How to Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews

Believe it or not, the best cuts of meat for making stew are often the relatively cheap options. In general, look for tough, lean cuts of red meat. There are also specific cuts of beef to look for and different types of meat, such as lamb and pork, you can use. With a little looking, you’ll be able to find nourishing cuts from sustainable sources.


EditKnowing What to Look For

  1. Look for tough, lean cuts. In a stew, you’re going for tender bites of meat amidst a medley of earthy vegetables. In order to soften everything up, of course, stew requires a substantial cooking time. This means that you actually want to avoid the fancy cuts that are considered the best for steaks, because they will turn tough and chewy when cooked in a stew.[1]
    Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews Step 1.jpg
    • It’s not the fat you’re looking for in a tough cut, it’s the collagen. This is the connective tissue within the flesh itself that will break down over a long cooking period, leaving the meat tender and juicy.
    • In general, flesh from the front shoulder or rear end of an animal will be the toughest and leanest.
  2. Look for meat labeled “chuck” or “roast.” If you’re getting meat from a butcher or a meat counter at the supermarket, they’ll be able to point you towards the cuts from the shoulder and rear end. Even within these areas of an animal’s body, however, there are all sorts of specific cuts of meat.[2]
    Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews Step 2.jpg
    • All of the following cuts will work great in a stew: Chuck, Chuck Shoulder, Chuck Roast, Chuck-Eye Roast, Top Chuck, Bottom Round Roast, Bottom Eye Roast, Rump Roast, Eye Round Roast, Top Round, Round Tip Roast, English Roast, and Pot Roast.
  3. Skip the stew meat. Don’t be fooled by the meat market’s specified “stew meat.” This is often an assemblage of the odds and ends from different cuts of meat, which is something you want to avoid. The reasoning here is that those pieces of meat from different parts of the animal will cook at different rates.[3]
    Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews Step 3.jpg
    • With pre-cut “stew meat” that feature different cuts of meat, you’ll end up with some tender pieces of meat in your finished stew, but others that are tough and chewy.
    • Further, fat content will differ between pieces of meat, making it hard to tell how lean your meal will be.
    • If stew meat is the best option, choose the package that seems to have pieces that are generally the same size, and which contain visible white striping within the flesh.

EditSelecting and Cutting Your Stew Meat

  1. Default to beef chuck roast. Beef is the classic type of meat for stew. Chuck roast, which comes from the shoulder of the animal, is arguably the best cut for this type of dish.[4]
    Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews Step 4.jpg
    • Since the shoulder is constantly used when the animal is alive, the muscles that make up this cut of meat are initially very tough. After stewing, however, pieces of chuck roast will be especially succulent and flavorful.
  2. Cut the meat into same-size pieces yourself. You want to cut your meat into individual pieces yourself for two reasons. First, it will be easier to trim away the gristle from a larger cut of meat, as opposed to small pieces. Further, by doing it yourself, you can ensure that the size of the individual pieces are uniform.[5]
    Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews Step 5.jpg
    • As a rule of thumb, shoot for cubes of meat that are a bit larger than 1x1in (2.5×2.5cm).
  3. Try lamb stew. Lamb meat will be sweeter than beef, and will pair well with especially savory herbs and vegetables. Lamb also pairs particularly well with red wine. Almost any cut of lamb will work in a stew, but shoulder is the best.[6]
    Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews Step 6.jpg
    • Buy a piece of shoulder with the bone removed and cut it into evenly-sized pieces yourself.
    • For a slightly cheaper but comparable option, look for arm shoulder chop or cut of meat from the neck.
  4. Make pork stew with cuts from the shoulder. Pork can be used in stew as well, and has a relatively mild flavor compared to other red meats. The best cuts include those around the shoulder, commonly referred to as the “butt.”[7]
    Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews Step 7.jpg
    • This area of a hog is referenced by many slang terms, but anything that includes the terms “Boston,” “butt,” or “shoulder” will work.
  5. Experiment with meat from other grazing animals. There are all sorts of other meats that can be used in a delicious stew. For instance, venison and bison are both especially enjoyable, not to mention lean. Fortunately, the rules for selecting a cut of beef are the same for these animals as well. Go for cuts from the shoulder, neck, or rear end.
    Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews Step 8.jpg
  6. Get a whole chicken for an especially lean stew. If you’re making a chicken stew, the rules are somewhat different. In particular, you’ll want to get a whole chicken instead of processed cuts of breast of leg meat. This way, the different parts of the chicken will provide a wider range of flavor.[8]
    Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews Step 9.jpg
    • Watch a video online to learn how to cut up a chicken’s body for stew. There are a few tricks, such as how to hold the body, that will make cutting the chicken easier.

EditKeeping Health in Mind

  1. Choose lean meats for better nutrition. The leaner the cut, or less fat it contains, the healthier it will be. Generally, cuts labeled “select” will be the leanest. These cuts will also contain either “round” or “loin” in the name. “Top round” cuts of meat are not only ideal for stews, they are also especially lean.[9]
    Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews Step 10.jpg
    • Keep in mind that while you do want tough cuts of meat for stew, this does not mean fatty cuts. In fact, the fattiest and most “marbled” cuts, which are also the most expensive, do not cook well in a stew anyway.
  2. Balance small portions of meat with plenty of veggies. Meat contains some healthy nutrients, such as iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, as well as protein. However, centering meals around meat, especially red meat, is unhealthy. This is because red meat is particularly high in saturated fat. Diets centered on meat are also linked to higher incidences of cancer.[10]
    Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews Step 11.jpg
    • In order to keep your stew relatively healthy, make sure vegetables and beans are prominently featured.
    • As a rule of thumb, use enough meat so that each meal-sized portion contains 3 or 4 ounces of meat. Visually, this amount would be equal in size to a deck of playing cards.
    • Vegetables offer variety in flavor and consistency as well. For instance, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, and onions go great in most stews.
  3. Get organic meat whenever possible. A “certified organic” label is given to meat that is derived from animals that were not treated with antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, or biotechnology. Organically raised cattle were also allowed to graze in a pasture for at least a third of every year.[11]
    Choose a Cut of Meat for Stews Step 12.jpg
    • Keep in mind that the healthiest meat comes from the healthiest animals. Unfortunately, much of the meat available for human consumption comes from farms where issues such as overcrowding, extensive antibiotic use, and forced feeding are common.
    • While organic meat is nutritionally comparable to meat from animals treated with chemicals, other methods of cattle raising are objectively unsustainable, and increasingly contribute to the risk of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
    • Note that “grass-fed” animals, unless certified organic, may have been given antibiotics and hormones. The grass fed label means that they were allowed to graze naturally for part of the their lives and were not force-fed grain.

EditSources and Citations

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