Carbonnade Beef and Beer Stew

When the days are cold, dark, and damp, all we really want to do around here is to curl up with a nice big pot of stew. Known as “Carbonnade a la Flamande”, this Belgian beef stew is made with hearty Belgian ale and plenty of onions. The flavor is a little sweet and sour, the sweet from the onions and either a little added sugar or tomato paste, and the sour from a touch of mustard or vinegar.

Since I first posted this recipe I’ve made a few adjustments to the recipe itself, and we’ve received several recommendations for which ale to use (check the comments). The general view is that you should try to use a Belgian ale for this stew. If you can’t find a Belgian ale, or a Belgian-style ale, you can try Newcastle Brown Ale or Anchor Steam (the last two recommended by Cooks Illustrated for their carbonnade).

We found a couple American ales made in the Belgian style at our local Whole Foods and for our most recent batch of stew used a bottle of Ommegang Abbey Ale. Apparently it is also traditional to include some beef liver with the stew. We passed on this, but if a stew exists that could hold up to the strong flavors of liver, this one would be it. Wonderfully hearty, flavorful, and filling.

Carbonnade Beef and Beer Stew Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6.

You are trying to achieve a sweet and sour flavor with this stew. So, you can swap out the sugar for tomato paste and you can use cider vinegar instead of mustard if you want. You can also brown the meat in vegetable oil instead of butter, though it will be more flavorful with the butter. You can also use a couple slices of bread, instead of adding flour, to thicken the stew.

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 lbs chuck roast, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 3 medium yellow onions sliced about 1/4 inch thick (about 8 cups)
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken or beef broth
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz bottle) Belgian beer
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar

Method

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1 Pat beef dry with paper towels, then season well with salt and pepper. On the stove top, heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a large heavy bottomed dutch oven over medium-high heat until hot, almost smoking. Working in batches, brown the meat, without stirring, about 3 minutes on each side (do not stir, give the meat an opportunity to brown well). Transfer browned beef to a separate bowl.

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2 Add 2 tablespoons butter to dutch oven; reduce heat to medium. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon of salt; cook until onions are browned, about 15 minutes. Add flour and stir until onions are evenly coated and flour is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, scraping pan bottom to loosen browned bits; stir in beer, thyme, bay, browned beef with any of the accumulated juices, and salt and pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a full simmer. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, let cook for 2-3 hours until beef is fork tender. (Alternatively can cook in the oven at 300°F.) Stir occasionally, scraping up anything that is sticking to the bottom of the pan. About half an hour before it finishes cooking, add the mustard and brown sugar. Adjust seasonings to taste.

3 Discard thyme and bay leaf. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to taste and serve. Can serve plain, with potatoes, over noodles, or over French fries.

Whatever ale you have used in the cooking makes for a great drink accompaniment to the stew.

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55 Comments

  1. psilo

    This is a Belgian recipe, so I really reccomend a belgian ale for your beer. Stick with a bruin (brown) or dubbel (strong brown). Ommegang or Chimay are your best bets to find in the US. I would not use nearly any American microbrew, as most tend to be overhopped.

  2. claire

    What a perfect recipe for an October evening in Wisconsin. We are entertaining another family on a work night next week. How many days ahead can I make this recipe and store it in the refridge? Two?

    You can easily make this two days ahead and store in the fridge. ~Elise

  3. J. Bo

    Claire, as with any braise or stew, this will only get better after a day or two in the fridge. I’d be skeptical about its viability after five days, however… but I can’t imagine you’d have any left that far into the week! This has been a favorite of mine since I was a bitty kid. My mom likes to serve it with parsley-flecked spaetzle.

  4. Kent

    I watched them make this on America’s Test Kitchen and they did a beer taste test. They found Chimay from Belgium was the best, which is wierd, becasue I have been drinking chimay for years and swore it was one of the best beers around. I thought nobody even knew about it. Third place was O’douls amber ale, which is non-alcoholic. Glad to hear that Cameron did not use chicken or “extra lean” stewing beef. They pointed out that marbling was the most important part of the meat. In fact they direct mentioned not to use stewing meat.

