How To Marinate Beef For Stew


Learn how to marinate beef for stew so that your beef isn’t tough, chewy or dry. It’s an easy technique that will make your slow cooker meal delicious. Cook the beef for stew in the marinade for 10 minutes, then transfer to a covered freezer-friendly container. The beef is now marinated, and ready to be added to the slow cooker or pressure cooker as specified in your recipe.

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Stew Science: Should You Marinate the Beef First?


Do you know that crushing feeling you get when you’re two seconds away from making beef stew and then realize you forgot to marinate the meat? Yeah, me neither, but open enough cookbooks and you might come to think marinating the beef before stewing is an important step, especially if you want the stew to be really, really good. I decided to probe this question to determine just how critical marinating the beef really is.

Let’s start by reviewing what marinades do to meat.

  • First, they flavor it, the aromatic molecules in the marinade gradually penetrating the meat and imbuing it with their taste.
  • Second, they tenderize it with the help of acids, such as from wine or vinegar. Though, as Kenji has pointed out, prolonged exposure to acids can turn the meat mushy.
  • Third, they can help it retain moisture if salt is added since it changes the structure of some proteins in the muscle.


Marinades often contain additional ingredients, including oils, sugars, and fruit juices like pineapple juice (it has enzymes that are tenderizers), but those are less relevant when it comes to stews.

The thing with marinades, though, is that they don’t penetrate very far into meat. Just to give you a visual example, I marinated pieces of the beef chuck in Guinness (for a Guinness stew) and red wine (for boeuf Bourguignon) for a full eight hours (the rough equivalent of “overnight”), then sliced through them. What do you see? An imperceptibly thin surface layer that has clearly absorbed marinade, and then normal-looking beef below that


Now, simply not being able to see the impact of a marinade on the interior of the beef doesn’t mean that nothing penetrates below the surface. Salt and acid, for instance, if left long enough, can get deeper into the muscle, but most aromatic molecules don’t make it so far—mere millimeters at most.

If marinades primarily alter just the surface of the meat, there can still be a benefit to using them. We know from experience that, when cooked quickly over high heat, meat can taste a lot more flavorful after it’s spent a short time in a marinade—that’s why marinades can be a great idea for grilled meats. Even in my recipe for coq au vin, which is a quick braise, I found that the chicken benefited from a bath in red wine first—though, amazingly, the shortest marinating time I tested, 25 minutes, was nearly as effective as overnight. That just goes to show that, because a marinade’s greatest impact is on the surface of the meat, short marination is usually enough to give the effect you want.

The Test: Marinated Versus Unmarinated Beef in Stews

That leaves us with the question of marinades for long-cooked beef stews. To find out if marination really helps them, I cooked several stews side by side. All of the stews started with the same ingredients, and all of them were cooked with the same process for the same period of time. The only difference was whether or not the beef had been marinated before cooking. (I tested stews made with wine and with beer.)

“in each case, once the stew was fully cooked, I couldn’t tell any difference between the meat that had been marinated and the meat that hadn’t.”

When I quickly seared and tasted the meat before the long simmer in wine or beer, I could easily tell them apart. However, in each case, once the stew was fully cooked, I couldn’t tell any difference between the meat that had been marinated and the meat that hadn’t.

For an additional test, I marinated beef in red wine overnight, then cooked it in chicken stock alongside unmarinated beef, which I also cooked in chicken stock. In that case, even after the long stewing time, the flavor of the marinade came through.

What this shows is that when the beef is cooked in a liquid that is as flavorful as the marinade—which, in the case of stews, it almost always is—the marination step isn’t necessary. Whatever flavor and tenderization the beef would have gained in the marinade, it will still gain in the stew pot.

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What About Salt?

The last thing I wanted to check was whether salt, both in a marinade and all by itself, helped the beef at all, given that we know it can help dry-heat meat dishes, like steaks and roasts, retain moisture. To test it, I stewed four pieces of beef chuck: one plain (the control), one that had been sprinkled with salt and left to rest unwrapped on a rack in the refrigerator for eight hours (a dry brine), one that had been left for eight hours in a saltwater brine, and one that had been marinated in red wine with salt.

