We are big braise people over here. We like braising. We like talking about braising. We like thinking about braising. We like dreaming about braising. If braising is involved, we are also, most likely, involved.
And part of the reason we love this cooking process so much is that it can turn cheaper, less-loved cuts of protein into beautifully tender, juicy, meaty, budget-friendly dinners.
The qualities that make a cut of meat great for braising are the same qualities that make them less well suited to quick-cooking methods like searing — plenty of fat, sinew, and connective tissue. Low heat and plenty of time (i.e., a braise situation) creates the perfect conditions for those otherwise stringy bits to soften, yielding tender, falling-apart meat and cooking liquid that is enriched with all of the lip-smacking gelatin that renders out. Bonus points for bone-in cuts — those bones are full of sweet, sweet marrow, which will lend even more richness and body to your braise. This is kitchen magic at its finest, and these are some of our favorite cheap cuts that benefit from said magic.
Shreddy pork is a beautiful thing, and braising a pork shoulder is a really efficient way to get that tender, shreddable hunk of meat packed with flavor. Braising a pork shoulder sets you up for some killer bo ssam or a cider-braised centerpiece. And while pork shoulder is both affordable and delicious, pork ribs work just as well. You might think these things belong on the smoker, but they feel right at home inside a dutch oven with some soy sauce, rice vinegar and fruit juice. You’ll get that romantic, fall-off-the-bone quality that made you fall for pork ribs in the first place.
Look, beef is great for braising. But beef can also get kind if pricy. That’s why we’ll go for a chuck roast 100 percent of the time when braising beef on a budget. A chuck roast is usually known as the cut your parents used for pot roast, a large triangular cut from the chuck of the cow. It’s well marbled with fat, which prevents it from drying out during low-and-slow cooking — and also the reason that we like to grind the cut up for juicy burgers and meatballs. And while we’re not here to insult your mother’s pot roast, we are here to tell you that you can … probably do better. Any braise that calls for pricier short ribs or brisket will be slammin’ when made with slabs of chuck roast, and taste about three times as expensive as it actually is.
Lamb Shank or Shoulder
We need to show more love to lamb. Especially when braising. The process mellows out some of the gaminess that we usually associate with the meat, and makes most people question why the hell they didn’t invite lamb to the braise party sooner. Leg of lamb is great, but it can get pretty spendy, which is why we turn to lamb shank or lamb shoulder when we want to get similar results on the cheap. The fat in a lamb shoulder will make it break down in the same shred-y way a pork shoulder does, and the bone in a lamb shank holds a ton of flavor that will make its way into that saucy business during its time in the braise-y hot tub. Across the board, but especially with lamb, you don’t need to spend a ton to deliver an impressively flavorful dish.
Bone-in Chicken Thighs and Legs
Chicken can get boring. It can. But braising chicken throws a nice bit of variety into your baked chicken wing or roast chicken regimen. We love braising bone-in chicken thighs or whole chicken legs, whether it’s in a specific traditional dish like chicken adobo or a standard wine-braising technique. The tenderness that dark meat chicken is known for gets turned up to 11 with a braise.