In butchery, the round of a cow refers to its back legs. And each of the cuts taken from here — top round, bottom round, and eye of round — is formed around a round femur bone. Home to lean and inexpensive cuts, the entire round is a good source of weekday steaks that excel when marinated or cooked in liquids.
We’ve put together this guide to the ins and outs of top round steaks so you can learn everything you need to know to make the most out of this affordable cut. We’ll discuss what top round steak tastes like, the best ways to cook it (and which ones to avoid), and a few traditional recipes that call for top round steak. Then, we’ll round things out with nutrition facts, similar cuts, and where to buy a top round steak to cook in your home kitchen.
What Does Top Round Steak Taste Like?
Because the rear legs of the cow are under a lot of stress in their day to day life, the meat taken from the round tends to be very lean. It lacks any noticeable marbling, and tends to dry out if grilled or oven roasted. And because it’s very lean, the flavor tends more towards a neutral pallette that can be the perfect base for seasonings. From London Broil to preserved Bresaola to steak and Guinness soup, it provides more of a textural component than a deep beefy flavor.
What Are the Best Ways to Cook Top Round Steak?
No matter how you cook a top round steak, you want to make sure that it has plenty of time in contact with liquids. Think slow cooking in a pot roast.
Marinating and braising are the two most common methods for cooking top round steak, as they help to keep the meat from drying out while it’s cooking. Avoid grilling or oven roasting top round steak if you haven’t given it a long marinade, as it will quickly become dry and stringy with way too much doneness.
Interestingly, there are two traditions of drying round steaks after salting and curing them (read our collection of curing books here). Italian Bresaola and the exotic jerky, South African Biltong, both utilize the naturally lean cut, whose lack of fat helps to prevent it from spoiling. But because of the involved processes used for curing meat, it’s not generally advisable as a project for the home cook.
The last method that makes great use of a top round steak is to cook it into a stew or chili. Being constantly submerged in a liquid will keep it tender, and the inexpensive cut can make for a satisfying weeknight meal without breaking the bank.
Top Round Steak Nutrition Facts
Top round steak is significantly leaner than more popular steak cuts, making it a generally healthier option for frequent eating. Here are its nutrition facts per 3 oz serving, according to Nutritionvalue.org:
- 141 calories
- 3.5 grams total fat, with just 1.3 grams saturated fat
- 72 milligrams of cholesterol
- 66 milligrams of sodium
- 26 grams of protein
- 15% daily value of iron
- 8% daily value of potassium
This is all in addition to a generous portion of each B vitamin. Overall, these nutrition facts make the top round steak a suitable alternative to other steaks for anyone trying to eat a lower fat or lower calorie diet.
Top Round Steak Recipes
European and American cuisines have a long tradition of making the best of beef round steak’s affordability and lean texture. In this section, we’ll showcase three of the most popular ways to cook with it, each using a liquid submersion to keep the steak nice and tender.
Despite its name, London Broil doesn’t actually originate in the British colonies — it’s a North American invention that reminded early settlers of the roasts they had back in native England.
The basic idea behind London Broil is to take an inexpensive cut of meat, give it a thorough marinating, and then cook it in a screaming hot oven for a short period of time.
Here’s my current favorite marinade for London Broil: Roughly equal parts of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and ketchup, with a dash of your favorite dried herbs and a little bit of garlic powder. Mix all the ingredients, then put your top round steak in a sealed bag with them, making sure that the marinade covers most or all of the steak. Marinate that for 6+ hours to get the best flavor and texture.
When you’re ready for the “broil” part of a London Broil, go ahead and preheat your oven to 500 degrees with the top rack in the highest position. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat on your stovetop, and when it begins to smoke, throw in the steak. It will create a fair bit of smoke, so be sure to have your vent fan on. Sear for a minute on each side, then transfer to your superheated oven. Broil for 5 to 7 minutes, and your steak will be finished (without getting tough).
Remove the pan from the oven, and then transfer the steak from the pan to a large cutting board. Put a tent of aluminum foil over the top, and you’ll seal in the juices while the steak rests. Then to serve, slice against the grain into thin slices. Serve with mashed potatoes, gravy, mushrooms – and you have a meal.
