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How To Make Beef Stew

Slow-Cooked Family-Favorite Beef Stew
There are endless ways to make a hearty beef stew for dinner. Whether you want to go all in and make it completely from scratch or you’re in need of a shortcut or two, we’ll show you how to turn the humble beef stew into a regularly requested dinner for your whole family.

Beef stew is the ultimate comfort food. Fall and winter call for warm and fragrant broth filled with root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, and accented with some of the best flavors: garlic, onion, and herbs like rosemary and thyme.

Making beef stew is certainly an undertaking, but a worthy one at that. To make the very best beef stew, there are several important rules to consider.

How To Make Slow-Cooker Beef Stew

When you make beef stew from scratch, it can be a time-consuming (yet rewarding!) endeavor. But when you want beef stew comfort without the hassle, reach for this tried-and-true recipe that gets all the compliments and just so happens to be easy, too. It calls for just seven ingredients and 15 minutes of prep time so you can get back to doing other things and leave dinner to your slow cooker. Here’s how to make our top-rated Slow-Cooked Family-Favorite Beef Stew.

Slow-Cooked Family-Favorite Beef Stew

What You Need:

  • Waxed paper 
  • 10-inch skillet 
  • 4- to 6-quart slow cooker

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ lb beef stew meat or boneless chuck, cut into 3/4-inch cubes 
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided 
  • 1 lb small (2 1/2 to 3-inch) red potatoes, quartered 
  • 1 ½ cups frozen pearl onions (from 16-oz package) 
  • 1 bag (1 lb) ready-to-eat baby-cut carrots 
  • 1 jar (12 oz) beef gravy 
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained

How To:

On waxed paper, sprinkle beef with 2 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; toss to coat. In 10-inch skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add coated beef; cook and stir 4 to 6 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally.

Brown beef in a 10-inch skillet

In 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, layer potatoes, onions and carrots. Add browned beef; sprinkle with any remaining flour mixture. Top with gravy and tomatoes.

Pro Tip: Make it your own! This is where you can add in additional flavors, if desired. Try a few cloves of minced garlic, a bay leaf or two or a few sprigs of fresh thyme. (If using bay leaves or fresh thyme sprigs, remove them before serving.) Adding ingredients that boast an umami flavor will up the ante of this dish, too. Try a little Worcestershire sauce, a bit of tomato paste or both.

Layer, beef, carrots and onions in a slow cooker

Cover; cook on Low heat setting 8 to 10 hours.

Add tomatoes to the slow cooker

Before serving, in small bowl, blend 3 remaining tablespoons flour with 1/4 cup cold water. Stir into stew. Increase heat setting to High; cover and cook 10 minutes longer or until thickened. Serve in bowls and garnish with a sprig of parsley, if desired.

Depending on your family’s preferences, this you may want to add a little ground black pepper before serving. Enjoy your easy beef stew with a side of bread to soak up all those tasty slow-cooked flavors. We’re partial to crescents or French bread, of course!

How To Make Dutch Oven Beef Stew

Dutch Oven Beef Stew

Although we like to take advantage of our slow cooker as much as possible, it’s just as easy to make beef stew using a Dutch oven, which is actually the most traditional way. A Dutch oven is a large, heavy cooking pot that comes with a lid. You can use this type of pot over the stove or in the oven like with our Oven-Baked Beef Stew. Both the slow cooker and the Dutch oven offer a delicious dump-it dinner, but if you choose to use your Dutch oven, the beef stew will be cooked over the stove so you won’t necessarily be able to “set it and forget it” like you would if you used your slow cooker. However, it requires very little attention!

This Dutch Oven Beef Stew only requires two steps and has earned five stars! Here’s how to make it:

What You Need:

  • One large Dutch oven

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon oil 
  • 2 lbs. boneless beef round steak, trimmed of fat, cut into 1-inch pieces 
  • 1 cup chopped onions 
  • 1 lb. baking potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes 
  • 2 cups frozen cut green beans, thawed 
  • 1 (4.5-oz.) can Old El Paso™ Chopped Green Chiles 
  • 3 cups vegetable juice cocktail

How To:

Heat the oil in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat until hot. Add the beef and onions; cook and stir four to six minutes or until beef is browned.

Brown the beef and onions.

Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Bring the ingredients to a boil. Reduce the heat to low; cover and simmer for about two hours or until the beef and potatoes are tender.

Bring the ingredients to a boil.

Best Meat for Beef Stew

This may surprise you, but the best meat for beef stew is tough meat! You want a cut that can withstand a long period of time over the heat so that it breaks down into flaky, tender bites. To achieve this, select leaner cuts of meat with a bit of connective tissue, which will break down as it cooks. This is a total win for you as the tougher meat tends to be more budget-friendly and you don’t have to tenderize it beforehand! We recommend boneless chuck.

You will often see pre-cut “stew meat” in the supermarket. While this can be a good option for convenience, it’s impossible to know which cuts of meat come in a package like that. To get the best flavor for a made-from-scratch stew, choose your own larger cut of meat. A cut from the shoulder, a rump roast or a pot roast are all good options for beef stew.

