Once you’ve mastered the art of grilling steaks, you might want to graduate to something more complex. You can prepare roasts on the grill too, but the technique requires a bit of finesse. Before you get started, you’ll need to decide which cut to buy. Let’s pit top round vs bottom round vs eye round to see which one might best suit your needs.
Top Round vs Bottom Round vs Eye Round
All of these cuts are taken from the rump and hind leg of the steer, otherwise known as the round primal. The top and bottom rounds contain more marbling than eye of the round, but all are fairly lean cuts that can be tough if they’re overcooked.
The Round Primal
This portion of the steer is located in the rear, consisting of the rump and hind legs. Because the area gets plenty of exercise, the meat doesn’t contain a lot of fat, but it can be tough if it’s not cooked right.
In addition to roasts, the meat from the round can be used for steaks and ground beef. If you intend to grill a steak from the round, it’s a good idea to marinate it beforehand. Ground round is better for stew and chili than for hamburgers, thanks to the low fat content.
About Top Round
The top round roast is also called the inside round, owing to the fact that it comes from the inside of the back leg on the steer. Like top sirloin, it’s a lean cut that still manages to maintain plenty of flavor, thanks to a decent amount of marbling.
When you buy sliced roast beef from the deli, chances are it came from a top round roast. Top round also makes great beef jerky.
Top round is a middle-of-the-road choice as far as affordability is concerned. It’s not as pricey as a tenderloin roast (see below), but it isn’t exactly cheap either. Steaks cut from the top round include London broil, which are thick cuts meant for grilling or roasting, and Swiss steaks, which are thinner and ideal for braised dishes.
About Bottom Round
This cut is also taken from the steer’s back leg, but it’s located around the outside rather than the middle. Some butchers might label it as rolled rump roast. The meat has plenty of marbling—more than the top round, which means it lends itself well to slow-cooking applications.
If you’re on a budget, bottom round roast is a solid option. The average per-pound cost is fair, and the cut is smaller than top round, meaning the overall price of the roast should be that much lower. The bottom round can be cut into smaller pieces and put through a meat tenderizer, which results in excellent cube steaks.
About Eye of the Round
This is an exceptionally lean roast with a circular shape, taken from the center of the round primal. The muscles in the rear leg get a lot of exercise, which makes the meat tough but lean. As long as you cook it slowly, it will be nice and tender by the time you serve it.
Eye of the round is another nice choice when making roast beef sandwiches, since it’s at its best when carved into thin slices. Since the meat benefits from moist-heat cooking applications, it’s also a good fit for ramen or other noodle dishes. Like bottom round, it’s usually set at a fair price.
Round roasts aren’t the only roasts you’ll encounter at the butcher shop. If you’d like to branch out your search, here are a few other noteworthy options.
Chuck Roast: Taken from the shoulder, it has excellent marbling, which makes it a good fit for pot roast
Brisket: This popular cut comes from the lower chest section of the steer and needs to be cooked for several hours at low temperatures to tenderize the meat
Rib Roast: Usually called prime rib, this is a fatty and flavorful cut that’s ideal for serving large crowds
Strip Loin: New York strip and Kansas City steaks are both taken from this roast, which is also called a top loin
Top Sirloin: Similar to top round, the top sirloin comes from the hip region and is a good alternative to the more-expensive tenderloin roast
Tri-Tip: A well-marbled, triangular-shaped roast that’s great on the grill; very popular on the West Coast
Sirloin Tip: Actually taken from the round, this lean cut should be carved into thin slices
Tenderloin: This top-dollar option is cut from the area beneath the animal’s spine, which makes it both lean and tender
Can You Substitute Top Round or Bottom Round for Eye Round?
Although these cuts share a great many qualities, they’re not interchangeable. If you can’t find the one you’re looking for, you should select the closest available alternative.
For top round, consider buying a chuck roast instead. While it contains more fat than the round, it shouldn’t affect the quality of the recipe. If you prefer to substitute something leaner, try the top sirloin roast instead.
When bottom round is unavailable, it’s fine to swap in an eye round roast—or vice versa. The chuck roast is also a viable substitute for either, as long as you take the higher fat content into account.
Shopping and Preparation Tips
When shopping, look for a roast with a bright red exterior that’s firm to the touch and well-sealed. Don’t buy it if the package has any tears or holes in it. Once you bring it home, the meat should last for 4 days in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer without suffering any undue effects.
While you can cook off the meat as soon as you buy it, we would suggest dry-aging it for a day or two first. To do this, unwrap the roast and let it sit, uncovered, on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet in the fridge. When it’s time to start cooking, trim away any dry bits and season as desired.
Follow all recipes closely to avoid overcooking. Once the roast is done, it should keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. You can freeze any leftovers, but make sure the packages are airtight and labeled with the contents and the date.
The Bottom Line
There are pros and cons to each of these cuts. Since they’re all subtly different from one another, it’s useful to be able to tell the difference. That way, you can make an informed choice, depending on the dish you have in mind.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!