Eye of round is a lean and flavor-rich beef cut that’s the perfect budget-friendly alternative to more premium steak cuts. Find out everything you need to know about this underrated gem with our beef eye of round guide.
If someone came up to you and asked you to name three types of steak, it’s not very likely that you’d mention eye of round as one of your top picks. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about – eye of round steaks aren’t an overly popular choice for backyard grilling.
Eye of round steaks come from a cut of beef usually reserved for slow cooking or roasting as it’s renowned for being a tough and dry part of the cow. But eye of round is a highly affordable, hidden gem that can be absolutely delicious when prepared and cooked correctly.
Let’s take a closer look at what eye of round steak is, where you can buy it, how to grill it to give you a budget-friendly and deliciously beefy steak.
What is Eye of Round Steak?
Eye of round steak is a lean cut of beef that comes from the round primal, an area that covers the rump and hind leg of the cow. As it’s sourced from a group of muscles used constantly as the steer moves around, this beautiful beef contains a rich amount of connective tissue running through it.
Cuts of beef with a higher amount of connective tissue can often be seen as less desirable compared to something more tender such as sirloin or ribeye. Fortunately, this perception makes cuts like this more affordable, and as long as you know how to prepare and cook leaner cuts of beef, they can still be just as tasty.
Raw eye of round steak can look quite odd when compared to other typical steak cuts – it has no fat cap, little-to-no fat marbling, and very tight grain. It is a cut that most people would be familiar with for use in stews and slow-cooked recipes that contain a lot of fluid as this helps to stop the already lean meat from drying out.
Granted, it doesn’t sound very appealing as a steak, but with the right preparation, the grain can be loosened and tenderized to have a nice texture once grilled.
Eye of round steak isn’t the easiest to find at supermarket meat counters. To buy a decent-sized cut of it, you’ll need to go to a butcher and ask for beef round to be broken down to produce eye of round steaks that are suitable for grilling.
If you are feeling adventurous or are particularly confident in your own butchering skills, you could always order an eye of round roast joint and divide it into steaks yourself!
Breaking Down Beef Round
If you choose to buy an entire beef round, you can break it down into the following sub-primal cuts:
The top round is sometimes called the inside round as it is from the inside area of the leg of the steer. It works great with low and slow smoked recipes and can be sliced up and served for sandwiches, fajitas, tacos, or just as cold-cut meat.
The bottom round is sometimes called the outside round as it comes from the outside portion of the leg, and is perfect for making a slow-cooked roast. The bottom round may also contain the femur bone, which is great for saving to make a delicious bone broth.
Eye of Round
The eye round comes from between the top and bottom rounds. This cut is then sliced to make our eye of round steaks.
How to Prepare it
As the eye of round steak comes from a primal cut that is notorious for being lean and tough, it’s important that you know how to correctly prepare the eye of round steaks to ensure they are tender enough for grilling.
Usually when we talk about tenderizing meat, the best solution is an acid-based marinade. The only issue with eye of round steaks is that they have such a close and tight grain that it is difficult for the marinade to penetrate them properly. Before marinating our eye of round steaks, we need to tenderize them with a mallet.
Ensuring you get a tender and juicy steak once it’s been cooked can take a bit more prep work if you’re working with a particularly tough or lean cut of meat.
Tenderizing meat is just a process of breaking down protein molecules so that they are easier to chew. This can usually be achieved by marinating meat before cooking, but with certain cuts of lean meat that come from well-worked muscle groups, these proteins are harder to break down and need a bit of a helping hand.
Having a meat tenderizing mallet or tool is a must for any serious griller – when looking for one to purchase we suggest finding one that has a flat as well as a spiked side (not all meats will need holes made in the surface to tenderize them – sometimes they just need some of the connective tissue loosened) and something that is dishwasher safe.
When physically tenderizing meat with a mallet, you need enough force to leave an imprint of the spikes in the meat. If you go too hard, you risk damaging the soft meat tissue rather than just the connective tissue. Repeat this process on both sides.
Now that the grain of the meat is sufficiently loosened, we can move the steaks to an acid-based marinade. The steaks will need to be left in the marinade for at least 24 hours to allow it to work its tenderizing magic.
When marinading meat, especially a tougher cut such as eye of round steaks, you want to make sure your marinade has a good acid base of something like lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, buttermilk, or apple cider vinegar. The acid helps weaken the surface proteins in the meat so that the rest of the marinade ingredients can infuse fully. Breaking down these proteins also naturally boosts the flavor of the meat.
A simple steak marinade takes little time to make but can make a whole world of difference to a tough cut of meat. Here’s our favorite simple steak marinade recipe that is perfect for tenderizing eye of round steaks:
- ¼ cup of olive oil
- ¼ of balsamic vinegar
- ¼ of soy sauce
- 2 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp of minced garlic
Whisk the ingredients together in a bowl. Place your eye of round steaks into a container or ziplock bag and pour the marinade on top. Let the steaks sit in the marinade and refrigerate for a minimum of 24 hours.
How to Grill Eye of Round Steak
How you grill eye of round steaks is just as important as how you prepare them. Both steps need to be done correctly to get a great tasty dish.
Here is our step-by-step guide for grilling eye of round steaks:
- Once the steaks have been marinating for a minimum of 24 hours, they can be removed from the fridge and left to sit and come up to room temperature.
- When they have reached room temperature, you will need to remove as much excess marinade from the surface of the meat as possible.
- (This is because we will be using a medium heat to grill them, any excess moisture left on the surface of the steak will lower the cooking temperature and mean we won’t be able to get a good sear)
- Your grill will need to be set up for two-zone cooking as we will cook the steaks on a lower indirect heat to ensure they don’t dry out and then finish with a sear on the higher direct heat side.
- Aim for a medium-high grill temperature of 350-400℉ (176-204℃)
- Once the grill is up to temperature, place your steaks on the indirect heat side, turning them once to ensure an even cook.
- Use an instant-read thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the steaks.
- When the internal temperature of the steaks has reached 125℉ (51℃), move them onto the direct heat side of the grill and sear them on each side.
- It should only take 1-2 minutes on each side to get a nice crust, and then they can be removed to rest when the internal temperature hits 130℉ (54℃).
- Place the cooked eye of round steaks onto tinfoil, adding a knob of butter to each steak before tenting the foil. Leave the steaks to rest for 5 minutes before serving.