How to Brown Ground Beef Properly

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Ready for a more flavorful addition to your recipes? Learn how to brown ground beef the right way with our step-by-step guide.

Many recipes begin by telling readers to “brown the ground beef,” but don’t explain how. Is it easy? Yes—but of course, there are still ways it can go wrong. Here’s how to brown ground beef the right way, so that it’s tender and full of flavor.

Our Secret for the Best Browned Ground Beef

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The most common mistake people make when browning ground beef is using a cold pan. The meat begins to steam, which makes it look dull or gray. The goal is to brown, as in sear, the meat, and to do this the pan needs to be hot. Your skillet should be good and hot before you add the beef.

Then let the beef cook untouched for the first several minutes. Many cooks make the mistake of constantly stirring ground beef as it browns. But this agitation drives moisture out of the meat, creating a tougher texture. Only after the beef has a good sear on the bottom and you see the color creeping up the sides should you begin to gently move the ground beef in the pan.

How to Properly Brown Ground Beef

This recipe is for one pound of ground beef and is ready in 8 to 10 minutes. For larger amounts of meat, use a large skillet or brown the meat in batches.

Ingredients

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  • 1 pound ground beef
  • Salt and pepper

Editor’s tip: If using very lean ground beef or a stainless steel skillet prone to sticking, add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil to the pan before adding the beef.

Tools You’ll Need

  • It’s a must to have a stainless steel, cast iron or a nonstick skillet. Look for a good quality pan that distributes heat evenly.
  • A sturdy wooden spoon or spatula like this one is perfect for breaking up the ground meat during cooking
  • This gadget helps to easily drain grease from the pan. A colander will also do the trick.

Directions

Step 1: Heat your skillet

Set a medium to large-sized skillet on a burner set to medium-high heat. Allow the pan to get hot.

Step 2: Break up and add the beef

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Tear the ground beef into chunks and add to the hot pan in a single layer. Sprinkle a good pinch of salt and black pepper over the meat.

Step 3: Allow the beef to cook

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Let the beef cook without moving it for the first five minutes. The beef will begin to brown and develop color along the bottom.

Step 4: Break up and move beef around

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Use a wooden spoon to break up the larger chunks of beef, and to gently move the beef around. You don’t want to overwork the meat, but move it to brown it evenly. If the bottom is getting too dark, turn the heat down to medium.

Step 5: Drain the grease

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Cook the beef a few minutes more until it’s browned and no pink color remains. Use draining utensil, strainer or even a small plate to pour off most of the grease into a heat-proof container. (Never pour grease down the drain!) Keep a small amount of fat in with the beef; this will help the meat stay moist and flavorful.

Use your browned ground beef in a recipe, or to save it for later, allow it to cool. Then spoon it into a sealed container and store in the refrigerator for up to five days. To freeze it, put the cooled, cooked beef in a freezer-safe, zip-close bag and press out all the air. Keep it frozen for up to three months.

Tips for Cooking with Ground Beef

Cook the Meat Evenly

Don’t drop that brick of ground beef straight into the pan! To cook the meat evenly and prevent steaming, break up the meat before it goes into the pan. Tear the meat into chunks by hand or with a wooden spoon, and add these to the hot skillet in a single layer.

Season the Ground Beef

Even if you’ll be adding other seasonings to your ground beef after browning it, one of the secrets of professional chefs is to season meat before cooking it as well. This helps your ground beef to develop flavor while cooking, giving you tastier browned beef for your recipe. Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper to the beef after it goes into the hot pan.

Defrost Frozen Ground Beef First

Ideally, for meat that is evenly cooked and moist, you want to brown ground beef that is completely thawed. However, we’ve all had those days when, after forgetting to take it out of the freezer, we’re left to deal with an icy block of ground beef right before dinner. Fortunately, there are a few options:

  • Use your microwave’s defrost setting, which can usually thaw a pound of ground beef in about 5 minutes. Just check and flip the beef every couple of minutes, and remove portions of the beef as they thaw.
  • An Instant Pot can be used to thaw frozen ground beef (and other frozen meats, too).
  • Some home cooks will tell you to cook frozen beef right in the skillet. This is done by repeatedly turning the frozen brick of meat in the hot skillet, and peeling away the outer layers as they brown through. This continues until all of the beef is cooked. However, browning your ground beef this way should really be a last resort; it’s more time-consuming, and all that handling will result in beef that’s tough and unevenly cooked.

Keep Some of the Grease in the Pan

Draining the grease from cooked ground beef makes your finished dish less—well, greasy! However, for moist and flavorful meat, keep a tablespoon or two of that fat in. Stir it through your browned beef. You’ll still be removing most of the fat while protecting the meat from drying out.

Drain the rest of the grease into a heat-proof container. Once it solidifies, scrape it into your trash. (Some municipal compost programs may accept grease, but don’t put it in your backyard compost.)

Don’t Rinse Beef!

One TikTok user almost broke the internet when she shared a video of cooked ground beef poured into a strainer and rinsed under the faucet, which washed all of the grease off the meat and right down the drain. (The video has since been deleted, but you can catch it in @simplyfoodbyty’s duet with the original post.) The user claimed it was a technique learned in a nutrition class, but you definitely should not rinse browned ground beef.

For one, grease and fats should never be poured down the sink drain. (It’s one of the things plumbers want you to know.) The grease can solidify in the pipes, creating clogs and a huge mess in sewers and septic systems. Additionally, while pouring off excess fat from browned beef makes it healthier, removing every last drop of fat by rinsing it away will leave the beef tough, dry and tasteless.

If you’re concerned about the amount of fat in ground beef, opt for the leanest option like ground sirloin. Or, use ground turkey or ground chicken in place of beef, which are reasonably priced and have less fat.

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Nancy Mock
Discovering restaurants, tasting bakery treats, finding inspiration in new flavors and regional specialties—no wonder Nancy loves being a food and travel writer. She and her family live in Vermont and enjoy all things food, as well as the beautiful outdoors, game nights, Avengers movies and plenty of maple syrup. Find Nancy’s writing and recipes at her website: Hungry Enough To Eat Six.