  5. Martha

    I wonder if I could add dumplings to the top of the stew and cook, just before serving? I had this dish served in this manner several years ago and it was delish. The dumplings soaked up the gravy.

  6. Rudolf

    Hello.

    Carbonades Flamandes. (no need for that 2nd ‘n’).

    Carbonades Flamandes is french for “Vlaamse Stoverij”, i.e. stew from Flanders. I am 61, flemish and I know what I am talking about. No idea why the amerikanese (!) keep thinking that the whole of Belgium speaks french and keep naming towns and dishes in french. We are flemish and we speak flemish ! (a variant of dutch). So much for the historical and political part of this recipe.

    I read your recipe with great interest. Of course, in cooking everything is allowed as long as it is good and healthy.

    BUT, Gentse Stoverij (stew from Gent), the original beef-in-beer-stew recipe is somewhat different. No need for an oven at all. (This is originally a poor man’s dish for not letting beef offal, white bread and stale beer go to waste).

    For best flavor one needs (serves 4):

    2 lbs of cheap beef with some fat (from the neck, NOT veal)
    1 lb of beef liver, NOT veal
    1 onion
    1 and a half lbs of old WHITE bread (real bread, not Wonderbread)
    1 bay leaf
    1 branch of thyme
    5 or more loaded tablespoons of real mustard
    1 oz of salted butter (NOT oil)
    Salt
    Pepper
    Beer as needed, provide for a gallon of it.

    1 black cast iron skillet
    1 black cast iron pot

    Cut the meat in cubes NOT larger than 1x1x1 inch. Smaller is even better.

    Sauté the meat and the onion in the butter, stirring the meat for abt 2-3 minutes, then dump everything in the large pot, seeing to it that all scrapings from the skillet are added.

    Slice the bread and smear both sides of each slice LIBERALLY with good, strong mustard. Put all the bread with mustard on top of the meat.
    Put in the bay leaf and thyme.
    Cover the contents of the pot in 2 inches of beer. ANY beer will do, cheapest lager is well enough and stale beer is better.

    Put the pot on, preferably, a gas burner so you can control the heat better.
    Bring to a boil on a hot fire, stirring while scraping the bottom since this has a pronounced tendency to stick. Keep stirring for, say, 10 minutes BOILING BEER, then lower fire to a gentle simmer, but go stir and scrape regularly.

    Add beer from time to time to keep the liquid level up. Depending on the meat, count with 2 – 4 hours of simmering, till meat is tender. During the last half hour or so of cooking stop adding beer so the sauce will reduce. Cook longer or less long if you want thinner or thicker sauce (some call it gravy).

    DO NOT FORGET TO STIR AND SCRAPE THE BOTTOM REGULARLY !!!

    NOW is the moment to decide !!!

    Add salt and pepper to taste. AND, if you wish, add potatoes to boil in the gravy for that last half hour (dish is difficult to over-cook). With the potatoes in, you need much more salt, of course.

    Without potatoes, it is a good idea to serve the meat and its gravy ON TOP of salted french fries. Or with anything else you like.

    NOTE: the bread is what thickens the sauce or gravy. The bread will completely dissolve in the cooking.

    I am very well aware of all the variants of this recipe, but that is as close as it gets as it was had by the (poor) textile workers in and around the town of Gent, in Flanders, Belgium, around 1900.

    This is how my grandmother (ex spinning mill worker) prepared it and passed her recipe on to me. Irma was born 1872 and lived for 99 years. I am 61.

