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Aug 4, 2013 10:10 AM

Possible to Get Moist Beef Stew from Dutch Oven?

I struggle to make beef stew that doesn't come out all dried out. I've experimented with a lot of variables: cooking time and temp (between 300 and 450), more or less water, browning meat or not, etc., but no matter what the beef seems to come out dry, as if it's been boiled too long.

Can anyone share a full-proof method or recipe for Dutch Oven beef stew? Or, is it possible that I just need to buy a slow cooker?

Thx., J

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  1. Your cooking temp is too high; for a braise, it should be no more than 275-325 maximum. Also, what cut of meat are you using? It should have some fat, not be lean like top round, frex.

    I brown the meat prior to finishing the braise in a low oven, just til tender. Never comes out dried out this way. .

    8 Replies
    1. re: mcf


      So, if I use a good fatty chuck, then brown the meat, then add in some veges (typically parsnips, zucinni, green beans, carrot, celery), how long should I cook for at 275?

      1. re: 99Jason

        Someone else has mentioned that the size of the chunks of food matter when timing. And how low you braise. 2 1/2 - 3 hours is typical range for me, but size matters, again, as others have stated, too.

        1. re: 99Jason

          Two hours, up to three. Don't put quicker-cooking veg (zucchini, green beans) in until last 45 mins-hour.

        2. re: mcf

          Agree that the main problem is that the cooking temp is WAY too high.
          While I also like doing it in the oven, it is perfectly possible to do the whole thing on top of the stove. Just keep the heat down low - this is something that is going to take a while, but on the other hand it's pretty hard to overcook your dish if you're cooking at a low temperature.

          BTW you're much more likely to have problems with your meat drying out in a slow cooker than in a dutch oven because it's so hard to set a slow cooker at a low temperature. Slow cookers can be incredibly helpful, but I find that meat is a problem in them. Not an impossible problem, but the dutch oven is actually easier to deal with and I think gives better results.

          1. re: ratgirlagogo

            I'm another "top of the stove" fan. If I don't have an afternoon to let it simmer gently, I make it in the pressure cooker.

            I was famous for my tough, dried-out beef stew until I bought a pressure cooker.

            1. re: sunshine842

              Well, that's interesting, since I also have a pressure cooker and it comes out even tougher in that. (But I suppose that's another question for another day.)

              1. re: 99Jason

                If that's happening, you are using the wrong cut of meat, and/or not cooking it long enough. If the collagen has not yet melted, the meat will be tough.

            2. re: ratgirlagogo

              i think it is much much easier to make a perfect braise in the oven, where the temp stays more even, than on stove top, personally.

          2. Back to the drawing board! You need to read about braising. There are many braising threads on this board, and cookbooks devoted to it. You are cooking your meat at way too high heat and are indeed boiling it, which should NEVER happen at any stage of the braising process. Concentrate on learning the method, as the recipe is not your problem.
            Currently, PBS is running Martha Stewart's Cooking School. One episode is on braising - look for it. And the Dutch Oven is far and away the best vessel for braising.

            1. If I do stew in the oven I cook it at 250. I generally do stew in a slow cooker, though, as that makes it more of a "set and forget" task.

              I put pepper, smoked paprika, a pinch of salt, some garlic power and some onion power in a paper sack, add the cut up meat and shake well. Then I brown that meat and throw the browned meat and veggies (along with whatever aromatics and spices I want such as a bay leaf or two) into the cooker. I add a very "thin" hot beef stock to cover, close the lid and wait until it smells done.

              I just ate breakfast and this has made me hungry...

              (I guess I can't reply so here is some more:)
              I think the dutch oven works well. I use it for stew when I'm using short ribs or my slow cooker is in use. I use the slow cooker to avoid heating up the whole oven and for ease. If I'm doing other things that can use a slow oven, I'll use the oven, again to save energy.

              8 Replies
              1. re: travelerjjm

                Thanks. Again, could you give me a rough sense of how long it takes to "smell done" using your method (or, rather, using a Dutch Oven in an oven set at 250)?

                1. re: 99Jason

                  That will. of course, depend on the size you cut the meat and veggies. I generally cook for about three to four hours at 250 but if you cut the meat and veggies larger, it'll take longer. My mom always made stew with meat and veggies you had to cut up -- I like mine more bite sized.

                  I've never put zucchini in stew, but is suspect it cooks rather quickly. If my stew is done earlier, I turn the oven to its lowest setting just keep it warm.

