How to Cook Ground Beef Properly

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Ready for a more flavorful addition to your recipes? Learn how to cook 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 there are still ways it can go wrong. Here’s how to cook ground beef the right way, so it’s tender, full of flavor and ready to use in your favorite ground beef recipes.

Use this method whether you need to know how to cook ground beef for tacos, how to cook ground beef for spaghetti, or any other dish you’re craving for dinner.

How to Cook and Brown Ground Beef

This recipe is for 1 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, to season the beef once cooked

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

  • A stainless steel, cast iron or nonstick skillet is a must. 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

Break up and add the beef How To Brown Ground Beef.taste Of Home.nancy Mock 3Nancy Mock for Taste of Home

Tear the ground beef into chunks and add to the hot pan in a single layer.

Step 3: Allow the beef to cook

Allow the beef to cook How To Brown Ground Beef.taste Of Home.nancy Mock 2Nancy Mock for Taste of Home

Let the beef cook without moving it for the first 5 minutes. The beef will begin to brown and develop color along the bottom.

Step 4: Break up and move beef around

Break up and move beef around How To Brown Ground Beef.taste Of Home.nancy Mock 5Nancy Mock for Taste of Home

Use a wooden spoon to break up the larger chunks of beef and gently move the beef around. You don’t want to overwork the meat; just move it enough 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 a draining utensil, a 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 meat right away in one of these creative ground beef recipes, diabetic-friendly ground beef recipes, or, if saving it for later, allow it to cool. Then spoon it into a sealed container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (Learn how to tell if ground beef is bad.) To freeze it, put the cooked-and-cooled beef in a freezer-safe  zip-close bag and press out all the air. Keep it frozen for up to 3 months.

Tips for Cooking with Ground Beef

Defrost Frozen Ground Beef First

Ideally, for meat that is evenly cooked and moist, you want to brown ground beef that is completely thawed. Here’s how to defrost ground beef:

  • Fridge method: 24 hours before cooking, remove the ground beef package from the freezer, put it in a bowl or zip-top bag, and place it in the fridge. Your beef should be completely defrosted by the time you’re ready to cook.
  • Water method: If you only have an hour or two, place your frozen ground beef package into a zip-top bag, pushing out as much of the air as possible. Then, place the bag into a bowl full of cold water and let the meat defrost for an hour. You should change the water around the 30-minute mark to keep it cold.
  • Microwave method: Transfer the frozen ground beef to a microwave-safe plate and place it in the microwave. Set your microwave to the defrost setting and microwave the beef in 20-30 second internals, flipping the beef each time. It should take about 5 minutes or so for the meat to defrost. Note: The edges of the beef might start to cook as they start to defrost. This is fine as long as you fully cook the ground beef right after.

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.

Use a Hot Pan

The most common mistake people make when browning ground beef is putting the beef in a cold pan. As it heats up, 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. So make sure your skillet is hot before you add the ground beef!

Avoid Constant Stirring

After you add the ground beef to the hot pan, let it cook untouched for 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.

Keep Some of the Grease in the Pan

Draining the grease from cooked ground beef makes your finished dish less 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 stillprotecting 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.)

Season the Ground Beef

When it comes to seasoning your ground beef, wait until after it has been browned and drained. Adding salt to raw ground beef pulls out moisture, drying the meat out and creating steam while it cooks, which prevents it from browning properly. The same goes for other seasonings, but for a different reason. Much of the herbs and spices will drain away along with the grease, leaving your ground beef underseasoned.

Once your ground beef has been cooked and drained, it can be seasoned with almost anything. Salt and pepper are the basics and could be paired with a taco seasoning blend, Old Bay, herbes de Provence or garam masala, to name a few options. It just depends what you’re planning on making with the beef. For inspiration, check out our favorite ground beef recipes of the past year.

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.

How to Cook Frozen Ground Beef

While defrosted ground beef will have the best flavor and texture, you can cook ground beef from frozen. Here’s how:

  • Heat your skillet as directed above.
  • Add the frozen ground beef, repeatedly turning the brick of meat in the hot skillet and peeling away the outer layers as they brown through.
  • Continue until all of the beef is cooked.

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. Those in a time pinch will love these quick and easy ground beef recipes instead.

Now that you know how to cook and brown ground beef, you’re ready to make our best ground beef recipes.

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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.