    • Kurt

      Rudolph,
      Thanks Sooooo… very much for your leasing of your grandmothers secret! These are flavors that even today, the best “TV” Chefs CANNOT TOUCH! I have tried to replicate what you have past on by way of allowing very expensive beer to stale, and using home-made french style bread (by me) and followed the interpreted orders. OMG! all i can says is that when critics taste classic recipes at restaurants they a missing out. Even with Americanized classics like Julias Beef Burgundy. Not even close, if you are using trimmed hogs belly, fresh herbs, and a good young wine, prepared over many hours. THANKS THANKS THANKS!
      Kurt

  7. Chris

    To enjoy this dish to the fullest you should use the specific style of beer that tradition requires, a Flemish sour. Rodenbach is probably the most widely available example in the USA; you’ll have to find a specialty beer store, but the results will be well worth it. The Flemish sour style is tart, fruity, rich and complex and unlike any other beer. If your local micro brewer makes something similar you should try that as a substitute, just call and ask if they have a Flemish sour style beer. Duchesse du Borgogne is another Belgian brand in that style but it is much sweeter than the Rodenbach and not as complex. If you can’t find a Flemish sour I’d suggest an abbey style dubbel ale such as Chimay Rouge, Rochefort 6, Ommegang Abbeye Ale or Lost Abbey Lost and Found. Ommegang Three Philosophers would probably also be very good.
    Porter or stout of any kind is a very poor substitute, I wouldn’t reccomend Guinness or any other beer in this style. As a last resort I would use an amber or red ale like Killian’s or michelob amber bock rather than stout or porter.

  8. Amy C

    Elise, This is my absolute favorite recipe of yours! I make the original one you posted all the time, using Newcastle as the beer. It is my go-to for entertaining company on cold nights. Thanks for the updates…

  9. Renee

    All of this sounds very interesting! I’m not sure if I can get any Belgium beer here, but we’ll see. Regardless, this sounds like a wonderful dish to prepare during these last weeks of winter.

  10. Maria

    This sounds delish! Do you think I could freeze the leftovers?

    I don’t see why not. ~Elise

  11. Laura [what I like]

    I have been making Cook’s Illustrated’s version of this for years, and it has always been absolutely massive hit. I’ll have to give your version a try!

  12. Rafael Cury

    I live in the north of France and this is really something quite typical from this region.

    Leftovers can be freezed without problem.
    In any case, you are not obliged to use Belgium beer but a strong flavored one will do.

  13. meleyna

    I’ve had a chicken version of this saved in my recipe box on epicurious for a while now. I really need to get to it–it’s getting too warm around here for braises and stews!

  14. Bruce

    A good source of Belgian style beer is the New Belgium microbrewery. They have an abbey style that’s really good, and not overpriced. Available mostly on the west coast of the US it seems. I do wish they’d make a sour red though.

    If you find liver too strong for this stew, you might consider kidney instead. Milder tasting. Heck, put a crust over it and you’re pretty close to an English steak and kidney pie!

  15. Renie from MPLS

    I have a picky eater that isn’t much of an onion fan so I substituted 1 onion for some shallots. I’ve also made this with Blue Moon, Wittekirke, and Hoegaarden as the beer just because I drink the Belgian white ales so I already have them in my house. I think any wheat ale would do nicely, plus, Blue Moon can be found EVERYWHERE.

  16. Dana McCauley

    OMG that looks so rich and yummy. Would it be wrong to serve it over egg noodles?

    Egg noodles are great with this stew. ~Elise

  17. Lisa

    This sounds like a yummy recipe!

    Do you think this is crock-pot-able instead of in the oven for 2-3 hours? I am a huge fan of throwing stuff into my crock pot before work and coming home to something delicious.

    I think it is totally crock-pot-able. I just don’t use one at the moment or I would include instructions. ~Elise

  18. Dei

    Just by chance, I was looking at this recipe & comments on the 25th before it was revised and reposted. I had already planned to give this a try on Sunday, and was thrilled when the recipe popped up on my Google “Cooking” page today. Its a sign that this recipe is a MUST!

