13 Ingredients That Will Take Your Beef Stew To The Next Level

Beef stew is perhaps the quintessential belly-filling comfort food. There are many benefits of this dish, but perhaps the biggest is that there's no definitive recipe. It's incredibly elastic in its ingredients, which allows you to adjust accordingly to your household's personal palate. 

Beyond that, it's a hearty, big-batch, one-pot meal that provides a leftover feast that reheats easily and quite often tastes even better on day two or even day three. Plus, it freezes well if you want to save it for a day when you know you won't feel like cooking — just be sure to defrost it in the refrigerator the night ahead. 

Beef stew is so versatile that you would be hard-pressed to find a country that doesn't have a version of it. It comes in myriad variations depending on the culture and the ingredients that are readily available. It can taste slightly sweet, a little on the sour side, or deep and rich, but it's always savory and satisfying.

The standard recipe familiar to most Americans is a combination of beef (of course), potatoes, carrots, celery, and dried herbs simmered in beef broth. But if you're making beef stew, we would advise you to explore the delicious range of recipes that you can create in your kitchen by simply changing up the ingredients.

1. Red Wine

A trusty bottle of red wine is a helpful addition to beef stew — perhaps in more ways than one as a well-earned libation with your meal after a long time spent prepping and carefully monitoring the cooking process. Why does red wine provide a boost? To put it simply, letting red wine simmer in tandem with your broth adds a tangy complexity to beef stew.

Do not settle for the cheapest option in the wine aisle just because you're cooking with it. Instead, you should opt for a wine you would actually want to drink. With this easy beef stew recipe only requiring half a cup of wine, you'll still have some left over to accompany dinner. We also recommend a slow cooker recipe for beef stew with mushrooms that incorporates red wine.

Are you preparing this for a crowd that's under the legal age for alcohol consumption? Rest assured that most, if not all, of the alcohol content will fade during cooking (via Wine Enthusiast).

2. Guinness beer

A good, hearty broth that serves as the fundamental foundation of your beef stew is a major factor in yielding a satisfying finished product. But it's important to round out the recipe with additional flavor notes. Here enters the idea of adding a splash of Ireland's famed Guinness stout beer. Even if it isn't Saint Patrick's Day, if you're making beef stew, you should get your brogue on.

Black Rose, a cherished Boston-based pub, shared its famous Guinness beef stew recipe. Add Guinness at the beginning of the cook once the onions have simmered. Thanks to malted barley, Guinness has an exceptionally roasty, toasty flavor that is a welcome complement to a beef broth base. And the benefits go beyond providing a boost of flavor. As a dark beer, Guinness adds color to the stew. Top it off with a sprinkling of parsley to make this beef stew not only smell and taste good, but also look good.

3. Thai flavors

Beef on its own can be bland, so give it a flavor boost and take a journey to Thailand the next time you plan to make beef stew. The country's cuisine prominently features powerful flavor combinations of spicy, sweet, and sour. You can start off with a particular Thai-inspired beef stew recipe and bend and flex with the various ingredients according to your taste.

This Thai beef stew recipe delivers on all of the aforementioned notes with spicy, red curry paste and sweet coconut milk. The fish sauce and lime juice come together to provide the perfect balance to the savory beef and add to the depth of the overall flavor. Whatever path you choose, however, perhaps the essential ingredients to giving your dish a Thai-inspired kick are garlic and ginger.

When the aroma of this delicious beef stew hits, it will definitely make your mouth water. We recommend serving over or alongside steamed rice.

4. Fresh ginger

For any beef stew recipe that calls for ginger, it's important to go with fresh as opposed to the dried powder form in order to get the strongest flavor boost from the raw root. While a pinch from the jar of the dried version will suffice considering that it's a pantry staple, fresh ginger will add more depth of flavor and give a stronger sweet-and-sour kick to your beef stew. 

This ginger-based beef stew recipe includes fresh ginger as a major component, as it pairs well with the soy sauce and beef chuck to create a mouth-watering stew. Nehari is a beloved, spice-laden beef stew with its origins near the regions of Pakistan that is traditionally served during major celebrations. This stew also features a kick from fresh ginger both in the recipe and as a garnish. While tubes of ginger are available at the grocery store, for the freshest taste possible simply grate your own with a microplane.

5. Olives

Olives make a surprisingly excellent addition to beef stew. Think well past your association with them as a side attraction on a meat and cheese appetizer plate, a garnish for a stiff martini, or extra virgin oil. The briny quality that olives offer is no doubt a rather perfect match with beef. Because, after all, who doesn't want a touch of salt with their steak? The beef stew recipes most familiar to you may include potatoes and root vegetables, but adding olives will add a punchy kick of vinegar that those other add-ons can't offer. Vinegar is known to tenderize meat due to its acidic qualities, so the presence of olives may also help avoid a chewy stew.

Olives are a key component to an iconic comfort food recipe from the island of Puerto Rico — carne guisada. We would recommend an exquisite carne guisada recipe, but keep in mind that it calls for the special ingredient of achiote.

6. Prunes

Prunes in beef stew? Trust us, it will take it to a new level. Prunes are simply dried plums. You might have some in your pantry as a healthy snack and digestive aid, but they can be used in cooking as well. They work particularly well with savory beef stews by providing some balance with a touch of sweetness. Their soft, chewiness can also add a pleasant complement in texture when in tandem with tougher cuts of beef.

Brace yourself for a two-day effort to pull it off, but there is an iconic Croatian beef stew that incorporates prunes and it's well worth the time. To nail the dish known as pašticada, a favorite menu item on the Dalmatian coast, you need to prepare in advance. After a long overnight soak in a marinade and a brief braising, we get into prune territory for this stew. Serving it along with some homemade dumplings would not be a bad idea, either.

