Arianna Foster
Published by Arianna Foster
Last Updated On: December 9, 2022

I’ve been browning beef ever since I started my carnivore journey ten years ago, and I use this method at least twice a week when making tacos, chili, and sloppy Joe.

Learning how to brown beef without ending up with gray meat took me time, but I finally got the hang of it.

Today, I’ll share my step-by-step guide on browning beef, including all my tips, so you’ll have crispy brown beef every time.

Quick Summary

  • You should defrost ground beef before you start browning.
  • It’s important to heat the pan on medium-high heat before adding oil to avoid drying out the beef.
  • You shouldn't stir the meat while cooking ground beef.

Buying Ground Beef for Browning

An image of ground beef in a plastic packaging

Browning beef starts at the supermarket — you have to choose the right meat. Ground beef lasts two days in the fridge, so you want to get the ground meat as fresh as possible and cook it as soon as you can.

You should buy bright red ground beef for browning. Also, check the sell-by date on the package. Go for the ground meat that has the sell-by date the furthest from the purchase date. This way, the ground beef won’t go bad too soon.

Another thing to check is the fat content. Different cuts have different fat content. The rule is the higher the amount of fat, the more flavorful the meat.

Most ground beef at the supermarket has a ratio of 85% to 15% beef to fat. If you want very juicy ground beef for burgers, go for more fat.

A ratio of 70% meat to 30% fat or 80% meat to 20% fat is good for burgers. But if you want to make tacos, go for lean or extra lean ground beef because it won’t shrink when you brown it.

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Brown Ground Beef

Here’s a step-by-step process on how to brown ground beef:

  1. Prep the meat - If you have frozen ground beef, thaw i and let it sit at room temperature for about half an hour. This increases the beef’s temperature and dries it out (the less moisture in the ground beef, the higher the chance of successfully browning it). You can use paper towels to dry the meat if it’s very wet. Or, you can let the meat sit in the fridge uncovered to dry the surface.
  2. Heat the pan - Pour some vegetable oil into the pan and heat it. Your pan or skillet should be heated over medium-high heat before you add the meat. Note: If you have a nonstick pan, you don’t have to use oil unless you’re browning extra-lean ground beef.
  3. Add ground beef - Add the ground beef to the pan and break it up in stages to control the steam.
  4. Let the meat sit in the hot pan— Don’t touch, flip, or move around the beef. The beef needs a long contact with the hot pan to brown. Let the meat sit for about five minutes.
  5. Check the meat - Once you’ve let the meat sit, use a wooden spoon or a spatula and check the brown ground beef. Lift a corner to check if the meat is crispy.
  6. Break apart brown ground beef - Break apart the meat, but make sure there’s contact with the pan after the breaking (avoid moving the meat around the pan).
  7. Season the brown ground beef -  Add seasonings once you have browned ground beef. You can use salt and dry spices with a little water or wine.

Thawing Frozen Ground Beef for Browning

An image of frozen ground beef

According to the USDA, it’s safe to use frozen beef as long as it’s used within four months of the purchase date [1].

“The best way to safely thaw ground beef is in the refrigerator. Keeping meat cold while it is defrosting is essential to prevent the growth of bacteria. Cook or refreeze within 1 or 2 days.”
- USDA

Beef should be completely thawed to get evenly brown ground beef.

Here’s how to thaw frozen meat for browning:

  • In the fridge — Take the beef out of the freezer one day before cooking ground beef, put it in a bowl or a zip-top bag, and place it in the fridge. Make sure the meat is completely defrosted before you cook ground beef.
  • With water — This is a great method if you’re short on time. Put the frozen meat into a zip-top bag. Push out as much air as you can. Put the bag into a bowl filled with cold water and let it defrost for an hour. Change the water after half an hour to keep it cold.
  • In the microwave — Move the frozen raw ground beef to a microwave-safe plate and put it in the microwave. Turn the setting to defrost and microwave in 30-second intervals. Flip the beef after each interval. It should take you about five minutes to defrost.

The meat edges may start to cook with this method. This is fine and won’t interfere with browning as long as you fully brown and cook the ground beef immediately after defrosting.

You can also cook frozen ground beef without defrosting. Heat the cast iron skillet and add the frozen beef. Unlike with fresh ground beef, you should turn the frozen beef in the skillet and peel the outer layers as they brown through. Turn the frozen beef until all of it is cooked.

The Best Way to Drain Fat from Cooked Ground Beef

Here’s how to drain fat from cooked ground beef:

  1. Tilt the pan, so the liquid falls to the side. You want to avoid splatters because the fat is still hot.
  2. Use a slotted spoon and push the browned cooked beef to the other side of the pan. Take out the browned meat onto a plate lined with paper towels.
  3. Once the paper towels have absorbed the fat, you can use the beef in your preferred recipe.
  4. Make sure the fat cools down before you discard it.
    Note: Don’t pour the fat in the kitchen sink because it can clog the drain.

Pro Tips to Keep in Mind

A close up image of cooking ground beef on a pan

Here are tips to help you with the beef cooking process:

  • Cook the meat evenly for flavorful ground beef — Break up the meat evenly before you place it in the large skillet. You can tear the meat into several chunks by hand or wooden spoon and add them to the pan in a single layer. This will prevent steaming.
  • Heat the pan — This is the biggest mistake people make when browning the meat. If you put lean beef in a cold pan, it’ll start to steam, and you’ll end up with gray beef. You want brown meat, so the pot needs to be hot.
  • Don’t stir — I mentioned this above, but it needs to be stressed: let the beef cook untouched for several minutes. If you move the meat, you’re driving the moisture out of it, which results in a tough texture. You should gently move the meat only after it has a good sear.
  • Leave some fat in the pan — For the best beef flavor, leave a tablespoon or two of fat in the pan, and stir it through the brown meat. This way, the meat won’t dry out.
  • Season the meat after cooking — If you add salt to raw beef, it’ll pull out the moisture, which will dry the meat and create steam, and you won’t have brown meat. The same goes for herbs and spices. 
  • Don’t rinse browned beef — Rinsing it will remove the grease and fat that give the meat the flavor. Also, grease and fats shouldn’t be poured down the drain because they can damage the pipes.

FAQs

How Long Does It Take to Brown Ground Beef?

It takes about ten minutes to brown ground beef.

How Do You Brown Beef in a Pan?

You brown beef in a pan by adding oil to a pan, heating it, and adding the meat. Break the meat into several large pieces with a wooden spoon and let it brown for several minutes.

Do You Use Oil When Browning Ground Beef?

Yes, you use oil when browning ground beef. You should especially use oil if you have very lean meat and if your pot isn’t nonstick. If you don’t use oil, you risk burning the leaner meat or having very dry meat.

Do You Add Water to Brown Meat?

No, you don’t add water to brown meat. You risk having gray, steamed beef if you add water while browning.

How Should You Brown Ground Beef?

You should brown ground beef by following the guide I’ve outlined above. Make sure to heat the pan before placing the meat on it, don’t stir, and responsibly dispose of cooking oil.

It’s better to cook fresh than frozen ground beef, but it’s also possible to brown frozen beef if you’re short on time.

Finally, you need quality ground beef for the best results. We’ve tested countless meat delivery services to create a round-up of the 11 best meat deliveries. Each of these businesses sells high-quality meat. You can choose between grass-fed beef or experiment with game meats. Choose your supplier and get delicious browned beef.


References:

  1. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation
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