Chuck Wagon

by Mark R. Vogel

            Chuck is the general term for the meat from the shoulder section of cattle.  Cuts from the chuck tend to be tough with notable connective tissue and intramuscular fat.  This is because these muscles are regularly used.  However, chuck is also very flavorful.  Since the meat is usually tough, wet-heat cooking methods must be employed, namely stewing and braising.  Nothing beats chuck for good ol’ fashioned comfort-classics like beef stew and pot roast.  Actually, pot roast is not roasted, it’s braised, i.e., cooked partially submerged in liquid, at low heat for an extended period of time.  If you were to cut it into bite-size chunks and cook it completely submerged in liquid, then you’d be stewing.

             A few steaks are fabricated from certain sections of the chuck.  You would cook these as you would any other steak, with dry-heat methods (sautéing, broiling, grilling, etc.)  They are tasty and economical but don’t expect them to be like a rib eye or fillet mignon.  The meat will definitely be a little chewy. 

             Anatomically, the chuck is comprised of a plethora of different muscles.  This results in a variety of different cuts and roasts, each with a multitude of names.  For example, steaks from the chuck are known as chuck steak, chuck eye steak, chuck fillet, Swiss steak, and mock tender to name a few.  Virtually every cut of the chuck has a laundry list of names associated with it.  This becomes even more confusingly true with the multifarious roasts the chuck can yield:  arm roast, 7-bone roast, blade roast, shoulder roast, cross rib roast, top blade roast, etc.

             OK, let’s simplify this quagmire.  How do you begin to choose chuck meat?  Let’s start with the steaks.  There’s not going to be a tremendous amount of difference between the various steaks that are cut from the chuck.  What’s more important is how you handle them.  I recommend marinating them, tenderizing them with a mallet if they are thick, and above all, not over cooking them.  Sear them quickly in a sauté pan with vegetable oil on very high heat until medium-rare. 

             I can sum up how to pick a chuck roast in one word:  BONE.  Professional cooks and ardent foodies know that any meat on the bone will be more tender, flavorful and succulent.  If you want the juiciest and tastiest pot roast, endeavor to find one with the shoulder bone still attached.  And the more of the bone present, the better.  A 7-bone roast (so called because the bone is shaped like the number seven), is the one most often recommended, although you’d be amazed how many “butchers” haven’t heard of it.  It is a cut from the center of the chuck and is also known as a center cut pot roast. 

            Since stew meat is cooked sans bone, you can use the boneless roast and cut it into chunks, or just buy the pre-cut chuck cubes.  Finally, ground chuck, as opposed to ground “beef,” which is a hodgepodge of meat scraps, is the best choice for making hamburgers. 




3 lb. chuck roast

Olive oil as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pint beef stock

1 cup red wine

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 bay leaves

Chopped thyme, rosemary and parsley to taste

4-5 red potatoes

4 large carrots

20 pearl onions or 2 medium Spanish onions

4 cloves garlic, chopped


            Take the widest covered pot you have and place it on the stove on high heat.  Brush the roast with olive oil and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.  Add oil to the pot, wait till it starts to smoke and sear the roast on each side until browned.  Remove the roast, add the wine and deglaze the pot, scraping the browned bits off the bottom, as the wine comes to a boil.  Add the stock and tomato paste, return it to a boil, and then reduce it to a simmer.  Add salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary.  Add the meat back into the pot and cover.  Place the pot in a 350 degree oven or maintain it at a very gentle simmer on the stovetop for at least two hours.  Meanwhile, peel and cut the potatoes into quarters and place them in a bowl of water to prevent them from browning.  Cut the carrots into large chunks.  Peel the pearl onions and leave them whole or peel and quarter the Spanish onions.  At the ninety minute point add all of the vegetables and garlic.  Cook at least another half hour or until the vegetables are tender.  If it takes a little longer than two total hours that’s fine.  A little extra cooking time will only add to the tenderness of the meat.  Add the chopped parsley just before service. 

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