Think you know everything about braising? Read this to make sure.
Braising is slow, covered cooking with liquid. You can braise vegetables relatively quickly, but for most people braising means meat—usually tough, cheap cuts that tenderize through long, gentle cooking. Pot roast, pork shoulder, shanks, brisket, and ribs all have enough connective tissue to be good options for braising. Leaner, more tender cuts (like most steaks) don’t benefit from braising.
Connective tissue, which is made primarily of collagen, is what makes some meat (like short ribs) tough. When it is cooked beyond 140 degrees, it begins to break down into gelatin, the protein that makes for tender meat. Collagen breaks down most efficiently in a moist environment at temperatures around 200 degrees. We’ve found that the best way to encourage collagen to break down into gelatin is by putting the meat and liquid in a covered Dutch oven in a 300-degree oven and letting it cook for a long time.
When braising meat in the test kitchen, we almost always reach for our trusty Dutch oven. The sturdy, roomy pot conducts heat well (helping the meat get a good sear), and it has plenty of space. It’s also outfitted with a tight-fitting lid.
You can indeed overcook braised meat, driving out so much of the meat’s moisture that it becomes dry. In that case, your pot roast will go beyond sliceable and on to shredded. You can salvage it for a sandwich, salad, or soup. But it won’t make a presentable Sunday roast. Cook braises just until fork-tender, then stop.