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How to Brown Ground Beef

With these simple tips, browning ground beef couldn't be easier.

By: Jamie Garcia, Editor, RecipeLion.com
Updated May 15, 2020
How to Brown Ground Beef

Browning ground beef is a great cooking skill to master. However, many people aren't sure how to cook ground beef so that it actually sizzles, browns, and picks up all of that amazing flavor.

We're here to end the confusion!

Our simple method for browning ground beef will give you perfectly delicious, crisp, and flavorful ground beef in about 15 minutes. It's the perfect recipe to kick off a pasta recipe, taco night, stuffed peppers, and much more.

Just follow our step-by-step instructions below -- or watch our video -- to learn how to brown ground beef like a pro!

How to Brown Ground Beef Step by Step

1. Prepare Your Pan. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly coat the pan with oil to prevent the ground beef from sticking.

Prepare your pan by heating it over medium-high heat and coating with oil.

2. Add ground beef to the hot skillet. Place the beef in the center of the skillet and break it up into large pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook the beef for a few minutes without stirring.

Note: It's best to brown ground beef in 1 pound batches, unless you have a very large skillet. Crowding the pan actually leads to the beef steaming, as it releases a lot of water, rather than browning. It will still taste okay, but you won't get the rich color and flavor that you're looking for.

Add your ground beef to the center of the skillet.

3. Break the beef into smaller pieces as it cooks. As the beef begins to brown, continue to break the meat into smaller and smaller pieces. Try not to stir it too much!

Brown the ground beef, breaking it up into pieces with a wooden spoon.

4. Cook until there is no pink remaining. Season the ground beef with salt and whatever other seasonings you might be using.

Cook the ground beef until there is no pink remaining.

Browning vs. Just Cooking Ground Beef

What does it mean to brown ground beef, anyway? For most recipes, "browning ground beef" simply means breaking up the meat in a skillet (think taco meat) and fully cooking it. Whether the meat actually turns out to be brown depends on how much you stir the meet as it cooks, how crowded your skillet is, the level of heat you cook with, and more. Cooking on lower heat, with more stirring, leads to beef that is softer and more of a gray color.

Interestingly, there are some reasons why cooking the meat more gently in the skillet -- and not getting the browned, crispy beef we talk about above -- might be exactly what you want.

If you brown...

Pros: Like we said above: browning meat results in a textured meat with many great flavors associated with the Maillard reaction (see next section). This is often an ideal choice for stews and sauces because there tends to be a richer flavor profile in the meat.

Cons: Browned meat has a crispy texture that may not be ideal for all recipes. For example, you may not actually want your creamy pasta casserole to have crisp pieces of ground beef in it. The choice is yours!


If you don't brown... 

Pros: Your meat will have a much silkier, rich, and tender texture.

Cons: It won't have the same amount or depth of flavor. You also won't get that browned crusty texture that many love.

Just cooking ground beef in a skillet is also easier to do! Check out our video below for a super easy way to cook ground beef without browning it too much. This method is the perfect first step to a ground beef casserole.
 

Browning Basics + The Science Behind It

The Maillard reaction (or what happens when you brown meat) occurs at temperatures above 300 degrees F. Meat, and this is all meat, not just ground beef, will not begin to brown until all the surface moisture has evaporated or otherwise been driven off.

For larger chunks of meat, this means that the temperature inside, especially toward the center of the cut, will heat up at a much slower rate than the meat that is in direct contact with the pan or heat source. Here's where the term searing comes into play, which refers to browning just the outer layer of meat at a high temperature for a short period of time. 

For ground beef, it's quite easy to brown because it is already cut into tiny chunks of malleable meat. As you break them up even further in your pan it doesn't take much time at all for the heat to brown the outer layer of ground beef.

Pro Tip:  For even better results, start with whole chunks of meat (beef chuck or short ribs would work). Brown them deeply on one side, then remove them from the pan and cut them up into smaller pieces so you can grind them. By browning the pieces beforehand, you can accomplish this part much more efficiently, allowing deep flavor to come through without compromising anything in the process.

Other Ground Beef Resources

Want to learn more about buying and cooking ground beef? Check out these helpful resources!

How to Drain Ground Beef (And What NOT to Do!)
Ground Chuck vs. Ground Beef: What's the Difference?

Ground Beef Recipes

What are your best tips for browning ground beef? Let us know in the comments below!

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