The shoulder and chuck roasts are another of those duos that tends to get caught up in a bit of naming confusion. Not only do they both come from a cow, but both come from the same part of the cow. So what is the difference between shoulder roast and chuck roast?
The shoulder roast is softer and leaner. Its grain makes it better for steaks, and it’s usually a bit more expensive. The chuck roast is fattier, chewier, and cheaper. It’s easier to pull it apart or grind it up than to slice it thin, which makes it better for hamburgers and barbecue sandwiches.
Both the shoulder and chuck roasts are cut from the chuck primal, which, like the rib or the loin, is one of the eight main parts of the cow.
While they are located close together on the cow and inside the same primal, shoulder roasts and chuck roasts are hardly interchangeable.
Read on to find out exactly where these cuts come from and what kinds of things you can make with each, hoping that we can clear up some of the confusion.
What Is a Shoulder Roast?
Butchers use a system of primals to divide a cow into eight pieces with different levels of flavor, tenderness, and fat content. Both the shoulder roast and the chuck roast are cut from a primal called the chuck.
Although it may seem a bit confusing at first, the chuck primal is not the same as the chuck roast.
The shoulder roast is leaner than the chuck roast, so you’ll have less fat to render, but all that lean meat will dry out if you cook it fast. You can get an additional dimension of flavor if you marinate it in your favorite marinade overnight.
The chuck primal is one of the biggest parts of the cow. It comes from the animal’s shoulder area. Since the shoulder roast and chuck roast are sub-sections of the chuck primal, they’re considered sub-primal cuts.
Let’s dive into the major differences between the two.
Even though they basically sit beside each other on the cow, the shoulder roast always has softer meat with less fat content than the chuck roast.
You can even cut steaks from the shoulder roast and pop them straight on your grill without having to marinate them to soften them up ahead of time.
Two of the best shoulder roast steaks are:
- The flat iron steak
- The petite tender steak
The flat iron steak is a popular cut that comes from the shoulder blade. It will cook quickly over a high flame if you’re in a hurry, but make sure you keep an eye on it. It’s easy to overcook, which will turn the meat tough and chewy.
Also sometimes known as bistro steak, the petite tender steak is another lean, juicy cut from the shoulder roast. In your mouth, it will feel like a slightly chewier filet mignon.
It won’t dissolve into bliss like a tenderloin, but it can be a good substitute that’s easy on your wallet. The petite tender has a rich, beefy flavor that often outperforms the price.
If you want to prepare the whole shoulder roast at once, you’ll get tastier and more tender results if you leave it on a low flame for a long time.
The shoulder roast works much better for steaks than for shredding.
The grain of the muscle tends to stick together, which makes this cut much easier to carve into slices than to pull apart.
If you have the right cutlery, you can slice the shoulder thinly across the top of the muscle, parallel to the grain, to make a blade steak. You can also slice it against the grain to make a thicker chuck steak.
SEE ALSO: How To Tell If A Steak Is Bad
You can expect to find a bit of gristle as well as a bone or two inside your shoulder roast.
It’s easy to separate these unwanted parts from the meat either before or after you cook it. If you’re making a stew or a whole roast, you can even leave them in to get a bit of extra flavor.
What Is a Chuck Roast?
Although they both come from the same chuck primal on the shoulder area of the cow, the shoulder roast is cut from below the shoulder and the chuck roast is cut from above the shoulder.
These superior shoulder muscles get quite a workout when the cow is alive.
The chuck roast is loaded with flavor, but it’s also full of tough connective tissue. That can make it a bit hard to chew through unless you prepare it right.
The chuck roast section also has more fat than the shoulder roast section, which needs more time to render. The chewiness combined with the fattiness means that you’ll need a lot of patience and a low flame to make it delicious.
Chuck roasts tend to be cheaper than shoulder roasts and many other parts of the cow. If you like to grill, you may have heard your friends refer to the chuck roast as a poor man’s brisket.
This cut is often ground up to be used for things like spaghetti, meatloaf, and hamburger. Chuck roasts can be as much as 20% fat, which makes them perfect for fatty meat dishes like hamburgers.
SEE ALSO: How To Tell If Ground Beef Is Bad
Where shoulder roast muscles tend to stick together, chuck roast muscles have a crisscross pattern in many places. That makes them hard to slice thinly but quite easy to pull apart.
Many chefs love shredding this cut to use in dishes like barbecue sandwiches that need a stringy texture.
It also works well in stews or roasted whole. When you braise it or roast it slowly, the fats and connective tissues slowly break down and melt into the meat.
This provides a sort of automatic self-basting for your roast that covers it in its own juices over time. In order to get a whole chuck roast right, you may need to leave it to simmer slowly for the better part of a day.
If you need to prepare a chuck roast quickly, we recommend you cut the meat into cubes and pop it into a beef stew. The smaller you make the pieces, the quicker they will soften.