gal. And, I don’t like casseroles. However, with six mouths and a three nights with evening activities, I drag out that Crockpot about twice a month. The key for me is to brown my meat (makes me happy) and to grease that ceramic insert. My new one is white. It’s a cinch to clean. My last one was black. I could never get it clean. I don’t know why. It’s been passed on to parts unknown… I am not a creative Crockpot-er. I’m a ribs, roast, or pork chop-er. Something about having dinner crossed off my to-do list at 9am makes me happy. Very happy.

        • @KarenKellySunderland@deneicer1 It definitely gets more use during football season (kids, not pro) around here. Since I do have the luxury (hehehe, sometimes it doesn’t feel anything like a luxury) to work from home, I find I just don’t use it much. I’m trying to be conscious of the whole “everyone is different” thing and make sure I include more recipes for those who do like that style of cooking. Cooking is perhaps one of the things I truly enjoy -not when it becomes a chore, because yes, I sometimes feel that way about it, too- so that may be a part of it, as well. I just seem to get more enjoyment out of preparing an on the fly, saute and serve kind of meal.

          Kids – What’s for dinner, mom?

          Me – I’m not sure yet, but it’s going to be awesome.

          I have to balance that with the need to have meals fully planned when our schedules are packed. I probably sound like I’m contradicting myself. I have the menu plan done, but if I can create something entirely different with the ingredients I have, I fully give myself permission to do that.

        • @HeatherSolos@deneicer1 I love your answer to the kids! Here’s the rub… I don’t like to cook. I do it well. I just don’t like it. (Not sure my family’s caught onto that yet… Worse, I don’t like to bake either. But, I love to menu plan so it looks fabulous on paper! 😉

          I think a Crockpot serves a particular niche and cooking on the fly isn’t it! I don’t think it’s worth the space it would take up in your kitchen! When I cook like that, it’s homemade mac & cheese or breakfast for dinner. Those are my “don’t have a plan” dinners. Both of them.

        • @KarenKellySunderland@HeatherSolos Hahaha! My husband isn’t a big fan of the crock pot because he knows it often means a stew or bean-plentiful soup. (With meat too because he doesn’t think dinner is dinner without meat!) However, when we had two young boys at home who ate 2 or 3 times the amount of food my husband does…it saved our bank account AND their tummies!

          There are lots of sites that have crock pot friendly recipes and even a crock pot dish a day sites…so I wouldn’t get all in a tizzy about including tons of crock pot fare if its not your thang…besides if you look at it that way then you’d be searching for Wok recipes, toaster oven meals, microwave only 9 course meals and I am sure many others! LOL!

          Your site is awesome, as always, and I have a few really good bean/soup recipes I will forward to you for your crock pot enjoyment, if you wish!

        • @HeatherSolos@KarenKellySunderland p.s. You can put the crock pot in the dishwasher…my mom swears by it. I usually leave mine in the sink full of water for a little while. I have also found that the Barkeeper’s Friend cleans the crock pot really well.

          And I am definitely a my food-doesn’t-need-to-touch kinda lady, too! I guess I don’t get so upset about the food touching when it is all ready supposed to be touching! LOL!

        • @deneicer1 I would love to see your recipes. I have quite the stash of pintos I need to start using. Don’t get me wrong, I love my refried beans and putting them in Sue’s chili, but variety doesn’t hurt anyone.

        • @HeatherSolos Chili is really good with red beans and pintos. I don’t use tomato in ours (Hubby, again!) and I use beef broth instead of water. Remember to add tomatoes last if you use ’em!

  2. This was really helpful. As a novice in the kitchen, I find myself standing in the meat section, frantically searching for “cuts of beef” on my iPad or smartphone.

  3. Came across your site looking for cuts of meat ~ thanks so much for the info and a great website! About the crock pot thing ~ I like to use mine for cooking just the meat portion of meals.
    Everything comes out super tender and tasty. And leaves the range and my time free for all sorts of side dishes.

  4. I always wondered about this. My mom always bought round steak and had the butcher tenderize it twice. When I started cooking for myself, I bought cube steak as it looked like what my mom used, but it’s always much chewier. I wonder if getting it run through the tenderizer machine is what made my mom’s round steak so much easier to chew.


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