By Vanessa Greaves
February 25, 2016

Buying a package of pre-cut "stew meat" may sound like a time-saver, but you're not really doing yourself a favor, and you're probably spending more than you should. Find out why, and learn how easy it is to cut up meat for stews and chili yourself. You'll save money, and get a much better dinner, too.

Photo by Meredith

What is "Stew Meat?"
The typical package of "stew meat" contains random scraps of different cuts of meat in all shapes and sizes left over after the supermarket butcher breaks down larger pieces of meat.

What's the Problem with Pre-packaged Stew Meat?
Different cuts of meat require different cooking methods to bring out their best. And if you don't know exactly what kind of meat is in that hodge-podge package of "stew meat," then you can't predict how it will all behave when you simmer it low and slow in a stew or chili. Will it cook down into fork-tender morsels, or will it go all tough and stringy? No one wants to play that kind of guessing game with their dinner.

What's the Solution?
First of all, learn what meat makes the very best stews, whether you use a slow cooker, stovetop, or oven. (Bonus: it's usually cheaper per pound than packaged "stew meat.") Then, learn how to cut it up, or cube it, to make your own stew meat.

Wait, What's All This About Cubes?
Basically, you're cutting up a piece of meat such as beef chuck, pork shoulder, or lamb shoulder into pieces that are the same size on each side. Meat that's properly cut into cubes cooks evenly (and looks good on your plate).

How to Cut a Roast into Cubes in 3 Easy Steps

Photo by Vanessa Greaves

1. Place the roast on a large cutting board. Using a long, sharp knife, trim off hard fat. Then cut across the roast into 1-inch slices, as if you're slicing a loaf of bread.

2. Cut each slice into 1-inch strips.

3. Cut across the strips at 1-inch intervals to make cubes. Your finished cubes will measure 1 inch on each side.

Seriously, it's that easy. To make larger cubes, start with wider slices, cut those into wider strips, and cut across the strips into wider cubes. Just keep each cut the same width, and you'll get pretty close to perfect cubes every time. Yes, you'll always end up with odd little bits, but the vast majority of your meat will be cubed like a pro did it.

Practice Makes Perfect

Hone your cubing skills on these top-rated recipes.

Boneless beef chuck and your favorite dark beer make deep, rich, complex magic together in this soul-satisfying beef stew. Serve it over potatoes mashed with green onions.

Photo by Vick Chick

Boneless pork shoulder and potatoes simmer in a sauce of fresh tomatillos, jalapeños, poblanos, and cilantro. Top it with the easy pickled red onions you'll find in the Cook's Notes at the bottom of the recipe.

Photo by Chef John

Boneless lamb shoulder gets mildly spicy with garam masala, turmeric, and ginger. You'll want to serve this with basmati rice and naan to soak up every bit of the sauce.

Photo by SunnyByrd