5 Important Things to Know About Cooking with Ground Meat

updated May 1, 2019
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Whether it’s beef, turkey, chicken, pork, or lamb, we love ground meat for its economical price tag and versatility. Keep this staple stashed in the freezer so dinner never sneaks up on you. Ground meat’s budget-friendly nature doesn’t mean you can just dump it in a pan and hope for the best. It requires a little finesse to truly bring out its best, so we’re gather the five most important things you need to know about this cut of meat so everything from your next batch of meatballs to the burgers you make over the weekend are the best they can be.

1. Knowing the meat-to-fat ratio is the key to a better tasting dish.

No matter what type of meat you’re cooking with, or whether you’re making burgers or bolognese, it’s important to remember that not all ground meat is created equal. The numbers, like 80/20 or 90/10, you see labeled on ground meat indicate the amount of lean meat to fat in the package. The success of recipes made with ground meat is dependent on the level of fat in the meat, and different dishes typically benefit from different ratios.

2. Legs and thighs are the most flavorful choice for ground chicken and turkey.

Cooking with ground chicken or turkey? If you’re going for the pre-packaged stuff, choose one that was ground from legs and thighs. Or enlist the help of your grocery store butcher; grinding meat is just one of the services your grocery store butcher provides, and the best time to take advantage of this is when buying ground poultry. Because they contain more fat and collagen, legs and thighs make this otherwise lean meat more flavorful and juicy. You can also up the fat content by asking the butcher to blend in some chicken skin.

Put ground chicken to work: Chicken Empanadas

3. Avoid dry turkey burgers forever by using a panade.

Because it’s so lean, ground turkey comes with a high risk of drying out when cooked. The best way to avoid this is by using a panade, a mixture of breadcrumbs soaked in milk or Greek yogurt. It’s the same technique used when making meatballs, and delivers the same juicy benefit with burgers. Our recipe also calls for baking the burgers after giving them a good sear.

Add them to your meal plan: How To Make Juicy Turkey Burgers

4. Keep the amount you handle ground meat to a minimum.

Whether you’re making burger patties, rolling meatballs, or preparing meatloaf, handle the meat as little as possible for the most tender results. When ground meat is overworked, it has a tendency to become more tough.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

5. The same technique for browning can be used for any type of ground meat.

When it comes to browning ground meat on the stovetop, lean on the same tried-and-true technique whether you’re working with beef, turkey, pork, chicken, or lamb. Add the meat to a hot skillet set over medium-high heat. Give it a few minutes to begin to crisp up a bit before you begin breaking up the meat with a spatula, stirring it until it’s evenly browned and cooked through.

Our Favorite Recipes with Ground Meat