After stewing each cut in a mixture of red wine and chicken stock, I was unable to detect any difference in levels of moisture among the samples. The salted samples all tasted more evenly seasoned throughout compared to the unsalted ones, but that was the only benefit. If you want to pre-salt your beef for at least 40 minutes (the time it takes for the beef to reabsorb any liquids initially drawn out by the salt), go ahead. But it won’t make the stew meat moister. Stewing, clearly, goes on too long and takes the meat to too high of a temperature for salt’s moisture-retaining benefits to continue to be evident.

Red Wine-Marinated Beef Stew

A twist on traditional beef stew–stew meat that is so tender even the most finicky eaters will love it! (i.e. kids that don’t like meat that is tough to chew…like mine.) The “secret” is the acid from the red wine. It helps to break down the collagen, naturally tenderizing the meat and releasing great flavor! The longer you can marinate the better but a minimum of 3 hours is essential. Enjoy with good crusty bread and a glass of red!


Red Wine-Marinated Beef Stew

Recipe Summary


30 mins


3 hrs 20 mins


3 hrs


6 hrs 50 mins




8 servings


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The original recipe yields 8 servings Ingredient Checklist

  • 2 pounds of beef stew meat, cubed
  • 3 cups dry red wine
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 slices center-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 6 ounces fresh green beans, trimmed and halved
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, or more to taste
  • 4 cups of low-sodium beef broth
  • 1 (15-ounce) can of Italian-style stewed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon dried sage
  • ¾ cup sliced portobello mushrooms
  • 4 tablespoons tapioca flour, or as needed (Optional)
  • 4 tablespoons cold water, or as needed (Optional)

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Instructions Checklist

  • Step 1 Marinate the beef in red wine in a 9×13-inch glass baking dish in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, turning the meat over halfway through marinating time.
  • Step 2 Remove beef from the wine and pat dry with paper towels. Reserve the wine.
  • Step 3 Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season beef on all sides with salt and pepper. Brown in the hot oil, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove meat, drain the pot, and add bacon. Cook until semi-crisp and browned for about 5 minutes. Drain bacon grease but do not wipe the pot clean.
  • Step 4 Drizzle the remaining oil into the pot and add potatoes, carrots, green beans, celery, and garlic. Cook and stir for 3 minutes. Pour reserved wine, beef broth, and tomatoes into the pot, scraping up the browned bits that cling to the bottom with a wooden spoon. Add rosemary and sage. Return the meat to the pot and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and let simmer until meat is very tender and no longer pink, 3 to 3 1/2 hours, adding mushrooms during the last 1 hour of cooking time.
  • Step 5 Combine tapioca and cold water in a bowl. Mix into the stew to thicken as desired.

Red Wine-Marinated Beef Stew

The beef first marinates in spices and wine, adding depth of flavor to this stew. Once the dish is simmering, relax and enjoy the aromas created by this hearty recipe.


Recipe Summary


6 servings (serving size: 1 cup)


Ingredient Checklist

  • 5 parsley sprigs
  • 5 thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups dry red wine
  • 1 ½ cups vertically sliced onion (about 1 medium)
  • ½ cup thinly sliced carrot
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (2-pound) boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, halved
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour (about 1 ounce)
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 cups less-sodium beef broth
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

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Instructions Checklist

  • Step 1 Place the first 3 ingredients on a double layer of cheesecloth. Gather edges of cheesecloth together; tie securely. Combine cheesecloth bag, wine, and the next 4 ingredients (through beef) in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Strain beef mixture through a colander over a bowl, reserving marinade; drain well. Set the cheesecloth bag aside.
  • Step 2 Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add beef mixture to pan; sauté 6 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove the beef mixture from the pan. Add mushrooms to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Return beef mixture to pan. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Add flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to pan; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add reserved marinade, cheesecloth bag, and broth; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until beef is tender. Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Discard the cheesecloth bag.

Nutrition Facts

Per Serving:

311 calories; calories from fat 28%; fat 9.7g; saturated fat 2.8g; mono fat 5g; poly fat 0.4g; protein 40.7g; carbohydrates 13.1g; fiber 1.5g; cholesterol 91mg; iron 5.9mg; sodium 665mg; calcium 49mg.

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