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HELP! Best Cut of Beef for Chili?

Hey Peeps,

So I've been working hard on my chili, but I'm having a big problem with the cut of beef. It's not tender enough, for different reasons!

I'm now using two cuts: chuck, and shank. I'm cubing the meat against the grain in pieces about 10mm thick, lightly salting it about 15 mins before giving it a quick sear, adding the stock, and letting it simmer for about 2.5 hrs, covered on low. The chuck is drying out--all the fat and connective tissue seems to melt out, leaving it sort of tender, but it it crumbles when eaten, resulting in a rather dry and mealy mouth feel. On the other hand, the meat from the shank cut is too rubbery. The shank has a lot of connective tissue; if I leave it in, I end up with a mouthful of rubber gristle. Do I need to add the cuts at different times? Am I doing something wrong?

Every once in a while, when I'm out at a restaurant, I get a bowl of chili that has this really succulent beef: it's got tender, marbled fat running through each piece, and it's just delicious. How do I get this? They won't tell me!

I used short rib in one batch, and that was pretty good, but it's very expensive and a lot of work.

Thanks for your help.


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    1. re: monavano

      I find that brisket can be stringy. I prefer chuck.

      1. re: chicgail

        Stringiness is minimized by cutting it in thin slices across the grain.

        1. re: paulj

          That's true and it's what I do when I braise brisket for other purposes. But with chili, you start with the brisket cut into chunks. It's rather difficult to cut each chunk - after hours of cooking - into slices. And besides who wants thin slices of meat in their chili? The whole point is to get the meat to fall apart and with brisket, falling apart means breaking into strings.

          Is there something I am missing here?

            1. re: paulj

              I checked out the link, paulj, and I don't get the connection. Never had machaca or carne seche (I have had viande secce in Switzerland) and I can't see what it has to do with stringy brisket in chile.

    2. I use chuck or short ribs, but competition chili's seem to be all tri-tip

      2 Replies
      1. re: sbp

        I wonder if tri-tip is popular because it is
        lean - meaning less fat to skim off the chili
        not much connective tissue - requiring less cooking time

        Basically those are characteristics that help in the limited time frame of competition.

        Something like shank, cheek, chuck or even tail may make a more succulent chili, but requires longer cooking, and would benefit from chilling the fridge to separate the fat.

        A steak could also be used, seared and added at the last moment, but wouldn't contribute much to the flavor or body of the stew.

        1. re: paulj

          Yes, I believe the competition circuit likes tri-tip because there's no time to skim off the grease properly. But I think it makes great chili, too. One thing I do is to braise shank in beer first, shred it, degrease the liquid, then add to the chili (small cube tri-tip) for the last hour. That way you get 2 textures.

      2. It might be that you could lower the heat level and cook it longer. My favorite piece of meat is the "7 bone" part of the chuck for chile, but I've been successful with other (cheaper) chuck parts as long as I put it in the oven at a low heat. Simmering on the stove can end up being higher heat than you might want.

        1. Few thoughts.

          1. Chuck is fine, so long as it's well marbled.
          2. I'd probably cube the meat a little bigger and make sure you're searing quickly. You don't want to actually pan fry the meat through.
          3. Make sure you're not simmering too hard. You want the surface barely trembling with the occasional bubble, nothing more.
          4. If any pieces are popping out of the liquid, be sure to turn them and keep them nice and moist, adding a little more liquid if necessary to keep everything more or less covered.
          5. And I'd steer clear of an exact cooking time. Could take 3 or even 3.5 hours or more, just start using a table fork around 2.5 to see how tender the meat feels. After a while you'll get a sense for the look and feel of meat that is tender but succulent and not cooked to death.
          6. If you're one for experimenting, trying pulling a cube or two of meat for taste-tests at half-hour intervals to get a sense of what's going on in your pan at various points in the process. Fun, educational, filling.

          Hope that helps.

          1. You're overthinking this. Chili con carne is a way of using up & extending unsold cheap beef cuts. As long as its cheap & tough, it will be fine. Chuck, shoulder clod, neck, oxtails, etc. Anything with connectinve tissue (collagen) works just fine

            1 Reply
            1. re: rjbh20

              Would kindly disagree, rjbh20. If you're "working hard" at a dish and feel like you're failing it's not overthinking to simply ask if the ingredients are part of the problem. And different cuts will certainly lend different flavors and get tender at different times. Cheers!

            2. Texas chili purists won't agree with this practice, but I like to sear steak (something tender with good marbling, like flap meat) to medium rare, then cut it into small cubes and add it to my chili right before serving. I love the flavor of medium rare meat in chili and this is the only way I know of to get it!

              3 Replies
              1. re: biondanonima

                Ooh, that's a good idea. Sort of like a well-made stroganof, which in my mind has MR beef.

                1. re: sandylc

                  tri-tip or sirloin tip - tender, marbled, texas chili meat

                2. Shank is the best cut for chili so it's good you're using it. It forms the bulk of my own recipe when I can find it. All that connective tissue breaks down and enriches the stock without adding fat. How does it come to you in the store? If it's a cross-section with bone, cut the flesh off the bone and carefully trim off any silverskin and gristle before cubing and browning it. The bone should of course go into the pot with the meat during the simmering stage.

                  Don't skimp on the simmer! Shank needs a long, slow cook to gelatinize the seams of tendon running through it.

                  1. This may be a touch over the top, but once in a while I can buy a whole Beef tenderloin fairly reasonably around here. ( Corrado's in Clifton, NJ or a local Hmart)
                    I stick it into the freezer to be used soon for a chili (or perhaps a goulash). I cut up the whole thing myself and it makes the most tender delicious pot of Chili!
                    No complaints! :-)

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: RUK

                      Are you nuts??? Using tenderloin for chili?

                      1. re: tangoking

                        Yup! :-)
                        Overkill, I know. But it sure tastes great and you can't beat the texture of the meat! Melts in your mouth!
                        I can justify the expense - this will serve a bunch of people and so it isn't all that much, compared to perhaps eating out or whatever....

                    2. I was told an awfully long time ago that the first thing to do is brown your meat, then add the chili powder or whatever dry seasonings you're using and fry all that together until the spices get dark and fragrant. Then you add the liquid. When I've done it that way with cubed meat - chuck or round, but tri-tip just got on my list (thanks!) - the chunks came out well-flavored and tender.

                      1. "It's no secret, it's the meat. Don't skip on the meat. I got a real good eye for prime meat ... I love this town, this town loves prime meat!"