Just don't forget the gravy and mashed potatoes.

Do you prefer country fried steak or chicken fried steak? This debate might be as polarizing as the one over whether or not you can put sugar in your cornbread, although that one can get pretty heated. Whichever way you grew up loving this tenderized fried piece of beef, however, that is the way you think it should always be cooked. Both methods, country fried and chicken fried, are similar, but there are just enough variations in the recipe to create two entirely different, yet equally delicious, dishes of pure comfort food.

Let’s talk first about the similarities

Some food historians believe that “chicken fried” and “country fried” are just regional names for the same thing: a relatively cheap cut of beef, usually round steak or cube steak, that is seasoned, breaded, and pan-fried, traditionally in a cast-iron skillet. A delicious creamy gravy is made using the pan leavings, and both steak and gravy are served with biscuits, mashed potatoes, or your favorite vegetables.

Here is how they are different

Chicken fried steak has a crispy coating and is aptly named because it is prepared in the same manner as classic fried chicken. Dipped in an egg batter, dredged in seasoned flour then fried, chicken-fried steak is often served with a peppered, white gravy, either on the side or spooned over the steak right before serving to prevent the crust from getting soggy. If you want to really raise some eyebrows, tell someone you add saltine crackers to your flour mixture. Some will say this just isn’t the correct, Southern way to make chicken-fried steak, but others swear that saltines help make a great crust. Give this recipe a try and see if you don’t agree.

Country-fried steak, sometimes called smothered steak, is simply dredged through the flour and fried on both sides. At this point, many cooks remove the steaks from the pan, prepare a brown gravy from the pan drippings, put the steaks back in with the gravy, cover the pan and let it all simmer. This allows the outer layer of the steaks to be infused with that luscious gravy flavor, and steak and gravy are then served together.

While purists insist on serving white gravy with chicken fried steak and brown gravy with country fried steak, some cooks like to serve white gravy with both variations.

A Little Bit of History

The popular belief is that the concept of breaded and fried meat was brought to the Southern region, in particular the Southwest, in the mid 1800’s by German immigrants who were accustomed to wiener schnitzel, a thin cut of veal dipped in whipped eggs and breadcrumbs and then pan fried. Since tender veal was expensive in the South, it was replaced with cheaper, but tougher, cuts of beef. The breadcrumbs were replaced with flour, but the method of dipping the meat in egg batter remained, creating chicken fried steak. Eggs weren’t always available, however, such as when chuck-wagon cooks had to prepare meals along the cattle trails. So they improvised and skipped the egg batter step, simply dredged the cuts of meat in the flour and tossed them on the frying pan. Thus country fried steak was born. A very colorful but probable explanation for the two cooking methods we love today. 

Make a tender buttermilk biscuit to go with your steak:

Whichever you prefer, both country fried steak and chicken fried steak are considered classic comfort food.