What Sets Chicken Fried And Country Fried Steak Apart?

If you think that chicken fried steak and country fried steak are the same, you're not alone — these terms sound like slightly different names for the same dish. However, any southerner would be sure to set you straight. These classics dishes from the American South are not interchangeable, though they share similar appearances and even a couple ingredients. The primary differentiating characteristic is the way in which the steak (yes, we're talking beef steak, not chicken!) is breaded.

If you're a big fan of fried chicken, you'll also love chicken fried steak, since the latter basically applies same method of preparation to a thin cut of beef. The meat is first dunked into a beaten egg mixture that may also contain milk, water, or seasonings; then it's dredged through a coating that's usually made of flour, though there are recipes that use additions or substitutions like cornflakes or corn meal. Then, it's dropped into hot oil to cook until a satisfyingly crispy crust forms.

In contrast, country fried steak preparations skip the egg mixture and get right to dredging in flour and frying. Without the eggs, the result is a fried steak that is less crispy. The way these steak dishes are dressed and served differs a bit, too.

More differences between chicken fried and country fried steak

Another difference between these two dishes is the gravy. With a traditional chicken fried steak, the pan drippings left over from cooking the chicken are combined with flour, pepper, salt, and milk to create a creamy white gravy. While it's not uncommon to see the same gravy served with country fried steak, this version is usually served with brown gravy instead. 

This sauce still uses the pan drippings and flour, but also incorporates beef stock and often onions, plus dairy like cream or whole milk. Country fried steak is often described as "smothered" in gravy on all sides. The chicken fried version usually just gets a ladle of gravy on top; sometimes, it's even served on the side to preserve the crispness.

The locations where you'll find the two dishes differs, too. While you can find chicken fried steaks at a variety of chain restaurants like IHOP, Texas Roadhouse, and Cracker Barrel, you're more likely to find a country fried version in restaurants and homes in the southeast U.S. The chicken fried variety can also be found in households and eateries further west in states like Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. No matter where you enjoy these steaks, though, you're likely to be served southern-style dishes like mac and cheese, cornbread, coleslaw, biscuits, and green beans.

Tips for the best fried steaks

If you're looking to make either variety of southern fried steak at home, use a few tips that to ensure they turn out great. Firstly, if you've ever had an issue with your chicken breading not sticking, you should learn the importance of starting with dry meat. Use a paper towel to dab the steak's surface to help the coating adhere. With chicken-fried steak, you can take the removal of moisture one step further by dredging the meat in flour before coating it with the egg mixture, then dredging again.

Secondly, to avoid burnt or soggy breading, be sure to heat oil to the correct temperature. It should be at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and make sure to test it with a thermometer and keep it consistent throughout the cooking process. You can use a deep frying thermometer, a candy thermometer, or even an infrared version. And if you're already familiar with how to deep fry other foods, you know that crowding your pot or pan will cause a significant decrease in the oil's temperature, so be conservative about how many pieces of steak you add at a time.

If you're feeling up to bucking tradition, you can also test out Carla Hall's advice for making the crispiest chicken fried steak: Start by dredging the steak in cornstarch instead of flour, and coat it in a blend of all-purpose flour and rice flour to make an irresistibly crispy steak.