Taco Bell can do it, so why can’t you?
Taco meat, sloppy joes, spaghetti sauce. All of these can benefit from having super fine, crumbly ground beef.
But why is your beef clumpy?
Big chunks of unseasoned ground beef aren’t appetizing for anyone.
Luckily, your problem is easy to fix. You simply need to change how you’re cooking the beef.
Here’s how to crush ground beef really fine.
Boil the beef instead of browning it. This might sound strange, but it’s a tried and tested method. Boiling the meat melts the fat, so the meat falls apart before it has a chance to form hard clumps. You can use a potato masher to squish any chunks that do form.
Methods to crush ground beef
I tested 3 different methods to crush my ground beef.
Here are the results.
Boil your ground beef in a saucepan
It might sound weird and gross, but boiling is the way to go if you want perfect ground beef.
How to boil ground beef:
- Fill a saucepan with cold water (you can add seasoning if you wish) and bring it to the boil. You need enough water to cover the beef you’re going to add
- Turn the heat down so the water is simmering
- Break the raw ground beef into small pieces using your hands and add it to the simmering water
- Stir the beef frequently while it’s cooking. You can break up any clumps with a spoon. The beef should take around 5-10 minutes to cook depending on how much you have
- Once it’s cooked through (no longer pink), remove the ground beef from the water. DO NOT pour the cooking water down the sink. It’s full of fat and will clog your drain. Instead, pour the water into a big bowl
- Rinse the beef to get rid of any excess fat (optional)
- Add the beef to your chosen dish, or save it for later. You can also save the fat and cooking water for later use
How does boiling work?
The boiling water melts the fat in the beef, but the proteins don’t bind together as they would if you were frying the meat. This means the beef quickly falls apart, and you end up with a really fine texture.
An added benefit of cooking your beef this way is that it’s super healthy.
All that fat that comes out while it’s cooking? That would normally stay in the pan and go into your body.
With boiling you remove all this fat BEFORE you eat the meat.
As the cooking water cools, you’ll notice a layer solidifying and settling on top of the water. This is fat.
You can scoop it out and put it into a glass jar for storage. If you want to store the fat long term, consider rendering the fat again (basically frying it) to ensure all the moisture is gone.
The fat will make some DELICIOUS fries.
You can also freeze the leftover water and use it as stock for a soup or stew.
That way, nothing goes to waste!
This method produced uniformly ground beef. The beef was definitely finer than simply frying it, but it wasn’t the finest of all the techniques.
Good, but not AMAZING.
That said, if you’re cooking in bulk boiling the beef in a saucepan is by far the easiest solution. You can chuck all the beef in and cook it with minimal mess and clean up. It’s also the healthiest technique (more on that later).
I like to cook up a big batch of beef this way and then freeze it for later use. Simply portion the ground beef out into freezer bags, squeeze the air out, and put them in the freezer. The ground beef will last four months in the freezer.
The Mix ‘N Mash method
The thought process behind this tip is the same as boiling the meat, but it’s a quicker method.
Instead of boiling the meat first and then adding it to your dish, you can add the water (or another liquid) to your dish.
The liquid can be water, stock, sauce, or even beer!
I’ve used water in my instructions.
- Turn the stove onto a low heat (more on this later)
- Break your ground beef up by hand and add it to your pan (a deep skillet is best because this encourages steaming/boiling rather than frying)
- Add the liquid. A ¼ of a cup for every pound of beef is a good amount.
- Mix the beef and the liquid together (the beef will turn quite mushy, but don’t worry. As it cooks, it will firm up). The liquid will start to boil, so you’re effectively boiling the beef as above.
- Continue to mix and crush the beef until it’s fully cooked. Most of the liquid should have evaporated off by now, and the beef will be nice and crumbled
- Add your seasonings and continue with your dish as normal
This technique gave me REALLY fine beef. It looked gross when I was mashing it, but once all the water had cooked off I was left with super crumbly ground beef.
This method wouldn’t be so great for batch cooking because you need to be able to mash the beef effectively. But if you’re just cooking up a quick taco dinner, this would be my preferred method.
In a food proccessor
This is a quick fix that can save you time.
It’s also great to use retrospectively if your final dish isn’t as uniform as you’d like.
Once your beef is cooked, chuck it in the food processor and give it a blitz.
Any chunks will break up, and you’ll be left with finely ground beef. You can put the meat in the processor before you add it to a sauce or after. It doesn’t matter.
If I know I’m going to put my sauce through the blender, I like to leave my vegetables purposely chunky. That way they don’t get completely pulverized in the blender. But if you want a smooth sauce, then chop the vegetables up small to start with.
An immersion blender will also work in place of a food processor. Just make sure the pot has deep enough sides that the meat won’t spray everywhere.
This technique is quick and easy. At first, it didn’t look like it was working as the beef clumped up, but once I took it out, the clumps broke up really easily into fine and crumbly ground beef.
It was of a similar texture to the mix ‘n mash method.
One downside was the extra washing up. I don’t enjoy washing my blender up at the best of times. Washing it after it had fatty meat in was NOT an enjoyable experience. One I wouldn’t be keen to repeat.
But don’t forget the golden rule. If you’ve cooked, its someone else’s job to do the washing up!
Other tips for getting really fine ground beef
I’ve explained the cooking methods that will produce fine ground beef, but there are a few other tips and tricks you can use to make your life easier.
