How to Season & Pan Fry Ground Beef


Ground beef provides the family cook with tremendous versatility, and few things are homier and more hunger-inducing than the smell of beef frying, especially with onions and garlic. Unfortunately, many cooks fry beef for too short a time and at too low a temperature to bring out its full flavor. Properly cooked ground beef should be a rich, deep brown rather than a pallid gray. This browning, called the Maillard reaction, gives ground beef a richer, more caramelized flavor than cooking it only until there’s no visible pink left.

Things You'll Need

  • Olive oil
  • Paper towel
  • Onion, peeled and minced
  • Garlic, peeled and chopped
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Seasonings
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Pour a dime-sized dollop of olive oil into the center of a heavy skillet. Coat the skillet with the oil by spreading it around with a paper towel. If you are using ground beef that has less than 4 percent fat, you may need a bit more oil to keep it from sticking.

  • Heat the skillet over medium-high heat until you can just start to smell the olive oil. You can use canola or other oils for this, but olive oil adds a bit of extra flavor.

  • Add the ground beef to the heated pan. You can also add minced onion and chopped garlic for even more flavor.

  • Season the meat generously with salt and pepper. Add other seasonings according to the end recipe. For chili or tacos, dust the meat with chili powder, cilantro, coriander and thyme. Season meat that will be added to Italian sauces with oregano, thyme and sage. Meat that will be used with a white sauce or sour cream can be seasoned with nutmeg and celery salt. A generous dash of Worcestershire sauce and a sprinkle of dry mustard are excellent flavorings for shepherd’s pie.

  • Stir the seasonings into the meat. Cook the ground beef over medium-high heat, stirring and turning it, until it turns a rich, dark brown. This can take 10 minutes or more, depending on how much ground beef you are cooking at one time.

  • Verify that your ground beef is cooked to a safe temperature by carefully poking the tip of an instant-read thermometer into the beef at several different places in the pan. Make sure the tip does not poke through and touch the surface of the skillet. Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F to be safe. This step will not be necessary if all the meat attains a dark brown color.

Tips & Warnings

  • Drain ground beef containing more than 15 percent fat before proceeding with your recipe to reduce the total fat content of the dish.
  • Avoid using the same utensils for both cooked and raw beef to avoid the risk of bacterial ßcontamination.

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