It doesn’t get much better than a rich and creamy beef stroganoff. It’s one of those dishes that has a way bigger payoff than the effort you need to put in. You’re essentially flash-frying beef, cooking down onions and mushrooms, and then stirring in some delicious sour cream and beef broth.
But, simplicity can leave more room for mistakes. If any ingredient is off, there is nothing to hide it. And what’s arguably the most important ingredient? The beef.
We’re going to give you a brief reminder of what beef stroganoff is (so you can know what you’re shooting for), and then give you all of the pro tips on which cut of meat to use when making this amazing dish.
What is beef stroganoff?
Beef stroganoff, or stroganov, is a delicious Russian dish that cooks strips of beef in a rich sour cream and beef broth sauce before serving it over noodles or rice.
Onions and mushrooms are the go-to veggies to mix with the beef, but there are variations that include potatoes and carrots.
Beef stroganoff isn’t complicated, only takes 30-40 minutes to make, and can be made with a lot of cheap ingredients. This may help explain its rapid spread from Russia to around the world, and eventually into American kitchens everywhere.
What is the best cut of meat for beef stroganoff?
There isn’t one best cut for beef stroganoff, but you want to stick to tender, well-marbled cuts. Popular choices include boneless ribeye, sirloin, and tenderloin.
You can technically make beef stroganoff with any beef, but the reason why chefs choose tender cuts is that stroganoff involves flash-frying thin strips of meat before cooking them briefly in a sauce. Tough cuts like whole chuck or brisket need a lot more time for the tough collagen to break down and tenderize.
Generally speaking, the less use a muscle gets during a cow’s life, the more tender it will be. Any of these will be good choices for beef stroganoff:
- Tenderloin steaks including filet mignon
- Flat iron steaks
- Top loin steaks including new york strip and kansas city steak
- Porterhouse steaks
- T-bone steaks
- Ribeye, Delmonico, or cowboy steaks
Tougher cuts you may want to avoid or at least tenderize before using:
- Round or rump steaks
- Chuck roasts
- Skirt steaks
- Anything from the plate primal
You could also get away with flank steak if you play it right. It’s a tough cut of meat, but it is very popular in stir fry and fajitas. You just have to tenderize it and cut it very thinly. The more tender your steak, the more room you have to breathe with the size of your slices.
And using ground beef is also fine! It won’t have the same texture, but there is nothing wrong with that.
Best practices for choosing the best meat for beef stroganoff
Chefs don’t just know the ideal cut for beef stroganoff, they also recognize the importance of where they buy their meat. The difference in taste between a bottom-end cut stuffed with preservatives and a cow raised naturally is really something you have to taste to understand, and if you’ve been striking out each time you’ve tried to make restaurant-grade dishes at home, your beef provider may be the issue.
1. Buy grass-fed beef for the best taste and nutrition
It’s not really a secret these days, but buying beef from cattle raised on open pastures fed exclusively grass from weening until harvest is vastly superior to any other method in terms of taste and ecological impact. If you’re serious about taste and your health, there is no substitute for opting for high-quality, sustainable beef.
2. Make sure the meat is fresh or freshly frozen
Beef producers that don’t move a lot of inventory can mean beef that sits in a freezer for too long. Shop at active meat companies and markets that go through inventory often.
3. Choose a cut with a lot of marbling
A well-marbled cut with a good ratio of fat and lean meat is a good choice for stroganoff because the fat renders down, making the mushrooms and onions extra flavorful, but you still have enough lean muscle left over to offer full, meaty bites.
How to cook beef stroganoff like a pro
Now for the good part. If you’ve ever wondered how restaurants get their beef to be so tender and rich, here are a few tips to make your stroganoff taste amazing.
Cut against the grain and at an angle
Slicing against the grain means cutting perpendicular to the long strands that line cuts of beef. Those strands are proteins and other connective tissues, and when cut, snap just like a taut piece of rope and lose their tension. This lack of tension is what makes beef more soft and tender.