Use a potato masher/chop ‘n mix tool
You could use a boring old wooden spoon or a spatula to break up the mince as it cooks.
But if you want to level up your ground beef game, I suggest you branch out.
A potato masher will do a MUCH better job (or a whisk).
Instead of just moving beef around the pan, the masher will actually break it up, leaving it with a fine texture even taco bell will envy.
Don’t throw your wooden spoon away just yet.
It will still come in useful to prevent the meat from piling up on top of the masher. You can use the wooden spoon to push it back into the pan.
If you’re in the mood for a new kitchen gadget, then you could go a step further and invest in a Mix N Chop.
It’s a tool specifically designed to crush, chop and mince foods.
Stick it into your ground beef and twist. You can get right up to the edges of your pan with this tool, so you won’t miss any of the beef. You’ll get a nice even consistency.
Do not brown the mince (cook long and slow)
I mentioned earlier that you should cook the mince on a low heat setting.
To avoid browning your meat.
If you put your ground beef into a hot pan, it will start to cook immediately. Once it’s cooked, its texture becomes much harder and you’ll have a tough time breaking up any clumps that have formed.
It’s much better to cook it slowly.
That way, you can break up any clumps before they get too hard.
Unbrowned ground beef also has a more tender, silky texture compared to beef that’s been browned. Browned beef always ends up overcooked.
If you’re cooking the mince in a sauce, it’s perfectly acceptable (better in fact) to put the meat in the sauce without browning it. It can then simmer away in the sauce and it will quickly break down into fine granules.
What about the Maillard reaction?
Of course, if you don’t brown your mince you miss out on the deep, rich flavors of the Maillard reaction (the reaction that creates the caramelized crust on beef).
If this is worrying you, and I can appreciate why it would be, I have a simple answer.
Brown a small subsection of the beef, and boil the rest.
The flavors produced by the Maillard reaction are very intense, so much so that adding a small amount (less than 1/4 of the total weight) of deeply browned mince to your dish will allow the flavors to penetrate the whole dish.
This way you don’t have to compromise flavour for texture.
If you’re grinding your own beef you can take this even further and brown the beef before you grind it.
Don’t overload the pan
Ground beef is an ingredient that lends itself to cooking up big batches and portioning it out for later.
This is great, but it also means you can easily overcrowd the pan.
If there’s too much mince in the pan, you’re going to find it hard to spot all the clumps before they cook. It will also be a lot more effort to mash it up.
If you have a lot of mince, consider cooking it up in two batches instead, or have two pans on the go at once (who said you couldn’t multitask?)
Ask for a finer grind
Most shop-bought ground beef has a pretty coarse grind.
If you buy your beef from a butcher (or you’re grinding it yourself), you can pick how fine or coarse your grind is.
As the butcher to use a fine grinding plate or pick your finest plate.
The finer the grind, the easier it will be to get a really fine texture in your final dish.
You might consider grinding the beef twice, but I wouldn’t recommend that. Overworked beef can become chewy and tough. It’s much better to do a single, fine grind than to do two coarser grinds.
Avoid lean ground beef
The key to getting fine ground beef is to melt the fat before the meat cooks.
Therefore, you need a decent amount of fat in the beef. Leaner cuts lack this fat, and it’s harder to get the delicate, crumbly texture.
Opt for at least 20% fat if your aim is to get a finer texture.
Crushed ground beef results & comparison photos
To help visualize the differences between the methods I’ve outlined above, I thought it would be useful to show the results of each process and how fine the end result is likely to look and feel.
Here’s a quick summary of my findings:
- Mixing & mashing before cooking: the finest texture.
- Boiling: A little less fine than the method above, but great for cooking in large batches.
- Food Processor: Looks clumped on first inspection but falls apart easily. Great for mince already in a sauce.
- Regular Cooking: For comparison purposes only.
How To Crush Ground Beef Really Fine
- 1 portion ground beef
- 1 pan cold water
Boil your ground beef (Method 1)
- Fill a saucepan with cold water (you can add seasoning if you wish) and bring it to the boil. You need enough water to cover the beef you’re going to add.
- Turn the heat down so the water is simmering.
- Break the raw ground beef into small pieces using your hands and add it to the simmering water.
- Stir the beef frequently while it’s cooking. You can break up any clumps with a potato masher. The beef should take around 5-10 minutes to cook depending on how much you have.
- Once it’s cooked through (no longer pink), remove the ground beef from the water. DO NOT pour the cooking water down the sink. It’s full of fat and will clog your drain. Instead, pour the water into a big bowl.
- Rinse the beef to get rid of any excess fat (optional).
- Add the beef to your chosen dish, or save it for later. You can also save the fat and cooking water for later use.
Mix the meat with water before you cook it (Method 2)
- Turn the stove onto a low heat.
- Break your ground beef up by hand and add it to your pan (a deep skillet is best because this encourages steaming/boiling rather than frying).
- Add the liquid. A ¼ of a cup for every pound of beef is a good amount.
- Mix the beef and the liquid together (the beef will turn quite mushy, but don’t worry. As it cooks, it will firm up). The liquid will start to boil, so you’re effectively boiling the beef as in method 1.
- Continue to mix and crush the beef with your potato masher until it’s fully cooked. Most of the liquid should have evaporated off by now, and the beef will be nice and crumbled.
- Add your seasonings and continue with your dish as normal.