The Best Cut Of Meat To Use When Making Country Fried Steak

Country fried steak and its close relative chicken fried steak are classics in the Southern food canon. Making these gravy-smothered dishes involves taking cheap cuts of beef, pounding them thin, then breading and frying them.The latter dish is deep-fried in the same way you would normally fry chicken; hence, "chicken fried." There are minute differences in the gravies and coatings used in these meaty dishes, but chicken fried and country fried steak both have to start with a fitting cut of beef.

While chuck or round steak are commonly used, the most popular choice of meat for country fried steak is cube steak, which is pre-pounded and scored along the surface to make it faster to cook. But Bob Bennett, Head Chef at Zingerman's Roadhouse, gave Food Republic his own recommendation: Top sirloin, a flavorful but lean cut from the cow's rear, beloved for its naturally firm texture. 

"It is one of those cuts that doesn't have a lot of connective tissue but enough to keep it in one piece after pounding it," Bennett explains. Though it's usually cooked on the grill, top sirloin is a great pick for country fried steak that is a step up in tenderness, but holds its shape as it's pounded and fried. Very tender cuts might not survive some whacking with a meat mallet.

More pro tips for the best country fried steak

While many sources use the terms "country fried" and "chicken fried" interchangeably, what sets chicken fried and country fried steak apart depends on who you talk to. Some claim that the difference lies in the type of gravy they are served with, while others say it depends on whether or not the steak gets an egg wash before it's breaded. According to Bob Bennett, chicken fried steak is deep-fried, while country fried steak is pan-fried, so his steak is technically chicken-fried. However, all of his fried steak tips will easily work for a country fried version, too.

Instead of an egg wash, Bennett dips his steak in buttermilk before dredging it in a mixture of cayenne, Tellicherry black peppercorns, salt, and flour. The buttermilk, with its touch of acidity, helps to tenderize the meat. (Yogurt can also be used for this purpose in a pinch.) 

Feel like changing things up? You could use anything from saltine crackers to corn flakes to cornstarch for the coating, depending on your preference (ideally with a touch of baking powder for additional crunch). What's really important is to fry your steak in a high smoke point oil until it is golden on the outside and perfectly tender in the middle — a high smoke point ensures the oil (and your steak!) won't burn.