I've noticed over the years that whenever I cook ground beef from the grocery store, the drippings in the beef are typically clear in color.

When eating out, if I order a particularly greasy ground beef item, the drippings are typically orange in color.

What accounts for this difference in appearance?

  • For the record, I usually purchase ground beef at either H-E-B or Whole Foods. Jul 12, 2011 at 21:17

4 Answers 4


This should depend greatly on what the item is. Hamburgers generally run clear, possibly slightly bloody if undercooked. The only example of this I can think of would be the odd orange drippings from "taco meat". The cause of that is soluble coloring agents or spices in the drippings.

  • Taco Meat is actually what prompted me to ask the question. I had some taco today at a local place, but I've always noticed this at Taco Bell. Jul 12, 2011 at 20:53
  • 8
    If it's Taco beef, then it's the chili powder (dried chilis, cumin, garlic, cinnamon, etc.). My home recipe results in tasty orange drippings. Jul 13, 2011 at 0:00

It could be from some kind of seasoning such as paprika. It depends on the dish really.

  • This would be my guess. Whenever I make chili recipes which rely on skimming near the end, the fat I skim off is orange. Chili powder and other coloured spices will definitely do this.
    – Aaronut
    Jul 12, 2011 at 21:00
  • I can confirm that I've had unseasoned beef make orange drippings. So it isn't the paprika. But I don't know the reason. It was at home, not in a restaurant.
    – rumtscho
    Jul 12, 2011 at 21:13
  • Had you previously cooked something in the same pan that might have imparted the colour? Non-stick pans can be quite absorbent. Jul 12, 2011 at 21:31
  • It's paprika or tomato, for sure. The color is impossible to mistake.
    – BobMcGee
    Jul 13, 2011 at 5:12
  • No, it can't have been cross-contamination. I remember freaking out the first time it happened, thought that the pan coating has had some chem. reaction - I wouldn't have if there had been such an easy explanation as chilli. And I have never had a color transfer in any of my pans. It had the color of diluted lead tetroxide, not as red as paprika or tomato, and manifested as thick orange blobs underneath the meat. I can't reproduce it, because it happens rarely, but I'll snap a picture next time.
    – rumtscho
    Jul 13, 2011 at 14:41

The reddish-orange color is almost certainly paprika or another ground chili. This imparts its fiery color to the juice and the oil used in cooking. Oh, and also to any softer plastic you may leave it in, such as tupperware containers.


I noticed the color today with lasagna. The grease coming off the beef was actually orange. When I put some of the beef in boiling water, it came out a natural color and tasted much different, while the water was orange and the pot had an orange-colored scum. I am sure it wasn't from tomatoes. I suspect that the restaurant used cheap hamburger meat and added food coloring because they thought it would look more appetizing.

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