  19. Bobbi

    I have been making a variant of this for years, ever since I saw an episode on Martha Stewart using spare ribs (meaty) and Ommagong Belgian style beer. I make it with the 2 ingredients above but also add a goodly amount of mushrooms, equal to the onions, I add the fresh thyme but not the mustard. An Excellent dish, even better the next day, I serve this with Kluski noodles.

  20. Leisureguy

    I used to make this quite often. I found that beef brisket worked well in this recipe.

  21. emma

    Looks like a great recipe, love the pictures especially the first and last one of the post

  22. drew

    I have made a variant on this recipe for years that I dug up in a slow-cooker cookbook. The one difference that I very strongly recommend to those wishing to try this recipe is that the beef and onion stew is poured into a casserole dish and topped with a thick cut of a grainy old-world wheat bread (or 7 grain, etc.) with the grainy mustard liberally applied on the bottoms of the bread (stew-side) and then baked to crust a crunchy bread topping layer.

    The flavors, the textures and the presentation of the dish makes it a keeper in my family recipe books!

    As for the beer of choice, I find most Belgian ales to be my second choice behind a good full-bodied nut-brown ale or a lager with more malt than hop. There are lots of microbrew selections to choose from that are NOT overly hoppy which will pass wonderfully with this dish. The heaviness of the beer will not overwhelm the beef, but the hoppiness of the beer might make the dish more bitter. As always, your mileage may vary — adjust to taste!

  23. Lisa

    As a teetotaler, I would personally opt for the O’Douls. And I will definitely try this in the crockpot. The picture makes my mouth water! :)

  24. jrcpearl

    I made this for dinner this evening, it was a big hit. I saw seconds being taken. It was very easy to make. I think the next time I make it I will try the tomato paste and cider vinegar approach. I was surprised how sweet it was.

  25. Tom Hammer

    This is a wonderful Carbonnade recipe. By all means, make with Chamay which is a perfectly balance Belgian ale for the application. For those concerned about alcohol content, fear not: it cooks out completely with a 2+ hour cooking time.

  26. Allison

    Have you ever heard of Lapin à la Flamande? It’s better, I promise! My fiancé had it at a restaurant called La Voute in Lille, France, while I had the Carbonade à la Flamande. The lapin a la flamande was definitely better (think rabbit, shallots, red wine, and a lot of cinnamon all reduced together). YUM!

    That sounds great! I love rabbit, thank you for the idea. ~Elise

  27. David

    Another great recipe. And I can report that it works fine in the crockpot.

    I browned the meat and cooked the onions the night before, and stored them in the crockpot overnight. In the morning, added the liquids and spices, and turned the crockpot on low. Cooked for about 10 hours, putting in the mustard and brown sugar at about the 8 hour mark, then served over spaetzel dumplings.

    It’s a little soupy this way, so next time I’ll try adding the bread slices to it.

  28. Simone S.

    Read this recipe over a week ago and decided to save it for a rainy day. It’s finally raining in West Texas and it’s cold too … the meal was fantastic. We boiled potatoes and added a small dollop of sour cream on top. Our German exchange student gave it a big thumbs up!

  29. Renee

    This recipe is absolutely fantastic! The leftovers were just as superb! I used an Italian beer; is there a reason why you recommend Belgian beer?

    Carbonnade is a Belgian dish, and the Belgian beer gives it its unique flavor. ~Elise

  30. Jeanne from Colorado

    At 81 yrs I have longed for the’old’ taste of beef in nearly every dish I make. This Beef and Beer Stew did it! I had some chuck blade steak that I used, followed your recipe and served over fetticinni and have spent this morning downloading all kinds of your recipes. Can’t thank you enough for the simple done, simply delicious sounding recipes. Can’t wait to try all. Thank you.

  31. N. Celina

    I made this with caribou today, using hindquarter meat (very lean and notoriously tough), and it was delicious and tender and wonderful! Thanks for all the great recipes.

