Understanding the Differences Between Shoulder and Chuck Roast

Beef roasts are a staple in English cooking, and Sunday roasts are well ingrained in the culture. 

In the United States, ham or turkey is more common for special occasions. Meanwhile, beef roasts are more likely to show up as a pot roast or sliced in a roast beef sandwich, rather than center-stage on the table. 

Why not switch things up and give a beef roast a go next holiday or family dinner?

About Beef Roasts  

A beef roast is a large chunk of beef customarily served as the main dish of a dinner occupied by potato and vegetables. 

If you were in England, you’d be served a Yorkshire pudding alongside it. In America, that would be replaced by beard rolls or biscuits. 

You can purchase many cuts of beef roast from your butcher or supermarket; the labeling can certainly get a bit confusing. 

As many of us didn’t grow up having beef roast every Sunday, picking the cut for a roast may seem overwhelming! 

The options for roasts are immense. 

Going from the front of the steer to the back, they include: 

  • Chuck
  • Clod
  • Brisket
  • Rib
  • Strip loin
  • Tenderloin
  • Top sirloin
  • Tri-tip
  • Top round
  • Bottom round
  • Eye of round
  • Sirloin tip 

Generally, more muscular areas of the steer, like the round, are less tender and suitable for braising. 

They tend to be the more affordable cuts, and are still a good choice for a typical Sunday dinner with family. 

However, areas of the steer that do not get much exercise, such as the chest, will be more tender. These are very suitable for special occasions. 

You can also look for the USDA grading, which will give you an idea about the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. 

This grading system is fundamental when looking at beef cuts, as more than any other meat beef can vary drastically in regard to quality. 

A good way to get started is by visiting your local butcher and telling them precisely what you want to make with the meat, how much time you have, how many people you are serving, and what you’re willing to spend. 

They will then be able to advise you on the best option, and freshly cut it to the correct size. 

It’s good to purchase the meat one or two days before you want to use it. Any more than three or four days, and the freshness will be affected. 

Shoulder Roast vs. Chuck Roast: What’s The Difference? 

This is where the labeling can get confusing. 

If you look up what chuck roast is, you’ll see it’s a cut from the shoulder. So, it seems safe to assume that chuck roast is the same as shoulder roast, right? 

Well, not quite. 

The beef chuck– the shoulder section of the steer- is a substantial primal section that can weigh up to 100 pounds and make up to 30% of all the beef used from the cow. 

It can be a challenge for butchers to work with, due to all the muscles of different sizes and shapes that make up the area. 

The shoulder is known for its rich beefy flavor and tends to be a more affordable cut of meat. 

It can have a chewy, tough texture that’s a turn-off for a lot of shoppers. It’s popular for braising and oven roasting, making it a good choice for beef roasts. 

While considered a budget option, it can produce premium results with the right cooking. 

Shoulder Roast 

The shoulder roast is the more tender of the two cuts. It carves well and is a good choice for a beef roast. 

Types Of Shoulder Roast

  • Flat iron roast– Sometimes called the Boston Butt cut. 

This is the leanest cut of the shoulder. It’s often used for stews and can be braised in liquid. This will help it not to dry out due to the lack of fat content. 

If you choose to roast it whole, you will need to cook it at a low temperature and be careful not to overcook it. 

  • Petite cut roast– This cut has a bit more fat than the flat iron roast, making it ideal for a beef roast as it will not dry out as quickly. It should still be roasted at a low temperature.

Chuck Roast 

The chuck roast is taken from the upper portion of the leg. This well-exercised portion of the meat is rich in flavor. 

The muscles of this part of the leg move more, and are tougher as a result. It also has less connective tissue, so it’s less tender. 

For this reason, and due to the thickness of the cut of meat, it has a long cooking time to break down the muscle fibers.

Chuck roast will shred better than shoulder roast. This means it’s more difficult to slice, and not ideal for a beef roast. 

How to Use Chuck Roast

  • Ground up for burgers and cooked on the grill
  • Cooked as a pot roast in a slow or pressure cooker
  • Cut into cubes for stew
  • Tenderized with a meat mallet
  • Marinated is something acidic such as:
  • Soda
  • Buttermilk
  • Citrus juice
  • Yogurt
  • Marinating will help break down the muscle fibers

Ensure not to marinate chuck steak for more than two hours, or it will become mushy!

