Introduction to the Chuck
As a shopper, you likely think of ‘chuck steak’ as just one cut that looks like this:
It may surprise you to learn that there are more than seventy different cuts of chuck steak. The ‘chuck’ in chuck steak just refers to the shoulder and upper arm. Like you, cattle have multiple shoulder bones and muscles, including those over and under the shoulder blade.
Some cuts are bone-in. Others are boneless. Many of them have their own proper names like Delmonico, California, Denver, English, or Swiss steak. Unfortunately, they’re not all standardized. In particular ‘Delmonico’ may refer to a shoulder, rib (the rib eye), or sirloin steak.
Once upon a time, there were several thousand names for different cuts of beef. Since 1973, the National Live Stock and Meat Board has recommended a more standardized list of about three hundred, or so.
Here’s a list of the most common cuts:
7-Bone Arm, Bone-In – Center Chuck Steak, Chuck Steak Center Cut, Arm Chuck Steak, Arm Swiss Steak, Chuck Steak for Swissing, Round Bone Steak, Round Bone Swiss Steak, Swiss Steak
Arm, Boneless – Boneless Round Bone Steak, Boneless Swiss Steak
Blade, Bone-In Chuck Steak – Chuck Steak 1st Cut, Chuck Steak Blade Cut, Char Broil Steak, Chuck Barbecue Steak, Chuck Steak 1st Cut, Chuck Steak for BBQ
Blade, Boneless – Boneless Blade Steak 1st Cut, Blade Steak
Chuck Eye, Boneless – Boneless Chuck Fillet Steak, Boneless Steak Bottom Chuck, Chuck Delmonico Steak, Chuck Eye Roll Steak, Chuck Eye Steak
Mock Tender, Boneless – Chuck Eye Steak, Chuck Fillet Steak, Chuck Sandwich Steak, Chuck Tender Steak, Fish Steak, Mock Tender Steak
Under Blade, Boneless – Boneless Bottom Chuck Steak, Boneless Chuck Fillet Steak, Boneless Chuck Steak, Boneless Under Cut Steak, California Steak, Chuck Fillet Steak, Chuck Steak, Minute Steak, Denver Steak, Bottom Chuck Steak, Under Blade Center Cut Steak, Under Blade Steak, Sierra Steak
Under Blade, Bone-In – Bottom Chuck Steak, California Steak, Gravy Steak, Semi-Boneless Chuck Steak, Under Cut Steak
Shoulder Clod, Boneless – Boneless Clod Steak, Boneless Shoulder Clod Steak, Chuck Shoulder Steak, Clod Steak Boneless, English Steak, Shoulder Steak, Shoulder Steak Half Cut, Ranch Steak, Shoulder Arm Steak, Shoulder Center Cut Steak, Shoulder Grill Steak, Petite Tender Medallions, Shoulder Tender
Shoulder Top Blade, Bone-In – Blade Steak Bone-In, Top Chuck Steak, Boneless Top Chuck Steak, Book Steak, Butler Steak, Lifter Steak, Patio Steak, Petite Steak, Blade Steak, Flatiron Steak, Shoulder Grill Steak, Shoulder Steak, Top Blade Steak, Triangle Steak
Chef’s and butchers will forgive you for finding the list a bit daunting, but don’t let that stop you from getting started on your adventure.
Here are few things to keep in mind as you begin. First, the difference between a package marked ‘chuck roast’ and one marked ‘chuck steak’ lies in its thickness. Slicing a roast gives you a steak, a cut of meat that cooks more quickly and that is meant to serve one person. Many large steaks serve two or more, but you get the idea.
Second, although the names of many cuts of chuck steak suggest methods of preparation, and many chefs will say that steaks are fried, broiled, or grilled, any of the listed cuts of chuck steak will make up just fine in your slow cooker. However, you’ll need to give some thought to cooking time and preparation.
Third, the chuck works hard. That means lots of flavor, but it may also be tough. Cuts more tender than the chuck do well dry-roasted, but unless the name of the cut includes words like broil, grill, or BBQ, you’ll probably want to braise your chuck steaks and cook them wet. Likewise, as some of the names imply, if they don’t come pre-Swissed, certain cuts of chuck steak require Swissing. Other cuts are thin-sliced for rolling.
You’ll find more on preparation in part three and more on shopping in part four.
Nutritional Value of Chuck Steak
Because of its flavor and balanced fat/protein content, the butchers commonly use the chuck for ground beef. If you have a grinder, when chuck goes on sale, you can do the same. Unfortunately, unless you can get a good price, ground beef usually costs less than you can grind it yourself.
