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How do I cook ground beef (in those 1 pound tubes) using only disposable items? Details:

  • I can cook pizzas in my oven by putting them directly on the rack.

  • I can cook chicken and toast bread by putting down a sheet of aluminum foil, and setting the chicken/toast on top of that.

  • I tried doing the aluminum foil trick w/ beef, but it gave off a lot of fat, which hit the metal at the bottom of my gas oven, filling the house with smoke.

  • I tried making a little "tray" with the aluminum foil, but the beef didn't seem to cook well internally, plus there was a lot of fat left in the "tray" (from the outer layer of beef, which cooked fine). That's bad because the beef was cooking it its own fat, plus getting rid of the fat wasn't that easy (I drained it into a coffee can, but that doesn't get all of it).

  • I've tried using lower-fat beef, but it tastes different, and it just reduces the problem and doesn't cure it.

I'm willing to buy ground beef in a different (non-tubular) form, but wasn't sure it would help.

Thoughts?

EDIT: Thanks to everyone who helped. I think sarge_smith's idea of using aluminum foil (homemade or a pie pan) to raise the beef and let the fat drip into a broiling pan (which I don't have to clean, since the fat is disposable) is what I'll try. Some random notes:

  • I store beef in the freezer, so skewering or crumbling it wouldn't work unless I thawed it first, which would take time.

  • I normally cook 45-50 minutes at 450F. This works fine for beef on flat aluminum foil, but if I make an aluminum tray or pouch, 45-50 minutes doesn't seem to be enough.

  • Having said that, I haven't tried the tray/pouch trick w/ my new oven. The old oven was 30+ years old and eventually broke down, so maybe foil pouch cooking will work w/ the new one.

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I'm intrigued - why do you prefer cooking with disposable items rather than a solid pan? Is it a cleaning thing? No space in your kitchen? Just enjoy inventing cool things? –  KimbaF Dec 27 '10 at 8:48
    
It's all about the cleaning. I drink from styrofoam cups, eat on paper plates with plastic utensils., etc. Sometimes, I have to use non-disposable items, but I try to avoid it. –  barrycarter Dec 27 '10 at 16:42
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My inner tree-hugger weeps. –  hobodave Dec 27 '10 at 22:38
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I dunno, but it seems simpler to just wash a pan than to go to all this trouble with aluminum foil and drippings all over the place and dangers of grease fires. –  Marti Dec 28 '10 at 0:19
    
Dangers of? Actually, I had 3 fires in my previous oven. In one case, I had 4-5 inches of thick black smoke on the ceiling (thank god for fire extinguishers). But I'm trying to avoid that here. I'm starting to think that washing/re-using might be the way to go, too. –  barrycarter Dec 28 '10 at 17:10

4 Answers 4

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I would suggest the easiest way to cook ground beef with only disposable items is a grill. It's worked great for more than a couple of years.

But... If you don't have that, there are a few other things you can do.

Labor intensive but extremely effective is the raised rack made out of foil. You construct a tray out of tinfoil and add ridges to the bottom every inch to an inch and a half. This will cook your beef and allow grease runoff so you meat doesn't just cook in it's own fat.

The only other thing I could think of would be to cover one of your burners completely with tinfoil and use it like a frying pan, but i'm prertty sure that's gonna result in a lot of cleaning time, so it would probably be a negative once you took it all together.

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Do you mean like a Foreman grill? I've tried that w/ beef (and Italian sausage), but the insides never seem to cook well enough. Do they sell pre-constructed tinfoil racks? That would be IDEAL! In fact, any sort of disposable cookware (foil-based) would be fantastic. I've tried the aluminum-foil-as-stovetop-pot thing, and it didn't work. The flames tend to go around the foil and directly into what you're cooking. If anyone else has had success w/ this though, I could give it another try. –  barrycarter Dec 27 '10 at 2:47
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I think I have detected a problem that you might not be aware of, which is you seem to not be cooking things long enough. If the insides are not getting done, you need to leave it in longer. if you are getting your outside done before the interior, turn down the heat and cook it longer. As for the pre-constructed, not to my knowledge, but they do make roasting pans and they make pie tins. Buy a roasting pan and two or three aluminum pie pans and turn the pie pans upside down, place meat on top, and bingo, raised cooking surface. –  sarge_smith Dec 27 '10 at 3:49
    
also, you can use a pie tin as a make shift frying pan right side up, I've used one before on a camping trip when my hiking partner grabbed the wrong bag. Just keep the flame low and frequently drain the grease. And keep the food moving, aluminium tends to develop hot spots. –  sarge_smith Dec 27 '10 at 3:51
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It turns out that someone DOES sell disposable broiler pans: storepulls.com/products/Small_Broiler_Pan-436809-7466.html –  barrycarter Dec 27 '10 at 17:45

You can try going with the classic Boy Scout "hobo" stew. Put your beef, some sliced potatoes, carrots, celery into a foil that you then fold up completely to make a "poche" or pocket. In this case the potatoes will absorb some of the grease...you'll still have the flavor. But you are still going to have a lot of fat, such is the nature of 80/20 beef.

