With the wide variety of cuts of beef available these days, it's a good idea to know some of the different cooking techniques you can use to prepare each one. Here are nine different techniques for cooking beef.
Grilling is a cooking technique that can use high, medium, or even low heat, which means anything from steaks to burgers to even a whole roast can go on the grill. Cooking on a charcoal grill is trickier than using gas, but it's relatively easy to generate a burst of high heat for a short time using charcoal, so even a novice can grill steaks and burgers.
Cooking a roast on the grill takes longer, and since maintaining a charcoal flame for a period of time requires adding coals periodically and adjusting the vents to keep the temperature where you want it, gas grills make grilling roasts quite a bit easier.
The best steaks for grilling are ribeyes, strip steaks, T-bones, and porterhouse.
Braising is a moist-heat cooking technique that uses lower temperatures and longer cooking times, which helps tenderize tougher cuts of beef like chuck, brisket, short ribs and round (aka rump roast). When you hear the term braising, think pot roast.
Braising usually starts by seasoning the beef, then browning it in a hot skillet before transferring it to a covered pot with a small amount of liquid, like stock or broth, plus aromatic ingredients like onions and carrots. An acidic ingredient like tomatoes or wine is usually included as well.
A slow-cooker is an electric appliance that is basically a countertop braising machine. Just add your browned meat along with the other ingredients, cover, turn it on and walk away. Slow cookers require a very small amount of added liquid, as the released juices from the beef are generally enough (but follow the manufacturer's instructions).
When you get stew beef at the supermarket, it's often made up of trimmings as well as other odds and ends, but it's usually made up of chuck and round, which are two of the biggest beef primal cuts and also among the toughest.
You're not limited to store-cut stew meat, though. You can purchase your own beef chuck or round and dice it up yourself.
Just keep in mind that stewing involves more liquid than braising. You could make beef noodle soup by stewing the meat and other aromatics and herbs, then add the noodles at the last minute.
Roasting is a dry-heat cooking technique that uses either high temperature or a combination of high and low. The high temperature is what gives the beef its mouth-watering, crispy, brown exterior, while the low temperature is what cooks it to its proper doneness.
For smaller roasts, you might only need a short burst of high heat to reach perfect medium-rare. For a larger roast, you would do most of the cooking at a low temperature and then sear it in a very hot oven, either at the beginning or very end of cooking.
Because beef cooks quickly at a high temperature, there's little opportunity to break down connective tissues. Therefore, the best cuts of beef for roasting are the tender ones. Roasts from the rib primal (aka prime rib) as well as the short loin, tenderloin, and top round are good candidates.
Broiling is like grilling upside-down. It's a high-temperature technique where the beef is cooked just inches away from the heat source. Only, instead of above the fire, as with grilling, the meat is situated below.
Other than that (and the fact that you do it indoors, rather than outside on the grill), broiling works much the same way; and with the same cuts of beef: steaks, burgers, and other thin cuts, such as skirt steak.
Like grilling, broiling will dry out your beef, so brushing it with oil, or marinating it before cooking, is helpful. And be sure not to overcook.
Stir-frying is another quick technique for cooking beef. Specifically, thin strips that are cooked in a hot skillet or wok using a small amount of oil. The great thing about stir-frying is that all the ingredients in the dish, including vegetables, like onions and bell peppers, are cooked together in the same pan.
Beef sirloin is a great choice for stir-frying. Sirloin isn't quite tender enough to make a good steak, but slicing it thinly breaks up the connective tissue so that it doesn't taste like a mouthful of rubber bands. Just make sure to slice it against the grain.
This technique brings us back to the grill, but unlike grilling, barbecuing uses low temperatures and wood smoke to cook cuts of beef slowly, over a period of eight hours or more. Like braising, the slow, low temperatures break down the connective tissues in tough cuts of beef. But unlike braising, barbecuing uses dry heat rather than moist.
Because it uses smoke, barbecuing works best on a charcoal grill, where chunks of hardwood, like hickory, mesquite, apple, maple, or cherry, can be added to the charcoal. With a gas grill, this is possible, but you need a separate basket and it doesn't work quite the same.
The best beef cuts for barbecue include brisket, ribs, and several cuts from the chuck primal. Even top round, eye of round, and tri-tip roasts can be cooked with smoke.
Whether you start it in the skillet and finish in the oven, or the other way around, the skillet/oven technique is great for cooking steaks, particularly when they're cut at least 1 1/2 inches thick. Ribeyes and steaks from the short-loin primal, like strip steaks, T-bones, and porterhouse, are excellent choices for this method.
We use a combo technique because we want a dark-brown, flavorful crust on the outside of our steaks, which is achieved with high temperature. But cooking the steak entirely at a high temperature can overcook it, making it tough and dry. A medium oven is best, as it ensures the center is a perfect medium-rare, while a quick high-temp sear in a skillet, either before or after, gives you that all-important crust.
Last, but not least, the skillet is a great way to cook ground beef for use in other recipes, like spaghetti sauce, chili, tacos, or enchiladas. In general, it's best to add your ground beef to a cold skillet and then heat it slowly, as adding it to a hot skillet will cause the meat to stick and possibly burn.
Avoid overcrowding the pan, and be prepared to drain off a good amount of the fat that cooks off. Just don't pour it down the drain! Pour it into a can or jar and then when it hardens, scrape it into the trash.