Like anything that inspires passion, steak has its own complex and sometimes confusing vocabulary. Even if you've mastered the jargon and know the difference between an onglet and a goose skirt, some terms can be challenging. Cube steak and minute steak are examples of this, partly because the terms refer to the way the steak is cut rather than its location on the animal and partly because they're slightly imprecise to begin with.
Cube Steak Isn't a Cube
The name cube steak comes not from the shape of the cut, but from the process used to tenderize it. Typically made from tougher cuts such as the top or round, cube steak gets both its name and its characteristic dimpled texture from a machine that pounds it with metal tenderizers to break up its muscle fibers and soften its texture. Cube steak is inexpensive and according to the "New York Times" is enjoying a resurgence in American kitchens.
Minute Steak Is Quick
Like cube steak, minute steak can come from any part of the animal, although the rump cap is common. This cut is very thinly sliced and fries quickly; the name "minute" derives from how quickly this cut can be cooked. Slightly on the tough side, this cut is often used in steak sandwiches. Like cube steak, minute steak is popular because of its low cost compared to more tender cuts.
Are They the Same Thing?
If you look for cube steak recipes, eventually you will find a recipe writer pointing out that cube steak is often called minute steak or even asserting that they are the same thing. Although cube steak is often called minute steak, not all minute steaks are cube steak. A thin slice of inexpensive steak may be put through a mechanical tenderizer -- in which case it's cube steak -- but it may not, in which case it is minute steak but not cube steak.
It's easy to see why minute steak and cube steak go together in the minds of steak lovers. Both are inexpensive, made from less-desirable cuts and easy to cook. The key difference is that cube steak is mechanically tenderized, while minute steak can retain its toughness. They're also cooked differently: cube steak tends to be used in casseroles or fried. The steak in a chicken-fried steak is usually cube steak. By contrast, minute steak is often eaten by itself, sliced and added to a salad or noodles, or served in a sandwich.