There are a lot of great steak cuts out there, and some have more in common than others. If you’re having trouble deciding between round steak vs flank steak, our guide should help to eliminate the guesswork.
Round Steak vs Flank Steak
While round steak comes from the round primal, near the hindquarters, the flank steak is cut from the cow’s abdominal muscles. Both cuts are relatively lean, though the flank steak has a bit more fat—and therefore flavor—than the round. Although the cuts don’t look much alike, you might be able to substitute one for the other in some recipes.
About Round Steak
The round primal is located in the rear of the animal, around the hind legs. As you might have guessed, round steaks are cut from this primal.
Top round comes from the inside of the cow’s back leg. It has a decent amount of marbling, which contributes to its flavor. The roast beef you buy from the deli usually comes from a top round roast.
On the outside of the round primal, you’ll find the bottom round cut. Of all the steaks and roasts taken from the round, the bottom round has the highest fat content, though it’s still relatively lean.
Then you have eye of the round, which is located in the center of the primal. Steaks cut from the eye of the round have a circular shape, and the meat is very lean. It’s best to prepare eye of the round using moist cooking applications, such as braising and stewing.
It’s a good idea to marinate round steak in order to promote tenderness. You can also tenderize the meat using a mallet, or ask the butcher to put it through the cubing machine.
If you’re making beef jerky, round steaks or roasts are a great option. You don’t want the jerky to have too much fat, or it will turn rancid in a hurry.
About Flank Steak
Flank steak isn’t technically a steak, but the abdominal muscle of the cow. As the name indicates, the cut is taken from the flank, the portion in front of the animal’s rear quarter.
You can recognize flank steak by its thick grain and its flat, rectangular shape. The meat has excellent beef flavor, though it will be too chewy unless you carve it into thin slices across the grain.
Because flank steak isn’t as tender as sirloin or filet mignon, it’s usually set at an affordable price. However, since it’s become more popular in the past decade or so, the prices may continue to creep up.
You can use flank steak to make superb fajitas, tacos, or steak sandwiches. Any beef recipes that require rolling, such as braciole, would benefit from using this cut, as it’s very thin and works well in a braise.
Round Steak vs Flank Steak: The Matchup
What do round steak and flank steak have in common, and how are they different? Let’s attempt to answer these questions by comparing them side by side.
This may be the most obvious difference between the two cuts. Round steaks are lean and—you guessed it—round or oval-shaped. They often have a thin band of fat running along the edge, and very little marbling, if any.
Flank steak comes in broad, rectangular slabs. There may be a thin membrane covering one side of the cut, which can be removed during cooking. The thick, ropy grain is the steak’s primary characteristic, but you can expect to see some streaks of fat as well.
Though both these steaks are taken from spots near the rear of the cow, they’re cut from different primals.
The round primal is located higher up, just in front of the cow’s hind legs. The flank is cut from the abdomen, behind the plate. This discrepancy contributes to the variances in flavor and texture, as we’ll discuss in the lower sections.
When it’s cooked correctly, round steak can be fairly tender, though it will never compete with tenderloin or flat iron steak in this regard. If you overcook the meat, it will resemble an old shoe more than anything.
Flank steak is chewier, thanks to the coarse grain. It’s also located in a spot that gets a lot of exercise, which tends to toughen the meat. But as long as you carve it against the grain, it will have a tender mouthfeel.
The fact that flank steak has a higher fat content than round steak gives it more beef flavor. It might not be the best fit for every recipe, but if you’re looking for a cut that packs a punch in the taste department, flank steak is the way to go.
As steaks go, both of these cuts are fairly affordable. Since round steaks are neither particularly lean nor overly flavorful, they’re middle-of-the-road options that fetch a low price.
Flank steak isn’t as pricey as cuts like ribeye and tenderloin. Still, it usually costs more per pound than round cuts. Shoppers on a budget should consider making round steaks their choice instead.
Preparation and Cooking Techniques
Before cooking either flank steak or round steak, you should bring them to room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. Cooking steak straight out of the fridge could result in uneven temperatures, which will affect the texture.
You can season flank steak simply with salt and pepper, but round steak should be marinated in advance to promote tenderness. That said, there’s nothing wrong with marinating a flank steak—it just has more flavor on its own.
Because of its lean texture, round steak is best when braised—or slow roasted, if the cut is large enough to be classified as a roast. Grilling isn’t recommended, as the meat will dry out in a hurry when cooked over high heat.
Flank steak is more versatile. You can grill it, use it in stir-fries, or pound it flat and stuff it to make beef roulades.
In short, while eye round should only be used in specific recipes, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to tailor your chosen recipe to accommodate flank steak.
Storage and Shelf Life
Both of these cuts should be cooked off within 3 to 4 days of purchase. Once cooked, they’ll keep in the fridge for another 3 to 4 days. Make sure to wrap leftovers and store them on a lower shelf of the refrigerator, away from the door.
You can also keep round steak or flank steak in the freezer for up to 1 year. In theory, they’ll keep indefinitely when frozen, but trying to hold on to them longer will result in dry meat.
If you can’t find round steak, what might you use as a substitute? Interestingly, you may be able to swap in flank steak, since the meat braises well. Depending on the recipe, you might also consider substituting boneless chuck steak.
Your options are similar when it comes to flank steak. Not all recipes will be suitable for round steak—if they call for grilling the meat, for example—but some of them might. A chuck or shoulder steak makes a good substitute if you’re making beef fajitas.
The Bottom Line
Now that you realize that round steak and flank steak are two entirely different cuts of beef, your decision should be that much easier.
Of course, you might be able to substitute one for the other in a pinch, as we’ve just established. The key is to understand their differences, as this will help you determine whether they can be overcome for the purposes of your recipe.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!