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Best lean cut for tender beef stew?

I'm making a beef stew, and I always struggle with trying to find the best cut that's both tender and lean. I really hate fatty meat, but I'm always told that the meat needs fat to become tender...
I don't mind if there's a big glob of fat that can easily be removed after cooking, or if the meat is marbled in such a way that the fat simply melts away during the cooking process. What I hate is actually biting into a mouthful of meat that has fat running through it...

The stew I'm making is called Rendang, it's an Indonesian recipe that's supposed to simmer slowly for hours in a mixture of coconut milk and spices. For this recipe the beef is cubed, cooking as a whole roast wouldn't work.

Any suggestions on the best cut to use, and how long I should cook it for? Ideally longer is better, I prefer getting something that won't toughen up from cooking too long. This is one of those recipes where it tastes better each time you reheat it.


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  1. I tend to use chuck, but, to be honest, I'm not sure how lean it is, though I don't recall seeing obvious bit of fat on it. Another option is boneless short ribs.

    2 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      Cooks Illustrated recommends short ribs for several stew recipes, and for a generic "best"stew, a chuck round roast is suggested. Yesterday I bought a chuck blade since the store didn't have a round roast -- but I was frustrated at the sinewy toughness throughout the meat as I cut it up. So I gave up and went to a premier market to find the chuck roast. That proved worth the effort as the meat was much cleaner and of course flavorful.

      1. re: RonGav

        You should just have removed the entire strip down the center of the blade, THEN chunked the meat. The sinew can be included in the braise, then pulled out before chilling so that the rendered fat is easy to remove.

    2. Try a blade roast (from the chuck). It is lean but has lots of connective tissue or collagen which lends itself well to slow braising.

      1. I also usually use chuck. It does have some fat and connective tissue in it, but if you are cooking the meat for a long period, it should melt away and you'll be left with tender, fall-apart meat. I do trim away the excess fat before browning the meat.

        The recipe sounds wonderful. Please post and let us know how it comes out!

        1. As others may tell you, lean cut may not lead to tender beef stew. And as usual jfood confirms MMRuth's choice of boneless short ribs. He made a batch, braised for 4.5 hours in the oven and the tenderness was a 10.

          Bring the liquid with the meat to a beginning boil on the stove and braise for 4-5 hours in the oven at 275. Then refrigerate and serve the next day. these cuts do much better on day 2 as all the molecules cool off and realign to make the meat fork tender.

          1. As jfood mentioned lean meat does not make good beef stew. You need the connective tissue to form gelatin between the meat fibers for a tender bite. The leanest I would use is a shoulder roast which is from the chuck but there is less fat. I still would prefer a basic chuck. The basic boneless chuck also called a under blade roast is a very good choice. The 7 bone chuck roast is also an excellent choice. The top blade roast is what is used to cut flat iron steaks and has enough connective tissue to render some gelatin but it quite tender even when cooked medium rare. Brisket as well as flank steak can be used for beef stew. The brisket has enough fat and connective tissue and since some brisket flats are pretty lean you can choose one that isn't as fatty as others. Flank steak is often used to make the Cuban beef stew ropa vieja.

            1. Great answers so far! It seems like a toss up between the chuck and boneless short ribs...

              I have cooked chuck in the past, but as an actual steak (on the grill). It seems like there are sometimes really fatty cuts and sometimes very lean ones. Also some are super tender, others tough as nails. It can be a bit hit or miss.

              I've never made short ribs, as I tend to associate spare ribs with all things fatty. But I could be wrong - perhaps there are leaner ribs out there too? Does it have to be made in the oven, or can you cook this on the stove top too? The recipe really calls for stove top cooking, as you basically start off with a very wet dish, but let the liquid mostly evaporate, so that in the end the meat actually ends up almost frying... It's quite particular (you have to get it just right, not too wet but certainly not too dry) and in the oven you can't watch it closely enough.


              BTW Rendang is a lot of work, but the results are soooo delicious... More info about the dish here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rendang Like so many recipes, each region has their own variety... I usually use a ready-made spice mix (bumbu), because making the proper mix yourself is a ton of work, you need a pestle and mortar... And with this you can just add coconut milk. But I do add certain fresh spices to the mix, like fresh kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, ginger, galangal, chillies and cilantro.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Bambellini

                Short ribs are quite fatty -- esp. in comparison to chuck.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Yes, and they are not the same as spare ribs, I believe. You can however remove a lot of the fat if you refrigerate the dish over night.

                  P.S. Rendang sounds delicious - I've never had it.

                2. re: Bambellini

                  I find chuck to be very fatty, I like to use bottom round myself. Cooked long enough, it falls apart nicely.

                  1. re: coll

                    wouldn't have believed it, but i did try top round and it made a delicious stew.tender , with tons of beefy flavor!

                    1. re: jackie57

                      I love both top and bottom round; not as fatty as some but cooked low and slow, they are very tasty and tender.

