Cube steak and country fried steak are two types of beef dishes that are prepared differently but can appear similar when served. There are some key differences between cube steak and country fried steak in terms of the cut of meat used, how it is tenderized, breading, cooking method and typical recipes.
What is Cube Steak?
Cube steak is a cut of beef that has been tenderized by machine pounding or by using a meat mallet to break down the tough muscle fibers. This helps make it more tender and easier to chew. The name cube steak comes from the indentations left by the tenderizing process which gives the meat a cubed look.
Where Cube Steak Comes From
Cube steak is usually made from top round steak or top sirloin. Top round is taken from the rear leg of the cow. It’s a lean, inexpensive cut that can be tough if not tenderized. Top sirloin comes from further back near the hip and is also a tougher cut.
How Cube Steak Is Prepared
To make cube steak, the round or sirloin is run through a mechanical tenderizer that pounds it with dozens of sharp, pointed blades. This breaks up the tough muscle fibers. It can also be cubed using a meat mallet at home. Cube steak is typically sliced across the grain before or after tenderizing into portions about 1/2 inch thick.
What is Country Fried Steak?
Country fried steak, sometimes called chicken fried steak, is a Southern specialty made from beef cutlets or steaks that are breaded then pan-fried. It’s served topped with white gravy.
Cuts of Meat for Country Fried Steak
The meat used for country fried steak is generally a more tender cut than cube steak. Common choices are round steak, sirloin steak, ribeye steak or tenderized chuck steak. Using a more tender cut means pounding or cubing isn’t necessary.
How Country Fried Steak Is Cooked
Country fried steak starts with seasoning flour. The steak is dredged in flour then dipped in egg wash followed by another dredge in flour to coat. The breaded steak is fried in oil or shortening until crispy outside and cooked through. It’s served with country or white gravy made from the pan drippings.
Key Differences Between Cube Steak and Country Fried Steak
While cube steak and country fried steak may end up looking very similar after frying, there are some notable differences in their preparation:
Cut of Meat
Cube steak is made from tougher cuts like top round or top sirloin that require mechanical tenderizing. Country fried steak often uses more tender cuts like sirloin or ribeye that don’t need pounding.
Cube steak is tenderized by machining with sharp blades or mallets. Country fried steak doesn’t require this step since it starts with a more tender cut.
Cube steak breading is usually light, just seasoned flour. Country fried steak uses a thicker breading with flour, egg wash and more flour.
Cube steak is commonly grilled or pan-fried without breading. Country fried steak is breaded then pan-fried resulting in a crispy crust.
Cube steak is often served without gravy. Country fried steak is served topped with creamy white country gravy made from the pan drippings.
Can You Substitute One for the Other?
While they are prepared differently, in some cases cube steak and country fried steak can be swapped in a recipe:
- Cube steak can be breaded and pan-fried like country fried steak. The extra tenderizing helps compensate for using a tougher cut.
- More tender cuts like sirloin can be cubed then used in place of cube steak. Pounding helps tenderize but is not essential.
- Recipes that cook the steak thoroughly in liquid like braising may work with either cut.
- Marinades and moist cooking methods like stewing can help tenderize cube steak or tougher cuts used for country fried steak.
However, the results may not be exactly the same when substituting. Factors like cook times, texture and flavor can be affected.
Common Recipes Using Each Type of Steak
Cube steak and country fried steak each shine in certain classic recipes that complement their preparation and texture.
Popular Cube Steak Recipes
- Chicken fried cube steak – Breaded and pan-fried like chicken fried steak
- Swiss steak – Braised with tomatoes and vegetables
- Pepper steak – Sauteed with bell peppers and onions
- Beef stroganoff – Seared then cooked in a creamy sauce
- Beef kabobs – Threaded on skewers and grilled
Well-Known Country Fried Steak Dishes
- Classic country fried steak with white gravy
- Chicken fried steak sandwich
- Country fried steak and eggs – Served with gravy for breakfast
- Country fried steak dinner – With mashed potatoes and vegetables
- Country fried steak tacos or burritos
Cube steak and country fried steak have some distinct differences in the cut of meat used, tenderizing, breading method, cooking techniques and recipes. While they can work as substitutes in some dishes, each excels in certain preparations that complement that specific steak’s qualities. Cube steak works best in recipes where tenderizing is important. Country fried steak is ideal for breaded, pan-fried dishes paired with gravy. Understanding the qualities of each can help choose the right steak that fits the flavor, texture and style you want to achieve.