What is Beef Round? A Guide to this Affordable Primal Cut

If you’ve browsed the meat section at the grocery store, you’ve likely come across cuts of beef labeled “round.” This refers to a specific primal cut of beef that comes from the back leg and rump of the cow.

While not as widely known or coveted as cuts like ribeye or tenderloin, the beef round has its place. It provides an economical way to put beef on the dinner table.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the beef round, including:

  • What part of the cow it comes from
  • The different muscles and subprimal cuts
  • How it compares to other primal cuts in tenderness and fat content
  • Best cooking methods for round cuts
  • Popular dishes made with round

Let’s get into all the details on this affordable and versatile primal beef cut.

Overview of the Beef Round

The beef round primal comprises the entire back leg and rump of the cow. This includes the hindquarters from the hip down through the top of the leg.

It’s one of the leanest primals on the animal, since most fat deposits are toward the front. It also contains a high ratio of connective tissue due to the heavily exercised leg muscles.

The round is divided into subprimal cuts:

  • Top round – Inside portion of the leg above the kneecap
  • Bottom round – Outside portion of the leg below the kneecap
  • Eye of round – Small tender muscle near the femur bone
  • Sirloin tip – Portion closer to the loin primal

In total, the round makes up about 20% of the animal’s total weight.

Why Beef Round is Affordable

There are a few reasons why beef round cuts cost less than premium primals:

It’s very lean – Most marbling and fat is concentrated on the front half of the cow. The round is quite lean, which affects tenderness and moisture.

Contains more connective tissue – The leg muscles get a lot of use, so they have more connective tissue. This can make the meat tougher.

Less coveted – Cuts like ribeye and tenderloin are viewed as more desirable, so the round is less expensive by comparison.

Produces smaller individual cuts – The round is divided into many small muscles compared to large primals like the rib.

So in terms of taste, tenderness, and portion size, the round is not as sought after as some other primals. But with the right cooking method, it can still make delicious and affordable meals.

Subprimal Cuts from the Beef Round

The round primal is separated into several smaller subprimals. Here are the key ones:

Top Round

  • From the inside/top portion of the leg
  • Contains two main muscles: semimembranosus and adductor
  • Can be roasted or sliced into steaks

Eye of Round

  • Small tender muscle near the femur bone
  • Prized for its tenderness compared to other round cuts
  • Mainly used for roasts or thin sliced roast beef

Bottom Round

  • From the outside/bottom portion of the leg
  • Where classic rump roasts come from
  • Sometimes divided into the gooseneck, heel, and rump flat iron

Sirloin Tip

  • Portion of the leg closer to the loin primal
  • Also referred to as the knuckle
  • Contains multiple muscles like the quadriceps
  • Can be roasted whole or cut into steaks

Round Tip

  • The very bottom of the leg by the hoof
  • Not utilized as much due to significant connective tissue
  • Used primarily for ground beef

So in the meat case, you’ll come across cuts labeled “top round roast,” “bottom round steak,” or “eye of round roast.” This tells you exactly which subprimal it comes from.

Typical Cooking Methods for Beef Round

Due to the lean nature and abundance of connective tissue, round needs to be cooked carefully to maximize tenderness. Here are the best cooking methods:

  • Braising: Slowly cooking round cuts in moist heat helps break down connective tissue. Pot roasts and stews are classic uses.

  • Roasting: Cooking eye of round and top round roasts to no more than medium rare helps prevent drying out. Slicing against the grain is also key.

  • Simmering: Round tip and other cuts can be simmered for soups, broths, or boiled dinner. The moist heat softly cooks the meat.

  • Grinding: Trimmings and less tender cuts are ideal for ground beef. Mixing fat from other cuts helps balance the leanness.

  • Marinating: Soaking round steaks in an acidic marinade helps tenderize and gives flavor since the meat itself is blander.

  • Slicing thin: For cooked roast beef, shaving it paper thin makes it easier to chew.

Popular Dishes Made with Beef Round Cuts

From an economical family dinner to pub food favorites, here are some classic ways that beef round cuts are used:

  • Pot roasts
  • Slow cooker stews
  • Roast beef sandwiches
  • Corned beef
  • French dip sandwiches
  • Beef jerky
  • Beef empanadas
  • Italian beef sandwiches
  • Ground beef for burgers, meatballs, etc.
  • Beef broth and bone broth
  • Cottage pie or shepherd’s pie

Buying and Cooking Tips for Beef Round

When purchasing beef round at the grocery store, here are some helpful tips:

  • Look for cuts with some thin white marbling for added moisture

  • Check that the color is a bright cherry red with no grayish tones

  • For pot roasts, choose a roast with some larger pockets of fat dispersed throughout

  • For oven roasts, select a thicker crown roast with uniform shape

  • For steaks, pick ones at least 1-inch thick to prevent overcooking

And when preparing round at home, keep these pointers in mind:

  • Trim off any large pieces of visible fat to prevent a greasy finished dish

  • Brown beef well initially to build a flavorful fond for gravy or sauce

  • Cook it at a low simmer or low oven temp (300°F) to break down connective tissue

  • Let roasts rest at least 10 minutes before slicing for juicier meat

  • Always slice against the grain for more tender results

Is Beef Round a Healthy Choice?

Compared to fattier cuts of beef, the round is quite lean and anecdotally contains fewer calories and cholesterol. However, lean beef is not necessarily the healthiest red meat option.

In terms of nutritional value, grass-fed beef contains higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids compared to conventional grain-fed beef. And when it comes to calories, protein, and fat, bison or other game meat is comparable to extra lean beef in a healthier overall package.

For those looking to reduce red meat for health, substituting poultry, seafood, beans, or soy-based proteins are all good options. As with any diet, eating lean beef in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet is recommended.

The Takeaway on Beef Round

While it may not be as coveted as premium steaks, the beef round has a place at the dinner table. It provides an affordable way to incorporate beef into favorite braised dishes, roast beef sandwiches, beef broth, and so much more.

Keeping cooking techniques and proper slicing in mind, round can be just as tender, juicy, and satisfying as pricier cuts. Getting familiar with this economical primal will help you shop the meat counter like a pro and expand your beef repertoire.

Learn the Art of Butchery – Beef Round with Professor Phil Bass

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