Are You Using the Right Beef Stew Meat?

What's the secret to a good beef stew? Buying cheap cuts of meat!

Would it surprise you to learn that cheaper is better? When it comes to beef stew meat, it’s true! If you try using a tender cut of beef, that slow-cooked stew will turn out chewy and tough every time. We know that totally sounds backward, but it turns out that tougher, less-expensive cuts of beef are where it’s at.

(Psst: THIS is the way to get the best meat—and deals—from your butcher.)

If ribeyes, top sirloins, and beef tenderloin are calling to you at the butcher counter, put away your beef stew recipe and serve up steak and potatoes instead. If you simmer those tender cuts for long periods of time, all that beautifully marbled fat will just melt away into the broth. Without the fat, the meat seizes up, leaving you with tough, chewy bites of meat that certainly won’t live up to their price tag.

Here are the cuts of beef every home cook should know.

What Are the Best Cuts of Beef for Stew?

There’s no such thing as “beef stew meat” (although, you’ll find many butcher shops carry pre-cut options labeled with this name). You should definitely ask the butcher what type of beef it is, because it could come from a few different primal cuts. The best (and least expensive) beef stew meat comes from the front shoulder, also known as the chuck. The rear muscle (also called the round) would definitely make a great stew, but we like chuck better because it has more connective tissue.

Why Do Tough Cuts Work Best?

Unlike tender steaks, the tough cuts come from well-worked muscles. These stronger muscles have lots of collagen-rich connective tissue. That connective tissue isn’t like intermuscular fat: It won’t just leech out into your broth. Instead, it melts into the meat and releases gelatin, giving everything a nice body and a rich mouthfeel. Sounds pretty great, right? The only caveat is that you have to simmer tough cuts at very low temperatures for hours (and hours) to get all the good stuff to break down. When you do, it’s like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow because the meat will be perfectly melt-in-your-mouth tender.

Because the chuck releases more gelatin as it cooks, it tastes moister than the round, making it our favorite, most economical cut for stew meat. If you can’t find a chuck roast, it might also be labeled as a chuck-eye roast or a chuck shoulder. If you’re looking for bone-in options to add extra flavor to your broth, look for bone-in short ribs or oxtail. The latter will give you a super gelatin-rich broth, though, which some people find off-putting.

Browse our collection of beef stew recipes to put your new knowledge to the test!

These Stew Recipes Would Make Grandma Proud
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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.