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!