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How do you marinate stew meat to make it tender?

Marinating stew meat before cooking is one of the best ways to help ensure it turns out tender and flavorful. The marinade not only adds flavor, but it also helps break down some of the collagen and connective tissues in tougher cuts like stew meat, leading to a more tender finished product.

Why Marinate Stew Meat?

There are a few key reasons why taking the time to marinate stew meat can make a big difference in the end result:

  • Tenderization – Marinades contain acidic ingredients like wine, vinegar, lemon juice or yogurt which help break down tough connective tissues in meats over time.
  • Flavor – Wet marinades allow meat to soak up extra flavor from aromatics, herbs and spices.
  • Moisture – The liquid in the marinade keeps the meat from drying out during cooking.

While stew meat is intended for longer, moist cooking methods like braising and stewing which do help break down collagen, marinating beforehand helps shorten the cooking time needed while still yielding fork-tender results.

How Long to Marinate Stew Meat

For the best results, its recommended to marinate stew meat for:

  • Minimum of 2 hours
  • Ideally overnight or 12-24 hours

The longer time gives the acid and enzymes in the marinade time to work on dissolving collagen and connective tissue. If short on time, even just 2-4 hours can make a noticeable difference compared to no marinade at all. For a quicker marinade time, slicing the meat into smaller 1 inch chunks before marinating can help the flavors penetrate faster.

Tips for Marinating Stew Meat

Follow these tips to get the most out of marinating tougher cuts like stew meat:

  • Cut into 1-2 inch chunks – Smaller pieces allow more surface area for the marinade to penetrate.
  • Use a non-reactive dish – Glass, stainless steel or plastic containers will not react with acidic ingredients.
  • Marinate in the refrigerator – This prevents bacteria growth and allows flavors to permeate slowly.
  • Turn meat occasionally – Rotating the pieces ensures all sides marinate evenly.
  • Discard used marinade – Don’t reuse a raw meat marinade to avoid bacteria.

Best Marinade Ingredients for Stew Meat

Look for ingredients that will help tenderize while also adding lots of flavor. Ideal options include:

  • Acidic liquids – Wine, vinegar, yogurt, lemon or lime juice to tenderize.
  • Aromatics – Onion, garlic, shallots, ginger add flavor.
  • Fresh herbs – Rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley.
  • Spices and seasonings – Salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, paprika.
  • Oils and fats – Olive oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, ghee.
  • Umami flavors – Soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce.

Use a combination of these to make a well-rounded marinade.

5 Sample Marinade Recipes for Stew Meat

Here are 5 delicious marinade recipes that work great with beef stew meat:

1. Red Wine Marinade

  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1⁄2 tsp black pepper

The wine adds bold flavor and helps tenderize the meat. Balsamic vinegar also tenderizes while adding sweetness.

2. Soy Sauce Marinade

  • 1⁄2 cup soy sauce
  • 1⁄4 cup honey
  • Juice from 1 orange
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1⁄4 tsp red pepper flakes

The soy sauce amps up umami flavors while the acid from the orange juice helps break down collagen.

3. Italian Herb Marinade

  • 1⁄2 cup olive oil
  • 1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1⁄2 tsp salt
  • 1⁄4 tsp pepper

Classic Italian flavors from the vinegar, herbs and oil make this marinade pop.

4. Greek Yogurt Marinade

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • 1⁄2 tsp salt
  • 1⁄4 tsp pepper

The yogurt helps tenderize while offering a tangy flavor.

5. Beer Marinade

  • 1 cup beer
  • 1⁄4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1⁄2 tsp onion powder
  • 1⁄4 tsp pepper

The beer adds deep flavor and helps break down collagen fibers.

How to Marinate Stew Meat

Follow these simple steps for easy marinating:

  1. Cut the beef into 1-2 inch chunks and place in a glass or plastic dish.
  2. In a bowl or measuring cup, whisk together all marinade ingredients.
  3. Pour the marinade over the beef and turn to coat completely.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for minimum 2 hours, preferably overnight.
  5. Turn the beef occasionally to rotate sides marinating in liquid.
  6. When ready to cook, remove beef from marinade and pat dry. Discard used marinade.

Tips for Cooking Marinated Stew Meat

To get the most out of the marinated meat, keep these tips in mind:

  • Pat meat dry before cooking so it browns properly and doesn’t steam.
  • Add extra seasoning as needed after marinating.
  • Cook using moist heat methods like braising or stewing.
  • Don’t overcook or the meat can get tough again. Cook until just fork tender.
  • Let stew or braise recipes simmer gently once meat is tender.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best cut of meat to use for stew?

Look for cuts from the chuck or round like chuck roast, bottom round, or top round. Brisket also works well.

What temperature should I marinate meat at?

Always marinate in the refrigerator at 40°F or below to prevent bacterial growth.

Can I reuse marinade after marinating raw meat?

It’s unsafe to reuse a raw meat marinade. The bacteria on the raw meat can contaminate the whole marinade.

How long does stew meat need to cook?

Plan on braising or stewing marinated stew meat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until fork tender and easily shredded.

How do I thicken stew made with marinated meat?

Reduce the liquid by simmering uncovered or use a thickener like flour, cornstarch, or mashed potatoes.


Taking the time to marinate tougher cuts like stew meat can make all the difference in it turning out juicy and tender. Allowing it to soak overnight in an acid-based marinade gives the ingredients time to break down collagen and connective tissue. Follow the tips above to maximize flavors and texture for tender, delicious stew meat every time.