                  BTW, you can also use the Dutch oven on the stovetop to make stew.

                  1. re: 99Jason

                    NOBODY can tell you that because there are too many variables. How much fat in the meat, what sized chunks, cold or room temp when you start? How much meat and how large a Dutch oven? What other ingredients?

                    I would suggest you start more simply, to learn the basics: Cut a 3# boneless chuck roast into 2" cubes. Let them sit to come to room temp. Preheat a 4qt cast iron Dutch oven on medium for 15 minutes. Add a tbsp of cooking oil or bacon grease to the hot DO. Arrange the chunks of meat in a single layer with a half inch between each piece. You will have to do this in batches because it is vital not to crowd the pan. To do so will steam rather than sear the meat. When and only when they offer no resistance to the tongs, turn them over to brown the other side. Repeat till brown on all sides. Remove to a plate* and do another batch. When all the meat is seared, return it all to the DO and cover it with 4 cups of sliced or chopped onion. Scatter 8 whole cloves over the onion, and stick 2 large bay leaves down into the onion. Cover and reduce the burner heat to low, or place in a 275 oven. After 30 minutes, stir to blend onions with meat. Do this every 30 minutes and at 2 hours, add salt and pepper to taste and leave the lid cracked open. There will be a surprisingly large amount of liquid exuded by the meat and onions, and you want this to reduce to a tasty, intense gravy.
                    It will take at least 2-1/2 hours of braising. It's done when the meat is nearly falling apart and the gravy is as thick as ketchup.

                    There are lots of other ways to make this dish more complex but it is delicious as is, and has the advantage of giving you a valid benchmark against which to compare future braised stews/pot roasts.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      Greygarious nailed it.
                      Lots of smarts and experience in this post.
                      My only difference is to reduce oven heat from 250-275 after about 45 minutes. Time will vary based on tenderness of the meat.

                      I remove cooking vegetables, strain and put thru a food mill, press out flavorfull liquid and return that to the pot. Add a fresh batch of vegetables (longest cooking first) and let cook for another hour at 200. Juicy, tender, deeply flavored liquid.
                      Low and slow. just like great BBQ - cheap cuts are for this.

                        1. re: jpc8015

                          None. As I wrote, a lot of liquid is exuded from the onions, and some from the meat, too.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            That is interesting. I will file this away in my things to try this fall/winter folder.

                  2. If you try at low heat and have sufficient liquid, and still comes out too dry, there may be an opening in top of Dutch oven allowing the steam to escape. If you need a new Dutch oven get a Doufeu, made by Le Creuset. It has a depressed top that you fill with ice and the inside stew cannot dry out. It works like magic.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      I think the OP is talking about meat that tastes dry, not the lack of sauce. In my experience lean meat without connective tissue can end up 'dry' even if there is lots of sauce. The best bet with that kind of meat is to slice it across the grain to minimize the length of the fibers, and cook it just until the slices start to fall apart.

                      Cuts like chuck, shank, ribs, and cheek are less likely to be 'dry' than cuts from around the upper rear leg (rump, etc).

                      1. re: paulj

                        Shank is my favourite for stews - it needs a couple of hours to end up tender.

                        1. re: paulj

                          I agree with this entirely. You have to think about cooking stew meat differently from cooking a steak. The meat itself will be cooked well (hah!) past well done. The fat in the meat will be long-rendered and surrendered to the braising liquid. What your doing is converting the connective tissue to gelatin. What this means is that if you pull out a piece of meat out and sample it after, say. 90 minutes and it's dry you haven't ruined it. It means you haven't cooked it for long enough to have a bunch of jello providing the moisture. Keep the temperature low, keep cooking, and keep sampling. Eventually that connective tissue will break down into collagen and then to gelatin.

                      2. It's important to salt the meat at the beginning. And browning is what gives meat a full meaty flavor.

                        Use chuck. Cook at a much lower temp.

                        If you are cooking on top of the stove, stir pretty often or it can get a scorched bottom. That's why I cook pot roast and stew in the oven

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: C. Hamster

                          There's a whole bunch of writing (e.g. Serious Eats, McGee) that debunks advice about salting at the beginning. If limiting sodium is a concern, do it at the end. Otherwise, early or later is a matter of opinion and choice.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            There is also a whole lot of writing about the importance of seasoning at the beginning and not the end of cooking.

                            Especially meats.

                            Including McGee who encourages salting early. As do Wolke and Parsons.

                            If sodium is a concern, use less salt.