We Tested the Internet's Favorite Ground Beef Trick

Ground Beef

We Tested the Internet's Favorite Ground Beef Trick

Browned ground beef has never been browner, crispier, or more delicious.

January 27, 2021
Photo by Ty Meacham

Mid-December, a Tik Tok circulated that left me, to put it plainly, mouth agape. In the clip, made by Tik Tok user Emily Harper, we’re promised a trick our narrator learned in “nutrition a couple years ago.” Nutrition, I can only surmise, is some sort of health or wellness class, perhaps with a dietary premise. Well, Emily, let’s see it.

She starts by adding ground beef to a non-stick pan, pretty standard issue stuff to start. What happened next left me, and a huge portion of the internet, in shambles. She shows us, the viewer, the digital amorphous mob, all the grease and water that seeps out of the ground beef once it’s cooked. “All this grease is disgusting,” she writes in a text overlay across the now-cooked beef. Emily then moves the pan to the sink, pours out the excess moisture, empties the beef into a metal sieve, and runs it under the tap. The fat collects at the bottom of the sink like an oil slick on asphalt. She returns the rinsed beef to the pan for a final sear before imploring us to “Look at the difference!”

Upon first view, I felt numb. What had I just watched? Had she really washed all the meat grease down the drain? Where had it all gone? Was it ever coming back? What does squeaky-clean beef even taste like? Should I be doing this? Should I not be doing this?

The internet, of course, had opinions.

But Emily, perhaps, was on to something. I mean, cooking ground beef does leave you with a sort of grayish liquid at the bottom of the pan that prevents the meat from ever really browning. I’m always chasing that maillard and that dang water reliably gets in the way. What if there was a workaround—one that didn’t involve giving your dinner a bath?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“don't pour grease down your sink drain. the fat congeals when it cools and will clog your pipes.”
— musicalnuke
Comment

It turns out, there is! Just this week, it came to my attention that non-soggy, nicely browned, crispy ground beef is just a swish of the wrist away. No, really. There’s a one-ingredient fix that’s completely changing the way I’ll cook ground beef from here on out. And chances are, it’s already somewhere in your kitchen.

The answer? Baking soda.

According to this graphic from America’s Test Kitchen, all a bunch of ground beef needs is a sprinkling of baking soda and a short sit. The baking soda helps lock in the moisture and prevent the beef from getting soggy, a la Emily.

I decided to give it a try. According to this article in Cook’s Illustrated, the baking soda “raises the pH on the meat’s surface, making it more difficult for the proteins to bond excessively,” and allows the meat to remain tender even as it cooks. They recommended a slurry of baking soda and water and a 15-minute minimum soak before cooking. I took my beef out of its package and sprinkled it with a generous spoonful of the baking soda I had already sitting in the fridge. I decided to forego the slurry and dusted the baking soda directly onto the meat, following the example of this Skillet explainer instead. I mixed it together until fully incorporated and left it to sit for 15 minutes. Then, I put the beef into a hot pan without any olive oil, gave it a stir and left it alone to develop a nice brown crust all on its own.

I came back every few minutes to move it around the pan and let the beef brown on all sides. Very quickly, I noticed an immediate difference. There was very little liquid pooling along the bottom pan and the meat, once I flipped it, was developing a nice crispy edge to it just like I wanted.

Once all the beef had cooked through, I took it off the flame and surveyed the scene. There was, of course, a little grease still left in the pan, but by no means was there any liquid, and all the meat had cooked on the outside. Some of the smaller bits even charred a little. In my excitement, I tossed the beef with some rice, parsley, raisins, pinenuts, sumac, cinnamon, and onion and stuffed some peppers. Right into the oven they went! No beef rinse necessary.

Have you ever heard of this new go-to trick? Will you try it? If so, tell us in the comments.

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.

34 Comments

Joecs February 28, 2021
Here in Canada food waste goes into a compost container lined with a compostable bag. I pour grease and fat in the container with kitchen scraps and food waste. It gets picked up weekly with the recycling bins and garbage
 
sonalipatel March 2, 2021
I thought meat can't be composted?
 
watercupcake February 3, 2021
I am fortunate to be able to buy my beef from a local farm with grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free cattle. Very little water or fat comes out and it browns easily. It’s the hormones and antibiotics they feed the cattle to fatten them up that causes all that water to come out.
 
Smaug February 3, 2021
Not really- butchers are allowed to add a considerable amount of water in processing- I read the percentages once, don't remember what they are, but surprisingly high. I grind my own hamburger, which allows me to keep the fat to a minimum and helps with the moisture but the solid cuts of meat are also soaked and have a lot of excess water.
By the way, conventional wisdom is that hamburger needs to be very fatty to be edible- personally, I think this is pure nonsense promoted by people with fat to sell, but that is the conventional wisdom. Very low fat patties do have some difficulty holding together, but I find it worth dealing with; they not only taste much better but are also healthier.
 
James C. February 3, 2021
I tried adding just 1/2 tsp of baking soda to 500 grams of ground beef. It did get nice and brown, but you could taste the baking soda when eating the meat. What a waste of ground beef. I gave it to the dog. Don't put baking soda in your meat.

I just cook the meat, then transfer it to a bowl lined with three layers of paper towels. I then wipe out the pan with paper towels to remove any excess fat. After the meat has thoroughly drained, I return it to the pan and continue cooking it until it gets crispy brown.
 
[email protected] January 31, 2021
If you do need to pour the grease down your drain, just make sure you have REALLY HOT water running before, during and after so that it washes the grease all the way down while it's still in liquid form.
 