Even so, it’s really the balance of fat and protein that’s most interesting. A well-trimmed, 4-oz serving of chuck steak contains 29 grams of protein and 23 grams of total fat. Of that, 10 grams, 2 grams, and 11 grams are saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fat, respectively. Very lean cuts will have somewhat less fat. Mock tender cuts will have more.
A serving of chuck steak also provides a small percentage of the US Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins A and D, calcium, and magnesium. One of the big advantages of a non-vegetarian diet is a natural source of vitamin B-12 (cobalamine). Four ounces of chuck steak delivers 58% of the RDA. It’s also a good source of vitamin B-6, magnesium, and iron, as well as, micronutrients like selenium.
Let’s Get Cooking
Like most people, at the start of this, you may have thought that chuck steak/roast meant ‘pot roast.’ While pot roast certainly fits in with the English food tradition, it’s not the easiest. It’s also not necessarily the best, or even a reliably good, beginning with the story.
In this section, you’ll find variations on two traditional methods for preparing chuck steak, beginning with the easiest. Either of these methods of Swissing, a useful term for tenderizing meat by slow cooking, will work for grades of chuck from tender to tough.
Method #1: Straight to the Pot, Shredded Chuck Steak
If you asked a hundred people why they were considering using their slow cooker all, or almost all, of them would say that they want to save time. That being the case, it’s hard to explain why the go-to approach to chuck usually calls for a messy two-stage process like braising with two steps of both prep and clean up.
Time isn’t even necessarily the best reason for using your slow cooker. Among other things, regarding energy efficiency and cost, the standard electric slow cooker beats stovetop cooking hands down. Be that as it may, the simplest method wins the trifecta: one prep/one clean up, low prep time, and no watching.
Add versatility to that list. Cultures from around the world have tasty variants on this basic method.
How does it go? Trim the fat from the outer edge of about 3 pounds of thick-cut chuck steak or chuck roast, then wipe down the surface of the meat to eliminate any bone fragments that may have been left behind by the butcher. As with other meats, you can also rinse the steak with cold water. Just keep in mind that any spatter spreads bacteria around your kitchen, so be careful.
For chuck steaks, cut the meat into quarters. For chuck roast, cut it into eighths. Toss the chunks into a 5-6 quart slow cooker. Cover with beef broth. Add a pinch of salt. Pepper to taste. Cook on low for 9-10 hours. Pull apart with a fork. Done.
Simple, tasty, and versatile. Serve it on sandwiches as a modified French Dip, with your favorite cheese and condiments, open-faced with mashed and veggies for a dinner delight, use it to fill burritos (Mexican) or meat buns (Asia). It freezes well.
Pretty good, if a bit humdrum. Let’s spice it up.
For a low-fat Italian variant, sprinkle the meat with a small (about 0.6-ounce) package of zesty Italian salad dressing mix before covering it with broth. Reserving the liquid, drain an 8-ounce jar of sliced pepperoncini. Add the peppers and about two tablespoons of the liquid. Drain an 8-ounce jar of giardiniera—giardiniera is just garden veggies marinated in vinegar so that you can make your own—and add to the pot. Next, add the broth. Skip the salt; it’s in the salad dressing mix. Cook on low for 9-10 hours. Pull apart with a fork. Serve on French or Italian rolls with melted provolone. Goes great with vinegar and salt chips and some chocolate milk.
You’re limited only by your imagination on this one. For example, for a Mexican variant, substitute about 16-ounces of drained, sliced green chili peppers or chipotles. Serve sandwiches with melted Oaxaca cheese.
And, of course, don’t forget to try your favorite barbecue sauce. To avoid burning during the slow cooking process, consider adding your sauce after you shred the meat and about 30 minutes before serving. It won’t change the flavor much, but it will ease the clean up.
Method #2 Basic Braising
Braising, or cooking with more than one method, comes in very handy for tough cuts of meat like chuck steak. Not that you should think of braising as limited to tough meat. Even tender meats often call for braising. This section looks at simple braising. You can study a somewhat more involved process of Swissing in the next method.
A quick note on sauces: It’s the acid in the sauce that breaks down the muscle fibers in tougher cuts of meat, but acid must be balanced with fat to be effective. Although wine contains some acid, it also contains alcohol. Anyone who has ever been hung over knows that alcohol draws water and causes dehydration. Alcohol has the same drying effect on steak.