And, of course you could just broil burgers.

You might want to modify your question to state why you want to avoid using any containers. If it is just a cleaning issue, you can line anything with foil and make clean up easy without having to go to so much trouble to come up with something.

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I agree w/ you re aluminum foil. The only bad thing here is I want to put the beef on something w/ holes in it (like a broiling pan) so the grease can drop away. Unfortunately, putting foil over something w/ holes in it totally negates the purpose. When you say "broil burgers", how do you mean? Re the hobo stew, I've tried wrapping beef completely in aluminum foil and it doesn't seem to heat at all that way? Will the veggies make it cook better? –  barrycarter Dec 27 '10 at 2:44
    
@barrycarter : you put the beef on top of the veggies, so the grease drips into the veggies and away from the meat; the veggies are then cooked in the drippings. It's a variation of cooking en papillote (cooking in a parchment bag, a technique typically used for quick cooking things like fish) –  Joe Dec 27 '10 at 17:03
    
This is one of my favorites! –  jjnguy Dec 27 '10 at 17:12
    
OK. If the beef isn't cooking well inside an aluminum foil pouch, does that just mean I'm not cooking it long enough? That's been my problem when I use aluminum foil as anything but a flat surface. –  barrycarter Dec 27 '10 at 17:39
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A one-person sized pouch takes about 20 minutes to cook in a campfire. In a regular oven, add at least 10 minutes. (For insurance, add a tablespoon or two of water before closing up the pouch.) Also, in case it's not clear from previous instructions, you want to crumble the meat and distribute it among the veggies. –  Marti Dec 28 '10 at 0:14

I think it can be done with some aluminum foil.

  • First, make a tray from aluminum foil
  • Next, twist up 4-5 pieces of aluminum foil into cigar-shaped logs, and place them in the tray (or, just use carrots or celery stalks)
  • Place the meat across the supports to keep it raised up off the tray.

This should have it cook more evenly, as it won't be sitting in its own fat. However, it's possible that the fat will flare up, and burn ... you could put some coarse salt in the tray before cooking, but it's likely that you won't be able to put in enough without it touching the meat and over-salting the meat. (this is a trick to use when cooking on a wire rack over a baking tray)

I guess you might be able to use two pieces of aluminum foil -- one above the supports with holes punched in it, so the meat doesn't make contact with the salt, but I don't know how well it'll work.

Of course, as you mention -- getting the grease-filled tray (even with salt in it) is going to be difficult to remove without spilling ... I'd say to set the whole thing on a sheet pan, but that sounds like it wouldn't meet the requirements.

update: Forgot to also mention -- I'd never just cook a log of ground beef; I'd make it into a meatloaf, and it's possible that the breadcrumbs might absorb some of the liquids that are given off, but also changing the shape of it (mine tend to be more oblong than round) might improve the cooking characteristics, but it's likely to be more difficult to get to sit suspended above things once you've mixed other things in (which is why I use a broiler pan)

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And after reading sarge_smith's answer -- if you were to use a heavier pre-fab roasting pan, you might be able to make a rack with skewers, but I don't know if it's have enough wall strength to punch through the walls, or if it'd be better to just lay them across the top, even if it's more precarious. –  Joe Dec 27 '10 at 20:38

I realized that I was limiting myself too much with my original answer, because I kept thinking of ways to preserve the 'log-ness' of the log of ground beef, but I realized another solution when reading sarge_smith's answer, which I think will solve the problem:

  • wooden skewers, aluminum roasting pan, salt

You'll need to find long enough wooden skewers (or a small enough roasting pan), so that the skewers are longer than the shortest width of the roasting pan. You'll have to use a heavier pre-fab pan, and not just alumnium foil, as we're going to be relying on the wall strength of the pan:

  • soak the wooden skewers for about an hour or so.
  • squish the meat around the middle of the skewers, no longer than the width of the pan, leaving the ends clean
  • pour salt into the bottom of the roasting pan.
  • place the skewers across the top of the pan.
  • Roast under the broiler (uk: grill), turning the skewers until everything's browned nicely.

... so basically, we're making kebabs, in the oven. If cooking indoors isn't a strict requirement, you could even do it over a camp fire, but I'd use a larger stick, whittled clean.

And you might not need the salt, but it'll help reduce the likelihood of flare-ups.

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