Smaug January 31, 2021
Not a good idea. Even if you send down enough hot water to get it out to the main, which would be pretty wasteful, it will congeal in the main line where it gets really expensive to deal with. Why would you need to pour grease down the drain?
 
Alidogo January 31, 2021
Hewton... don’t give the grease to your dog . We use to do this when I was a kid. Now we have a daughter who is a vet for over 20 years who told us greasy food or putting oil/grease on their food can give them pancreatitis. I will save you the explanation but it was enough of a reason for me to stop doing it. And NO never pour any grease down the drain. I also wipe out the pans before washing. Learned the hard way.
 
Deborah January 29, 2021
I'm a vegie but cook tons of ground beef for my husband. For years I have used a turkey baster to suck out all the gunk and dispose of in a coffee can. Works great and hopefully helps saves his arteries along with the plumbing!
 
rox L. January 29, 2021
Dumping any kind of fat down your drains can be a very expensive plumbing fix, I even wipe pans, dishes, skillets before washing. My goal is to rinse zero fat down the drain.
Thanks for the baking soda tip, can't wait to try it.
 
Hewton January 29, 2021
Depends on what I am going to use the ground beef in. My fav for tender G.B. in red gravy or chili is to braise large-ish nuggets (but don't brown) a good while in salt-free beef broth, strain, de-fat and save liquid for sauce. Now brown beef a bit or not
 
Cathy N. January 29, 2021
I tried it tonight with 80/20 ground beef and couldn't believe how little grease I had to drain off.
I didn't tell my husband what I did and asked him to taste it and he said it tasted great.
I will try it again in a few days just to make sure I didn't imagine it.
 
Bonniesue January 28, 2021
Someone suggested this as a method to tenderize beef. They called it velveting the beef. I tried it on strips of chuck steak. Not sure if it was tenderized, but it did brown up nicely.
 
Debe January 28, 2021
Just browned ground beef and it didn't work. Lots of liquid still in pan. Disappointed!
 
ATLKateB January 28, 2021
I just drain the liquid into a paper towel & throw it away. I’ve never had an issue with dry or chewy ground beef. My husband rinsed it a few times when he was on an anti-fat kick but I put a stop to that, lol. I may try the baking soda trick out of curiosity but also wonder how much sodium that adds?
 
mwagster101 January 28, 2021
I tried adding baking soda to ground Turkey, and it browned beautifully and had lost that rubbery texture.
 
Zinnia January 28, 2021
Thanks. Did you sprinkle it or use the slurry method?
 
mwagster101 January 28, 2021
Sprinkled it, there was considerable foamy liquid, drained most of the liquid and continued to cook until all the liquid was gone.
 
Zinnia January 28, 2021
Hmm, would this work in other ground meats? Or stewing beef or eve steak??
 
Andy T. January 28, 2021
Dumping the grease brown the drain can be very bad, especially in cooler climates. It's been known for one home owner to do that and back up the drains for an entire block with a grease clog a block away.

 
Mary-Ann January 28, 2021
I’m glad someone spoke up against this terrible practice. Another good reason for not dumping food debris, grease, etc. down your drain is that it sits and coats your drain pipes and encourages unwanted bacteria, yeast, mold, and whatever other creature to make a home along your pipes. Over time, they create their “cities and communities” and you end up with clogged pipes from the build-up!
 
Hewton January 29, 2021
Never down the drain. Best solution: get a dog. Drizzled over dry kibble and they love it.
 
Candaceelise January 29, 2021
I always dump my grease in an old diced tomato (or bean) can. I'm surprised others don't do this.
 
Donna C. January 28, 2021
What does this do to the sodium level for those trying to limit salt intake?
 
Bridget W. January 28, 2021
I suggest that you follow ATK slurry recipe and all problems are solved!
Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in 1 tablespoon of water. Pour over meat & let sit for 15 minutes. You don’t just dump the baking soda over the meat!
 
Smaug January 28, 2021
Good point- baking soda is itself a salt and may create other salts as a byproduct when it reacts with other chemicals.
 
Donna C. January 28, 2021
I understand that, but unless the baking soda is washed off you're eating it. Wonder about sodium levels.
 
Smaug January 28, 2021
And I'm agreeing with you that it's a very good question. Too many cooks -particularly professionals- seem to act on the notion that you can't have too much salt. Or fat.
 
kouzina January 27, 2021
If you are able to go to your butcher and buy fresh ground meat to order, you will not have any of the above issues. However, if buying at the supermarket, my mother who is 84 yrs old and the most amazing cook, has always placed her ground meat into a pot with boiling water for not even a minute, then poured meat through strainer and rinsed. You get a nice browning of the meat when added back to pan with less fat and grey liquid.
 
Smaug January 28, 2021
You could also grind your own, though supermarket meat that isn't ground is still loaded with added water. But it helps, and allows you to deal with excess fat.
 
musicalnuke January 27, 2021
don't pour grease down your sink drain. the fat congeals when it cools and will clog your pipes.
 
M January 27, 2021
My family rinsed sometimes to decrease the fat content in the overall meal, but it was always before some new fat was added, so there was no loss of flavour.

I'll have to check out the soda trick. Makes me wonder how that can be introduced into broiling.
 
Smaug January 27, 2021
Probably easier to just cook the liquid off, but it's shocking how much water sellers are allowed to include with meat. If you buy at the supermarket you're probably out of luck, but if you have a good butcher it can be much less of a problem. Nice to know that someone else doesn't like greasy meat, but for God's sake don't wash grease or oil of any sort down the drain- you're all too likely to see it again, and it won't have improved with age.
 
Aaron January 27, 2021
The added water? It's a real issue. To the point that a (bone-in, not processed) ham my wife recently purchased was labeled in tiny print as a "ham and water product".