  32. Culinspiration

    How delicious!

    I made a similar recipe this week, but added peeled shallots to the onions and caramelized following your how-to in another post. Thanks for the tips!

    To my carbonnade, I also added two cloves of minced garlic, more bay leaves, more thyme, parsley, and a little Worcestershire sauce. A couple gingersnaps (or Lebkuchen) crumbled on top during cooking really created the perfect spicy/savory balance.

  33. Renee

    The Carbonnade and the Irish stew both sound and looks beautiful.
    I have the beef and a new 16″ electric skillet pan with temperature control. Can I cook these in my skillet?

  34. jennifer

    I made this for christmas eve dinner and it was amazing!!!! there wasn’t a drop left! We served it over buttered egg noodles. A perfect dinner for a cold night! I plan on making this for a group of friends for New Years Day, a perfect way to start the new year!

  35. Milli

    This is one of my favorite recipes! I agree with psilo – using a belgian beer is very important. I’ve messed up this delectable stew by using different beers. My favorite to use (in Georgia) is Corsendonk, second favorite is St. Bernardus, and thirdly, Chimay blue.

    And what I recommend is making is parsley dumplings to go in the stew. Just use a standard recipe for dumplings (flour, milk, butter, baking powder) and add chopped fresh parsley. It’s seriously delicious.

  36. Steven

    Hi. Long time lurker, first-time poster. I just wanted to say that I made this tonight using a Unibroue Beer “Don de Dieu”. It was amazing. I had this stone-ground mustard in the fridge and put some old sourdough on top. Wow. I mean, WOW!

    I have often used recipes on this site, and have never posted before. But this dish spoke to me, of beer and bread and beef and love. Just had to post.

    Plus, my kids loved it on some mashed potatoes.

  37. Josh A

    Made this last night and it was delicious. I went with a Southhapmton 14 (Belgain Style Quadrupple) and it worked out great. Thanks for the site and everything!

  38. Angela

    Made this tonight (for maybe the third or fourth time). Delicious! Used some rather lean grass-fed beef, but it was still nice and tender after 4 hours. Used Ommegang Hennepin, which was a winner (in past I’ve also used Chimay, excellent). Thanks, Elise, once again!

  39. Brad D

    First recipe from your site i have tried, and it came out great. I used boneless beff short ribs and used Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale which is one of my favorite beer to drink. I happened to be watching FOOD Network and on their 10$ Dinner show they happened to make this dish and from their recipe I did make two changes to your recipe. I added some prunes and large chunks of carrots. Actually both additions seemed to work well. Look forward to trying some of your other recipes. Thanks!!!

  40. springhop

    I had a beef cheek and was looking for a different way to cook it (usually braise with red wine and root veggies). This was amazing! The variations I chose were:

    I didn’t cut it into chunks, just seared it whole.

    Spread stale pumpernickel spread generously with coarse mustard.

    Subbed finely minced sun dried tomato for tomato paste (what I had on hand)

    Used Ommegang.

    Pressure cooked for an hour on low and let it cool overnight in the fridge. Removed the fat, reheated and it was fabulous! The meat just fell apart and the gravy was so flavorful.

    Served it over crispy, roasted potatoes. Much less expensive than using a good bottle of wine and every bit as delicious. Thank you!

  41. Monica

    I have made this like 6 times already and every time it’s a better hit than the last time.. This one goes into super rotation in my cookbook. Thanks!

    PS: It’s also a great “fancy dinner” food with nice mashed potatoes, mainly because you can make it a day ahead and its better the next day. My guest have raved over and over about it

  42. Natalie

    I’m Belgian and I cook this dish quite often. The best beer to use is Chimay Bleue, but I’m not sure you can find it easily in the States. It’s one of the most “sugary” beers and it works perfectly.
    One little “plus”: spread the mustard onto slightly stale gingerbread (I’d say 3 slices) and add after you poured the beer. Gingerbread will disolve gently, giving a sweet touch to the dish.
    Another thing: you don’t really need to use broth, beer should be enough.
    Best to serve with potatoes, mashed potatoes or French fries.
    Really nice blog!!!

