The Difference Between Braising and Stewing

You know that we love braising, here at The Kitchn. It's one of our favorite ways to cook meat because it's easy, hands-off, and foolproof. It also works well on cheaper cuts of meat. We've noticed that we tend to braise more pork and lamb than beef, but we miss the great beef braises from our childhood. So we turned to the official Beef Checkoff Culinary Center and their chef, Dave Zino. We asked him to tell us a little more about braising beef, and also about the best cuts for braising.

Here's Dave's first tip on braising for us: he clears up the difference between braising and stewing.

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Here's Dave:

So what is braising anyway? Braising may sound complicated, but you probably already know it by a more familiar term - pot roasting. And while braising is similar to stewing, the two cooking methods do have some slight differences.

BOTH are moist heat, slow cooking methods that tenderize the beef and develop rich beef flavor
BOTH start with less-tender beef cuts as this cooking method softens the strong muscle fibers and connective tissue, guaranteeing tender, moist, flavorful results.

The Difference?
Braising cooks large cuts of beef in enough liquid to partially cover the meat as shown in Classic Beef Pot Roast with Root Vegetables
Stewing uses small, uniform pieces of beef pot roast or beef for stew meat that are totally immersed in liquid. This technique is used in Beef Bourguignonne.

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Here are my tricks of the trade:

1. First, brown the beef in a small amount of oil in a heavy pan. Although this is optional, I highly recommend browning, as this process adds flavor to beef that is not naturally intrinsic to it.
2. A heavy gauge stockpot will be your best friend - just be sure the cover is a tight fit.
3. The secret to both braising and stewing is to take your time. It’s low and slow – a low heat setting over a long period of time.
4. Cook until the beef is fork-tender. Insert a double-pronged meat fork into the thickest part of the beef. When you can insert the fork without resistance and it releases easily, the beef is done. Be careful not to overcook, as the beef will be dry and stringy.

Whether you choose to cook in the oven or on the stovetop, there’s nothing more satisfying than the aroma of beef gently simmering in a rich broth to bring back memories of yesteryear. Beef is the ultimate comfort food.

Thanks Dave! Come back on Monday for another guest post from Dave on which cuts of beef are best for braising. Just in time for planning Christmas dinner -- we love a good pot roast on Christmas afternoon!

Related: Braising Contest 2007 Entries - Lots of great braises here.

(All images: Beef Checkoff Culinary Center)