Birria is a traditional Mexican stew that is typically made with beef. It features a rich, spicy broth that is great for dipping tortillas or tacos into. Birria has become increasingly popular in recent years, with birria taco trucks popping up in major cities across the U.S.
One of the keys to making great birria is choosing the right cut of beef. The general consensus is that the best cuts of beef for birria are the cheaper, tougher ones that become tender and flavorful when cooked slowly in the spices and broth. While you can use just about any cut of beef for birria, some are definitely better suited than others.
Can I use any cut of beef for birria?
– In short, yes you can use any cut of beef for birria, but some cuts are better suited than others. The best cuts for birria are generally the cheaper, tougher ones like chuck roast, brisket, round, flank steak, or shank.
What are the best cuts of beef for birria?
– The best cuts of beef for birria are chuck roast, brisket, round, flank steak, and shank. These tougher cuts become very tender and flavorful when braised in the spices and broth.
Should I avoid expensive cuts like ribeye for birria?
– Yes, you should avoid using expensive cuts like ribeye for birria. The tender cuts won’t have the same texture and won’t absorb flavors as well. Save the ribeyes for grilling.
What makes a cut of beef good for braising in birria?
– Good cuts for braising have a high collagen content which breaks down during long cooking times, making the meat incredibly tender. They also have more robust beefy flavor that pairs well with bold birria spices.
Can I use ground beef for birria?
– Ground beef is not ideal for birria. Part of birria’s appeal is the tender, braised chunks of beef. Ground beef would lose its texture. Stick with solid cuts of beef.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Cuts of Beef for Birria
When deciding which cut of beef to use for your birria, there are a few important factors to take into account:
Tenderness – or lack thereof – is perhaps the most important factor. Birria relies on long, slow cooking times to break down collagen and connective tissues in tougher cuts of beef. This transforms them into fork-tender melt-in-your-mouth beefy goodness. Tender cuts like filet mignon have very little connective tissue so don’t benefit from braising. They’ll turn out dry and overcooked.
The deep, beefy flavor also needs to stand up to the bold spices in the broth. Cuts like chuck roast and brisket deliver on this front. Very lean cuts won’t impart much flavor. Marbling is your friend when it comes to birria. Those melt-y bits of fat help make each bite of beef burst with richness.
Traditionally, birria was made by Mexican peasants as a hearty, economical one-pot meal. It transforms the cheapest, toughest cuts of beef into a delicious protein. Part of birria’s appeal is its affordability, so cuts like brisket, shank, and rump roast help you stick to that thrifty birria budget.
Collagen is the connective tissue that melts into delicious gelatin when slow-cooked, creating rich body and mouthfeel in the broth. Cuts that come from well-worked parts of the cow, like the shoulder or leg, tend to have the highest collagen content. Others like loin have very little.
Part of keeping birria costs down is using readily available, budget-friendly cuts you can find at any grocery store or meat market versus specialty cuts you may have to special order from a butcher. Chuck roast, brisket, round, and flank steak are easy to source.
Recommended Cuts for Birria
Based on tenderness, flavor, cost, collagen content and availability, here are the best cuts of beef for birria:
Chuck comes from the shoulder/neck region. All that movement means lots of connective tissue. Chuck has outstanding beefy flavor and becomes fork-tender after hours simmering away in the broth.
Brisket is another classic birria choice.It has similar properties to chuck – lots of collagen for tenderness, deep beef flavor, affordable price, and readily available. Slow cooking brisket in the spices and broth delivers outstanding results.
Round offers leaner options like bottom round or eye of round roast. Lower fat content means slightly less rich flavor, but still plenty of collagen for tenderness. Round is an economical choice.
Flank steak is very flavorful but also fibrous. But after braising for a few hours, it turns super tender while still having that bold beefiness. Just be sure to slice it properly against the grain when serving.
Beef shank contains tons of collagen so is ideal for braises. The shank meat offers a wonderfully meaty texture and beef flavor once fully cooked and will practically fall off the bone.
Cuts of Beef to Avoid for Birria
On the flip side, here are some cuts of beef that are ill-suited for making tasty birria:
Ribeye is way too tender and expensive for birria. All that marbling gives it wonderful beefy richness, but braising would ruin that delicate texture. Save your ribeyes for the grill or a quick pan sear.
Filet mignon has pretty much zero connective tissue so does not benefit from braising. It would turn out dry and stringy in a braise. Stick to pan searing tenderloin.
Sirloin can work for some braises, but for birria, it’s too lean and lacks the rich beefiness you want. Other cuts offer more flavor and tenderness after braising.
Short ribs are a braise classic, but aren’t ideal for birria. They have a ton of fat that could make the broth overly greasy. Stick with fattier cuts that render fat without going overboard.
Ground beef would lose all its texture in a braise, turning to mush. Birria is all about those tender chunks of meat. Keep ground beef for tacos and leave braising to solid cuts.
How to Prepare Recommended Cuts for Birria
Preparing the right cuts of beef is easy. Here are some tips:
– Trim off excess fat. Leave on some marbling but avoid large chunks of external fat that won’t render fully.
– Cut meat into 2-3 inch chunks. This exposes more surface area to the broth for maximum flavor absorption.
– Season chunks generously with salt and pepper or birria spice rub. Chili powder, cumin, and paprika are classic flavors.
– Brown meat chunks well over high heat before braising. This adds a wonderful depth of flavor.
– Add beef to broth and braise low and slow – about 3 hours for most cuts. Tenderness is key.
– Check tenderness periodically by piercing meat chunks with a fork. Once it slides in like butter, it’s ready.
While practically any cut of beef can be used for birria in theory, some are clearly better suited than others. Focusing on the right balance of flavor, tenderness, collagen content, affordability, and availability will ensure birria success. Stick to chuck roast, brisket, round, flank, or shank over pricier tenderloin or ribeye. With the proper cut braised to melting tenderness in zesty spices and broth, you’ll achieve authentic, soul-warming birria worthy of any Mexican grandmother.