How to Cook and Brown Ground Beef the Best Way

Get perfectly browned meat for tacos, chili, and more.

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.

Using frozen ground beef? Learn how to properly defrost it before you start cooking.

Browning ground beef in stainless steel pan with wooden spatula
Marty Baldwin/Meredith

Here's What You'll Need:


  1. Allow your meat to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes.
  2. 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 choices for getting that beautiful, brown sear.
  3. Once the pan is hot, add the meat, and use a spatula to break it up into pieces.
  4. Let the meat brown without touching for about five minutes. This gives the meat more contact with the pan, and thus, a better sear.
  5. 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.
  6. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Use a slotted spoon to remove the ground beef and place it on a paper towel-lined plate.
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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