Learn how to brown beef for tacos. Learn how to brown ground beef for tacos in a skillet, and season the meat with salt, cumin and chili powder. This is a great base recipe for tacos. Preparing ground beef for tacos can be easy and delicious. The secret to perfect tacos is the meat. Cook this beef until it’s dark, but don’t burn it!
How To Cook & Brown Ground Beef
Weeknight standards like chili, tacos, and sloppy Joes all start with the same basic concept: browning ground beef in a bit of oil. Some recipes may call for adding onion, garlic, or spices at some point along the journey, but getting truly browned ground beef is the best thing you can do to build flavor in the final dish.
Properly browning ground meat for the start of a dinner recipe or for storing in the fridge for meals all week isn’t hard, but here’s a refresher for when you need it.
Cooking Great Ground Beef Starts in the Store
When you shop for ground beef take a close look at the labels, as they are full of information beyond price per pound. You’ll find out what cut of meat has been ground and what the fat-to-lean content of the meat is (I think of 85/15 as a good all-purpose beef). If the package is simply labeled “ground beef” or “market ground beef” you can ask your butcher for more details or simply assume that it has been ground from a variety of cuts.
Make sure you purchase the freshest ground beef you can. Start by choosing a package with the sell-by date that is furthest from today’s date. You’ll also want to check out the color of the meat. While a bright red color can be misleading since the meat may have been packaged with carbon monoxide in order to maintain the red color for its normal shelf life, just make sure to avoid any trays that appear gray. Finally, you want the meat to stay cold, so make the meat counter your last stop before the checkout line.
For Your Information
- The technique below is written for 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef; if you use more or less meat, try to size the pan up or down accordingly.
- You’ll need a large 10- to 12-inch skillet for browning the beef.
4 Steps to Better Browned Meat
- Heat the pan (and oil). In order to brown, rather than steam, the pan needs to be hot. Adding oil is optional but recommended for better browning.
- Add the meat to the pan and break it into large pieces. Use a wooden spoon, fish spatula, or other sturdy spatula to break the meat up into large pieces in the pan. Let it brown for several minutes.
- 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.
- Cook until browned (and try not to stir). Try not to stir the beef too much; just stir occasionally until all of the beef is browned.
Hands Off for Better Browning
The beef needs to maintain contact with the pan for a little while in order to brown. Remember that as you break the meat into smaller pieces, moisture evaporates, which can cause the meat to steam rather than brown. This is when you get gray-colored rather than browned beef. It’s still safe to eat but less flavorful and less appealing to the eye. Instead, give the meat a few minutes to cook and develop brown color before breaking it up with your wooden spoon.
Using and Storing Cooked Ground Beef
These tips and techniques not only make for better ground beef, but they can also be used for ground lamb, turkey, or chicken. Browned ground beef can be used immediately, refrigerated for up to a week, or frozen for three months.
The technique below is written for 11/2 pounds of ground beef, if you use more or less meat try to size the pan up or down accordingly.
How to Cook & Brown Ground Beef
YIELDMakes about 3 cups of browned beefShow Nutrition
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil or bacon fat (optional)
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Spices (optional)
- Large skillet (cast iron, nonstick, or stainless steel)
- Stiff spatula or wooden spoon
- Heat the pan and coat with oil. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. The oil helps prevent the ground beef from sticking and scorching in the pan, especially if you are using a stainless steel skillet. Use a little extra oil if you’re cooking lean beef. You can omit this step if you want to avoid the extra fat, but pay close attention to the meat during the first few minutes of cooking to ensure it doesn’t burn.
- Add the meat to the hot pan and break into large pieces. Add the meat to the center of the hot pan. Use a stiff spatula to break the meat into a few large pieces. Let the meat brown without moving it for 4 to 5 minutes.
- Break meat into smaller pieces, season, and brown. Break the ground beef into smaller and smaller pieces with your spatula. Sprinkle with salt and any spices you are using. Do not stir continuously, instead let it cook for a minute between each stir to let the moisture evaporate and allow the meat to brown.
- Finish browning. The beef has finished when it is evenly browned and shows no signs of pink. Break open a few of the larger crumbles to make sure that it has browned all the way through.
