I have always wondered why people put oil or butter in a pan before browning ground beef. It doesn't make sense since you end up having to drain the grease in the end anyways. What is the purpose of the oil or butter? Is it used for pans that are not non-stick? Flavor?

  • 5
    Maybe I've been doing it wrong all these years, but I cannot remember a single time when I've ever used another fat to brown ground beef. The only thing I ever add to the pan at the same time is onion.
    – Aaronut
    Dec 14, 2010 at 4:03
  • 2
    I have always grown up just putting the beef directly in the pan as well. It wasn't until a few years ago while watching T.V. that I saw some chefs add oil to the pan before the beef. I have been confused ever since. Dec 14, 2010 at 14:55
  • 6
    Maybe they're using the extra-lean stuff and it's rendering hardly any fat by itself?
    – Aaronut
    Dec 14, 2010 at 17:06

5 Answers 5


Transfer of heat. First you need a hot pan (sprinkle some drops of water on the pan, it should sizzle). Then you add a drop of oil and swirl it around. When the oil forms a striated pattern, it's hot. Then you put the meat in.

The hot oil helps to transfer heat from the bottom of the pan to the meat. You only need a spoonful of oil.

  • Junkie But does this actually benefit the beef flavor-wise or is it solely for better heat distribution? Dec 14, 2010 at 14:56
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    Depending on the oil / butter it adds flavor. However read the latest article from Harold McGee on how heat influences oil flavor. nytimes.com/2010/11/17/dining/17curious.html?_r=1 Dec 16, 2010 at 18:17
  • how much oil do u put? Dec 28, 2016 at 3:56
  • 1
    @Goldname, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan Dec 28, 2016 at 6:36
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    @Goldname To get a buttery flavor, you should add the butter near the end at a lower temperature. Dec 28, 2016 at 8:06

If the ground beef is very lean then adding a small amount of cooking oil to the pan is necessary. Otherwise, ultra-lean ground beef will burn and stick to the pan before the center of your burger is even done. Additionally the burger would be extremely dry and unappetizing when cooked.

After it is done squeeze out excessive grease with napkins or paper towels before consuming.


Another reason people put butter in the pan because the milk solids in the butter (which separate when the butter melts) contribute positively to the "browning" of meat. So, if you're looking to get a nice brown color on a steak, butter in the pan will help.

  • 6
    If you need butter to help brown a steak, your pan is not hot enough before the meat goes in. When your pan is at the temperatures required to easily cause the Maillard reaction, it's far too hot for butter, as the butter would burn.
    – bikeboy389
    Dec 17, 2010 at 20:43

If you add butter to ground beef, say, burgers in a pan, it makes them taste better, and gives them a slight crunch on the outside, and yes, attributes to a better color. Same with steaks. It's not done out of necessity, it's done out of deliciousness.


Saturated fats and unsaturated fats will form a bond producing triglycerides. Rinsing the beef with hot water, practically makes your 73/27 beef into a 90+/10- beef. It's healthier and much more cheaper per pound! With that said, butter may make it Brown and taste better, due to the dairy components and thus adding more saturated fats.

  • 1
    Welcome! I'm not sure what the first two sentences have to do with the question.
    – Catija
    Mar 22, 2017 at 5:26

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