Essential reading for those in search of cozy cooking recipes this winter.

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If braising isn't already your best kitchen friend this winter, it's about to become your new favorite cooking technique. Why? Because the process of slow cooking protein and/or veggies in liquid fills your home with rich, savory scents that amp up dinner anticipation even if your cooking ambition is at an all-time low. 

"I love braising because it's really about coaxing flavors," says Linda Hampsten Fox, Chef at The Bindery in Denver, Colo. "Braising is a subtle dance that happens leisurely at low temperatures, so you can still do a million other things at the same time." (Dropping this month's best Netflix shows here for any multitasking needs.) Braising both softens meat and builds flavor over hours of slow cooking—so if you've ever spent hours cooking meat in broth in a Dutch oven before, you've braised.

Another big bonus to braising? The braising liquid automatically acts as sauce for your protein and any sides you serve with it—roasted veggies, egg noodles, and mashed potatoes. It's also perfect for meal prepping big cuts of meat, meaning your Sunday braise can be repurposed into dinners, sandwiches, and more all week. 

Multitasking and creating dynamic flavor for a dish that's often even better leftover? We're in. Below, chefs share their tips, tricks, creative ideas for becoming the best braiser you can be. Try these tips on our recipes for Spiced Braised Beef With Sweet Potatoes, Slow Cooker Cuban Braised Beef and Peppers, Gochujung Braised Brisket, Spice-Braised Short Ribs, or Braised Chicken and Spring Vegetables.

how-to-braise: Chinese homemade broth noodles with braise meat chops
Credit: Getty Images

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1 Choose the right cut

While pretty much anything can be braised, you’ll find the most success with muscular meats—which also happen to be the most affordable cuts. “The best cuts for braising are those that are the hardest working on the animal,” says Heather Marold Thomason, butcher and owner of Primal Supply Meats in Philadelphia, Pa. “Activity and use of a muscle builds up collagen and connective tissue, which would be tough if cooked quickly, but will melt and yield to tenderness and flavor if cooked gently over a long period of time.” For beef braises, Thomason recommends chuck, brisket, short ribs, or shanks. And for pork, the shoulder, shank, or belly are best. “The magic of braising is that the liquids steam up to the top of the pot and then steadily drip back down on the meat, essentially basting as it gently cooks and the muscle is encouraged to relax," Thomason says.

2 Pre-season your meat

“It never hurts to season meat before you even start cooking. And while it's not necessary in this case—braised meats have plenty of time to absorb salt and seasoning when cooking, after all—salting ahead will really kick it up a notch,” Thomason says. Sprinkle salt and pepper over your meat the night before you braise (or at least an hour ahead) to ensure the cut seeps up the flavor. Chilling the meat uncovered in the fridge also helps dry out the surface, which will result in a better sear. 

3 Brown your meat and aromatics

In a Dutch oven or oven-safe deep pan with a lid, add a bit of oil and brown the meat over medium-high heat on all sides. Remove it from the pan. Next, leave a few tablespoons of rendered fat from the meat to cook aromatics like garlic or onion, herbs, or crushed spices until they're “golden and fragrant,” Thomason says.

4 Add your liquid

“My biggest tip is for home cooks to expand the vision of what kind of liquid they use to braise meats,” Hampton says. Don't be afraid to get creative—at The Bindery, she’s served dozens of pounds of short ribs braised in stock and coffee. “I even like to braise using Earl Grey tea. It's brilliant with lamb shoulder. Chamomile tea sings with pork butt, and I always use a little chai in my wild boar sauce braise,” Hampton adds. Anything can be used as a braising liquid: Various stocks, bottles of booze (beer, sake, and cider work), and even Coca-Cola can create various flavor profiles in your braise. Many people also add tomato paste for color and depth. Bring the liquid to a boil before adding your meat back in.

5 Select your stir method

Put the covered pot into an oven preheated to 250°F. Next, choose how you'll stir. Some chefs prefer stirring the meat every half hour, while others swear by not ever lifting the lid (like when cooking rice). Some even cover the pot with a cartouche—a piece of parchment paper cut into a circle to fit your pot—to allow some steam to escape. Others crack the lid just slightly. These techniques all work, and each method is up to your personal preference—and how involved you want to be in the cooking process.

6 Add veggies

Once the meat is fragrant, about two hours in, consider tossing in some vegetables. They can also be browned or roasted in advance, or just added in raw with the liquid. Root vegetables work well, as do mushrooms and leafy greens. Vegetarians can also skip all the meat steps and jump right in here, adding veggies to hot liquid to cook. Legumes (like beans and lentils) and starchy vegetables (like potatoes) don’t always work, as they can soak up too much liquid and cloud your sauce. But if you still want to incorporate them, go ahead. Simply cook legumes or potatoes in the braising liquid after the meat and veggies are removed.

7 Be patient

Remember: Braising can take up to four hours. You’ll know your meat is ready once you can stick a fork in it twist, it should “yield easily without resistance,” Thomason says. “Once cooked, you may want to remove the meat from the pan, skim the fat from the top, and reduce the cooking liquid a bit. Then, either spoon it over the sliced meat or fold it back into pulled meat." If your goal is for it to truly be fall apart tender, go with the latter.

8 Consider a reverse sear

“I also recommend flipping the switch and braising first, then searing to create a crisp texture for a different end game,” Hampton says. This is not only a way to fresh up a beloved recipe, but also a way to make chicken skin crispy again or add some serious browning to stringy, soft meat. 

9 Braise in advance

Braised meats are often even better leftover. “It never hurts to braise one day ahead,” Thomason says. “Cool and refrigerate the meat in the cooking liquid overnight, and then reheat to serve the next day. It will only become more rich and flavorful from resting overnight in all those delicious juices.”