                  2. I'd go with the chuck to play it very safe against getting any fat globules. FWIW, every time I've had rendang the meat has been very tough. You're doing the lord's work!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: heidipie

                      TOUGH Rendang? Good lord, child - you ain't never had the real deal! ;)
                      I've had fatty Rendang and lean Rendang, but never, EVER tough... I feel for you. When properly prepared, you can cut the meat with a SPOON. And it is sooooo good...

                      1. re: Bambellini

                        ...they must not have been using the right cut of beef!

                        1. re: heidipie

                          Probably just not braising it long enough, or low enough.

                    2. Bambellini, chuck steak on the grill is a whole different "animal" (excuse the pun) than braised chuck. Chuck steak may have good, beefy flavor, but it is pretty chewy and full of connective tissue which does not melt during a quick grilling. Not my favorite choice for quick-cooking.

                      When it is braised for a long period at a low temp, it is fall-apart tender. Short ribs are also wonderful and tender after a braise.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: bear

                        I agree wholeheartedly -- chuck is for "low and slow".

                        The fat does nothing to make meat tender -- fat arguably adds flavor.

                        It's the long, low heat that makes the meat tender -- it breaks down the connective tissue, which, when broken down, is what gives you the silky, unctuous mouth feel of a well-prepared beef stew or similar.

                      2. Count me in as another chuck roast fan for beef stew. I usually freeze it for about an hour, then trim off all the large chunks of visible fat, then cube it.

                        1. Try it with beef shank. You can use it off the bone cut into large cubes, but ask the butcher for the shank bones to get the gelatin, just in case you want the stew to be boneless.

                          First brown it along with the bones, then add it to your liquids, allow to boil once, and simmer on low heat for 6-8 hourse or overnight. Remove the bones before serving.

                          You will get a beautiful, tender beef stew!

                          Edit: I just googled "Beef rendang shank" and it seems that beef shank is very common to use in rendang.

                          Good luck with your recipe

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: luckyfatima

                            I use shank for most of my braised beef dishes. An Asian grocery nearby sells the shank deboned. The appropriate cooking softens the abundant connective tissue, making the beef tender and succulent without the fat, The big problem that I have found is that some people just do not like that mouth coating that comes from a braised cut like shank. I love it but many do not.

                          2. I don't think you can have lean and stew for hours. As the others above have said, chuck roast and short ribs work great but because of the fat and connective tissues. But, if you just hate the mouthful of fat, just cut it away from serving. If you cut away the fat before cooking, the meat gets tough.

                            1. In "Cradle of Flavor," Oseland recommends boneless chuck or bottom round for making rendang and and says to definitely avoid pre-cut stewing beef. He also says the beef should be top quality, laced through with bright white fat. He suggests cooking it in a shallow, rather than deep, pan which allows the coconut milk to evaporate more efficiently and that it should be cooked at a gentle simmer for anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, until "only the meat, oils, and a bit of very thick sauce will remain in the pot."

                              1. Chuck, short ribs, brisket are the best choices. Basically you want a tough cut with connective tissue but you want to trim it of all external fat. Any cut you do use, when you cube it, just make sure to trim it properly so when everything is rendered, you won't be left with chunks of fat.

                                1. Thanks for all the responses! I went to the butcher shop to see what they had available and what looked good. The short ribs looked pretty fatty, so I opted for the boneless chuck roast. I cut off most of the fat, but rendered some of it before cooking, to add flavor. '
                                  I cooked it for several hours, the meat was tender, but I was a little concerned, because initially it didn't seem like that "slice with a spoon/melting like butter" type of tenderness... But then I put it in the fridge overnight, and when I reheated it the next day, it had that perfect, stringy texture, like ropa vieja... Delicious!
                                  The only thing is I would've liked the meat to be just a teeny bit more flavorful... But that's just me nitpicking!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Bambellini


                                    not sure about the cutt off most of the fat pre-cooking. jfood would have skimmed the congealed fat off the top the next day.

                                    next time for some deeper flavor you may want to try marinating the beef in wine overnight before the sear.

                                  2. I am with you on not wanting to bite into fat. If you do end up using fatty meat, make sure to cook it at least 8 hours to make sure it all melts.

                                    There I go again, answering ancient threads.

                                    1. Having lived in Singapore&Malaysia for many years, in my experience, Rendang, which is a Peranakan, or Nonya dish, is typically made with rump..it is quite time consuming to make from scratch, but well worth the effort as it's delicious...good luck

                                      1. Mmmmm I too love beef rendang and make it on a regular basis. I have used different cuts of beef in the past but as others have suggested, can't go past chuck or even topside. I usually do it on a slow cooker/crockpot for about 8-10 hours on LOW setting. Can do it on the stove top in which case it will take about a couple of hours depending on the quantity you are making and the cut of meat.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: bebop63

                                          I've since bought an electric pressure cooker and result is perfect, though I can't find candle nuts in UK..not sure how much difference it made-still lovely.