Beef Chuck Roll: Steaks and Roasts

Chuck Eye Steaks, Denver Steaks and Sierra Steaks

Beef chuck eye roll
Photo courtesy of the Beef Checkoff

The chuck roll is one of the two major boneless subprimal of the beef chuck primal cut. It starts out as the long section of meat between the shoulder blade on one side and the ribs and backbone on the other. The butcher will first bone out the shoulder blade, then remove the ribs and backbone. Finally, the meat from the lower rib area is removed and made into ground chuck.

What's left, after trimming away fat and squaring it off, is a large (20-ish pounds), a boneless hunk of meat called the chuck roll. Since it's tough, fatty, and/or gristly, half of it ends up as ground beef, stew meat, stir-fry meat and so on. It's possible to get some good quality steaks and roasts from it. Doing so requires separating it into two common cuts known as the chuck eye roll and the chuck under the blade.

Chuck Eye Roll

The chuck eye roll (or simply "chuck eye") is an interesting piece of meat, because, at the rib end, it contains a few inches of the same tender muscle that gives us ribeye steaks; however, it's also surrounded by connective tissue, fat, and a few other muscles that aren't so tender.

A typical approach is to make those first few inches into steaks, known as chuck eye steaks or sometimes, amusingly, called Delmonico steaks. The middle section of the chuck eye can be sliced into thick strips and sold as country style ribs, which are flavorful and excellent for braising.

Finally, the tough meat from the neck end of the chuck eye is often used for stew meat or ground chuck, or, it might be sold as a chuck eye roast. Beware of any roast that could also be stew meat. For that matter, sometimes the whole chuck eye is simply cut in half and sold as two large roasts.

Chuck Underblade

The chuck under blade consists of three muscles, the rhomboids, the serratis ventralis and the splenius. The rhomboidius is extremely tough, so the first step is removing it for ground beef or stew meat. The splenius can then be detached from the serratis ventralis.

The splenius is a small, flat muscle with long, thick-grained muscle fibers similar to what you'll see in a flank steak. It can be sliced into steaks, which are lately described as Sierra steaks.

The main thing with this muscle is that it has a lot of connective tissue on the outside, which needs to be completely trimmed away. You can prepare a Sierra steak much like a flank steak: marinate it, grill it over high heat and slice it across the grain.

The serratis ventralis (also known as the chuck edge roast or chuck flap) is a long, relatively tender, well-marbled muscle that can be made into steaks, but again, it needs to be denuded of all exterior connective tissue.

The serratis ventralis can be cut in half along a natural seam where the muscle fibers change directions. This is important, because steaks from this muscle need to be sliced against the grain, or they'll be chewy.

One technique is to separate the rear section and slice it against the grain into Denver steaks. The front half can then be cut into steaks or made into stew meat, kabobs or stir-fry meat — not necessarily because it's less tender, but because its pointy shape makes it difficult to fashion into steaks.

To save time, the whole muscle is frequently portioned into Denver steaks (without separating the two sections first). Alas, steaks cut this way will not be cut uniformly against the grain, so your jaws are going to get a workout.