How Long Should You Cook Beef Stew?

Beefy, hearty, savory, and oh-so comforting. These are the elements of an old-fashioned beef stew, which is commonly comprised of carrots, potatoes, garlic, herbs, and beef stew meat. And speaking of stew meat, MasterClass states that a variety of beef cuts may be used, but some of the more common ones are sirloin, round, brisket, and chuck. According to Serious Eats, chuck meat is cost-effective and has plenty of connective tissues and fatty areas, which makes it a popular choice for beef Irish stew recipes. Steak School adds to this by stating that the collagen in chuck meat becomes gelatin during a low and slow cooking process, which also helps to flavor the sauce or broth that it's simmered in.

Per The Kitchn, meats that require longer cooking times, including sirloin, can end up tough and chewy. Meanwhile, tougher cuts, such as chuck, get really tender during the cooking of a stew. Therefore, skip the lean meats and go for cuts that are more tough. 

But how long should you cook beef stew?

Low and slow

Several sources indicate that two hours is the sweet spot for cooking beef stew. La Cucina Italiana and TheKitchn both state that this isn't the type of dish that should be rushed, as the meat fibers need at least two hours to tenderize. Serious Eats uses an oven for their beef stew and claims that 2.5 hours at 275 degrees Fahrenheit is enough time for chuck meat to cook properly, though they also advise against simmering it for too long.

When chuck meat cooks, its muscles release moisture. Though this further aids in its tough texture, the meat eventually becomes soft because its connective tissues become gelatin. But if you go overboard with the simmering, the muscles will have no moisture left, making it go from soft and tender after two hours, to tough and inedible at the six-hour mark. Bon Appétit piggybacks on this by stating that overcooking your beef stew may result in overcooked vegetables as well, and no one likes mushy potatoes and carrots with chewy beef.

So next time you make beef stew, shoot for two hours. It's best to check the stew meat around this time too, and if it needs another half hour or so, go for it. But try not to go over three hours.