  43. Tiffanie

    Just made this last night for the 2nd time. I am absolutely in love – thanks again for another delicious recipe!

  44. Alex

    I have used this recipe from here many times now, its fantastic! I use it with your perfect pie crust recipe and make some delishious pies!

  45. Becca

    I made this last weekend for the first time. I used New Glarus Enigma (local WI Micro-brew Sour Brown Ale). It was incredible. So much so that I’m making it again today. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe.

  46. Alex Hollerman

    Hi,
    My boyfriend and I loved this stew…it was so good that we decided to cook it for a party we’re having this weekend, however one of my boyfriend’s friends is very picky and doesn’t like onions….I really enjoyed them in this stew and I was wondering if there was a good replacement for the onions…

    thanks

    zan

  47. Corri

    Very easy recipe, very tasty! We couldn’t get a Belgian ale, but we did find an Alsatian ale which was fabulously tasty both alone and in the stew! I only tweaked the recipe a little, I browned the beef in a Danish garlic butter rather than plain butter. I also used just a touch of cornstarch at the end to thicken up the sauce to our liking. My husband suggested instead of using a new portion of butter to cook the onions, that we should use what’s left from browning the beef to start the onions and sauce/gravy. (We had too many onion slices so he sauteed the excess in the beefy butter after removing the meat. It was just an experiment but the onions were epic!)

  48. Aaron

    Great recipe thanks! I modified it a bit to better reflect my favourite versions I’ve had at In De Gloria restaurant in Antwerp or ‘t Vosken in Ghent. I used Kozlik’s hot XXX mustard (from here in Toronto) and Affligem Dubbel beer with brown sugar. Also, I couldn’t find pain d’epices or peperkoek, so I thickened the stew with a slice or two of “sticky ginger cake” I found at a local English bakery (Brick St. Bakery) Fabulous!

  49. Neil

    Outstanding recipe. This and a loaf of home-baked bread is the prefect remedy for winter doldrums.

    I substituted two of the onions with carrots and celery, and I added some separately sauteed mushrooms about an hour in. Ommegang made for a rich, luscious sauce.

  50. Crazyhorse13

    Excellent – followed recipe exactly, used a belgian white ale — delicious!

  51. Francesca

    Made this last night but after two hours of simmering in my Dutch Oven, the meat was still rather tough but at the same time the bottom of the pot started to burn. As it was quite late already, I stored it in the fridge, thinking I would cook it for another hour or two today, in the hope that the meat will get tender. Any thoughts on whether this should work? Or any other ideas on how to salvage the dish? Thanks!

    If there is any burning, you need to transfer the contents to a new pot, without scraping the bottom of the pot. Then add more water. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat to the lowest setting possible and cook for as many hours longer as it takes to get the meat tender. Some meat just takes longer. But you don’t want to cook it at too high a temp either. You could put the whole thing in a slow-cooker at this point too. The fact that there was anything starting to burn, tells me that your heat setting was too high. There should be plenty of liquid that the meat is releasing in addition to the beer and stock. ~Elise

  52. Sheila

    I found your website through a search for Beef Carbonnade. I made this recipe last night with Chimay Blue and it was outstanding! I started exploring further and cannot wait to try more of your recipes. Thanks for sharing!

  53. JonasOfToronto

    Yes, the dark strong Unibroue beers are great for any meat stew – try the spicy, fruity Maudite or the very aromatic, Port Wine-like Trois Pistoles.

    Better than Chimay Bleue IMHO.

  54. Miles

    Great recipe. I made it with a Leffe triple and it tasted superb.
    Definitely one I will be making again.
    Thanks

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