Sear before you cook down the veggies
After you slice your steak, get a skillet ripping hot and quickly sear your strips of beef — maybe 30 seconds at most. You want a fast char, but avoid cooking them all the way through, since you’ll add them back into the broth and will finish cooking them then.
This initial sear unlocks incredible flavor via the maillard reaction and gives your onions and mushrooms delicious meaty bits to cook with, increasing the depth of flavor.
Make your own beef broth
This may be a bit overboard for some, but nothing replaces a good homemade stock. It’s how restaurants get that extra oomph of umami, and it’s hard to find store-bought broth that matches.
Keep some mushrooms whole
Definitely slice larger mushrooms, but if you’re working with small button mushrooms, try leaving a few whole. They will constrict as their water is expelled, reducing them in size, and the varying texture is a nice effect.
Top with fresh herbs
Sprinkling non-dried, fresh thyme or rosemary on top at the end can give your stroganoff an extra burst of herbal goodness that takes it to the next level.
Don’t crowd your skillet when searing
Crowding a pan can cause your meat to accidentally steam with all the moisture, which prevents the browning you’re looking for. Cook your strips in batches if need be to avoid this.
If you have a cheap cut, try tenderizing it
If you know you’re working with a tougher cut of meat, don’t accept defeat! There are a few ways to tenderize your beef to push it in a softer direction:
- Pound it out with a hard kitchen mallet.
- Salt your meat in advance for an hour or two before cooking.
- Marinade it in something acidic like vinegar.
Our favorite beef stroganoff recipes
We’ve included a variety of low-effort to high-effort stroganoff recipes. All are delicious — it just depends on what you’re in the mood for.
This recipe is the perfect blend of ease and deliciousness. For a fancier spin, opt for one of the stripped cuts we recommend instead of ground beef. They also use a bit of wine, nodding to beef bourguignon in the best way.
For an AIP-friendly but still amazingly delicious stroganoff, try this recipe from chef Stacey Venancio. There’s a lot of creativity here — homemade papaya noodles, minced garlic and beef, and balsamic vinegar. It will be a departure from the taste you remember but offers a decadent and AIP-friendly option.
Having celiac or sensitivity to gluten doesn’t exclude you from the deliciousness of beef stroganoff. This recipe subs in egg noodles, coconut aminos, and gluten-free flour for the usual ingredients and yields a fantastic result that is just as homey and delicious as any other beef stroganoff.
For those of you looking to impress, perhaps on a date or for a holiday meal, then this recipe from Serious Eats is… serious. It includes a lot of tricks up its sleeves, from extra gelatin to Asian fish sauce, and the result is — well, you can see for yourself.
We’re not the biggest fans of slow cooking beef stroganoff, but for easy weeknight meals, it is completely fine to sacrifice a bit of taste for convenience. It will still be delicious, and if you have a tougher cut of meat you might as well slow cook it to break down all of those connective tissues anyway.
The bottom line on choosing meat for beef stroganoff
Go tender, go marbled, and slice that beautiful cut into thin strips. If you pair that with a great sear and fresh ingredients, you will be delivered from your kitchen straight into another pleasant plane of existence known as the food coma.
Next steps for cooking the best beef stroganoff
The best beef stroganoff starts with the best beef, and US Wellness Meats makes beef from cattle raised on the best grass in the world.
US Wellness Meats continues to partner with 100% grass-fed farms in Tasmania to supplement our beef production in the U.S. The climate in Tasmania is a utopia for cattle because of the year-round maritime climate buffered by the Southern Ocean. No hormones or GMO’s are allowed on the island, and air quality is recognized as the gold standard for purity on the globe.
Believe us when we say you’ll taste the difference.
Try 100% grass-finished beef raised on the finest grass in the world.
Nathan Phelps is a writer, ethical foodie, and outdoors-aficionado hailing from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.