What Exactly Is "Chuck"?

If you’ve always been confused by beef chuck, you’re not alone. Find out where it comes from on the cow, our favorite cuts, and how best to cook them.

Published June 5, 2023.

Meat nomenclature is notoriously baffling.

Not only do different cuts share similar names, but a single cut can have different names, depending on where you buy it. And the butcher's diagram isn't always descriptive enough.

For me, “chuck” has always been one of the most perplexing terms of all. Is it stew meat? Is it discard? Is it good? Is it bad?

After researching this article, I know that depending on the exact cut, chuck is some of the most flavorful meat around. 

Here’s a breakdown of beef chuck—from its location on the cow (and the smaller cuts it contains) to cooking suggestions. Learn to take advantage of the muscles’ abundant fat and collagen to turn it meltingly tender.

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What Is Beef Chuck? 

Chuck is one of eight primal cuts, or large sections of meat, removed from the cow during the initial butchering process. The chuck, which spans the animal’s lower neck, shoulder (the main section), and upper arm, is used by the cow for movement and weight support. 

All that exercise builds up collagen in the connective tissue, which—along with plenty of meaty muscle and intramuscular fat—run across the chuck at various angles. The fat and collagen make the meat flavorful and tough, respectively, but give it loads of potential for turning meltingly tender during cooking.

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Common Cuts from the Chuck

Butchers divide the chuck into a number of smaller roasts and steaks. These are the ones that we cook with the most.    

Chuck-Eye Roast

Alternative names: Chuck center roast, chuck-eye roll, inside chuck roll, boneless chuck fillet, America’s beef roast

What It Is: A center-cut roast (“eye” refers to any center-cut piece of meat) harvested from the center of the first five ribs

Why We Like It: This is the chuck cut we use most often. It’s a continuation of the same muscles that make up the rib eye, one of the most flavorful and tender cuts of beef. And with relatively few muscle groups and, thus, less fat and connective tissue to trim away, it’s a low-labor cut with a relatively high yield of meat for the money. We've even made the case that we prefer it to tenderloin.

Favorite Ways to Cook It: Braise, stew, slow-cook, sous-vide. In general, cuts from the chuck are best cooked low and slow. The goal is to keep the meat above 140 degrees for as long as possible without overcooking it. At that temperature, collagen breaks down into gelatin, which renders the meat supple and tender, and lends the cooking liquid or sauce luscious, silky body. We love it in Classic Pot Roast, Rigatoni with Beef and Onion Ragu, and Simple Pot-Au-Feu.

Chuck-Eye Steak

Alternative names: Shoulder steak, London broil

What It Is: Steak cut from the chuck-eye roast

Why We Like It: It offers the same flavor and moderate tenderness of chuck-eye roast and is a much less expensive alternative to rib-eye steak. 

Favorite Way to Cook It: Grill. We char the steak hot and fast on both sides and then move it to the cooler side of the grill to cook through to medium-rare. Try Grilled Chuck Steaks.

Top-Blade Roast

Alternative Names: Chuck roast first cut, blade roast, top chuck roast

What It Is: A broad, flat, well-marbled cut from the chuck 

Why We Like It: Our favorite substitute for chuck-eye, this roast is loaded with fat and connective tissue that make it very juicy and flavorful. It’s not as tender as chuck-eye, but is still supple if cooked low and slow.

Favorite Ways to Cook It: Braise, stew, slow-cook, sous-vide. Any preparation which cooks this cut low and slow gives it time for the connective dish to break down and dissolve into a more supple, tender texture. Try it in Swiss Steak with Tomato Gravy.

Blade Steak

Alternative Name: Top-blade steak

What It Is: Steak made by cutting crosswise through the top-blade roast

Why We Like It: It offers great value and big, beefy flavor and turns tender faster than other fattier cuts. It’s versatile, too. The roast’s distinct line of gristle runs through the center of the steak but is easy to remove before or after cooking. 

Favorite Ways to Cook It: Braise, stew, stir-fry, slow-cook. Cut it into pieces and cook it slow with liquid or slice it thin for stir-fries. Use it in Our Favorite Chili, Stir-Fried Thai-Style Beef with Chiles and Shallots, or Carbonade a la Flamande (Belgian Beef, Beer, and Onion Stew).

Flat-Iron Steak

Alternative Name: Top-blade steak (confusingly, this steak shares the same alternate name as blade steak)

What It Is: Steak made by cutting lengthwise atop the top-blade roast’s line of gristle so that there’s none on the steak

Why We Like It: In addition to its lack of gristle, this steak is protected from the cow’s shoulder movements, so it’s surprisingly, profoundly tender. 

Favorite Ways to Cook It: Sear or grill. The steak’s subtle mineral flavor is well masked when the meat is grilled or smoked. Make sure to cook it to medium to break down enough connective tissue for tenderness. Make Grill-Smoked, Herb-Rubbed Flat-Iron Steaks.

Boneless Short Ribs

What They Are: Despite what their name implies, boneless short ribs are not ribs at all. Nor are they related to bone-in short ribs, which are cut from a different section of the cow. They are rectangular, trimmed chunks of meat cut from the chuck. Occasionally, you can find whole boneless short rib steaks, which might be sold as Jersey boneless short rib steak. 

Why We Like Them: They’re a primo cut for braising, loaded with flavorful fat that can give all sorts of stews and ragus incredible beefy flavor, as well as collagen that breaks down during a long simmer to give silkiness to the braising liquid. Their flavor and satisfying chew also stands up well to grilling, and their uniformly blocky shape makes them a cinch to prep.  

Favorite Ways to Cook Them: Braise, stew, grill, stir-fry. Use them in Grilled Boneless Beef Short Ribs, Beef Short Rib Ragu, Panang Beef Curry, or Japchae (Korean Sweet Potato Starch Noodles with Vegetables and Beef).

Ground Chuck versus Ground Beef 

Both are common labels in supermarket butcher cases, but they don’t mean the same thing. 

Ground chuck is beef ground from the chuck. It’s moderately high in fat (about 15 to 20 percent) and is a particularly good choice for burgers. 

Ground beef is an umbrella term for beef ground from all parts of the cow. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines “ground beef” as ground fresh and/or frozen beef from primal cuts and trimmings containing no more than 30 percent fat/70 percent lean. Thus, the texture and fat content of “ground beef” can vary widely.

Favorite Way to Use It: We love it in burgers but as a general rule you can typically have great success with swapping in ground chuck for any recipe that calls for 85 percent lean ground beef. You can most definitely choose to grind your own chuck-eye roast as well. 


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