The 3 Best Ways to Brown Ground Beef (2024)

The average American eats more than 53 pounds of ground beef each year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). That makes it the second most-consumed meat, just behind chicken.

Because of this, we think it's time to brush up on cooking ground beef. You can mix things up and master a variety of recipes the family adores, such as spaghetti sauces, pizzas, casseroles, and more. If you're cooking for a family of four to six, a pound of ground beef in a skillet is likely the quickest and easiest solution for browning ground beef. But if you're feeding a crowd and need a way to brown ground beef in large quantities, an Instant Pot or even opting for a sheet pan dinner can be your supper savior.

Keep reading for all of the details about how to brown frozen ground beef, how to brown ground beef in an Instant Pot, skillet, or oven, plus essential ground beef food safety tips and tricks.

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How to Brown Ground Beef in a Skillet

Best for: Browning one pound ground beef

Place the ground meat in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. The most important trick to browning ground beef is using a wooden spoon ($6, Amazon) or heatproof spatula to break up the meat into equal-size pieces as it cooks. This ensures that all the ground beef pieces brown evenly.

Test Kitchen Tip

If your ground meat is very lean, and especially if your skillet isn't nonstick, you may want to heat a small amount of cooking oil (about 1 to 2 tsp.) in the skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the ground meat. This will help to keep the meat from sticking to the pan.

How to Brown Ground Beef in an Instant Pot (or Other Pressure Cooker)

Best for: Browning one to two pounds of ground beef

Add 1 cup of water to the Instant Pot ($100, Amazon). Set the Instant Pot trivet/rack in place, then position thawed ground beef on top.

Alternatively, you could use a metal steamer basket and crumble the raw ground beef directly into it. Since the holes are smaller than the trivet, you won't lose your meat through them. The pre-crumbled steamer basket method was the one preferred in our Test Kitchen. Set pressure to high, and cook for about 6 minutes for one pound and about 10 minutes for two pounds. (To cook one pound of ground beef from frozen, set the timer to 30-40 minutes instead.)

Allow pressure to naturally release, then carefully open the lid and use a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to break up the meat into equal-size pieces. You could also use the sauté setting of your multicooker to cook and stir ground beef as you would in a skillet, Dutch oven, or saucepan.

Ground beef cooking temperature: If cooking from frozen, remember the shape of your meat as it goes in the pressure cooker will impact the cooking time. Use a meat thermometer ($15, Target) to test for doneness (160°F is safe). We found there was still some pink using this method, but the meat thermometer inserted into the center registered over 160°F, so it was safe to eat.

How to Brown Ground Beef in the Oven

Best for: Browning two pounds of ground beef

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Cover a large sheet pan ($20, Crate & Barrel) with foil.
  3. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, break up the meat into equal-size pieces about an inch or smaller.
  4. Cover pan with more foil, bake for 15 minutes.
  5. Uncover meat, stir to break up further, and bake uncovered 10 minutes more (or until meat is fully, evenly browned).
  6. Stir and let stand one to two minutes.
  7. Drain fat or remove cooked beef with a slotted spoon to leave the fat in the pan to discard.

How to Brown Frozen Ground Beef

Yes, you can utilize frozen meat using any of these three "how to brown ground beef" strategies. The USDA says it's safe to cook from frozen as long as you follow these tips and use it within four months of its purchase date. So if you want to brown frozen ground beef, just start with these steps before you begin the ones listed above:

  • Thaw frozen ground beef in the refrigerator overnight, then cook within one or two days.
  • In a hurry? To defrost ground beef quicker, you can do so in the microwave. Cook immediately after defrosting, as some portions may become "hot spots" and start to cook while defrosting.

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How Long Does It Take to Brown Ground Beef?

Your eyes can help determine when your meat is ready: It should all be brown with no apparent pinkish pieces. (Remember, a bit of pink is okay if the meat registers 160°F.)

On most stove tops, browning a pound of ground beef takes approximately 7 to 10 minutes. Remember, it's important to continue stirring and breaking the pieces into the same size with the wooden spoon or heatproof spatula so the ground beef cooks evenly.

It takes 6 minutes under high pressure, plus time to naturally release the pressure, to brown ground beef completely in an Instant Pot (or multicooker).

In the oven, 25 to 30 minutes should score you perfectly brown ground beef, ready to incorporate into sloppy joes, tacos, casseroles, and more ground beef recipes.

Draining Fat from Cooked Ground Beef

When the ground beef is fully browned, the final step is to drain the fat. Take care to avoid splatters (the fat will still be hot).

  1. Carefully tilt the pan or pot, so the liquid fat falls to one side.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, push the meat to the other side of the pan and scoop it out onto a paper-towel-lined plate or another bowl.
  3. Once the paper towels have absorbed any remaining fat, the beef is ready to be used in your favorite recipes.
  4. The remaining fat should be cooled entirely and properly discarded. You can also cool the fat slightly, then carefully pour it into a can or glass jar and let it solidify before discarding.

Test Kitchen Tip

Don't pour the fat down your kitchen sink drain, as it can clog the drain.

The 3 Best Ways to Brown Ground Beef (3)

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How to Buy and Store Ground Beef

Grocery stores carry a variety of ground beef options (sometimes also labeled "hamburger beef"). Most stores label ground beef either with the percentage of fat it contains, the percentage of lean meat it has, or the lean/fat ratio. For example, beef that contains 20% fat would be listed as 20% fat, 80% lean, or 80/20.

Whether labeled "hamburger" or "ground beef," no more than 30% of the final product can be fat, and no water, phosphates, binders, or extenders can be included, per USDA regulations.

Ground beef with a higher fat content costs less, swaying consumers into thinking it's the more budget-friendly option. However, remember that ground beef with a high amount of fat results in a lot of shrinking during the cooking process and less overall meat.

So what's the best choice? There's no correct answer—it's a trade-off between flavor and health. Those counting calories will want to opt for leaner meat, but they'll be sacrificing some flavor. Others seeking higher-fat, keto-friendly options will want ground beef closer to the 70/30 range. The general recommendation is ground beef that's 85% lean/15% fat, which will bring plenty of beef flavor without being overly fatty or having excess shrinking during cooking.

Ground beef may also be labeled based on the cut of meat from which it originated. The three most common cuts of beef used for this purpose, ranging from leanest to fattiest, are round, sirloin, and chuck. After purchasing ground beef, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to two days. If you haven't used it in two days, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or in a freezer bag ($4, Target), and store in the freezer for up to three months. (Check out our complete guide to food safety and storage.)

With these tips added to your culinary skillset, you're equipped with everything you need to know for cooking ground beef. So start serving up weeknight-friendly 20-minute ground beef recipes, beef and rice bowls to get in on the meal-in-a-bowl trend, or add ground beef to salads or pasta dishes for a protein boost.

The 3 Best Ways to Brown Ground Beef (2024)
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