7. Apples

In a stew, there tends to be heavy doses of salt, herbs, and spices to season the meat. The natural sugar that comes from fresh apples adds an additional flavor layer. For fans of using carrots in beef stew, apples take the sweetness up a notch. While beef stew often incorporates chunks of potatoes, fresh apples can be swapped in their place as a new twist. Don't worry about the crunchy bite you may associate with apples — a nice, long swim in the soupy broth will eventually develop a texture reminiscent of a fluffy potato. 

We recommend a hearty apple infused beef stew recipe that will earn raves from the taste buds and warm the belly on a cold day. If you're feeling particularly fruity, beyond apples, we also like adding dried cherries and pomegranate to beef stew. In either case, be sure to pack a healthy punch of spices to balance the apples' sweetness.

8. Plant-based meat substitutes

If you've made the personal choice to abstain from animal-based products, but you also crave some of the familiar aromas and flavors of a meaty stew, you're in luck. There are all manners of ways to appeal to both of those impulses. Thanks to the ingenious wizardly scientists in food science labs who have been toiling at work for many years, you can have that beef flavor in your stew with a delicious meat substitute.

Factor into consideration that meat-based beef stew often calls for hefty cuts of chuck. When you shop for a plant-based product to replicate that size and texture, be sure to skip the ground options or else you'll end up with more of a chili. Beyond Meat offers up faux steak that would pass many a blind taste test and is more than suitable for a stew. Gardein also serves up their "b'ef tips" that would also present well in a stew-y setting.

9. Kimchi

If you're setting out to make a Korean-inspired beef stew, how can you not consider adding one of its most famous offerings? We're talking about kimchi.

Kimchi can have various vegetable bases, but napa cabbage kimchi is a traditional dish that is familiar to most folks. The distinctly funky fermented flavors are potent and they hit you immediately, so it is no wonder that the complex spicy, sweet and sour notes would make an excellent addition to any beef stew — and we would argue that fit in as a riff on your old family recipe. Adding it early on during the cooking process will deliver a strong smack to the taste buds. But, consider adding it as a fresh topper towards the end so you can fully enjoy the crunch of the cabbage.

Jjigae is a Korean stew that certainly can make beef the main, but it can also feature a wide spectrum of proteins. It only makes sense to toss in a healthy handful of kimchi to give the stew additional punch. 

10. Pie dough

When you make a big pot of beef stew it's very likely that you will have leftovers. It's easy to just keep it in the pot and reheat it the next day over the stove, but having the same meal becomes less appetizing after the first round. So, consider looping in pie crust and making beef pot pie so that the leftovers don't feel so stale.

Store-bought pie crust is a quick and easy way to achieve a beef pot pie if you feel some kitchen fatigue after yesterday's long cooking process. If you're feeling up to it, though, make the dough yourself with this pie crust recipe. It will take a little bit more elbow grease, but having it freshly made will be worth it. You can also make a large batch of the crust and freeze some for a rainy day. Once you have figured out your crust situation, all it takes is a gentle reheat of the stew while the oven heats up before you ladle it into the pie pan.

11. Oranges

Oranges may strike you as an unexpected ingredient in beef stew, but they are actually in peak season during winter (via UC Davis), a time when preparing beef stew might be at the top of your mind. While citrus does invoke thoughts of mostly sour notes, when they're ripe, oranges are delicately sweet and meld perfectly into savory recipes. The acidic quality they bring to a saucy beef stew might conjure up thoughts of homey tomato soup.

The juice and zest of an orange are core ingredients to add to this recommended recipe for Provençal-style Daube De Boeuf. The citrus not only helps make the beef more tender, but imparts a wonderful flavor that creates more depth in the stew. While the name may come across as pretentious and certainly is a challenge to pronounce, there's no need to raise a snobbish pinkie finger when you gather up a spoonful. It's quite the humble dish and also quite easy to pull together.

12. Chili peppers

If a piping hot bowl of beef stew is still not hot enough for your liking, chilies are the surefire way to set your mouth on fire. You can opt for fresh chilies, but avoid touching your face while you're chopping them up — otherwise, you're in a world of pain. Or, go the dried route and sprinkle on some chili powder while the stew is cooking. If you're the only one at the table who likes spice, top the stew off with a douse of hot sauce for an extra kick.

The legendary mayor of Flavor Town, also known as Guy Fieri, provides a recipe that's chock full of not only beef chuck, but chilies for those who embrace Texas-style chili – yes, chili is considered a form of beef stew, per The Pioneer Woman. Fieri is not holding back when he suggests chiles de arbol, ancho chilies, guajillo chilies, and fresno chilies. You can also add Anaheim peppers or basic bell peppers to beef stew, or spike it with cayenne and paprika for good measure.

13. Pickled vegetables

To prepare an elevated version of beef stew, look no further than pickled vegetables. If you are fortunately confronted with an unexpected surplus of garden offerings in the summer, make sure to pickle the veggies in a jar for a hot meal in the winter. As a topping for beef stew, the crunch and vinegar-laden tang that results from your bountiful harvest and careful preservation techniques will serve you well.

Grab a heavy pot, sturdy knife, and a ladle and have faith in a Swedish chef because here comes an extra luxurious beef stew recipe that comes courtesy of Michelin star-winner Magnus Nilsson. It's dubbed Sailor's Beef Stew and is definite proof that beef stew can humbly offer itself up for absolutely everyone, whether you're a lowly buccaneer swabbing the deck or one of the bougiest of bougie foodies out there. Pilsner beer is an additional plus to the sauce.