Cooking ground beef until it's browned and tender is the first step to many of our favorite comfort food recipes, from shepherd's pie to spicy chili. It's a pretty straightforward process, but just in case you'd like a refresher, here's how I do it.
Buy the best and freshest ground beef you can find. Bright pink meat isn't always an indicator of this since packages are often filled with carbon monoxide to keep the color stable. I really appreciate how Whole Foods posts signs for when their meat was ground and wish more stores did this. Otherwise, go by the freshness date on the package. Plan to use or freeze your ground beef within a few days for maximum flavor and freshness.
The trend with ground beef is also to go as lean as possible, but personally, I like a little fat in there. Without it, I find that the beef ends up rather dry and tasteless. I like an 85% lean/15% fat blend the best for most general cooking purposes. If only extra-lean meat is available, I'll sometimes add a little bacon fat to the pan to give it some help.
Apply this same cooking technique to any ground meat you use: turkey, chicken, pork, lamb, or any combination thereof. Cook the meat first, remove it from the pan, then cook your vegetables in the leftover fat from the meat for extra flavor. From a strict cooking standpoint, you don't have to remove the meat from the pan, but I find the vegetables cook better when they're less crowded and this also prevents the meat from drying out or becoming too crumbled.
How to Cook & Brown Ground Beef
What You Need
1 teaspoon vegetable oil or bacon fat (optional)
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Large skillet - cast iron, nonstick, or stainless steel
1. Film the Pan with Oil (Optional Step): Filming the pan with a little oil helps prevent the ground beef from sticking and scorching in the pan, especially if you are using a stainless steel skillet. Use a little extra fat if you're cooking a lean beef. It's fine to skip this step if you'd like to avoid the extra fat, but pay extra attention to the meat in the first few minutes of cooking to make sure it doesn't burn.
2. Add the Meat to a Hot Skillet: Warm the pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add the beef to the center of the pan.
3. Break the Meat into Large Pieces: Use a stiff spatula to break the ground meat into several pieces.
4. Break the Meat into Smaller Pieces and Brown: Continue breaking the ground meat into smaller and smaller pieces. Sprinkle with salt and any spices you are using. Stir the beef occasionally to make sure it's browning evenly.
5. Finish Browning: The beef has finished when it is evenly browned and shows no signs of pink. Break open a few of the larger crumbles to make sure that it has browned all the way through. Browned ground beef can be used immediately, refrigerated for up to a week, or frozen for three months.
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(Images: Emma Christensen)