If it sounds like a simple thing, I disagree. My first attempt was without any coaching and what I did was burn the meat. There’s no need for that, and if I can save someone that error or generally improve the results you are getting, then I will accomplish my mission.
What you need:
- Skillet – I suggest a large non-stick frying pan
- Spatula – I suggest plastic, though wooden will do; the objective is to not damage your non-stick pan
- A cooktop with truly variable heat. I have seen cooktops with essentially two settings; “Is this on?” and “Viking funeral.” If that is your cooktop, I know where most of your culinary challenges come from.
What goes in it:
- Ground meat – if you aren’t browning ground meat, this page may not apply.
Don’t put so much meat in the pan that you can’t stir it without knocking it out of the pan though. I’m serious – if you are anything like me, you pick the smallest pan it will fit in and fill it as full as you can, and again if you are like me, that’s too full. It is better too use too big a pan (if there is such a thing) than to have to clean your cooktop.
NOTE: You don’t need any cooking oil, grease, PAM, or anything else if you use a non-stick pan.
What To Do: (and how to do it):
Put the meat in the pan and break it up with your spatula using a straight-down, chopping motion, first holding the blade of the spatula one way to chop all the meat, then turn the blade so you chop across the original direction – this detail becomes important later.
Put the pan on the stove (if you haven’t already) and put the stove on low heat – 1/4 to maybe 1/3 of the available power. This will have several benefits. First, you wont burn the meat; if you want to blacken ground meat, I suggest you locate a Cajun or creole cooking page for more relevant guidance. Second, it will cause less warping of your skillet. Too much heat will get the bottom of your skillet hot before the sides get warm. Metal expands when it heats, and if the bottom is hotter than the sides, the bottom will bulge leading to at least two problems; the pan will not sit still while you stir the meat and the heat from the cook top will focus more and more on the center of the bottom of the pan making heat transfer even less effective and increasing the time it takes to brown the meat. Third, using high heat stresses the skillet damaging the non-stick coating – you’ll have to replace the pan sooner.
Using this low setting will mean it takes a while to brown the meat. Use this time to do other things relevant to whatever it is you are browning the meat for. Pay decent attention to the browning – you don’t have to stand over it – and turn the meat over occasionally. Stirring meat is less effective than turning. Use the spatula, slip it under the meat (which will have bonded itself back together somewhat) and turn it over. Do this for all the meat in the pan, then break it up again as above.
Make sure there is no pink left, if you are browning meat as part of a recipe, the meat needs to brown all the way through. Your meat is browned and you are ready to move on with your creation!
NOTE: There are options other than non-stick skillets. One of the oldest and most famous is cast iron. It is a wonderfully durable piece of equipment but it can be difficult to maintain and clean. Cast iron rusts, especially on the inside, if you clean it absolutely clean. You certainly want to remove the food particles, you absolutely want to remove any sauce or excess grease etc. that may remain after cooking with cast iron. The secret to cast iron is that it needs a little bit of cooking oil or grease to protect it from rusting – just enough to fill the pores in the surface of the pan, not so much you can see or feel it. Don’t put it in the dishwasher and don’t soak it in super-hot water trying to get all the grease out if it, you are actually ruining your classic-American cooking utensil! For more detailed information, I have linked a “care and maintenance” page from a reputable cast-iron manufacturer here: https://finexusa.com/cast-iron-use-care/?gclid=CjwKCAiAxKv_BRBdEiwAyd40NxvFC4izfhzQqu_nNZpRTFQWvCD2PgQF6DsBmITc2ufo1mqvC-MubhoCpQ4QAvD_BwE
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