When you’re cooking a batch of ground beef, is it necessary to add oil to the skillet? You’ve probably done so when browning stew beef, or even when searing a steak. So, does ground beef play by the same set of rules? Let’s find out.
Do You Need Oil to Cook Ground Beef?
You don’t need to use oil when cooking ground beef unless the meat has a fat content of 10 percent or less. In this case, adding a bit of oil will lubricate the pan so that the meat doesn’t stick to it and burn. There’s no need to add a lot of oil—a tablespoon should be sufficient for 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of ground beef.
About the Protein-to-Fat Ratio
Some cuts of beef are fattier than others. It stands to reason, therefore, that the fat content of ground beef may vary, depending on which cuts were used in its making.
The protein-to-fat ratio of ground beef runs from about 70 percent lean to 30 percent fat, to 90 percent lean to 10 percent fat. Cuts like chuck and brisket make for a fattier mixture, while leaner cuts like sirloin wind up with a higher protein content.
Which one should you choose when buying ground beef? That depends on what you plan to do with it.
Burgers, for example, are ideal when made with an 80-to-20 percent blend. That gives the finished product a lovely juicy texture, without being so greasy that there are chunks of unrendered fat left behind in the burger.
Pasta sauces, on the other hand, will be better if you use a leaner blend. You don’t want pools of grease to be floating around on top of the sauce once it’s finished cooking. Besides, all that simmering will imbue it with plenty of flavor.
Do You Need Oil to Cook Ground Beef?
The short answer is no. Most of the time, it isn’t necessary to add oil to the pan when cooking ground beef. This is true especially if the meat has a fat content of at least 15 percent.
If you cook the beef in a nonstick pan, adding oil becomes even more of a redundancy. The meat won’t stick to the pan anyway, and that would be the only reason to use oil in the first place. As the fat renders, it will provide all the moisture you need.
We should point out, though, that we don’t recommend cooking ground beef in a nonstick skillet. Doing so will inhibit the browning process. In fact, just about the only time our nonstick skillet sees any action is when we’re frying eggs for breakfast.
What if you’re starting with very lean beef, and using a cast iron or stainless steel skillet? In this case, you might want to add a bit of oil before the beef so that the meat doesn’t stick to the surface and burn.
Let’s break down the benefits and drawbacks of cooking ground beef with oil.
Oil is a useful heat conductor, as you probably know. When you add oil to the pan, it will help transfer the heat from the pan to the ground beef, thereby hastening the browning process.
You don’t need to use a lot of oil if this is your primary goal. Again, the beef usually has plenty on its own. A teaspoon or so should be enough to promote the heat transfer.
If you use butter instead of oil, your ground beef will have an impressive crisp texture. As the milk solids heat up, they’ll turn brown, mixing with the meat to give it a darker hue. This also works when pan-searing or grilling steaks.
Of course, you might not want those milk solids in your meat. Most of the time, we advocate skipping the filler when working with ground beef. It’s up to you whether to add butter to the pan or not.
Boosting Fat Content
When working with ground beef that contains no more than 10 percent fat, heat the pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add a tablespoon of oil and swirl the pan to coat the bottom. Then add the ground beef, breaking it up into chunks as you go.
Ground beef that already contains at least 15 percent fat doesn’t need any extra oil to get the job done. In fact, you could be making the dish unnecessarily greasy.
A lot of recipes call for draining the fat from the pan after the meat is browned. In this case, you won’t be consuming the excess grease, but you will be wasting it. There’s no reason to add more fat only to throw it away later.
Depending on what type of oil you use, you could be interfering with the taste of the beef. Olive oil, for instance, has a rich flavor on its own.
If you opt to add oil to the pan, make sure to use a neutral oil like canola or grapeseed. Stay away from any flavored oils—unless you’re using a recipe that calls specifically for a certain type.
Do You Need Oil to Cook a Burger?
There’s no need to add any oil or other fat to the outside of a burger before you cook it. Adding a thin coating of oil can help spices adhere to steak, pork butt, and brisket, but ground beef doesn’t need the extra help.
Adding oil can have an unpleasant side effect once you put the burger on the grill: It may result in flare-ups. That means the outside of your burger will be charred and greasy while the inside is still raw.
What if you’re cooking the burger inside on a cast iron skillet? There might not be any risk of flare-ups, but it’s still not necessary. The burger should attain a lovely crisp exterior as its natural fat renders.
Tips for Browning Ground Beef
—Allow the ground beef to come to room temperature for about 15 minutes before cooking it. There’s no need to leave it out as long as you would a steak, but it’s best if it warms up a little bit. Never leave meat unrefrigerated for longer than 2 hours.
—Preheat the pan over medium-high heat before adding the beef. If the pan is cold, the meat won’t brown as well.
—Don’t cook off more than 1-1/2 pounds of ground beef at a time. Overcrowding the skillet will cause the meat to steam instead of brown, giving it a soggy texture.
—Use a cast iron or stainless steel skillet. Nonstick surfaces don’t retain their heat well enough to brown the beef.
Adding oil to the pan before cooking ground beef shouldn’t do any real harm, but most of the time, it’s an unnecessary step. Add oil only if you’re worried that the lean ground beef will stick to the skillet as it cooks.