Roasting and braising are both integral techniques to have in your cooking arsenal. They are both perfect for larger or tough cuts of meat – the ones that you usually get for a little cheaper, but that you have to put more care into to make them really shine. They can make even the toughest cuts of beef, pork or chicken into succulent, juicy, and tender bites for tacos, stews, or really anything else you could want. So if both of these are used for the same kind of things, what’s the difference between them?
The answer is all in the amount of liquid.
Braising incorporates more liquid during cooking than roasting, and also uses that liquid a different way. Typically a braise will start with a quick sear in a hot pan to start the cooking process, and then the heat is lowered, the liquid is added, and then it is covered and cooked low and slow. This process ensures that there is enough time to make the braise tender and more flavorful, without any risk of drying out.
Dutch ovens are by far my favorite thing to use when braising. They can easily be transferred from stovetop to oven, have a tight-fitting lid, and are heavy enough to ensure you don’t get hot spots. I typically braise in the oven, but you can also do it on the stovetop as long as you have a nice, heavy lid that fits well, and are able to control the heat.
The process of low and slow is ideal for tough cuts of meat, or anything that has a lot of collagen. Any collagen in the meat (or bones – looking at you, oxtails) becomes gelatin, which thickens the sauce and makes it unbelievable rich and unctuous. Chuck roast, oxtails, pork belly and butt, short ribs, chicken legs and any root vegetable are all perfectly suited to be braised. This isn’t a definite list by any means – braising is perfect for any other root veggie or cut of meat that will hold up during the process and would benefit from the flavor enhancement.
Roasting, relies much more on dry heat to cook those tougher cuts of meat and break them down into juicy and addicting dishes. The hot air crisps up the surface, while temperature and time control are important to make sure that it doesn’t dry out. You start with meat or veggies, rub your spices into it with some oil, and then place it in a hot oven or grill to cook and crisp up. The key is to have circulating hot air, and just enough liquid to make sure things don’t dry up too much.
You can use something like a dutch oven for roasting too, but typically you want to use something with lower sides. Having something that’s too deep runs the risk of air not circulating enough around the entire cut of meat or in between all of the veggies. Roasting pans seem like the obvious choice, but you can also use baking sheets, low-sided skillets, or shallow baking dishes. The main advantage to a roasting pan is that they’re typically larger (for turkeys, roast beef, etc.) and many, if not most, come with a rack to put underneath. This elevates the meat and allows air to circulate a full 360° around the food – ensuring an even crispness and thorough cooking.
Now that you know the difference, try them both out and see what you like! There are many dishes that you can find to test either of the techniques out, and there are a ton of recipes out there that use a combination! Don’t be afraid to try something new and broaden your horizons!
Here are a few of my favorite recipes using these techniques: