How to Handle and Start Cooking With Ground Beef

Shepherd's pie with ground beef

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Ground beef has been an American kitchen staple for decades. It's readily available, inexpensive, and as an extra bonus, children like it. Ground beef recipes are versatile too. You can dress them up or make simple burgers. Ground beef is at home in many cuisines, from Thai to Mexican. When you have a pound of ground beef in your freezer, dinner is only minutes away.

When you buy ground beef, make sure to respect the dates stamped on the package. If you're not planning to cook it within two days, take it out of the supermarket package and form several thin patties. Rewrap the patties tightly in freezer wrap, mark with the date and freeze up to 1 year. The thin patties will thaw quickly so you'll be more likely to use them. Never thaw meat or any type of poultry or fish on the counter. Always thaw these ingredients in the fridge, preferably overnight.

And a note about food safety; cook ground beef and any ground meat until well done! Bacteria that are present on the outside of all cuts of beef is distributed throughout the beef when ground. These products must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 160°F as measured by a food thermometer. Looking at the color of the meat or juices is not a reliable way to determine doneness. And make sure to wash all utensils, plates, and platters that come into contact with raw meat—plus your hands, please.

If you don't have all the ingredients called for in these recipes, don't worry! It's easy to substitute something else or just leave it out. For instance, in the Sicilian Supper recipe, leave out the green peppers if you don't have them, use red bell peppers, substitute green beans or peas, or use another kind of cheese. For Mexican Stuffed Peppers, all you really need are the peppers, tomato sauce, and beef! Just improvise with what you have on hand. And when you invent a new recipe that's a hit, make sure to write it down so you can make it again!