I like to make beef stew, especially as days get cooler. It's a crock pot meal; tasty, easy, and it lasts for days. It also tastes generally the same no matter how much you try to play with the recipe. Unless you start adding strong flavors like chipotle (not a bad idea) or other off the wall ingredients, it's going to come out as the same comforting beefy goodness that's familiar to all of us. Here's how I make it, with a couple of tips if you don't have any stock around.

The Beef

The best stew beef is chuck. You want it fresh, with a decent marbling of the meat, just like if you were looking for primal steaks like ribeye. This is the best rule of thumb I can give when choosing beef: look for the cuts with the most intramuscular marbling. This isn't the larger pieces of fat around the meat, it's the fat in the muscle that you will be eating. For the tastiest, tenderest meat you want a lot of it, even if it's for pot roast. That's why I generally stay away from London broil or other big sirloin cuts. They don't have the fat necessary to make it tasty.

Preferably you can find some bone-in chuck to give your broth some extra body and flavour. The bones of any meat are what contain the gelatin, and the gelatin is what gives body to the soup. If you can't find bone in you can get gourmet and add some short ribs, or just get boneless.

The supermarket near me has small packs of short ribs for sale. They add fantastic flavor but the meat can fall apart after a long cook time. If your watching the budget go ahead and get the boneless chuck. Boneless beef is usually a better bargain because the bones are the first to spoil. This makes anything you buy with bones need a quick turn around time, and more of a risk for the butcher.

The Prep

When I get the beef home I trim up some of the fat and cut it into large chunks. You don't want to go too small here because you want to have chunks of meat left after the long cooking process. Season the meat well with salt, pepper, and Worchestershire sauce. If you like, you can get funky with different spices, though it doesn't make that much difference at the end. Garlic powder doesn't hurt.

At this point if you can let the meat rest at room temperature for an hour before cooking or so I'd recommend it, but that's probably me being too cheffy. Rest or not, throw it in the crock pot. Add some chopped veggies. Carrots, onions, celery, potatoes. Any combination that you like. I like the carrots so my ratio of carrots is a little higher. I don't add anything too creative here, no sense messing with tradition.

The Broth

The broth arguably the most important part of a good stew. You have several options; bullion, broth, homemade broth, cream of mushroom soup, Liptons onion soup mix, beer, wine or water. All of them are flavored liquids used for the same purpose: to boil the meat. If you use beer or wine you will need to keep the ratio to about 25% of the total liquid in the stew. The rule here is that the ingredients must be covered in liquid. If you don't have enough of one thing, just add some salted water. It's very important that you have some salt in the stew at this point. This allows the salt to marry with the other ingredients, making each bite seasoned.

My order of preference is: homemade broth, bought broth (chicken), cream of mushroom soup, water (see below), onion soup mix, and bullion. Beer and wine I don't really use, but it'll happen if I feel the need. Here's a little trick if you use water, it turns out surprisingly good. Season the water well and add some soy sauce and Worchestershire. It darkens it like broth and gives it good flavor. I like to stay away from the bullion powders, they are full of crap. When I use store-bought broth I use chicken, it's generally a better quality then the beef.

Put your crock pot on high while your gone for the day, and dinner should be served when you get home. Don't forget to check and re-season before serving. I don't adorn my stew too much, though I will crush the potatoes as I spoon it into a bowl so they absorb more of the broth. No butter necessary.

Ryan Brower is a chef, blogger, and gallery manager in Asheville, NC.

Visit my website for more on life in Asheville, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: [http://www.ryan-brower.com]