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I have been using a propane torch to brown up the ground beef at the end of frying it on the pan, but there must be better way that does not involve the torch; can it be done? Here's what I currently do (before utilizing the torch):

  • Heat pan on high, until sizzling hot.
  • Lower heat to medium-high and add fat (duck fat)
  • Lay down the ground beef
  • Begin breaking it down to small pieces
  • Stir constantly as I break it down
  • Stop when no pink pieces remains

Note that I stir constantly, and leave no large pieces on the pan.

At the end the beef is still gray, and not the dark brown color I desire; which is why I use the torch to finish it up.

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    Maybe you are stopping the cooking process too early. Ground beef when it cooks releases a lot of water, which has to evaporate before browning is going to happen. – aris Apr 26 at 1:24
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    Is this the end of the cooking process, or just the beginning - are you going on to cook it into a sauce? If so, this may be of interest - cooking.stackexchange.com/a/96655/42066 – Tetsujin Apr 26 at 7:27
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    Having browned ground beef many times, I'm convinced that stopping when there is no pink is literally stopping before it's brown. You just have to keep going until grey turns to brown. That's all there is to it. – Todd Wilcox Apr 26 at 12:04
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    Beef is already so fatty - not sure why you would add duck fat. – JPhi1618 Apr 26 at 14:57
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    @ToddWilcox has it spot-on. You're overthinking this. Once all the pink is gone, you have to keep going (about 3 more minutes). Just keep cooking it until it's brown, and don't stir as much. Stir maybe once or twice a minute. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Apr 26 at 17:00
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Here's my method. First, rub a well-seasoned cast iron pan with a light coat of oil and heat until the oil is just starting to smoke (400+ºF/204+ºC). Outside of the pan, break the ground beef up into large meatball size pieces, around 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. Cook only a couple of these meatballs in the pan at a time. For instance, in my 10 inch cast iron pan, I cooked 2 at a time as shown in the image below.

enter image description here

When you place them in the pan, use your spatula to smash the meat down so that it's about 3/8 inch (1 cm) thick. Let it cook for about 1 minute, then scrape your spatula underneath it, being sure to capture all the browned bits, and flip it over to an adjacent spot on the pan that is still hot. Press down and cook for another minute. The end result should be a patty that is well-browned on the outside while still pink on the inside.

enter image description here

You can then break these patties up into a normal ground beef consistency.

What you absolutely do not want to do is throw all of the ground beef into the pan and break it up. Using too much meat and breaking it up greatly increases the surface area of the meat that comes into contact with the pan, resulting in a massive drop in the temperature of your pan. Constantly stirring the broken up meat would make things even worse. By stirring it up, you're constantly bringing colder parts of the meat into contact with the pan, which will rob even more heat. It's also less likely you'd be able to ever recover the amount of heat necessary to brown the meat without also driving out all the moisture in the meat at the same time, making it overly dry (especially ground round).

The "mini-smash-burger" method outlined above because it minimizes the amount of meat that comes into contact with the pan at one time, and the cast iron pan is always able to recover the minimal heat loss that occurs while cooking each meatball/patty.

  • I tried this and it worked out quite well (I used a 12" All Clad steel pan, and made 2 patties from 1 lb of meat; waited until two sides were browned well; and then crushed them on pan at the very end). More oil splatter than usual, though. – Reinstate Monica May 26 at 17:35
  • Thank you for your answer. Just finished eating my fried ground beef; it was delicious! – Reinstate Monica May 26 at 17:59
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Use a bigger pan...or much less beef in the pan. Stop stirring. If you over crowd the pan, nothing will brown. It will steam, then braise because the water can't evaporate fast enough. Secondly, browning happens when an item remains in contact with the pan. So, stirring (unless you are using very high, wok-type temperature) will only defeat the browning process. Allow it to brown, perhaps longer than you think is necessary, then stir, and repeat.

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    If it's high fat, it might be sitting in a pan of fat, too. – Rob Apr 26 at 4:31
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    I've found sometimes all I need is a good brown on one side to get the flavor into a dish. – GdD Apr 26 at 8:36
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    It also helps if the meat has less water in it to begin with---in that case you can handle a bit more quantity relative to your heat source. – mmw Apr 26 at 14:39
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If you get a lot of liquid from the meat, whether water or fat, removing some of it helps (spoon or pour). You don't need to add much fat to start with, just enough to stop it sticking.

Cooking it in two batches can help (as can a bigger pan but only if you've got one and can deliver enough heat to it). I found that quickly breaking it up as soon as it was in the pan was a good idea (in my case using a wooden spatula in one hand and something else in the other). After that it was possible to be more patient and let it brown, just breaking up the few residual big lumps.

On my stove with my pans I'd also leave the heat on full at least until the initial breaking up was complete. Adding chilled meat takes a lot of heat out of the pan, and you can't really get it up to room temperature before cooking (the surface maybe, but the middle will be cold when the surface has been too warm for too long and it's mostly middle). Even room temperature isn't much warmer than chilled, when compared to frying temperatures.

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So if you aren't concerned with cooking the meat until it's well done, you can continue with your current approach and evaporate all the water off, and then at that point turn the heat down to low or med-low and then let the beef sit in contact with the pan for a while to brown, then stir/flip it over. You can do this for as long as you want, eventually the meat will dry out but then if you stir in a sauce it will reabsorb and have nice flavors from the browning.

If you want it crispy and not too well done, then pat out out the ground beef into thin patties (put a hole/depression in the middle to help keep them thin if you don't have a grill press) and dry them with a towel or paper towel. Then toss in hot pan with heated oil and let brown away if you use nonstick pan you can check the browning as it progresses. If you use steel/aluminum the meat will stick as it browns but will eventually release. The trick with that is to have the heat low enough to still brown but not too high where it will burn before the internal meat is cooked. Flip over and repeat, then if you want to chunk it up do that last with heat on med/high.

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When I do ground beef I usually add the ground beef in the shape it arrives where I am (slightly prismatic block). If I got it at the butcher's as a "pile" - I'll manipulate it slightly into something prismatic-like. I make sure to - on an experience basis - not add too much at once - I'll cut it in half and do it twice if I consider the total amount of beef to be too much. The reason is skillet temperature and water content of the beef - don't overcrowd the pan. The pan needs to be hot and the water needs to boil off faster than it can accumulate.

Now, I let the beef sit there and braise on the bottom side and not touch it for at least a minute. I flip it over, repeat. Now, I start chopping the beef up into smaller pieces, then put their red sides down, and do another wait. I chop those pieces into even smaller pieces and by now I usually shake the pan and stir around to just check that there are no pink/red surfaces left.

If at any point there is too much water in the pan, or the pan seems too cold to get the good result I note that down and add it for future reference; it is better to do it correctly twice than end up with boiled ground beef.

To sum up:

  1. Don't cook it all at once, do batches
  2. Don't cut it all up at once, cut it up when you need fresh surfaces to fry
  3. Let the beef fry, don't stir for no reason at all.

In addition it is easier to get a good result in a good pan, the heavier the less susceptible you are. It is easier with a good oil with a high temperature - but don't overdo it, there is no reason to go all in - it is actually perfectly doable with butter alone, believe it or not. Some rapeseed oil or similar mixed with butter is what I do.

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I actually saw a video on this recently. The reason that a lot of times ground beef doesn't get that browned look is because people take it out too early. You're supposed to let it cook until all the water has evaporated, then keep frying.

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