Storage: Browned ground beef can be used immediately, refrigerated for up to a week, or frozen for three months.
How to Cook and Brown Ground Beef the Best Way
5 Ground Beef Recipes That Are NOT Burgers, Tacos, or Meatballs | Quick & Easy Dinner Ideas
Ready to add some new ground beef recipes to your weekly rotation? These easy dinner ideas stretch beyond the usual burgers, tacos, and meatballs and will quickly become your new go tos.
Browning ground beef is a skill every home cook needs in their tool kit. And while it might seem fairly intuitive, there’s a lot that can go wrong without proper technique.
Ever wonder why your ground beef turned out more gray than brown? Keep reading to learn how to get perfectly browned ground beef using a skillet. Plus, refer to our troubleshooting guide for all your ground beef questions.
How to Buy Ground Beef
Cooking the best ground beef starts with choosing the right meat at your supermarket. Ground beef only lasts about two days in the refrigerator, which means you’ll want to choose the freshest meat possible, and use it as soon as you can. That is, unless you plan to freeze it (more on that to come).
Fresh ground beef should be bright red in color. You should also refer to the sell-by date on each package. Choosing the meat that has a sell-by date furthest from today’s date will ensure your ground beef won’t go bad on you too soon.
You’ll also want to consider fat content. The higher the fat content, the more flavorful and juicy the meat. Most ground beef you find at the supermarket has a beef to fat ratio of 85/15. This is a good choice for most culinary purposes. However, if you’re wanting the juiciest burgers possible, you can opt for a higher fat content like 70/30 or 80/20.
Lean or extra-lean ground beef on the other hand is best for taco meat, since it won’t shrink up when cooked quite as much as beef that is higher in fat. Really, it comes down to personal preference and how you intend to use it.
How to Cook and Brown Ground Beef
The skillet method is the tried and true way to brown ground beef. Here we’ll break down the best way to cook ground beef using a skillet.
CREDIT: MARTY BALDWIN/MEREDITH
Here’s What You’ll Need:
- A large, stainless steel or cast iron skillet
- A spatula, sauté paddle, or wooden spoon
- 1 ½ lb fresh or thawed ground beef
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Other spices (optional)
- Allow your meat to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. If you’re using a nonstick pan you don’t have to use oil (unless you’re using extra-lean ground beef). Cast iron and stainless steel are the best choice for getting that beautiful, brown sear.
- Once the pan is hot, add the meat, and use a spatula to break it up into pieces.
- Let the meat brown without touching for about five minutes. This gives the meat more contact with the pan, and thus, a better sear.
- Sprinkle salt and any other spices (like taco seasoning). Continue to let the meat brown, stirring once after every minute, until all the moisture has evaporated.
- Make sure there are no signs of pink, and break up any larger pieces. You’ve done it! Now it’s time to drain the fat. (More on that below.)
How to Drain Fat from Cooked Ground Beef
Fat is an inevitable by-product of cooking ground beef. Once your ground beef is completely browned, your next step is to carefully separate the fat from the meat. Here’s how:
- Tilt the pan to one side so that the liquid is on one side and the meat is on the other. Watch out for any splatters of hot fat.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the ground beef and place it on a paper towel-lined plate.
- Allow the remaining fat to sit in the skillet until completely cooled. Discard it in the garbage. Never dump it down the drain! Whether solid or liquid, fat will clog up your drain and lead to a future plumbing headache.
Ground Beef Troubleshooting Guide: 3 Common Mistakes To Avoid
1. You put cold meat in a hot pan.
Pulling ground beef straight from the fridge and placing it in a hot pan is going to cause the meat to release those juices immediately. For best results, allow your meat to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before cooking. But never leave ground beef out at room temperature for more than two hours.
2. You overcrowded the pan.
If you want to achieve that crisp, brown crust, overcrowding the pan is only going to work against you. Because the meat doesn’t have enough contact with the pan, it’s not going to sear — it’s going to steam. The result? Wet and gray ground beef. No thanks.
If you’re cooking a large amount of ground beef, either cook it in batches or make sure you have a skillet that’s large enough to accommodate it.