Searing the Meat

Choosing the right meat is a must but to create the depth of flavor that you crave in a beef stew, you should sear the meat before you cook it. You may be tempted to just add the raw meat and allow it to cook with the rest of the ingredients, and while technically you can do this, taking a few minutes to sear the meat beforehand makes all the difference!

To sear the beef, heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a skillet if you’re using a slow cooker, or just directly in your Dutch oven. Once the pan is hot, add your cut-up beef cubes and cook until browned on the outside. There should be a dark crust on both sides of the meat.

Another not-necessary-but-worth-it step is to deglaze your pan. Searing the beef and then deglazing the pan with liquid is how you get the tasty brown bits from the bottom of the pan integrated into the stew after the beef has been seared.

If you’re wondering what deglazing is, you’re not alone! Few people recognize the delicious potential of the seemingly burnt bits on the bottom of the skillet! Once you have seared your stew meat, you will notice browned bits left behind on your pan. Usually you’d allow your pan to soak before washing or would scrape these bits off the pan and discard them into the garbage—but wait! Using these leftover remnants will elevate the flavor and take your beef stew up a notch.

To deglaze the pan, add about a cup of liquid—you can use broth, wine or even just water (whatever your recipe calls for)—to the still-hot pan. Take a spatula and scrape the pan to remove all of the browned bits. Since you’re making stew, you can do this process while the meat is still in the pan. This should be done before you add the remaining liquid. Then allow the liquid to simmer before adding all of the ingredients into the slow cooker or Dutch oven. As we said, this isn’t a required step, but taking the time to do it makes a big difference in flavor!

Cutting the Meat

As we mentioned, you may be tempted to buy pre-cut and packaged beef stew meat, but it’s difficult to determine what types of meat you’re actually getting. If you don’t know what types of meat you’re getting, you can’t plan for how the meat will behave during the cooking process.

To cut a roast, you will need a longer, sharp knife and a large cutting board. First, you will need to trim off any fatty pieces. Next, you will slice the roast into slices similar to the way you’d slice bread. Each slice should be cut into long strips. The long strips should then be cut into about ¾-inch cubes. The entire process only takes about five to 10 minutes!

Beef Stew Spices

When it comes to seasoning your beef stew, your options are truly endless with beef stew spices. Some popular go-to seasonings include dried bay leaves, thyme leaves, oregano, sage, rosemary and Italian seasoning. You could certainly make your own seasoning or you could buy a packet of beef stew seasoning which can be found in the spices aisle at the grocery store. If you’re in a pinch, you could even substitute a packet of brown gravy for seasoning! We use a packet of beef stew seasoning in our easy Dump-It Slow Cooker Beef Stew recipe, which provides a convenient shortcut!

The seasonings can be added with the rest of the ingredients—which is one of our favorite parts about making beef stew; it truly is a dump-it dinner!

Tips and Tricks for Cooking Beef Stew

How Long to Cook Beef Stew

Cook your beef stew low and slow over a long period of time. In a slow cooker, eight to 10 hours is a good rule of thumb. You want it to cook slowly so the beef has time to go from tough to tender so you can enjoy that perfect beef stew. Check the meat after eight hours and if it hasn’t reached fork tender yet, let it simmer a little longer until it’s perfectly done. This amount of time also allows the starch in the vegetables to combine with the flour to create a thick gravy-like broth.

How to Thicken Beef Stew

One of the best parts of beef stew is its heartiness. Typically, the starch from the added potatoes will naturally thicken beef stew, but if you find that its consistency is runny, you’ll want to thicken it even more using corn starch or flour. One note of caution: don’t judge the consistency of your stew in the first couple of hours of cooking. As we said, it will naturally thicken as it cooks. For that reason, it’s best to avoid adding roux to your stew since it contains flour and fat and is added at the beginning of cooking.

What you’ll want to do instead is make a slurry and add it at the end of cooking time. A slurry is a mixture of flour or starch with liquid—water, broth or milk. To make a slurry, you’ll measure about a tablespoon of flour into a small bowl and then add about a cup of liquid to the bowl. Whisk until it’s thoroughly combined and then slowly pour it into the pot that’s holding the rest of your ingredients. Making a slurry in a separate bowl prevents it from forming lumps.

How to Make an Easy Beef Stew

You don’t have to hold out for the weekend to make beef stew! Beef stew is also a weeknight-friendly dinner if you take advantage of a few shortcuts and tips. One easy head start is to use a packet of beef stew seasoning rather than mixing together a blend of spices. You can also purchase pre-packaged beef stew meat if you’re in a pinch. However, an even better option would be to buy the roast whole and then cut it into cubes the night before.

One deterrent to making beef stew is that prepping the vegetables and potatoes can seem a bit too labor intensive. To avoid this work, you can buy frozen vegetables in packages and even cubed potatoes in the freezer aisle of your grocery store.

