How To Cook Ground Beef: Tips and Tricks
6 Minute Read
Published on Feb 06, 2023
Ground beef is one of the most popular types of meat worldwide— especially in America.
Over 55 pounds of ground beef is eaten by your average American across the country every year. It’s an affordable meat that’s very high in protein, readily available, and extremely versatile. It’s also low in carbohydrates, an abundant source of calcium and potassium, and quick and easy to cook.
You can use it to make everything from Mexican tacos or nachos to burgers to the classic sloppy joe. Oh, and have we mentioned that perfectly brown ground beef is delicious?
It’s no wonder that so many people enjoy ground beef, whether in lasagna, pasta bolognese, or a classic cheeseburger. Still, if you’re someone who’s not particularly experienced in the kitchen, you might be a little intimidated by cooking some batches of red meat in an Instant Pot for a quick weeknight meal.
While this hearty protein is fairly forgiving even for new chefs, we’ve put together some tips and tricks so that even beginner cooks can cook the best ground beef they’ve ever had.
What Do the Ratio Numbers Mean on Ground Meat Packaging?
You might’ve noticed that beef always comes packaged with two particular numbers on it, either 90/10, 80/20, or 70/30. Occasionally, you might see other variations, but it’ll always mean the same thing: the ratio of lean meat to muscle.
This ratio has less saturated fat than the other cuts. This means that it’s a leaner choice for those trying to try some healthier, easy ground beef recipes, but it also has the tendency to be a bit drier than other ratios and can crumble into smaller pieces quickly.
90/10 beef is perfect for recipes with higher fat content and some liquids in them, which helps avoid getting the meat too crispy. Think of dishes like stews, shepherd's pies, or spaghetti sauces. If you try to make burgers or meatballs with this lean ground beef, you’ll have a harder time keeping your dish juicy and moist while cooking it through. You need that little bit of excess fat in the hot pan to keep those meatballs juicy.
80/20 is undoubtedly the best type of beef for making burgers. Falling just in the middle between 90/10 and 70/30, 80/20 offers enough fat to stay juicy and flavorful — but not so much that it can’t hold its shape when pressed together into a hamburger patty or Italian meatball.
You’ll certainly get some grease on your nonstick pan when cooking servings of 80/20, more so than 90/10, but this ratio can be a delicious by-product of cooking your beef if you plan on using it to make gravy or add to a soup.
70/30 is generally as much fat as you’ll see in commercially available ground beef, though you could always go further if you wanted to grind your own meat. 70/30 can become quite a mess if you tried using it for ground beef: You’ll likely end up with much more grease than you’d like when cooking on the stovetop. However, it’s a staple in the low-carb community and is easy to sauté up with some practice.
However, 70/30 is a fantastic option for recipes that require longer prep times and cook times, such as meatloaf. Because of the high fat content, the 70/30 ground beef won't dry out nearly as fast as the other ratios. You’ll end up with a juicy, delicious dinner even after a few hours of total time in the oven.
When Shouldn’t You Use Ground Beef?
A pro tip that only requires a bit of patience in the kitchen but has a lot of rewards is that you should never cook beef straight out of the fridge.
The reason for this is that the internal trauma the meat will experience from the sudden temperature shift will cause the muscle fibers to tense up and likely stay that way. This lands you with chewy and stiff beef — which is not what you want from any meal.
Instead, remove the beef from the fridge for about 30 minutes before putting it on the skillet or grill. You don’t want to take it out too early because, at a certain temperature, the beef will begin to develop bacteria, which the FDA calls the “danger zone.” This is anywhere between 40 degrees and 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
You definitely want to avoid this temperature while you cook, but beef won't develop bacteria within the 30 minutes it may take to prepare it for the oven.
What Temperatures Are Perfect for Ground Beef Prep?
As we mentioned above, there’s a range of temperatures that the FDA has identified as optimal for food-illness-causing bacteria to grow: between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. However, there are other temperatures to keep in mind, too — especially if you’re concerned about avoiding bad bacteria.
For ground beef, you won’t technically kill all of the potential bacteria within it unless you heat it all the way up to 160 degrees. However, cooking a burger up to 160 degrees in a cast iron skillet or stainless steel pan doesn’t take too much time, and it will leave you with a very well-done puck of meat (which for most is not very appetizing).
The truth is that properly cared-for beef is significantly less likely to be contaminated with bacteria. This is why it’s important to always purchase beef from a local or reputable farm that cares for its animals with sustainable practices.
You’ll still want to cook your ground beef to at least 130 degrees for medium rare, but you don’t necessarily have to crank up to medium-high heat unless you’re buying some questionable beef.
What’s the Best Way to Store Beef? Our Final Thoughts
Ground beef has a fairly short shelf life of about 3 days while in the fridge, but there are techniques you can use to stretch it out as much as possible. Always keep your beef in an airtight container such as a ziplock bag with the air rolled out. Oxygen is your enemy, as oxidation is the primary element bacteria need to make your beef no good.
If you don’t see yourself using your ground beef within 3 days of purchasing it, just put it in a freezer bag and throw it in the freezer. While frozen ground beef can last as long as three to four months which is significantly longer. Just don’t forget to take it out of the fridge the night before you plan on cooking it.
If you do put your beef in the freezer, make sure to mark the date on the bag of when you put it in. This way, you won't be trying to remember which beef is newer or older or, even worse, how long a certain bag has already been frozen. Spending the time to thaw out beef that’s already past its expiration isn’t fun for anyone.
Per capita red meat and poultry consumption expected to decrease modestly in 2022 | USDA
How Temperatures Affect Food | Food Safety and Inspection Service
Use Proper Cooking Temperatures to Ensure Safe Food | MN Dept. of Health