Uncovering the Truth: Is Country Fried Steak Real Steak?

Is Country Fried Steak Actually Steak?

There are many different ways to prepare fried steak, but one of the most popular variations of fried steak is country fried steak.

Country fried steak has many of the same ingredients as chicken fried steak, including cube steak. So yes, country fried steak is a steak that uses a cube steak cut.

However, some differences do exist between the two dishes. Country fried steak, also called smothered steak, is believed to have originated in the US with German immigrants in the late 1800s, due to its similarities to Wienerschnitzel (and beef milanesa). 

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Where Did Country Fried Steak Originate?

According to Encyclopedia Britannica,  this roadside diner delicacy and staple finds its origins in Texas with the Austrian and German immigrants who settled there, 

Seen as an adaptation of Wienerschnitzel, it traditionally consists of fried and battered cube steak, along with a gravy topping.

This fried steak dish is also similar to an Italian dish called cotoletta alla Milanese. In that particular dish, tenderized pork or veal is breaded and fried just like country fried steak is. 

Is Country Fried Steak Actually Steak: What Is It Made Of? 

Unlike its German predecessor, Wienerschnitzel, which is basically breaded veal, country fried steak is typically made from cube steak.

Because cube steak tends to be a tougher steak, it first needs to be tenderized before it can be made into country fried steak.

A meat mallet and a few minutes of some serious pounding often does the trick.

As for the ingredients, that’s where it gets tricky. As with most recipes that get passed down from generation to generation, country fried steak has many iterations, some of which blur the lines between country fried steak and other breaded meat recipes, including chicken fried steak.

Are Chicken Fried and Country Fried Steak the Same?

For some people, there is no difference between the two dishes: The names are used interchangeably in some regions of the country. In the simplest sense, both dishes include a cut of fried cube steak and a healthy helping of gravy on top.

Blame this bit of confusion on the fact that the recipes change over time, due to the availability, or in this case, the lack of, key ingredients.

In any event, true country fried steak isn’t the same as its foodie cousin, chicken fried steak, according to The Spruce Eats.

Country fried steak gets topped with brown gravy, while chicken fried steak is covered with a white gravy. 

However, Southern Living maintains that there are more differences between the two breaded meat dishes than just the gravies. Country fried steak is the “plainer” of the two recipes in terms of ingredients. The piece of steak gets a thorough coating of flour before being fried up. 

The brown gravy that country fried steak is known for starts with the drippings from the steak that are leftover in the frying pan. Some cooks will even cook the steak further in the gravy to allow it to take on more of the gravy’s flavor. 

Eventually, gravy, steak, and all get served up on a platter with the kind of side dishes that go best with comfort food like this: potatoes, okra, and the works.

What additionally separates this dish from its chicken-fried cousin is a lack of eggs in the meat’s batter. This is a tradition that’s likely a throwback from a different era when cooks on the cattle trail lacked all the necessary resources to cook up traditional recipes. 

In this case, eggs were hard to come by, so they learned to prepare early versions of country fried steak without eggs in the batter. 

On the other hand, traditional chicken fried steak does get eggs in its coating, along with the crackers. These are often saltine crackers, but not always. 

More flavorful savory crackers can be used, again, based on the availability of ingredients: This dish’s cracker coating also tends to be crunchier than the coating on country fried steak. 

The coating on chicken fried steak mimics the coating found on southern fried chicken, crunch and all. It’s this preparation method that gives the dish its name.

It actually contains no chicken at all: only the spirit of the fried chicken, starting with its crunchy cracker coating. Like country fried steak, it’s also made from cube steak.

Other Dishes That Are Similar to Country Fried Steak

While country fried steak is traditionally a cube steak that’s battered and then fried, it is, at its heart, a battered and fried meat. As such, it’s possible to find dishes that are prepared in a similar way as country fried steak but made with other meats.

It’s logical to start this informal list with chicken fried chicken. Chicken really does make up this dish, (unlike chicken fried steak, which doesn’t).

Chicken fried chicken usually consists of a tenderized breaded chicken and boneless chicken that’s deep-fried and then covered with gravy. This is usually a white gravy, made up from the chicken drippings.  

In German restaurants, this chicken dish would go by the name Hänchen-Schnitzel, according to the website German Food Guide. Compared to its beef-based counterparts, its taste runs on the milder side, and overall the dish has less fat. However, given its fried status, that might be negligible, to say the least.

It’s also possible to find a fried pork version of this dish, which is made from pork loin. And of course, there is the dish that some historians believe started it all, which is Wienerschnitzel. This breaded and fried meat dish is made from veal and not cube steak.

Why Is Cube Steak Used in Country Fried Steak?

Cubed Steak

The choice of cube steak was logical, according to The Culture Trip. The original German recipe calls for veal, and Austrian and German immigrants looking to localize the dish would have looked for an inexpensive substitute, in this case, cube steak. 

In the 1880s, people bought tough cuts of meat because they could afford those. Those cuts of meat were also easier for the average person to find.

The tenderizing, breading, and spices made these cheap cuts of meat more palatable as well as more tender. 

Country Fried Steak FAQs

Here are a few FAQs about Country Fried Steak.

What is usually served with country fried steak?

Country fried steak is comfort food through and through. As such, the foods that people usually serve alongside it are also comfort foods. Mashed potatoes, smothered in the meat’s gravy, counts as a popular staple side dish.

Country fried steak usually comes with some sort of vegetable side dish, too. Often, this is okra or green beans. Corn remains a popular option, and it can be served on the cob, though not always. Black-eyed peas, collard greens, and even fresh slices of tomatoes work as side dishes. 

Due to this dish’s farm/ ranch origins, the side dishes that are served with it are dishes that are in season, like the fresh tomatoes, or that get canned, like okra or green beans, in the fall.

Cornbread, along with some butter and honey, adds a bit of starch to the meal.

Is country fried steak a dinner dish?

Often, country fried steak winds up on the lunch or dinner menu, but people also eat it at breakfast time, just like they do steak and eggs.

When it’s served for breakfast, typical “ranch-based” breakfast staples often get served with it. 

Aside from eggs, you’d see dishes like pan-fried breakfast potatoes or hash browns and grits or hominy, which is made from maize (also called dried field corn).

In restaurants, sides of fresh fruit, as well as toast or biscuits also accompany a country fried steak breakfast. The heartiest breakfast might even include biscuits and gravy as a side dish instead of toast.

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