In the wintertime, we can’t make enough soups and stews. Our Dutch ovens and Crock-Pots get a hard workout this time of year, but we can just sit back and stir (after doing all the necessary prep work of course). Since stews take time, it’s important to make sure you’re using the right cuts of meat — cuts that won’t toughen up and taste like rubber after the second hour of cooking.
Nothing is more disappointing than biting into a delicious-smelling beef stew, only to discover that the meat inside is under-seasoned, overcooked, or even worse — both. To make a quality stew, you need to use sturdy pieces of beef that will break down and become tender over the course of the lengthy cooking process. Chuck steak, which hails from the front part of the cow, is widely considered the best choice for stew, according to Bon Appetit, although brisket and round steak can also be used. Buying these cuts of beef won’t kill your wallet either, as they tend to be cheaper than other steaks.
Step away from the meat case and put the chicken breasts down. For soups and stews, breasts alone just aren’t going to cut it. Try getting a whole bird and cutting it up yourself, says Cooking Light — it’s not difficult, and it’s also cheaper than buying pre-cut pieces. This way, you get rich thigh meat, coupled with hearty (and healthy) breast meet, plus deliciously tender wings, making for a delectable medley of chicken all in one pot.
Less common than beef and chicken stews, pork stews provide an opportunity to try out different ingredients in the Dutch oven. The array of available pork cuts at the local grocery store or butcher shop can be dizzying, so it’s helpful to know what you need before going in. Although pork shoulder isn’t the healthiest cut of meat, it’s tops for pork stews in our opinion. If you want a leaner, less fatty cut, go for pork tenderloin and be careful not to overcook it. If you’re really splurging, pick up a piece of tender, fatty pork belly and don’t look back.
Like pork and beef, lamb shoulder makes a great choice when preparing a stew, according to Saveur. It’s flavorful and fairly cheap, with lots of connective tissue that breaks down when cooked over long periods of time. If you want something with a silkier texture, select also-inexpensive neck meat, which contains collagen. Prefer your lamb leaner? Leg of lamb can also be used for stews, although you’ll pay a heftier price for these cuts.