Cooking ground beef in a skillet is simple and quick, and you can easily control how caramelized you want it. Once it's browned, it's a versatile add-in for sandwiches, tacos, pasta dishes, casseroles and more.
Here's what you need to know about buying and cooking ground beef, plus how to know when the meat is safe to eat.
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How to Buy Ground Beef
Not quite sure what to look for? These simple shopping tips make it easy to find ground beef at the butcher shop or the supermarket that's both flavorful and fresh.
- Check the fat content. Ground beef comes with different fat-to-lean ratios, so be sure to check the number before adding a package to your cart. Beef with a fat-to-lean ratio between 70/30 and 80/20 will be rich and juicy. If you're looking for a lower fat option, go for a fat-to-lean content of 90/10 or 93/7.
- Get the freshest beef. A farther away sell-by date means fresher beef. Make sure the meat has a rosy red or pink color. Meat with a grayish tint is older and may be on the verge of spoiling, so steer clear. Avoid any packages that are torn or don't feel cold to the touch.
- Keep it cool. Try to add ground beef to your cart at the end of your shopping trip so it stays colder, the USDA recommends. You can keep the beef cool on the way home by storing it in a cooler with ice. At home, put the beef straight in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
- Use it quickly. According to the USDA, you should use refrigerated ground beef within 1 or 2 days or purchasing. Frozen ground beef is best used within 4 months.
Ground Beef Cooking Tips
- Start with lean ground beef (90/10 or 93/7) for a lower-fat dish.
- Wait for the skillet to heat up before adding the beef.
- Break the beef into smaller clumps in the skillet to help it cook faster.
- Don't stir the beef too much while it cooks.
- Cook the beef until no pink remains and it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Drain the beef on paper towels to remove excess fat. To get rid of more fat, pour hot (but not boiling) water over the cooked beef.
How to Cook Ground Beef
Things You'll Need
For delicious ground beef, stick with these step-by-step instructions.
Step 1: Heat a Skillet
Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet on the stovetop over medium-high heat.
Step 2: Add the Beef
Scoop clumps of the ground beef into the hot skillet. Use the spatula to break apart the clumps into smaller pieces.
Step 3: Season the Beef
Season the ground beef with salt and pepper. Sprinkle in additional seasonings as desired, such as garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper or oregano. You can also add aromatic vegetables like chopped and sauteed onion or garlic.
Step 4: Cook Through, Stirring Occasionally
Stir the ground beef every 3 to 5 minutes as it cooks in the skillet. (Stirring more often will prevent the outside from getting crisp and brown.) Break apart the cooking meat with the spatula to get the chunks smaller if desired. Cook the ground beef for 8 to 10 minutes or until no pink remains in the middle of the pieces.
The ground beef is done when all the pieces are browned, but you can continue browning the meat to get a crispy outside if desired. To be sure it's fully cooked, check that the beef has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the USDA.
Step 5: Drain Off the Fat
Tip the skillet slightly so the grease runs to one side of the pan. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the ground beef from the other side of the pan, allowing the grease to drain off as you scoop.
Step 6: Transfer the Beef to a Paper Towel-Lined Plate
Lay the cooked ground beef onto paper towels to soak up the remaining fat. Pat the beef gently with another paper towel to absorb a little more grease.
Continue using the ground beef as the recipe instructs.
To remove even more fat, place the cooked ground beef in a colander or sieve. Pour hot but not boiling water over the cooked meat to wash away the remaining fat. Let the meat drain for about 5 minutes. Add more seasonings as necessary.
- Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. (2021.) Skillet cooking basics.
- Mayo Clinic. (2019.) Cuts of beef: A guide to the leanest selections.
- North Dakota State University. (2014.) Understanding lean ground beef percentages.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2016.) Ground beef and food safety.