Make Your Next Chili With Stew Meat And Thank Us Later

Whether you're into cozy weekends or tailgates, chili season means whipping up a spicy-sweet-smoky concoction and enjoying it at home or pre-game. Most meat-based chili recipes feature the same ingredients — beans, spices, and ground meat of some sort, usually ground beef. When it comes to chili, the meat is the backbone — it carries the flavors of whatever you put in — so it deserves to be upgraded. And, if you're going to the trouble of using whole dried chiles to make chili, the beef should be treated with the same respect. And what better way to do that by using stew meat?

Using stew meat instead of ground beef in homemade chili brings a heartiness that's missing with ground beef. A lot of chili can be texturally one-note and mushy. The veggies are often simmered until they're falling apart. The beans offer some toothsome texture, but if not done right, chili can be downright gloopy. However, small chunks of stew meat add variety and interest. 

The chunks simmer and get tender, all while absorbing the flavors of the chili and creating a velvety, inherently meaty sauce. The result is fork-tender flavor bombs of meat that elevate the chili experience.

You're better off hand-cutting meat for stew chunks

Your parents might've kept stew meat in the freezer for when they had no dinner ideas (same with cube steak and a box of fish tenders). Usually, stew meat is from the less-tender cuts of beef and pork — aka, not filet mignon or tenderloins. 

Beef stew meat tends to be cut from round (the hind legs of the cow), chuck (shoulder), sirloin, and brisket, while pork stew meat comes from the shoulder. The cuts are tough with lots of connective tissues, so a good, moist, low-and-slow cook is necessary. As the meat cooks, it tenderizes, while the rendered fat adds body to the liquid it's cooked in.

You can buy pre-cut stew meat. However, some shops use random leftover bits from butchering larger cuts and label it stew meat. And often, they don't clarify what part of the animal the meat comes from. With different cuts best cooked using different methods, you're better off getting a cut of meat from the butcher counter and doing it yourself. And as a bonus for your wallet, it's cheaper than packaged stew meat. You can do a one-for-one swap by weight of ground beef to stew meat for your next pot of chili.

Forget Dinty Moore — you can make hearty chili at home

Using stew meat for chili isn't for the home cook with no time, unless you have access to a pressure cooker or slow cooker. Even if you have both, the best practice is to sear the meat until it's got some nice brown color. You can't achieve the Maillard reaction in a slow cooker, and the extra step is worth it; it adds depth to the final dish. If you're slow-cooking, deglaze the pan with some of the recipe's water or beef broth and add it to the slow cooker.

The next time you make your favorite chili con carn recipe, try making the stew meat swap. Brown the stew meat, but don't cook it all the way through. Remove the meat, but don't wipe out the pot. Instead, throw the chopped onions and bell peppers on the bottom of the pot. The onions and peppers will release some water as they cook, and you can scrape up all of the tasty brown bits. Follow the recipe as directed, then put the meat back in when you add the liquid ingredients. Set it to simmer until the meat falls apart. Serve and enjoy pure meaty bliss.