Steak enthusiasts from all over the world have their own favorites when it comes to different cuts of steak. But, every once in a while, some cuts will make deciding harder – just like when steak masters have to choose between a flank steak and a top round steak. Both steaks come from the rear end of a cow, but they still have differences in various aspects that make their taste distinguishable once cooked. In this article, we’ll take a good look at these beef cuts, so you can decide which one you want to make for your next meal.
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What Is a Flank Steak?
A flank steak is a cut of beef that’s taken from the abdominal section of a cow. Visually, it’s a long cut with very detailed grain and a minimal amount of fat. It’s popular for its beefy flavor, and, surprisingly, its chewy texture. Preparation-wise, this cut of steak will taste amazing whether you grill, pan-sear, or broil it. Being that this cut is very lean, it’s best to cook flank steak at high heat in short durations to prevent it from drying out. Once cooked, it’s perfect for mixing in stir-fried dishes or salads.
What Is a Round Steak?
A round steak is taken from the rear leg of the cow. It’s also a lean cut of beef that has almost no marbling which makes it less juicy than cuts like sirloin. Despite the sparse marbling, the round steak still tastes rich and beefy. It can also be braised, cooked in the oven, or pan-fried. The absence of marbling makes it prone to drying when overcooked, even just for a little bit. But if you want something you can add to pot roasts or stews, this is the perfect meat.
What Are the Differences Between Flank Steak and Round Steak?
As previously mentioned, flank steak is taken from the abdomen, while round steak is taken from the hind legs. Visually, the flank steak is much wider at one end of the meat and narrower on the other end. Round steak, as the name implies, is rounded with no clear grain patterns.
In general, beef flavors vary depending on the section where they’re taken and what the cow was fed before the meat was harvested. Flank steak, for instance, has a deep and intense beef flavor that’s unique to this cut. On the other hand, round steak is less beefy because it’s mostly lean tissue with almost no fat in it. Despite this, some cooking methods can still bring out its mild and delicate flavors.
Flank steaks are more fibrous, which makes them pleasantly chewy when cooked perfectly. The round steak is smoother because it doesn’t have the same grainy pattern found in flank steak. Despite these differences, these steak cuts can be cooked in different ways to bring out their distinct flavors, so really, preparation plays a big role in creating decadent dishes.
Despite these cuts coming from the same bottom section of the cow, the flank and round steak still have minor color differences. Because flank steak has a bit more fat and fibers, it has a dark red color. Meanwhile, the leaner flank steak is more pinkish than red. In some instances, though, the flank steak may be lighter, or the round steak may be darker. The important thing is that there is no discoloration that indicates the meat is already spoiled and not safe for consumption.
Flank steak never has a bone. Meanwhile, round steak may or may not have bones depending on how the meat was cut. If you’re using the round steak for stew or beef broth, you can ask your butcher if they have bone-in options.
As already mentioned, flank steak, despite having very little marbling, still has more fat content than round steak. This is why to be able to bring out their unique taste, they have to be prepared in different ways.
In general, flank steak is more expensive than round steak because of its texture and marbling. Of course, it still depends on where you find flank steak and how much meat you buy. Some shops give discounts when you reach a minimum order. Overall, round steak is the more affordable choice when shopping for steaks.
Because both round and flank steaks have different characteristics, they’re also best prepared using different cooking methods.
Flank steak is best when cooked medium rare. This can be achieved by cooking it briefly over high heat. It doesn’t matter if you’re pan frying, grilling, or baking; you need to keep in mind that flank steak has little fat content, so overcooking will turn this meat into a tough and chewy piece of meat that’s not palatable at all.
Round steak, on the other hand, is so lean, which means it will require long exposure to heat to give it time to get tender and juicy. When it comes to round steak, slow cooking is the way to go. This process will break down the steak’s connective tissues giving you a succulent dish that requires little to no chewing.
Flank Steak Pros and Cons
- Flank steak has a distinct, intense beef flavor that makes it perfect for popular dishes.
- Nutrition-wise, the lower fat content makes this cut a more preferable option because it’s much healthier.
- Flank steak is versatile because its structure gives it a stronger flavor compared to other cuts.
- It’s faster to prepare because of its grainy body, which makes it perfect for days when you just can’t be bothered to slave around in the kitchen all day.
- Since flank steak is more popular and has a deeper and better flavor, it can get expensive.
- If you’re a flank steak beginner, it may take a while before you start cooking tender and juicy steaks.
- The thin cut makes it tricky to cook since this type of meat can easily dry out with no hope of salvaging.
Top Round Steak Pros and Cons
- Top round steak is also a lean cut of beef just like the flank steak. But since it has almost no fat in it, it’s still a healthier option than flank steaks as well as other cuts.
- The absence of marbling means this steak cut is more affordable and easier to buy for budget-conscious people.
- This cut is better slow-cooked, making it ideal if you plan to make broth or stew..
- Top round steak, when handled by someone with no prior experience, will almost always end up as a tough piece of beef that’s not even worth serving.
- The absence of marbling means it has less flavor than flank steak and other cuts.
- The almost non-existent fat means you will have very limited ways of cooking this piece of meat.
Choosing between flank steak and round steak is truly a dilemma for steak enthusiasts. The two cuts have their own advantages and disadvantages, making it even harder to decide. Ultimately, the decision is still up to you and the recipes you have in mind. For slow cooking, the top round is better, while flank steak is more versatile. Cost-wise, though, the top round is the better option. In the end, you have to make your choice based on your needs and preferences. As long as you source your meat from trusted and reputable shops, then you shouldn’t have to worry about the quality of the meat.