Italian Beef Sandwiches
Invented in Chicago and served as early as the 1930s, Italian beef sandwiches use a slow roast beef that’s been cut into thinner slices, put that on a French roll, dress it with a few condiments, and serve it alongside an au jus made from the roast’s juices. It’s a wonderful way to stretch out a big cut of top round steak, and makes for a wonderful weekday lunch meat or dinner.
To prepare the beef for these sandwiches, you’ll need a Dutch oven or deep roasting pan. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the steak in the Dutch oven, and cover it fully with beef stock, wine, beer, or a mixture of these. Add garlic and oregano to this broth, and plenty of salt. Cover the Dutch oven and put it in the preheated oven, roasting for up to 8 hours. Then remove the steak and reserve the liquid — this reduced deliciousness is the au jus sauce that you’ll be dipping the sandwich in.
When the roast has cooled to room temperature, slice it as thinly as you can. Traditional Italian beef is often cooled in the refrigerator and then cut ultra thin on a deli slicer.
To serve the sandwiches, pile the beef onto a French roll and garnish it with giardiniera. Then serve it alongside a hot cup of the au jus sauce for dipping.
Beef and Guinness Soup
Ireland’s favorite beer is also the base of one of its most enduring soups: Beef and Guinness soup. The combination of the rich and sweet dark beer, hearty and filling steak, and soft flavorful vegetables is the perfect meal for a cold fall or winter night.
Because of its widespread popularity, there’s no definitive recipe for this soup. Instead, the basic procedure is this:
- Cut cube steak pieces, then sear it in a Dutch oven with a little bit of oil in it. Remove the steak and set it aside.
- In the same Dutch oven, add chopped carrots, parsnips, and/or potatoes as well as salt and pepper. Give them a little sear, then stir in a few tablespoons of flour and cook for a few more minutes.
- Add a few bottles of Guinness and/or beef broth to the pot, then give it a good stir to dissolve all the flour.
- Return the steak to the soup, then bring it to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes, and your soup is ready to go.
It really is that simple — and that complex. We strongly encourage tasting and adjusting the seasoning in your soup as you go, adding more salt and pepper to taste. And the longer you can leave the soup to simmer, the fuller its flavor will become.
Other Cuts Similar to Top Round Steak
Any of the three cuts in the round family — top round, bottom round, and eye of round — will have a very similar flavor and texture. In fact, you can essentially use them interchangeably in any of the above recipes. Top round steak tends to be slightly more tender than bottom round, but not as tender as eye of round.
Skirt and flank steaks are almost as lean as top round steak, and benefit from being cooked in the same way. They’re a thinner cut though, and more suitable to long marinades and short, hot grilling.
Where to Buy Top Round Steak
Because it’s such an affordable cut of steak, it’s best to buy top round in person at your local grocery store or butcher. Alternatively, check with any farmer’s markets in your area to see if anyone offers pasture-raised beef — this will yield the best flavor and healthiest meat.
Few if any online retailers will carry the cut, but even if they did it wouldn’t be a great move to pay an extra premium for shipping.
How to Store Top Round Steak
If you’re shopping on Sunday to cook meals throughout the week, knowing how to store your meats will come in very handy. Especially with a cut like top round steak, you want to avoid freezing at all costs — it will only make the meat that much tougher when you go to cook it.
Instead, wrap your top round steak tightly in a plastic bag, being sure to squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible. Place this on a plate to catch any accidental drips, and store it in the bottom of your refrigerator. The colder your fridge, the better; the optimal temperature for storing meat is somewhere between 34 and 38 degrees. Stored this way, a top round steak will last for about 3 days at optimal quality, or up to 7 days with slight oxidation problems.
If you have a vacuum sealer for meat, this will greatly extend the life of any cut. By forcing out all of the air, the meat can be safely stored in the fridge for a few weeks without beginning to oxidize. If you plan on buying lots of meat when it’s on sale, a vacuum sealer will pay great dividends over time.