100 Techniques

Technique #32: Braise More Gently by Using the Oven

Ditch the stovetop. This low-and-slow method works best in the oven.

Published Sept. 30, 2023.

This is Technique #32 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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Braising generally involves browning food first, and then cooking it in some type of liquid to finish. Cooking techniques such as sautéing, roasting, and frying, which create flavor by applying high heat to proteins and sugar to change them, require frequent monitoring to manage that high heat so it doesn’t burn or dry out the food.

Braising, though, relies on low heat, which allows the cook to leave the dish alone while it gets better and better.

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Low and Slow Works Best

Braises can be fast, as for vegetables, or slow, as we show here with meat. Sometimes you can skip an initial searing step. But all braises involve gentle cooking in liquid, and maintaining the liquid below boiling ensures that the temperature can’t possibly go above 212 degrees. 

This makes braising an especially effective technique for cooking meat, because longer cooking at a lower temperature coaxes collagen—the main protein that makes up the connective tissue surrounding meat’s muscle fibers—to melt into gelatin, which lubricates the muscle fibers and results in a soft, tender final texture. 

It’s a common misconception that braised meat is so tender because of all that liquid it cooks in; it’s really this collagen breakdown that should get the credit.

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Opt For Oven-Braising

Most braises do better in the oven than on the stovetop (with a few exceptions, like quick vegetable or seafood braises). The reason oven braises work so well is that even heat from all sides surrounds the pot, leading to gentle, even cooking and a flavorful liquid that becomes the sauce. 

The heat of a stovetop burner, on the other hand, is too focused. With stovetop braising, the heat concentrates on the bottom of the pot and can easily overheat the starch in the liquid, which breaks down its thickening properties and thus results in a thinner sauce.

For the best braising, you’ll want a sturdy, roomy pot with a tight-fitting lid. We often turn to an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven as our preferred vessel because they retain heat well, are easy to clean, and transfer easily from stovetop to oven. Depending on the recipe, a stainless steel skillet is also a good choice.

Step by Step: How to Braise Meat

Now that you know the science behind braising, follow these steps to achieve the tender, fall-off-the-bone meat.

Step 1: Trim the Meat

Trim meat of excess fat, reserving trimmings if recipe directs.

Step 2: Brown the Meat

Brown meat in braising vessel on stovetop or in roasting pan in oven, depending on quantity of meat.

Step 3: Cook Your Aromatics and Simmer

Cook aromatics in oil in braising vessel until softened. Add braising liquid and bring to simmer on stovetop.

Step 4: Add Your Meat and Cover

Add meat to braising vessel, cover, and transfer to oven.

Step 5: Remove Meat and Strain

At end of braising time, remove meat from pot and strain braising liquid through fine-mesh strainer into fat separator. Let settle for 5 minutes, if recipe directs.

Step 5: Reduce Braising Liquid and Serve

Return defatted braising liquid to braising vessel and simmer to reduce to desired consistency. Serve as sauce with braised meat.

Watch Cook's Illustrated's Steve Dunn demonstrate many of the principles of this oven-braising technique.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Want to put your newfound knowledge of braising to use? Try it with these recipes.


Pomegranate-Braised Beef Short Ribs with Prunes and Sesame

Meltingly tender classic braised short ribs take a trip to the Mediterranean with this spin that features a warm-spiced sweet-but-tart sauce made with pomegranate juice and prunes.
Get the Recipe

Red Wine-Braised Pork Chops

To get juicy, tender meat and a rich, silky sauce, we first had to pick the right chop for the job. Then it was a matter of divide and conquer.
Get the Recipe

Braised Chicken Thighs with Lemon, Spices, and Torn Basil

Our tried-and-true method for braised chicken thighs is a fan favorite. Here's a new way to enjoy them.
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Braised Pork Marbella

We update a classic recipe by swapping rich pork for the chicken.
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Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops with Tomatoes and Red Wine

These cheap, funny-looking chops deliver good flavor, are less exacting to cook than more expensive loin or rib chops, and make for a speedy braise for weeknight dinners.
Get the Recipe

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