Top Round Steak: What You Need to Know

raw top round steak on a plate
Source: Dbenbenn / Wikimedia

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The top round steak is an excellent all-purpose cut that isn’t as well known as it should be.

Thick and flavourful, the top round is a great budget cut that should be on everyone’s weekday meal list. I

t needs a little care and attention to get the best from it, but we can show you exactly how to do that.  

What is a top round steak?

The term top round steak is a little misleading. If you’ve ever picked up one of these and tried the old quick sear method, you’ll probably have been left with boot leather. 

Cow diagram showing various cuts of beef

This is because the top round comes from the round primal, a cut of beef from the rump and hind legs of the animal. Because those muscles are used for movement, they see a lot of work during the animal’s lifetime and are lean, but not particularly tender.

The top round steak is also advertised as the London broil, breakfast steak, sandwich steak, and butterball steak.

It is taken from the very top of the round primal, making it slightly more tender than other cuts from the same area.

However, if you’re expecting a budget filet mignon, you’re going to be disappointed.

The best way to think of the top round steak is as a similar cut to the flank steak or the skirt steak. That is to say, flavorsome and affordable cuts of beef that pair excellently with a tenderizing marinade and, with the right preparation, can be the basis of a huge range of amazing dishes.

What is top round steak good for?

One of the best attributes of the top round steak is its versatility. It is very lean and, when cooked incorrectly, can be tough as old nails. 

However, it takes well to being cooked for long periods of time, responds extremely well to marinades and, if sliced wafer-thin and cooked as hot and fast as possible, makes a great steak sandwich.

raw top round steak
Source: Carnivore Locavore / Flikr

Much like the skirt and flank steak, the top round goes extremely well in dishes like a beef stew or slow-cooked chunky beef chili where the meat is allowed to cook for a very long time at a low temperature. 

Cooking your top round steak slow and low is going to remove all that toughness and make it just fall apart in your mouth.

Fajitas, beef carnitas, barbacoa, and bibimbap are also great uses for the top round steak as the hefty acid-based marinades used in these recipes help to tenderize the meat while the beefy flavor of the top round adds depth to the dish.

Lean meat can always have extra fat added to it, so top round steak also works for burgers and meatballs as long as you can add another source of fat to the mix.

You might want to include fatty pork, sausage meat, or even chopped up bacon to add the fat required to stop your burgers or meatballs from drying out.

What’s the best way to cook a top round steak?

As we mentioned, top round steak is marvelously versatile, so there are a  range of ways you can prepare it. Here are just a couple for you to try:

Slow cooking

Slow cooking your top round steak is a great way to emphasize the extra flavor you get from the round primal while making sure the end result is melt-in-your-mouth tender.

You can slow cook just about any marinated beef dish, but for a simple and delicious beef stew, we suggest this recipe from tasteofhome.com

Ingredients 

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 pounds boneless beef round steak, cut into serving-size pieces
  • 6 teaspoons canola oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Once you have all your ingredients, simply combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a large zip-lock plastic bag, adding in the beef a few chunks at a time and shaking to coat.

Then brown the coated beef in a skillet filled with four teaspoons of the canola oil. Once the beef is browned, put it into your slow cooker and use the same pan to cook the onion until slightly translucent.

Add the onion and the rest of the ingredients to the slow cooker and cook for eight hours on low for a lovely rich stew filled with tender pieces of beef.

Marinades

The benefit of an acid-based marinade is that it starts to break down the tough muscle fibers of the meat, tenderizing it as it imparts flavor. This is why most recipes for dishes like carnitas or fajitas include an acid element like citrus juice or vinegar. 

If you’d rather enjoy your top round on its own, the food magicians over at thespruceeats.com have come up with a fantastic savory marinade that cuts down on the top round’s toughness while really bringing out its beefy flavor.

Marinade ingredients

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (or canola oil)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce (preferably low sodium)
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup (or tomato paste)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (Creole mustard or a similar brown or gourmet mustard)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh garlic (finely minced)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried leaf oregano
  • Dash crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds top round steak

The best way to combine your steak with the marinade is in a zip-lock food storage bag. Put the meat in the bag, add the marinade, give it a good shake to combine, and then let it sit in the fridge for a minimum of four hours and ideally eight hours. 

If you can, try to turn the bag hourly to make sure the marinade is evenly distributed.

Broiling 

One of the reasons that the top round steak is often called the London broil is that it responds well to broiling (that’s grilling to anyone who’s actually from London) once it has been properly marinaded.

If you using the marinade above, or a similar one, you can finish you steak in the broiler using the following steps:

  • Once your top round steak is properly marinated, remove it from the bag, discarding the rest of the marinade, and pat it with a paper towel to remove some, but not all, of the moisture
  • Set your broiler to a high heat and place your steaks on the center self, around 2 to 3 inches from the heating element. Cook your top round steak for around 6 to 9 minutes on each side
  • Ideally, you should be aiming for medium-rare, so use your instant-read thermometer to check the steak’s internal temperature, removing it from the broiler when it is around 125°F (51°C)
  • Let your steak rest for 3-5 minutes, during which time the heat will continue to rise to 130 °F (54°C), the perfect medium-rare.  Check out our guide to steak doneness for more information.
  • Slice your steak against the grain to maximize tenderness and enjoy!

Wrapping it up

Top round steak might not be featured on the menu at your local steakhouse any time soon, but this workhorse cut should be a staple of your weekday meals. It’s flavorsome, inexpensive, and when prepared correctly, tender and delicious.

If you’ve got any cooking tips for a top round steak or a particular marinade recipe you like to share, let us know in the comments below.

John McCloy

John McCloy

Formerly a brand manager for the UK high street, John gave up that life for the far less stressful job of running his own business. He now likes to spend as much of his free time as possible hunched over a grill, reading about grills, or staring forlornly out of a window as the British weather makes it impossible to use his grill."
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