Related >> Most Popular Cuts of Meat by State

How To Cook A Shoulder Roast 

Traditional oven beef roast

First, you’ll want to sear off the meat to keep the juices inside and help to keep the meat from drying out. 

Toss the roast in some flour and your chosen seasonings, and then cook in some oil in a pan, browning each side. 

Next, put the roast in a large baking pan with some veggies of your choice, which may include potatoes, onions, carrots, and celery. 

Top it with broth, cover it with foil, and bake for three to three and a half hours. Then, remove the foil and bake for ten more minutes. 

It’s important to slice with the grain of the meat when slicing shoulder roast, or you’ll lose a lot of those juices and dry out the meat. 

Other Options

Shoulder roast is great grilled up as a steak. 

This cut suits many types of dishes for various cuisines. Some dishes include beef ragu, beef burgundy, beef curry, or beef casseroles. 

Related >> Best Meats for Beef Jerky (From Beginner to Expert)

How To Cook A Chuck Roast 

Pot Roast

You’ll get the best results from your chuck roast cooking it in your slow cooker for five to six hours. 

You’ll want to cook it with your vegetables and a generous amount of your chosen liquid mix. 

You can combine ingredients like broth, wine, soy, canned tomatoes, and Worchester sauce. Find a recipe that you like the sounds of, or experiment yourself. 

Once done cooking, remove the meat and vegetables and take the liquids from the slow cooker. In a saucepan, combine with some cornstarch to form a gravy. 

Other Options

This is a common cut of meat to be ground up for burgers, but there are many creative uses for chuck roast. 

These include: 

  • Philly cheesesteak sandwiches
  • Beef tacos
  • Gyros
  • Chinese beef and broccoli
  • French dip sandwiches
  • Peppered beef noodles
  • Beef and barley soup
  • Steak pizzaiola
  • And of course- Roast beef sandwiches! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better, shoulder roast or chuck roast?

It really depends on the dish you are making, and the time you have. 

You can’t beat the chuck roast for a stew or a pot roast. It’s got a better flavor, but takes a long time to cook. 

For a beef roast, a shoulder roast is going to be superior. It will be more tender and juicier, and slice up nicely. 

However, do not attempt a pot roast with a shoulder roast, or you’ll be very disappointed! 

What is shoulder roast good for?

Shoulder roast makes for a nice beef roast but is also a good cut for a steak cooked on a hot cast iron skillet. 

Can you use shoulder roast instead of chuck?

If you are making a roast, a shoulder roast is a good substitute, especially if you are low on time. 

If you are making a pot roast or stew, this is a poor substitute as it will dry out using these methods. 

Does shoulder roast get tender?

Yes, the petite cut in particular. However, care must be taken to cook it low and slow- but not to overcook it at the same time. 

Which roast makes the best roast?

A petite-cut shoulder roast will probably be your best option for an affordable beef roast. 

If you are making a pot roast using a pressure or slow cooker, then a chuck roast is best as it’s more flavorful. 

Related >> Brisket: Flat Cut vs Point Cut (Differences Explained)

Final Thoughts

With the endless cuts of meats available, doing a beef roast may feel overwhelming. 

The terminology can be really confusing, and often there seems to be a lot of overlap in terms and different names for the same thing! 

Chuck roast and shoulder roast are both from the steer’s shoulder, but are two very different cuts of meat. 

If you are looking for oven-roasted beef that is going to slice nicely and not take all day to cook, then a petite-cut shoulder roast is the option for you. 

If you’d like more flavorful meat that will shred and have the time to wait, then go for a chuck roast in a slow or pressure cooker. 

Hopefully, this will help to get you started, and your family will love a change from the traditional baked ham or roasted turkey for your next special occasion! 

Photo of author

Shawn Hill

Hey, I'm Shawn and I love this site. With a wife and 7 kids, I get most of my grilling practice from feeding my own family. I'm here to help you learn more about grilling, smoking, and backyard BBQ! With almost a decade of manning the grill and helping over 25,000 aspiring grill masters, you're in great hands! I've tried just about every type of grill, accessory, and gadget you can imagine. Because of that, I am here to help guide you to the best of the best and help you save time and money by avoiding the junk.

Leave a Comment