What comes first to mind when "ground beef" is mentioned? Probably hamburgers, meatballs, and meatloaf, if you are like most people. It is no wonder that by volume, ground beef is the largest-selling beef item in most markets, but you may be wasting money on lean and extra-lean mixtures. Ground beef has long been considered a meat-stretcher, easier on the wallet than full beef cuts. Perhaps for this reason, there are a lot of inventive ways to use ground beef other than for burgers, meatloaf, and meatballs, including some interesting mock gourmet recipes.
Ground Beef Cooking Tips
- If you are using cooked crumbled ground beef in a sauce or casserole, you can reduce the fat content by rinsing it after browning and before adding to your recipe. Simply cook the meat until done, pour into a colander in the sink, and rinse with hot water. Thoroughly drain the water and blot dry with paper towels. This method used on regular ground beef can reduce the fat content down to that of the more expensive lean ground beef. Although the fat content is greatly reduced using this method, be aware that the flavor goes right down the drain along with that fat.
- Frozen ground beef can go from the freezer to the pan, but it is not recommended in most instances. Freezing turns the natural juice in the beef to ice crystals. If you cook the beef while frozen, chances are you will be draining off the juicy flavor along with the fat. Instead, plan ahead to let the meat thaw slowly in the refrigerator to give the ice crystals time to melt and redistribute back into the tissue as much as possible.
- For optimum results in recipes where the meat is the focus, try to use fresh ground beef. If the ground beef is to be used in a casserole or sauce, you probably will not notice any flavor difference when using frozen meat.
- When cooking ground beef, you will have less shrinkage with leaner blends than with regular ground beef. The fat renders down reducing the volume of the meat. Leaner blends have less fat, thus less shrinkage.
- Generally, the higher the cooking temperature, the greater the shrinkage, so cook ground beef at a moderate temperature rather than high heat. Overcooking will result in a dry, tasteless result as the juices evaporate.
- To avoid ground beef sticking to your hands, dip your hands in cold water before handling the meat to make burgers or meatballs. Do not overhandle the meat when making patties. Keep a light touch and do not over-compact.
- Form burger patties to desired thickness and then make a deep depression in the center with your thumb. As the meat cooks and expands, the depression will disappear, keeping your burger from bulging in the center into a flying saucer shape.
- Never use the spatula to press down on the burger patty as it is cooking. You will squeeze out all the juice and flavor. Poking holes in the burger with a fork also causes loss of moisture and flavor. Use a spatula or tongs to turn them.
- Be sure the pan or grill fire is hot before you add the burgers. This helps sear the surface and seal in the juice.
- Most burgers will not require a greased pan, however, extra-lean burgers may stick without added lubrication. Some chefs suggest a sprinkling of salt on the pan to prevent lean meat from sticking.
- There is nothing wrong with digging in with clean hands to mix seasonings into ground beef, but do not overdo it. The heat from your hands and the friction of mixing can break down those bits of fat that you want to preserve for a juicy result. Overworking ground beef can turn it into flavorless mush.
- My recipe picks include ground beef recipes that are a bit more unusual than the standard hamburger casseroles, but you will still find many old standbys. You can substitute ground veal, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey or sausage in most of the recipes for a different flavor.
- Since poultry has a milder flavor, when substituting ground poultry for ground beef, add slightly more seasoning than the recipe calls for. Because of the difference in texture, you may also need to decrease any added liquid by one to two tablespoons when using ground poultry.