3. You use a nonstick pan.
Okay, you can use a nonstick pan to brown ground beef if that’s what you prefer. It’s certainly convenient. But for truly the best sear, you’ll want to go with cast iron or stainless steel. The reason is nonstick pans just don’t retain heat as well. And not all nonstick pans can handle the high heat that’s required for browning meat. To prevent the meat from sticking in stainless steel or cast iron pans, simply use a little oil and make sure your cast iron is well seasoned.
How to Store Ground Beef
Raw ground beef can be stored in the fridge for up to two days or in the freezer for up to three months. To freeze, wrap the package tightly in freezer wrap or transfer to a freezer-safe bag and label with the date.
Cooked ground beef, like many other leftovers, will last three to four days in the fridge, or three to four months in the freezer. Keep it stored in an airtight container or freezer bag.
5 Delicious Ground Beef Recipes That Aren’t Burgers, Tacos, or Meatballs
- Easy Korean Ground Beef Bowl: Ground beef is flavored with garlic, fresh ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, red pepper, and green onions to make a quick and easy dish that’s ready to serve over rice in about 25 minutes.
- Beef and Bean Chimichangas: Shake up Taco Tuesday with chimichangas! Ground beef, onion, bell pepper, and corn get spiced up with taco sauce, chili powder, garlic salt, and cumin, then rolled into tortillas spread with a layer of refried beans. To crisp them up, brush with butter and bake in the oven.
- Instant Pot Lasagna Soup: Everything you love about lasagna, but in soup form. Cooking this comforting soup in your Instant Pot slashes the time down to about 45 minutes from start to finish.
- Kibbee Lebanese Style: This Middle Eastern recipe calls for ground lamb, but you can substitute ground beef if you like. Ground meat is combined with bulgur, onion, and fragrant spices, and layered with pine nuts in a baking dish. Scoring the ground meat mixture into a diamond pattern before baking gives it eye appeal and makes it easier to cut and serve.
- Stuffed Peppers: Whole bell peppers are hollowed out and stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, rice, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, salt, and pepper before baking under a blanket of more sauce.
BEST Taco Meat Recipe
Sharing our favorite taco meat recipe today! The only taco filling you’ll need for taco night. So simple to prepare and seasoned just right. This will quickly become a new favorite weeknight recipe.
Easy Taco Meat Recipe
When it comes to tacos, you need a simple taco meat recipe that has just the right seasonings without being too seasoned for all of your toppings.
How to Make Taco Meat
There are two steps to making homemade taco meat, but they are super simple! First you’re going to cook your ground beef, then you’ll add the seasonings and assemble your tacos.
Brown the Meat
Browning ground beef is easy to do! Here’s how:
- Place the ground meat in a skillet (preferably a nonstick skillet) and cook over medium-high heat. The most important part to browning ground beef is using a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to break up the ground beef into equal-size pieces as it cooks. This ensures that all the ground beef pieces cook evenly.
- Add cooking oil. 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 teaspoons — 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.
- On most stove tops, browning ground beef should take approximately 7 to 10 minutes for 1 pound of meat. 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’s easy to tell when your meat is ready — it should all be brown with no apparent pinkish pieces.
- When the ground beef is fully browned, the final step is to drain the fat. Remember to be careful because you’re working with hot fat. Carefully tilt the pan so the liquid fat falls to one side. Using a slotted spoon, push the meat to the other side of the pan and scoop it out onto a paper-towel-lined plate. Once the paper towels have absorbed any remaining fat, the beef is ready to be used in your favorite recipes.
Now all you have to do is stir in the salsa, cumin, hot sauce, and lime juice! Then add the taco filling to corn tortillas along with your favorite fixings and dig in.
Taco Topping Ideas
If you’re not sure what toppings go best with tacos, here are some of my favorite ideas:
- Sour Cream
- Hot sauce
- Green onions
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
This is a great recipe to make in advance because taco meat reheats well. Just let your taco filling come to room temperature, then store it in the fridge in an airtight container. It will keep for 4-5 days. When you’re ready to eat, simply reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop. For the microwave, I recommend covering a microwave-safe bowl with a plate to avoid splattering.