This Easy Slow-Cooker Beef Stew uses frozen veggies, already-cut beef stew meat, a seasoning packet and your slow cooker so you can enjoy stew without the hassle.

What Type of Potatoes are Best for Beef Stew?

The starch from the added potatoes is what gives beef stew that hearty consistency that stew is known for. However, choose the wrong potato or overcook them and the result will be mushy potatoes with no substance to them. For this reason, avoid Russet potatoes since they are soft and crumbly. Instead, look for red potatoes or Yukon golds. They hold up better with a longer cooking time. You can also choose to allow the stew to cook for a while before adding the potatoes later if you’re worried about them being overcooked.

What Vegetables are Best for Beef Stew?

Experimenting with different vegetables is the way to truly make your beef stew recipe your own. Typical vegetables include carrots, onions, celery, peas, green beans and sometimes, tomatoes. If you want to skip the process of chopping fresh vegetables, feel free to grab a bag of mixed vegetables to use. The vegetables are added along with the other ingredients.

Should I Use Wine in Beef Stew?

If you want to take your beef stew to a whole ‘nother level, put down that glass of wine you’re sipping while cooking and add it to the stew! Red wine—anything from pinot noir to a burgundy—is a flavorful addition to beef recipes. Just add a couple cups (or whatever your particular recipe calls for) right in with the rest of the ingredients.

And who could forget about Guinness® beef stew? To put an Irish twist on your stew, simply pour a 12-ounce bottle into the stew (or as suggested by your recipe) with the rest of your ingredients.

What to Serve with Beef Stew

Since beef stew is so hearty, it rarely needs to be served with anything else. However, if you want to round out this dinner, try pairing with a dinner salad or rice for a side dish. You could also serve it in a bread bowl or with a side of crescents or a crusty French loaf.

Leftover Beef Stew

If you have leftovers of your beef stew, be sure to refrigerate them within two hours of the end of the cooking time. To help the leftover stew cool more quickly, divide it into several smaller containers before refrigerating. The USDA recommends leftovers be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days or in the freezer for three to four months.

To reheat, thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator or in the microwave. You can also reheat the stew on the stovetop. Cook it until the meat’s internal temperature has reached 165°F.

Want to re-purpose your beef stew leftovers? Try this pot pie that’s filled with beef stew. Just re-heat the beef stew in your skillet and top with the pie crust in step 3!

Beef Stew Pot Pie

FAQs

What is stew, exactly? 
The basic definition of stew, according to the American Heritage Dictionary is “a dish cooked by stewing, especially a mixture of meat or fish and vegetables with stock.”

What is the difference between soup and stew? 
When vegetables simmer slowly over a long period of time, they release their starches, resulting in a thick gravy-like sauce that so many of us associate with stew. The meat is coated in flour before searing, which also contributes to stew’s thickness. Broth-based soup recipes skip these extra steps, resulting in a thinner, lighter consistency.

Can I overcook beef stew? 
While it’s possible to overcook beef stew, it can easily be avoided by monitoring it. Fewer things are more disheartening than laboring over beef stew only to find the meat is overcooked and the vegetables are mushy! The stew should be cooked “low and slow” and the potatoes and vegetables should be checked regularly to make sure they are cooked to your liking; this gives you the perfect excuse to sneak in a few bites throughout the cooking process.

What’s nice is that tougher cuts of meat will become tender throughout cooking, so you can purchase meat that is less expensive. On the contrary, the tender, more expensive meats that we tend to gravitate toward will toughen during cooking.

Can I skip the step of browning the beef? 
You certainly could, but why?! Much of the flavor of a “brown” beef stew comes from a good sear of the meat, and the tasty bits that form in the pan when the meat is cooking. Skipping the browning step will essentially result in a “white stew,” which is perfectly fine, but trust us, searing the beef is worth it! (See Searing the Meat).

What methods can you use to cook beef stew? 
You can cook your stew in the oven, in the slow cooker or over the stove—there’s no option that outweighs the other, it’s just a matter of your preference! Of course, we shamelessly use our slow cookers as much as possible. Try the Dump-It Slow-Cooker Beef Stew for a recipe that only takes five minutes to prep.

Traditionally, beef stew is cooked in a Dutch oven over the stove (See How to Make Dutch Oven Beef Stew). Another method is to simmer it in a heat-proof pot in your oven—double check that your pot is oven-safe. We used this technique with our Oven-Baked Beef Stew recipe which has earned five stars.

Each method employs slightly different cooking times and temperatures, so be sure to read through your recipe thoroughly before you begin.

Where did stew originate? 
Stews in many different styles are eaten all over the world and have been around since ancient times. It is most often associated with French cuisine.

Historically, depending on the style of the stew, everyone from peasants to royalty have enjoyed stew. The French boeuf bourguignon—a favorite beef dish of the late Julia Child—is a fancier version of beef stew, and is considered appropriate to serve for company.

Get more beef stew recipes and more chicken stew recipes.


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