Pairing a cut of meat with the proper cooking technique can make the difference between a succulent entree and shoe leather. Both braising and dry roasting are simple, centuries-old, tried-and-true cooking methods. However, the techniques in each are very different, and each is best suited for a different type of meat.
Braising is a "low-and-slow," moist-heat cooking technique, in which larger cuts of meat are simmered in small amounts of liquid -- such as water, stock or wine -- for a long period of time. Braising makes meat tender and juicy, and provides ample leftover liquid for a gravy or sauce. Note that your braising pot should have a tight-fitting lid, in order to keep the liquid at consistent levels throughout the cooking process. In addition, searing the meat on high heat before cooking helps you build richer, more complex flavors.
When Braising is Best
During the braising method, heat and liquid slowly break down sinews, muscle and other connective tissues in meat, making it tender enough to pull easily into pieces. For this reason, braising began as a way to get the most use and flavor out of less desirable, less expensive cuts of meat. It works best for tougher or fattier cuts of meat, and is the method of choice for the classic pot roast. Braising may be done on everything from beef, to poultry, to fish, and is even an effective and tasty way to cook some sturdy vegetables, such as cabbage or carrots.
About Dry Roasting
True to its name, dry roasting requires no liquid. Instead, meat is cooked through indirect exposure to a dry heat source. While the meat is roasted slowly enough to become tender, it's cooked at a higher temperature and a faster rate than braising. In dry roasting, meat is typically coated in a seasoning rub. As in braising, searing your meat before cooking adds flavor. Alternatively, roasting your meat at an extremely high temperature for the first few minutes helps form a flavorful outer crust.
When Dry Roasting is Best
Dry roasting is best for leaner, more tender cuts of meat, such as chicken breast, beef sirloin, prime rib, or pork tenderloin. Because there is little connective tissue in these leaner meats, braising them for long periods of time can cause them to overcook and become tough and rubbery. Dry roasting is also a good cooking method for tender vegetables like zucchini and summer squash. Generally, roasted meats have a firmer texture than braised meats, and slice easily without shredding. When cooked properly, roasted meats can be tender and juicy, though they may not have the deep flavor profiles of braised meats.