How to Sauté Ground Beef For a Fast Weeknight Taco Filling and More

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Sautéed ground beef is versatile, filling, and easy to cook. Make a fast taco filling, a base for rich tomato sauce or chili or a creamy casserole with a simple base of pan-seared ground beef.

The best way to sauté ground beef is to start with defrosted meat. Heat a large skillet with a thin layer of olive oil and sauté the ground beef with salt and spices while you break it down into smaller pieces. The meat is cooked when it’s no longer pink.

Once you have a skillet of ground beef prepared, you can build it into a larger dish or enjoy your meat as-is. It’s naturally flavorful, satisfying, and pairs easily with any of your favorite seasonings.

What Cut of Meat is Ground Beef?

Some packages of ground beef will specify where on the animal it came from. For example, ground chuck is taken from the chuck, or shoulder of the cow. Ground round comes from the rump and ground sirloin comes from the hip area. That being said, ground beef can be made from any cut of beef. Different parts of the animal contain various amounts of fat, and in general, ground beef is made with a specific percentage of fat for sale.

Tip: Your best beef when buying ground beef is to look for a package with a specific cut on the label, rather than generic “ground beef”, which can have an inconsistent flavor and quality. 

What is the Best Kind of Beef for Sautéing?

Cooking great ground beef starts in the grocery store, not in the kitchen. While there are dozens of different cuts of beef to choose from, there are only a few different options when it comes to ground beef. The main difference between each of the ground beef options in the grocery store or butcher comes down to grade, cut, and fat content.

Grade is a measure of meat quality, which impacts flavor, texture, and recommended uses. In the beef industry, the following grades are used:

  1. Prime is the highest grade. This meat is nicely marbled, with a preferred ratio of fat to meat.
  2. Choice is the next-best option for marbling, flavor, and tenderness.
  3. Select refers to less well-marbled, but still flavorful beef.
  4. Ungraded is the lowest grade and refers to the cheaper cuts that are still fine to eat but don’t offer top-notch flavor or texture.

The next thing to look out for when shopping for ground beef to sauté is the fat ratio. In general, the highest fat content comes from generic ground beef, at 25 to 30% fat to meat. Fattier meat tends to be less expensive, so it’s great for budget-conscious shoppers. However, this high fat content can also yield greasy cooked meat that lacks true beefy flavor.

Other cuts of beef have anywhere from 20% to 10%, with the price rising as the ratio of fat decreases. The best kind of ground beef depends on your taste preferences and how you plan to use the meat. But keep in mind that the more real meat you’re buying (instead of fat), the more flavorful your dish will be.

Finally, as with all meat, seafood and produce, aim for the freshest meat you can find. It should be cold and have a firm texture and uniform pink or red color.

raw ground beef in a glass bowl

How to Sauté Ground Beef

Now that you’ve brought your fresh meat home, it’s time to turn it into a tasty dish of sautéed ground beef.

Ingredients

Here is all you need to make fast, flavorful ground beef for dinner:

  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Prepping the ground beef

Step 1: Defrost the ground beef

If you’re using frozen meat, place it in the fridge the night before you plan to cook it. If you’re in a rush and forgot to defrost the meat, you can also run it under cold water in the sink until it softens up.

Cooking the ground beef

Step 1: Heat up a pan

Grab a frying pan or a skillet and warm it over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and heat until the oil is just starting to smoke. Swirl the pan around to coat the bottom in a layer of oil.

The amount of olive oil you need will vary depending on how lean your ground beef is. The leaner it is, the more olive oil you’ll need. On average, you’ll need 1 teaspoon of olive oil per pound of beef.

Step 2: Cook the ground beef

When the oil is nice and hot, add the ground beef to the skillet. Use a wooden spoon to stir the meat and break it into smaller pieces. This will help the beef cook evenly. After you break it up into 4 or 5 chunks, let it cook for 5 minutes undisturbed.

Step 3: Break things up again

Once the five minutes have passed, and your beef is looking brown, continue to stir the meat and break it into small crumbles. Sprinkle with salt, and any seasonings you’d like to add.

Continue cooking the meat and stirring every minute or so to avoid burning. If the meat is cooking too quickly, turn down the heat as necessary. You can also add more oil if the pan looks dry.

Step 4: Check for doneness

Sautéed ground beef is one of the easier meat dishes to check for doneness. Visual cues can tell you a lot/ Once the pieces of ground beef are no longer pink on the inside, the meat is sufficiently cooked and can be served. If you want to be very careful, check the temperature. According to FoodSaftey.gov, ground meat of any kind is fully cooked when it registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer.

Why is my ground beef tough?

If you end up with ground beef a little too tough for your liking, there are a couple of things that could’ve gone wrong.

First of all, you might have bought poor quality ground beef. Next, time opt for a higher grade or slightly pricier cut to improve texture and taste.

If the ground beef was of good quality, another factor is how long you cooked it for. Overcooked ground beef can become tough and chewy, rather than tender and juicy. To avoid overcooking, use a lower stove temperature and keep a close eye on the meat the entire time it’s in the skillet. Also, remember that meat will continue to cook after you turn off the heat. The best bet is to remove the meat from the hot skillet altogether. You can place it in a bowl and cover it with aluminum foil if you’re not ready to serve it immediately.

How to Serve Sautéed Ground Beef

Ground beef is great for all things delicious! Burgers, sausages, stews, tacos, empanadas, you name it! The great thing about ground beef is that it’s like a plain canvas. You can add spices, herbs, and different things to change its flavor and make it perfect for whatever you want to have. It’s the perfect thing to play around in the kitchen!

Can I Freeze Ground Beef?

Yes, you can freeze ground beef after you bring it home from the store. It will stay fresh in the freezer for up to three months. To defrost, place the meat in the fridge the night before you plan to cook it.

You can also freeze cooked ground beef. First, let the fully cooked meat cool fully. Then place in an airtight container and freeze for up to three months. Defrost the meat overnight in the fridge and reheat in the microwave or on the stove, adding broth or water as necessary to prevent it from drying out.

Ground Beef vs. Turkey vs. Chicken

There are other kinds of ground meat that you can often substitute with ground beef in recipes. Ground chicken and turkey are two white meat options if you’re avoiding red meat. These have a much lower fat content, in some cases as low as 1%. This means that while you can sauté ground poultry much like you would cook ground beef, you may need more cooking oil to prevent the meat from sticking to the pan. Because of the lower fat content, you can also expect these meats to be less flavorful, so add extra seasonings to bring your dish to life.

ground beef cooking in a frying pan

Simple Ground Beef Taco Recipe

Make it a quick taco night with this simple ground beef recipe.
Prep Time 2 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 4

Equipment

  • Skillet
  • Wooden spoon

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef thawed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 jalapeno diced
  • .5 white onion diced
  • 2 garlic cloves finely chopped

Instructions
 

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until smoking.
  • Add onion and saute for about 5 minutes until it begins to brown.
  • Add diced jalapeno just as the onion starts to brown
  • Add the beef and break it into 4 or 5 large chunks. Cook for 5 minutes undisturbed.
  • Break the beef into small crumbles and cook until browned on the outside.
  • Make a hot spot in the pan by clearing the meat and add a very small amount of oil in this spot, about half a teaspoon.
  • Now add the garlic to the hot spot and let it cook for about 1 minute before mixing it into the rest of the ingredients.
  • Season with chili poweder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Stir so that everything is well mixed.
  • Add a small amount of water to the pan (about a teaspoon), lower the temperature to medium-low, cover and continue to cook until the meat is no longer pink on the inside (approximately 5-7 more minutes).
Keyword sauteed ground beef, taco

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