Top Of The Food Chain: Square Cut Chuck
Welcome to Top Of The Food Chain, a column from Eat Me Daily's meatiest columnist, Ryan Adams. Every week we'll attempt to demystify the options available in your supermarket, breaking animals down piece by piece so that the next time you find yourself staring at endless Styrofoam containers, you'll be able to make an informed purchase. This week: Square Cut Chuck.
There's something comforting about those huge chunks of chuck roast. It's a common cut, and yet some of my fondest memories are tied to it, as my grandmother made one killer pot roast. Maybe it's a primal Pavlovian response, causing a rush of endorphins to my brain upon seeing all that muscle and fat. Either way, there is no doubt that if you want drool inducing roasts, you've got to head straight to the chuck.
Cut: Square Cut Chuck
The chuck is essentially a whole cow shoulder, also known as a clod, and when removed from the forequarter is called a cross-cut chuck. It weighs about 100 pounds, and makes up roughly 23% of the carcass. The chuck primal itself is bigger than its brethren and harbors the most seam fat, too. With so much meat coming from one area, it means that it's the most plentiful cut of beef available, and therefore the most economical cut you can find.
When the brisket is removed (don't worry, we'll be covering that barbecue darling soon), the cross-cut chuck becomes an arm chuck. Remove the foreshank, and we have a square-cut chuck which is composed of four large muscles and a bunch of little ones. The largest of the big muscles is the eye of chuck, and is often sold as chuck eye roast. The smallest of the large crew is actually something I've already covered, the shoulder tender. Moving on, the meat found under the shoulder blade is sometimes called under-blade pot roast or if cut into steaks, under-blade steaks. The meat above the blade, the aptly named top blade, is a small muscle that is shaped much like a triangle. You probably know it better by its marketing name, the flatiron steak.
The muscles that make up the square cut chuck are flavorful thanks to the amount of work they've done, and juicy due to the fat and connective tissue that is scattered throughout the area. The grain of the muscle is fairly coarse and unpredictable; it may run in different directions within one piece of meat and have varying degrees of tenderness and marbling.
Beef Chuck, Square-Cut
This big boy is the whole square-cut of chuck, and it is one seriously massive hunk of beef. Since there is so much of the chuck, butchers are able to dissect it into an almost limitless number of reasonably priced pot roasts and steaks that are popular in supermarkets.
Beef Chuck, Square-Cut, Boneless
The same piece of meat as above, but without all of the bones and cartilage, and with some of the intercostal meat removed. The smaller section of meat is the shoulder, which includes things like the flatiron steak, the shoulder tender, and the shoulder center.
Beef Chuck, Chuck Roll
Cut from the boneless square-cut chuck, the chuck roll contains the largest of the muscles found under the shoulder blade. The chuck roll can be cut into any size, and might be placed into netting or tied to keep its shape.
Beef Chuck, Chuck Eye Roll
This cut is very similar to the one above it, but is trimmed of some of the muscles, and some of the extra fat. It can be cut into steaks or into cubes for stew meat.
Beef Shoulder, Top Blade Steak
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the flatiron steak. An excellent cut of meat, the top blade steak is particularly tender. One shoulder houses two of them, which are attached by a layer of tough connective tissue.
What to look for when buying
If your budget is a tighter than usual, look for center-cut chuck roasts on sale. Since it's summer, and summer means grilling, your butcher is trying to move lots of steaks from the chuck. If you purchase a center-cut chuck steak that's about 5 inches thick, you can easily disassemble the muscles into their own cuts by following the seams with a sharp knife. You'll end up with enough cuts to make three or four meals. Economical!
The meat itself should have a bright, cherry-red color with speckles of fat running through the meat. Check that the muscle is firm to the touch, and that the container doesn't contain excess liquid. If you're looking to make a pot roast, just go ahead and find one that fits your needs, with most of the fat trimmed away. You'll want about 3/4's of a pound of boneless chuck roast, and one pound bone-in, per person.
Beef can be frozen in its original packaging for up to two weeks. If you're going for longer storage, you'll want to prevent freezer burn by re-wrapping the flank steak in freezer paper, plastic freezer bags or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Try to remove as much air from the packaging as possible before sealing.
The pot roast is one of the great classic dishes that is as simple to make as it is comforting. (Recipe from Jack Ubaldi's Meat Book: A Butcher's Guide to Buying, Cutting, and Cooking Meat by Jack Ubaldi, out of print.)
- 1 boneless under-blade roast, 4 to 5 pounds
- Salt, fresh ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups coarsley chopped onions, carrots, and celery
- 1/4 pound salt pork, cut into cubes
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 16-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 cup beef stock or water (if needed)
Roll the meat in flour and season it with salt and pepper. Heat the vegetable oil until it just starts to smoke in a large skillet; brown the garlic and meat in the hot oil.
As the meat browns, melt the butter in an enameled cast iron dutch oven (or something similar) and begin to saute the vegetables and salted pork chunks in it. When the beef is well browned all over, add it to the casserole and let it cook with the vegetables for about 5 minutes.
Add the wine to the dutch oven and reduce it to less then half. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, parsley, salt, and pepper. Lower the heat to simmer, partially cover the dutch oven with the lid and let cook for two hours, checking the amount of juices and turning the meat from time to time. If it gets dry, add beef stock or water.
Put the vegetables through a food mill or blender with the pan juices for a slightly thickened gravy.
- True Texas Chili via Epicurious.com
- Beef Bourguignon from Food52
- Flat Iron Steak with Red Wine Sauce care of Giada De Laurentiis
- Pot Roast from Alton Brown
Special thanks to Bob del Grosso, Chef and Charcutiere of Hendricks Farms and Dairy in Telford, Pennsylvania, for consulting on this post.