How to braise beef and why it’s one of the best cooking methods

Whenever I come across braised short ribs on a restaurant menu, I have a hard time passing up the delectable dish. Just thinking about it, I can taste the melt-in-your-mouth, flavorful meat. In all my short rib adventures, I’ve never stopped to wonder how chefs create such divine creations.

The secret, I discovered comes down to braising.

A cooking method mixing high dry heat, low moist heat, and time

Braising is a two-step cooking method that uses both high-heat for a short period and low-heat for a longer period of time. First, it involves browning meat in olive oil, butter, ghee, or some other fat — on high heat — usually by sauteing in a pan. Second, the meat is cooked in a covered dish, in the juices left from the browning and often also with an added liquid such as stock, water, etc.

The second, slow-cooking step is done in a tightly covered pot, like a dutch oven, or, often, in a slow-cooker. This process is also sometimes referred to as “pot roasting.”

Slow-cooking — and, well, the use of a slow-cooker or Crock Pot — helps to add flavor and tenderizes tougher cuts of beef and other meats.

According to The Kitchen Encyclopedia, published in 1911, “Braising is a method much used in France, and is a cross between boiling and baking.” The word itself derives from the French word brasier, which is a form of braise, meaning “live coals.” A brasier or brazier, in French and English, is also another name for a receptacle to burn coal or charcoal. Dutch ovens can also be called brasiers. The origin of the term braising seems to come from a French word for a method using both dry heat and moist heat.

Why braise?

Braising can be done with any meat but is most often done with tough cuts of meat, because tender cuts usually don’t need additional tenderizing or flavor.

Cuts that traditionally have less flavor — say a chuck roast, shoulder steak, chuck pot roast, pork butt, or beef chuck arm — are the best cuts to use and may need richer braising liquids. The best way to add great flavor is with beef broth or chicken stock, as well as spices like rosemary, bay leaves, and other fresh herbs. Moreover, braising done in the style of a pot roast can include aromatic vegetables — carrots, onions, and more — for additional flavor.

How to braise meat

The first step of braising takes about ten minutes, but achieving truly fall-apart-tender meat takes many hours of cooking time. Our in-house ButcherBox Chef Yankel Polak recommends seasoning the meat with salt and black pepper, then searing your meat until you get a nice brown crust. When cooking pork, he likes to use apple cider as a braising liquid that can also help scraping the browned bits of meat left from searing. Chef Yankel also recommends adding tomato paste to your braising liquid for texture and taste. For added flavor and simplicity, he also advises using the same pot to sear and cook, covering the dish after the flavorful liquid and browned meat have simmered.

A long, slow cook is crucial for breaking down the proteins and tenderizing the meat. You’ll need to cook for at least an hour and a half to two hours (depending on the size of your cut of meat) in the oven set to 300 degrees. Cooking on low heat allows the meat to cook slowly as the braising liquid evaporates. It is this process that makes dishes like pulled pork, carnitas, and roasts fork-tender.

Whether cooking pork in the slow cooker or keeping a watchful eye on a roast spending a day in a Dutch oven, meat braising in its juices and spiced-up flavor can turn a simple cut of beef or pork into a truly amazing dish.

You can find some of Chef Yankel’s favorite recipes to braise beef, chicken, or pork here, or watch the video below for more braising techniques.

If you want more from Chef Yankel, check out his recommendations for the best red wine to pair with braised beef and other dishes. 

Our monthly ButcherBox comes often comes with cuts like pork butt and grass-fed beef roasts that are perfect for braising. You can also get these cuts in a custom ButcherBox. If you’re not a member already, you can sign up here.