Ground beef is one of the most versatile forms of beef out there, so knowing how to buy and how to cook ground beef is essential if you want to produce delicious meals at home.
Cooking ground beef is straightforward, but once you learn everything in this guide, you’ll create flavorful minced beef that lights up every recipe you use it in.
Table of Contents
How to Buy Ground Beef
The first step of any delicious ground beef recipe starts by buying the right ground beef. Besides the obvious things, such as choosing bright pink-red mince that’s fresh, you should also pay attention to the fat content.
The highest fat content (20-30%) mince is best for burger patties and meatloaf.
Standard fat content mince (15%) is versatile and can be used for anything.
Low-fat content mince (10% or less) is best for tacos, chilis, and Bolognese.
High fat-content mince is often flavorful, but does experience some shrinkage and so isn’t usually as suitable for recipes where the mince is broken up.
When you get it home, transfer it to the fridge as soon as possible, or to the freezer if you don’t eat it (or plan to) within the first few days of bringing it home.
How to Defrost Ground Beef
Freezing ground beef is the best way to ensure your ground beef doesn’t go bad, and it’s also a great way to keep surplus ground beef for later. Defrosting ground beef is simple, but make sure you know what you’re doing.
Best: 12-24 hours before cooking
The best way to safely defrost ground beef is to move it from the freezer to the fridge around 12 hours before you want to cook it, though 24 hours is best. It will keep there in good condition for around 2 days.
Good: 3-6 hours before cooking
You can also defrost it using the defrost setting on your oven, which circulates the air, and can speed up the process. This will take around 3 hours, though it very much depends on your oven and the thickness of the ground beef block.
Okay: 1-3 hours
If you want to move fairly quickly, you can defrost ground beef in water. To do this, make sure the beef is well-sealed and fill the sink or a large bowl with water from the cold tap. After 20-30 minutes, empty the sink or bowl and refill, leaving it again. You can massage the beef a little from time to time if it’s in a bag. It takes about 1 hour per pound to defrost this way.
If you defrost this way, don’t be tempted to use warm-to-the-touch water. While your beef will defrost faster, you give any bacteria a chance to wake up and grow before the middle of the beef has defrosted, and you may even start to cook the edges. At best, you’ll end up with mince that’s lacking flavor, and at worst, you may get food poisoning.
Worst: 5-10 minutes
Defrosting it in the microwave should only be a last resort, and isn’t recommended, as even on the defrost setting, you will see the edges of the mince start to cook while the middle stays frozen.
If your microwave has a defrost setting, read the manual so you understand how it works for the amount of ground beef you have. If it doesn’t, but you can reduce the power, microwave the ground beef on a plate at 50% power for about 3 minutes, rotating and flipping it every 45 seconds. Once it’s done defrosting, cook it immediately.
Can I refreeze ground beef?
If you defrosted your beef in the fridge, you can safely refreeze it within 2 days of defrosting it. If you defrosted it in any other way, it’s best to cook it through before freezing it.
How to Cook Ground Beef
If you’re not turning ground beef into a patty or ball, you’ll likely be cooking it in a skillet on a stove. To do this, you simply need a skillet, wooden spoon or spatula, your beef, some oil of your choice, and a little salt. Then follow these steps:
- Heat 1 tbsp of oil in the skillet over medium-high heat
- Add the meat and use your spoon to break it up
- Allow the meat to cook and brown, stirring it every 2-3 minutes, continuing to break up large bits
- When all pink is gone, sprinkle with salt
- Continue to break up any larger pieces, until you’re sure all the mince has cooked through
How to Cook Ground Beef on a Pellet Grill
Smoking your ground beef on a pellet grill offers out-of-this-world results, and is something you simply have to try.
For cooking broken-up ground beef, you’ll need 2 aluminum pans, like a turkey tray, but smaller. Poke holes in the bottom of one with a pencil, scissors, or knife (just be careful!). Then place some clean stones in the bottom of the other that are all roughly the same size – this is for your second pan to sit on top of to give the fat somewhere to drain to.
Crumble the ground beef into the pan with the holes and then put it into the other pan, on top of the stones.
Put them into your heated grill at about 275F for 15 minutes, then check its progress. Minced beef soaks up the smoky flavor easily, so you don’t need to low-and-slow it.
If you want to cook hamburgers, follow our guide here: How to Smoke Burgers.
If you don’t yet have a pellet grill, explore our latest offers here.
How to Drain Fat from Cooked Ground Beef
If you used lean mince, you may not need to do this step and you can move on with your recipe. However, if you used mince with a lot of fat, you’ll need to drain the fat before you move on. Here’s how:
- Tilt the skillet so the fat drains to one side, and use your spoon to push your mince to the other side
- Use a spoon with drainage holes to move the ground beef to another pan or a paper-towel covered plate
- Put the skillet aside to cool – you can’t drain fat into the sink or you may end up with a fat clog in your drain, so put the semi-solid fat in the trash once it has cooled
How to Season Ground Beef
Seasoning ground beef is easy! Simply sprinkle salt and pepper over the top of your beef during the cooking process. If you want to avoid drawing out extra moisture season after cooking, but for most recipes, you can season before or during the cooking process.
Don’t be afraid to try other herbs and spices. The addition of minced garlic, onions, or shallots to your mince is also incredibly delicious.
What can I make with ground beef? Best Ground Beef Recipes
People typically make things like:
- Bolognese sauce
- Beef tacos
Really, the only limit is your imagination! Here are some of our favorite recipes:
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking Ground Beef
You’ll get the best results from your cooking if you:
- Don’t cook it immediately from the fridge – allow it to come up to room temperature for around 10-15 minutes to get the best results. This is a good time to prepare other aspects of the meal.
- Use a cast iron or stainless-steel pan – nonstick pans are fine, but you’ll get better results with ones that don’t have a coating.
- Avoid throwing everything into the pan immediately – use a big enough pan so your mince has room to spread out and so all pieces can touch the bottom.
Once you’ve mastered cooking ground beef, the culinary world is your oyster! You can add ground beef to almost any meal, and you can cook ground turkey and pork in the same way, with slightly shorter cooking times.
If you’ve yet to try smoky ground beef cooked on a pellet grill, look at our latest Z Grills pellet grill deals here so you don’t miss out on the outdoor cooking season!