Do you season ground beef before cooking, or wait until the meat is browned? Depending on the seasonings—indeed, the entire recipe—the answer may vary. Let’s talk about the effect that seasonings have on ground beef, and why we add them when we do.
When To Season Ground Beef
When making burgers, we season the beef beforehand. Otherwise, they won’t stick to the meat. You can also add salt and pepper to ground beef during browning when you’re making a batch for the freezer. Recipes for ground beef tacos and meat sauces, meanwhile, often recommend adding the seasoning after the meat is cooked.
When To Season Ground Beef Before Cooking
If we’re browning a batch of ground beef for a casserole or grilling a batch of burgers, we season the meat beforehand.
Seasoning the ground beef prior to cooking will imbue it with plenty of flavor. With burgers, the spices can also help the meat form a crust, which helps to seal in the juices. Besides, the seasonings adhere better to raw ground beef.
When To Season Ground Beef After Cooking
Some recipes advocate adding the seasoning after the beef has had a chance to brown. Tacos are a classic example, but there are meat sauces that call for similar techniques.
Advocates of seasoning the meat after cooking claim that salt draws out moisture, which prevents the beef from browning properly. While salt does have this effect to a certain degree, we’ve never noticed an issue when salting ground beef as it cooks.
There’s another aspect to consider: If you’re draining the ground beef after it’s cooked, some of the seasoning will be removed along with the grease. That can leave you with an under-seasoned and uninspiring dish.
How Much Salt to Use
Speaking of salt, this is an essential component in recipes that call for ground beef. It will bring out the natural sweetness of the meat, as well as the other flavors you’re using.
Since beef contains a lot of sodium on its own, you don’t need much salt to make a great-tasting dish. About 1/2 teaspoon for every pound to 1-1/2 pounds should be sufficient.
Bear in mind that if you’re making a dish like hamburger and rice, there will probably be salt in the rice as well. That means you might want to either adjust the amount that you add to the beef or eliminate the salt when cooking the rice.
Also, many other pre-mixed seasonings contain salt—often as the main ingredient. Check the labels if you plan to add any of these to your burger. You might not need to add any regular salt at all.
Seasoning Ground Beef: The Basics
This technique is a good one to use if you’re browning a large batch of ground beef but aren’t sure yet how you plan to use it.
Having a batch of browned ground beef on hand can come in handy on weeknights when you need to whip up a meal in a hurry. You can even portion out the beef and freeze it, so you’ll have a protein base available whenever you need it.
We recommend browning ground beef in batches of one pound, or no more than 1-1/2 pounds at a time. Unless you have an enormous skillet, adding large amounts of beef to the pan will result in steaming rather than browning.
Heat the pan over medium-high so that the meat will sizzle as soon as you drop it in. Break the beef into chunks using a spatula, then add the seasoning. Salt and black pepper are standard, but you can add garlic or onion powder at this point as well.
It should take 7 to 10 minutes for the beef to cook through, depending on the fat content. You should let it cook undisturbed for the first few minutes. Frequent stirring will prevent the meat from browning properly.
When the beef has cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to take it off the heat. Set it aside and let it cool slightly, then drain the excess grease. The meat is now ready to be used in your favorite recipes.
Seasoning Ground Beef for Grilled Burgers
When it comes to a juicy beef burger, we prefer to keep things simple. A sprinkling of kosher or seasoned salt, along with a few grinds of black pepper, are enough to make a delicious burger.
If you want to kick things up a notch, add a dash of cayenne pepper to the mix. Garlic and onion powder are welcome additions that will give the meat a savory depth.
Some folks like to add a bit of cumin to their burger seasoning as well, especially if their toppings include Tex-Mex favorites like jalapenos, salsa, and guacamole. Feel free to customize your blend to accommodate the rest of your menu.
Sprinkle the seasoning on the burgers just before you put them on the grill. We like to let steaks sit out at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes prior to cooking, but there’s no need to let burgers warm up for that long.
Seasoning Ground Beef for Tacos
If you’ve ever made tacos using one of those prepackaged kits, you’ve seen that the recipe calls for adding the seasoning packet after the beef is browned and drained. That makes sense, as you’re essentially creating a sauce from the spices and added water.
After browning the meat, drain as much of the fat from the pan as you can. Don’t rinse the ground beef—you want some of that fat to remain behind to provide flavor. Besides, rinsing meat in the sink will clog your pipes.
Instead of relying on those store-bought mixes, you can easily make your own taco seasoning using pantry staples. Here’s a template you can follow:
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
Use about 2 tablespoons of this mixture for every pound of ground beef. Store any leftovers in a tightly sealed container. You might want to double or triple the recipe just so you’ll have plenty on hand the next time tacos are on the menu.
Seasoning Ground Beef for Pasta Sauce
When making a meat sauce for pasta, brown the beef, along with aromatic vegetables like onion and garlic. After the meat is browned and the vegetables are tender, drain the excess grease from the pan, then add tomato sauce and seasonings.
Seasoning the meat after cooking works in this case because you’re going to be simmering the mixture for a long time over low heat. That will bring out the flavors, which is your primary goal when you season the meat beforehand.
Can You Season Ground Turkey to Make it Taste Like Beef?
We opt for ground turkey over ground beef for various reasons. Most of the time, it’s because we’re using flavors that work better with the lean poultry. Our favorite recipe for turkey burgers calls for capers, Dijon, Worcestershire, and Tabasco.
However, if you’ve selected ground turkey because it’s lower in fat and calories than ground beef, you can season the meat to mimic the beef flavor. That will give you all the health benefits without sacrificing that robust taste.
Add one packet of dry onion soup mix and two tablespoons of steak sauce, such as A-1, to every pound of ground turkey. Once the burgers are cooked, you can hardly tell that you’re eating turkey instead of beef.
Again, you should watch the sodium content when following this template. Both steak sauce and packaged soup mix contain hearty doses of salt. Scale back on the amount of salt you add to the burger before cooking it or eliminate it altogether.
We prefer to season ground beef before it’s cooked in most cases. However, if you’re making tacos, lasagna, or another meat sauce, it’s customary to add the seasonings after browning the beef.