Buying a cheaper cut of meat at a supermarket or butcher is a really good way to save some money on your weekly grocery shopping. But buying cheaper cuts of meat does not mean you have to compromise on the quality of your final dish.
Slow cookers can do such an excellent job of tenderizing tougher and cheaper cuts of meat. And not only that, you will find that crockpots actually work best with cheap, tough cuts of beef.
Here are the four best cheap cuts of beef for slow cooker stew that can give you a tasty, succulent, and tender bite.
Chuck is one of the eight primal beef cuts—the largest and the one with the most sub-cuts options. It is derived from the cow’s upper shoulder and extends between the lower neck and the prime rib.
Due to its location and importance for movement, this meat cut encompasses some of the animal’s most exercised muscles. Naturally, extensive activity means that beef chuck cuts tend to have plenty of connective tissues that make the meat tough, leading to the misconception that it is a low-quality cut.
However, if prepared properly, the inexpensive chuck is actually an exceptionally appetizing cut. It has plenty of fat and collagen—which means extra flavor. When prepared in the slow cooker, these elements soften and become one of the juiciest cuts, providing the stew with plenty of additional flavors as the meat becomes tender.
When it comes to the chuck subprimal cuts, all of them are quite affordable, so you can pick and choose whichever you prefer for a slow-cooker stew. Personally, I recommend the chuck roast, but any chuck cut is perfect for your crockpot stew recipe.
Read Also: 9 Best Seasonings To Put In Beef Stew – (Rich And Balanced Flavors).
Also known as the shin, this meat cut comes directly from the cow’s legs above the knee. Specifically, it extends from the knee to the shoulder in the case of the forelegs and from the knee to the hip if taken from the hindlegs.
Naturally, the shin or shank bears most of the effort in leg movement, making it a cut with plenty of muscle and connective tissue. This lean cut also has little to no fat or marbling, which makes it significantly tough and dry when not cooked properly.
In fact, a pound of beef shank contains approximately only one ounce of fat.
However, the lack of fat does not make beef shin completely flavorless—it has a very profound taste and is a favorite for slow cooking if you aim for a diet low in fat and high in protein. It is rather unpopular for other purposes, but its deep flavor is excellent for soups, casserole, and stews in the slow cooker, as it infuses them with that extra rich consistency and taste.
Keep in mind that since it is a leg cut, the shank does not have subprimal cuts and is often sold whole.
Brisket is one of the least expensive boneless cuts that come from the cow’s breast, specifically behind the foreshank, below the shoulder, and beneath the first five ribs. It primarily encompasses the cow’s pectoral muscles, which support the cow and balance the body.
It is because of this that the brisket is a substantial cut, yet it is incredibly tough—composed of well-worked muscles with abundant connective tissues. Due to its size, it is often divided into two types of cut—point or deckle cut and flat or first cut.
The deckle cut contains most of the fatty content of the brisket, while the flat cut is much leaner.
Since it is so tough, beef brisket benefits from long, slow cooking to tenderize—it is also very inexpensive, making it ideal for slow-cooker stew.
Out of the two brisket cuts, the deckle cut is the best option for stews due to its fatty content. It is also a healthy choice, as it is very rich in collagen and oleic acid.
Another primal cheap cut of beef for slow cooker stew, the round cut comes from the cow’s rear leg and rump—including the thigh, butt, and ham muscles. These muscles are very well-exercised and lean, therefore full of connective tissue such as tendons, cartilage, and ligaments.
Naturally, this means that all secondary cuts derived from the round are very tough and chewy, which tends to require lengthier cooking methods. The top round is a very popular subprimal cut, but it is perhaps one of the most tender options in this cut and may not be your best option for slow cooking .
My suggestion? Bottom round or eye round. They are large and the toughest round cuts, yet they are somewhat flavorful and make excellent slow cooker stew meat due to their cost-quality benefits.
The bottom round in particular—also known as silverside—is lean and excellent for slow cooking stew, but it’s essential to pair it up with good quality stock to enhance the flavor.
Cooking Time For Beef Stew In The Slow Cooker
The ideal cooking time and temperature per beef cut is a finicky thing—some meat cuts require higher cooking temperatures for a short time, while others benefit from low and long cooking processes.
However, when it comes to slow cooker stew, there is no significant difference in cooking time, specifically if you’re using cheaper, tough meat cuts. All tough meat cuts require extensive cooking time to allow the connective tissues to cook and tenderize, and the variations between them in the slow cooker are barely noticeable and will mostly depend on the thickness of your chunk.
Generally, if your recipe calls for using the slow cooker on low heat, you can expect your stew to be ready in eight to ten hours. However, using the slow cooker on high can cut the cooking time in half.
Beef with plenty of muscle and connective tissue is naturally tough, and thus usually sells at a lower price—tender beef is the most expensive, after all.
But there are no “good” or “bad” beef cuts—just for different purposes. Stews and slow cooking benefit greatly from cheaper meat cuts, as their tough texture softens with prolonged cooking times. Likewise, that otherwise undesirable connective tissue melts and becomes a burst of flavor that enhances your broth.
This means that using cheap beef cuts for slow cooker stew is not only a good option if you’re on a budget—it is the most sensible choice for a flavorful, rich stew.