Pretension aside, for cuts of meat such as chuck steak that already tend to be tough and dry, using wine in your sauce will reliably make them worse. To avoid this problem and still use wine for flavor, bring the sauce to a boil in a separate saucepan before adding it to your slow cooker. That should cook off most of the alcohol and protect the meat from drying out.
Similarly, while many cooks repeat the bad information that searing meat somehow locks in flavor or moisture, it doesn’t. What searing does do is caramelize the outer part of the meat. Like alcohol, caramelized sugars draw water, so while the seared crust on the chuck steak releases some sweetness and a richer flavor to the sauce, it also draws flavors into the meat. Scoring the steak using a sharp knife to make parallel cuts about 1/8” deep before searing enhances that effect.
To try this method, you will need your slow cooker, a sharp knife for scoring the meat, some oil or butter, the rub of your choice, a spatula or fork for turning the meat, and a skillet for browning your steaks.
If you plan to make a wine sauce, you will also need an extra saucepan and a one-cup measure. The process will go more smoothly if you bring your mixture of wine and beef broth to a boil ahead. When it boils, remove it from the heat and set it aside to let it cool. Making very hot or very cold additions to your slow cooker can cause it to crack. If you’re not using wine, you can just pour the cold broth over the meat after you sear it.
Once again, begin by trimming away the excess fat from the outer edge of the meat and wipe down or rinse the surface to remove any bone fragments. Dry surfaces sear better than wet ones, so pat-dry the surface of the meat with a paper towel. Don’t try to get the surface bone dry. Otherwise, your rub won’t stick. Use your knife to score the surface, then lightly salt and pepper your steaks on both sides.
Next, prepare your rub. Some common, flavorful choices include minced garlic, rosemary, and thyme. If you don’t want your fingers to smell like garlic, use the knife to spread it, again on both sides. Add your rosemary or thyme last.
Turn your skillet on to medium heat and add your oil to the pan. If you want to use butter, start the pan on medium-low to avoid scorching it. Pay attention to your nose. When the butter has melted and began to caramelize, the pan is ready. Raise the heat to medium. Then add your steaks. Sear the meat on both sides to a medium brown. Then transfer them to the slow cooker, pour in your broth or broth/wine mixture. Cover and cook on low heat for 6-8 hours.
Notice that just as in the first method; you can stop there and prepare your accompaniments separately. Alternatively, you can slow cook your vegetables along with meat, as in traditional pot roast recipes.
How to Buy Chuck
While you can Swiss even the toughest chuck steaks by slow cooking, braising, cubing, pounding, or even pressure cooking, some cuts are definitely more tender than others. They’re usually more expensive, too.
Since it contains part of the same muscle that forms the rib eye, by far, the best cut of chuck is the chuck eye steak. Next in declining regular price/quality order are the blade eye steak, the flat iron chuck steak, the shoulder center cut chuck steak, and then a Ranch steak. The cuts in this group can usually be marinated and grilled, as well as, braised.
Further down the quality scale than that, cuts of the chuck like petite tenders, mock tenders, shoulder, or chuck steak all require Swissing. If the label says ‘Swiss steak,’ or ‘chuck steak for Swissing,’ that should now be self-explanatory. However, the naming ambiguity between chuck eye steak and chuck steak runs the gamut from the most tender to the toughest. The latter is best prepared Swissed and slow cooked as pot roast. Pay attention to what you buy.
Serving, Sides, and Beverages
Our palates respond favorably to flavor opposites like hot & sour, sweet & sour, and so forth. Hence the note above that a slow cooked, Italian shredded chuck steak sandwich goes great with vinegar and salt chips and a chocolate milk, especially for the kids.
Similarly, a Mexican-style shredded beef sandwich pairs well with a traditional garden salad and/or a side of cubed watermelon, in season, and a fruit-flavored shake like mango.
Anything Swissed matches well with traditional meat-and-potatoes fare including carrots, onions, and celery, as well as, both pasta and cabbage. There’s no shortage of recipes for Swiss steak, cube steak, or basic pot roast online. Garden salads, cole slaw, and steamed green veggies can be substituted for the starchy, root vegetables, too. Remember to have a side of bread for dunking.
If you prefer wine, a varietal Rosé or Sangria holds up well against a simpler spice palate. However, the rich, beefy flavor of slow cooked chuck steak cries out for a sturdy red table wine.
With a slow cooker to hand and some imagination, the range of chuck steak covers everything from shredded beef to Swiss steak to pot roast, and even complex dishes like broccoli. Be creative, enjoy, and maybe even save a little money along the way. If you want to try the best steak you’ve ever had, come visit Atlas Steakhouse – the best steakhouse of Brooklyn!