Weeknight dinners just got easier.

By Annie Campbell
July 06, 2020
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Ground beef is a blank canvas for dinner recipes. Tacos? Check. Casseroles? Of course. Pasta? Throw it in! There are just about an infinite number of easy dishes to make with ground beef, so we are always excited to learn about new, convenient ways to work with it.

We asked our Mom Vs. star, Nicole McLaughlin, to try out the 7 best hacks we’ve seen on the internet, and she determined which ones are actually worth your time (and supply of ground beef). Watch her demos to learn how to cook, drain, thaw, and even stretch this budget ingredient like never before. Who knows—you might just be trying out one of these ground beef hacks on your dinner tonight. 

Use a Potato Masher

Did you know the potato masher stuffed in your drawer has more than one purpose? It actually doubles as the perfect tool for creating beef crumbles in a skillet. While you might have been relying on a wooden spoon to do the job, a potato masher gives you the surface area to press and twist the meat around in the pan until it achieves an even browning. We don’t know about you, but we love a kitchen tool that’s multifunctional. 

If you don’t have a potato masher in your kitchen tool belt, let us highly recommend another tool for crumbling beef: the Pampered Chef Mix N Chop. Its chopping, mashing, and crumbling abilities make it a customer (and test kitchen staff) favorite.

Double the Portion

Although ground beef is relatively inexpensive on the store-bought meat scale, it never hurts to stretch your meat supply with some additional ingredients. Adding chopped mushrooms to cooked ground beef not only brings the cost of your meal down, but it also adds a ton of nutritional value to a beef-heavy dish. Instead of adding their own flavor, finely chopped mushrooms will soak up and blend well with the flavor of ground beef—plus, they imitate the texture of the meat pretty well. For just about $3, you can nearly double your portion of “ground beef.”

Strain with a Fork

If you find yourself without a strainer or colander when it comes time to drain your cooked ground beef, all you need is a fork. Set the fork upside-down on the rim of your skillet or dutch oven, with the fork prongs sticking out over the edge. Place the lid on top, and carefully pour the liquid out toward the fork. The curve of the fork will keep all of the beef inside, while the prongs of the fork allow for easy, no-mess straining. Just like that, there’s one less dish to clean after dinner.

Clean-up with Foil

If you do have a colander and a bit of aluminum foil, Nicole has another no-mess method for draining beef. Line the drain of your kitchen sink with a sheet of foil, then drain the ground beef in a colander on top of the foil. The liquid will collect in the foil rather than going down the drain, so you can easily pick it up, seal it off, and toss it in the trash. 

Split the Wrapper

If you have a tube of ground beef (or breakfast sausage), here’s an easy trick for opening it. Take your knife and cut a small incision around the middle of the packaging, just enough to cut through the plastic lining. At that point, you can grab and pull the plastic from either side to slide the frozen beef out in one piece. This method will prevent bits of ground meat from sticking inside the ends of the wrapper, although it is most effective when the meat is frozen.

Make Freezer Portions

If you have a ton of ground beef to freeze, you might want to portion it into single servings before freezing for easy use in the future. A clever way to do this is to put all the meat in a large gallon-size zip-top bag, then smooth it out into a thin, even layer. Press out all the air, then use your hand to indent the meat into six (or nine) uniform squares before transferring to the freezer. When you’re ready to use the frozen meat, you can break off one or two of the squares to cook with rather than defrosting way more ground beef than you need.

Thaw in the Instant Pot

Speaking of frozen ground beef, this last hack shows us how to cook meat directly from the freezer to the Instant Pot. Usually, waiting for ground beef to thaw can seriously throw a wrench in your dinner plans, but with this method, a last-minute ground beef dinner is totally doable. 

Place a frozen block of ground beef inside your Instant Pot on a trivet, and pour a cup of water around it. Secure the lid, then cook at high pressure for 22 minutes. While the meat will come out completely thawed, it might take some additional sauteeing in the Instant Pot to ensure all of the beef is entirely cooked through. Regardless, this hack could save dinner on nights when thawing frozen meat hours in advance totally slipped your mind. 

Now, for some delicious ways to enjoy your thawed, drained, and cooked ground beef, check out these 35+ Fabulous Ground Beef Recipes.