A perfectly cooked beef joint makes a wonderful centrepiece for a Sunday roast or Christmas dinner. To cook it until it's so tender it falls apart, you'll need to choose a joint like chuck and blade or beef brisket and either braise, slow roast or slow cook it for at least a couple of hours.
Pick the right joint of beef
You need a joint with some fat marbled through it, and ideally some connective tissue as well, to end up with meat that hasn’t dried out by the time it’s tender and falling apart.
When roasted, the collagen and connective tissue present in meat will start to break down. It will melt more thoroughly if slow-roasted, and if you add liquid, it will break down even more quickly as it's water soluble. Older animals have stronger connective tissue, so you need to take this into account when deciding on your timings.
Beef joints that cook well are:
Chuck and blade
The back of the animal nearest the head is often sold as ‘braising steak’. It sits above the brisket, and needs well over an hour of cooking to make it remotely tender. Look for whole pieces of feather blade or chuck roast.
This is a prime cut often used to make steaks, but it isn’t as tender as sirloin.
Relatively lean and needs to be cooked in liquid if cooked as a joint.
A cut from the chest area that’s usually sold rolled. It’s recommended for slow-cooking and braising as it has lots of connective tissue and fat that needs to be broken down, but it can become stringy if it's over-cooked. Some butchers will sell you a bone-in brisket.
Most often found at the butchers, this has an excellent flavour when cooked slowly. If it's sold packaged, then it's usually marked as stewing steak.
Leg & shin
These cuts contain lots of connective tissue that runs through the meat in ribbons. The tissue breaks down to create tender meat and a rich, sticky gravy. Look for bone-in shin joints or rolled shin.
Back or short ribs cooked as a sheet have lots of connective tissue that cooks down to a sticky, unctuous sauce. They aren’t technically thought of as a joint, though.
Use the right cooking method
Braising or pot roasting
This involves cooking the joint slowly in liquid that comes about a third of the way up the meat. The joint is best browned in a frying pan first, as this will add extra flavour and colour to the outside of the meat. The pot you use needs to be tightly sealed, so choose one with a well-fitting lid or add a layer of foil between the pot and lid to help seal it.
Best cooked at 150-170C, recipes that require slow-roasting are trickier to control using a domestic oven. Brown the joint first to give it a bit of colour, cook it covered on low, then turn up the heat at the end to brown the meat.
Brown the meat first, then put it in a slow cooker with some thick slices of onion and carrot. Add enough liquid so it comes a little way up the joint.
Cook it for long enough
There’s no point try to cook a beef joint to perfection without giving yourself enough time. It will take two or more hours depending on the cut you've chosen.
How to tell if it's ready
Push a fork into the meat then pull it out – it should slide in and out very easily.
Simple fall-apart beef brisket recipe
- 2kg beef brisket, neatly tied
- oil, for browning
- 1 large onion, cut into thick slices
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- bunch fresh thyme
- 1 beef stock pot or cube
- Heat oven to 150C/130C fan/gas 2. Season the brisket well. Add a little oil to a large frying pan and brown the brisket all over.
- Put the onion slices in the base of a heavy casserole and put the brisket on top. Add the garlic and herbs around it.
- Add the stock pot and enough boiling water to come a third of the way up the meat (rinse out the frying pan with it to collect any residual flavour).
- Transfer the meat to the oven, cover with a lid and cook for 6 hrs turning once or twice during cooking, until really tender.
- Lift out the beef, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest for 15 mins while you simmer the gravy to reduce it a little.
Five fall-apart beef joints to try next:
Pot-roast beef with French onion gravy
This makes a perfect Sunday joint with a rich gravy and roast carrots.
Slow-cooker beef pot roast
Get out the slow cooker for this recipe, then walk away for 6 hours.
Beer-braised short ribs
Beef ribs give a really sticky result when braised in this American-style recipe.
Pulled firecracker beef
Pull-apart beef with a smoky sauce to serve on wraps or with baked potatoes.
One-pot beef brisket & celery
Use red wine to make a rich sauce for the beef in this recipe.
Other meat you can slow cook until it falls apart:
Shoulder: This joint responds well to slow cooking as it has plenty of fat on it. It's also economical as you can buy whole or half shoulders. Try our popular slow-roasted shoulder of lamb recipe.
Leg: Can be slow cooked until it falls apart, but it's leaner than shoulder, so be careful not to dry out the meat by cooking it for too long.
Shoulder: This is a great joint for slow roasting – just make sure it's well sealed in the tin as it cooks to help make it tender. Use pork shoulder for pulled pork.
Belly: A slab of belly can be cooked for hours to melting tenderness. Turn the heat up at the end for a crisp, crunchy crackling – it's the best of both worlds!
Chicken, turkey and duck can all be slow-cooked to give a ‘pull-apart’ texture. A slow cooked roast chicken will almost collapse off the bone as you carve it.