Browning ground beef is essential to mastering many recipes, including tacos, chili, sloppy joes, and lasagna. Even if you've known how to brown ground beef in a skillet since you were tall enough to reach the burner, we have insights on how to get equally delicious results using a pressure cooker or oven, too.

By Karla Walsh
Updated July 26, 2019
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The average American consumes more than 53 pounds of ground beef each year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (That makes it the second most-prolific meat, just behind chicken—and is a surprisingly high number since more people are going vegan by the year.) So we think it’s high time to brush up on how to brown ground beef so you can mix things up and master a variety of recipes, such as spaghetti sauces, pizzas, casseroles, and more.

Keep reading for all of the details about how to brown frozen ground beef, how to brown ground beef in Instant Pot, skillet, or oven, plus essential ground beef food safety tips and tricks.

Jason Donnelly

How to Brown Ground Beef

If you’re cooking for a family of four to six, a pound of ground beef in a skillet is likely the quickest and easiest solution for browning ground beef. But if you’re feeding a crowd and need a fix for how to brown a large amount of ground beef (here’s exactly how much beef to buy for your bash!), an Instant Pot or sheet pan can be your supper savior. 

Below, we’re explaining how to ground beef all three ways.

How to Brown Ground Beef in a Skillet

Best for: Browning one pound ground beef

Place the ground meat in a skillet (preferably a nonstick skillet like Rachel Ray's Cucina 14-Inch Nonstick Skillet, $38.84, Amazon) and cook over medium-high heat. The most important trick for mastering how to brown ground beef is using a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to break up the meat into equal-size pieces as it cooks. This ensures that all the ground beef pieces brown up evenly.

  • How to Brown Ground Beef Tip: 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.

How to Brown Ground Beef in Instant Pots (or Other Pressure Cooker)

Best for: Browning one to two pounds of ground beef

Add 1 cup of water to the Instant Pot. Set the Instant Pot trivet/rack in place, then position thawed ground beef on top. Alternatively, you could use a metal steamer basket and crumble the raw ground beef directly in it since the holes are smaller than the trivet and you won't lose your meat through them. The pre-crumbled steamer basket method was the one preferred in our Test Kitchen. Set pressure to “high,” and cook about 6 minutes for one pound and about 10 minutes for two pounds. (Alternatively, you can cook one pound ground beef from frozen—just set the timer to 30-40 minutes instead.) Allow pressure to naturally release, then carefully open the lid and use a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to break up the meat into equal-size pieces.

You could also use the sauté setting of your multicooker to cook and stir ground beef as you would in a skillet, Dutch oven, or saucepan.

Test Kitchen Tip: If cooking from frozen, remember the shape of your meat as it goes in the pressure cooker will impact cooking time. Use a meat thermometer (Gourmet Digital Thermometer, $14.99, Bed, Bath & Beyond) to test for doneness (160°F is safe). We found there was still some pink using this method, but the meat thermometer inserted all the way into the center registered over 160°F, so it was safe to eat.

How to Brown Ground Beef in the Oven

Best for: Browning two pounds ground beef

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover a large sheet pan with foil. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, break up the meat into equal-size pieces about an inch or smaller. Cover pan with more foil, bake for 15 minutes. Uncover meat, stir to break up further, bake uncovered 10 minutes more (or until meat is fully, evenly browned). Stir and let stand one to two minutes. Drain fat or remove cooked beef with a slotted spoon to leave fat on the pan to discard.

How to Brown Frozen Ground Beef

Yes, you can utilize frozen meat using any of these three “how to brown ground beef” strategies! (The USDA says it’s safe to cook from frozen as long as you follow these tips and use it within four months of its purchase date.) If you want to learn how to brown frozen ground beef, just tack on these steps before you begin the steps listed above:

  • Thaw frozen ground beef in the refrigerator overnight, then cook within one or two days.
  • In a hurry? To defrost ground beef quicker, you can do so in the microwave. Cook immediately, as some portions may become “hot spots” and start to cook while defrosting.

How Long Does It Take to Brown Ground Beef?

Your eyes can help distinguish when your meat is ready: It should all be brown with no apparent pinkish pieces.

On most stove tops, browning a pound of ground beef should take approximately 7 to 10 minutes. (Just remember as you brush up on how to brown ground beef: 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 takes 6 minutes under high pressure, plus time to naturally release the pressure, to fully brown ground beef in an Instant Pot (or any multicooker).

In the oven, 25-30 minutes should score you perfectly brown ground beef that’s ready to incorporate into sloppy joes, tacos, casseroles, and more ground beef recipes.

Draining Fat from Cooked Ground Beef

When the ground beef is fully browned, the final step is to drain the fat. Take care to avoid splatters—the fat will still be hot.

  • Carefully tilt the pan or pot 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, or another bowl. 
  • Once the paper towels have absorbed any remaining fat, the beef is ready to be used in your favorite recipes. 
  • The remaining fat should be cooled entirely and properly discarded into the garbage. You can also cool the fat slightly, then carefully pour it into a can or glass jar and let it solidify before discarding. 

Test Kitchen Tip: Do not pour the fat down the drain of your kitchen sink, as it can clog the drain.

How to Buy and Store Ground Beef

Grocery stores carry a variety of ground beef options (sometimes also labeled as hamburger beef). Most stores label ground beef either with the percentage of fat it contains, the percentage of lean meat it contains, or the lean/fat ratio. For example, beef that contains 20 percent fat would be listed as 20 percent fat, 80 percent lean, or 80 percent/20 percent. Whether it’s labeled “hamburger” or “ground beef,” no more than 30 percent of the final product can be fat, and no water, phosphates, binders, or extenders can be included, per USDA regulations.

Ground beef with a higher amount of fat costs less, swaying consumers into thinking that it is the more budget-friendly option. However, keep in mind that ground beef with a high amount of fat results in a lot of shrinking during the cooking process and less overall meat. So what's the best choice? There's no right answer, but rather a trade-off between flavor and health. Those counting calories will want to opt for leaner meat, but they'll be sacrificing some of the flavor. Others seeking higher-fat, keto-friendly options will likely enjoy ground beef closer to the 70/30 range. The general recommendation is using ground beef that is 85 percent lean/15 percent fat, which will bring plenty of beef flavor without being overly fatty or result in excess shrinking during cooking.

Ground beef may also be labeled based on the cut of beef from which it originated. The three most common cuts of beef used for this purpose, ranging from leanest to fattiest, are round, sirloin, and chuck. After purchasing ground beef, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; otherwise, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or in a freezer bag (Ziploc Freezer Quart Bags, $8.26, Amazon), and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. (Check out our complete guide to food safety and storage.)

With these tips added to your culinary skill set, you are armed with everything you could possibly need for cooking ground beef. Start serving up weeknight-friendly 20-minute ground beef recipes, beef and rice bowls to get on the meal-in-a-bowl trend, or just to add to salads or pasta dishes for a protein boost.

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