Because tough cuts of meat (such as mock tender steak) tend to be cheaper, braising is a cooking technique that can save you money. Plus, the long, slow, moist heat of braising is the best way to soften tough cuts of meat. This easy process takes between one and five hours.
What Is Braising?
Braising means cooking something slowly in a small amount of liquid. Braising is a form of moist-heat cooking that breaks down connective tissues in tough cuts of meat, leaving them tender and succulent.
What Meats Are Good For Braising?
Usually braising involves large cuts of tougher meat—bottom round, also known as rump roast, is a popular option. However, chicken legs, pork butt, lamb shanks, short ribs, and oxtails are also wonderfully braise-able. Basically, braising any cuts of meat with lots of tough connective tissue will break down and become tender. These cuts tend to be cheaper and better for braising than chicken breast, beef tenderloin, or pork or lamb chops that can be quickly broiled or grilled.
How long does braising take? A good rule of thumb is that it will take at least 40 minutes per pound of red meat for it to be braised to fork tender. However, estimate an hour to be safe. Chicken can take as little as 20 minutes per pound. It's recommended that you set aside at least three hours to braise a beef dinner for four.
What You’ll Need
You'll want to have some type of flavorful liquid, like a vegetable or meat stock or stewed tomatoes. You'll also need something acidic—wine, lemon juice, or white wine vinegar are all great—to deglaze the pan. Equipment-wise, you'll want a large, heavy-bottomed, oven-proof pan or Dutch oven. You want a pan that's not just large, but has thick walls to help radiate heat evenly and avoid burning during cooking.
How to Braise Meat
- Prep: Pat the meat dry with paper towels. This will help you get a nice brown crust on the meat in the next step. Trim off any excess fat.
- Brown the Meat: Heat a small amount of oil in your oven-proof braising pan or Dutch oven over high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the meat. Brown the meat for a minute or two on all sides. Remove the meat from the pan and set it aside.
- Add Vegetables: Lower the heat to medium and add aromatic vegetables like chopped onions, leeks, carrots, and celery. You could also add a few cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed. Sauté for a few minutes or until the vegetables start to soften.
- Deglaze: Deglaze the pan with a small amount of flavorful liquid, such as wine or vinegar. Scrape off any roasted bits (called fond) from the bottom of the pan and bring the liquid to a simmer. This liquid will add flavor to the braise.
- Combine the Ingredients: Return the meat to the pot and add enough stock, wine, beer, and/or water to partially submerge the meat–about 1/3 to 1/2 of the meat should be under liquid. This is opposed to stewing in which meat (usually smaller pieces) is completely covered by liquid for a long period of time. You want to make sure you're adding some sort of acidic ingredient like diced tomatoes or wine since the acid helps break down the tough connective tissues in the meat. If you used wine to deglaze, that will work. You can now add other flavorings and seasonings, like whole peppercorns or bay leaves.
- Low and Slow: Bring the braising liquid back to a simmer, then cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and transfer it to the 300 F oven. Braise for 1 to 5 hours, depending on the size of the meat. A lower heat (like 275 F) and longer cook time can be used.
- Reduce: Remove the pan from the oven. To make a sauce or gravy from the braising liquid, first, make a roux, then whisk some of the strained braising liquid into the roux until it thickens. Cook on low heat for a few minutes, then season.
- Serve and enjoy.
How to Braise in an Instant Pot
Braising in an Instant Pot is easy, and can be much quicker than doing it in an oven. You can brown the meat, add the vegetables, and deglaze the pan (steps 1-4) all on the sauté setting, and then—depending on the toughness of your meat—cook it on the high or low pressure setting. This Instant Pot brisket recipe recommends cooking two pounds of brisket for 40 minutes on the high pressure setting, for example. Use a natural release for at least part of the time to keep the meat tender.
How to Braise in a Slow Cooker
To properly braise meat, you'll need to brown it well—that step is essential. It's much easier and quicker to do this in a pan on the stove than to wait for a slow cooker to heat up fully. You also want a high level of heat to properly sear the meat. For all these reasons, it's recommended that you brown the meat, add the vegetables, and deglaze the pan (steps 1-4) in a separate stovetop pan. Then, transfer all these ingredients to your slow cooker and cook for several hours on the low setting. This recipe for Crockpot braised beef short ribs, for example, recommends cooking 3 to 4 pounds of ribs on low for 6 to 8 hours.
How to Tell When Braised Meat Is Done
As recommended by the U.S. government's food safety guidelines, beef, lamb, and pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 F. Chicken should be cooked to a temperature of at least 165 F. It's recommended that you buy a meat thermometer if you'll be cooking larger cuts of meat regularly; this is really the best way to ascertain doneness.
- If you are braising shanks, you can make a few vertical (parallel to the bone) cuts in the outer membrane so that the meat will not twist out of shape while it braises. Some chefs remove the membrane altogether, but it a lot of work and usually not worth it. A lengthy braise will pretty much dissolve the membrane.
- Oven braising is best because the meat is cooked with indirect heat. But if you do not have an oven-safe pot, you can braise on the stovetop over low heat. You will have to check it periodically to make sure the liquid is simmering and not boiling.
- To cool and store braised meat, it is best to leave the meat in the braising liquid so that it does not dry out.