The standard weeknight ground-meat meal always starts with the same instructions: brown the burger. Most recipes, however, don’t take the time to explain how to do it in detail, which is probably why most folks don’t pay enough attention to this crucial step. Browning meat should actually turn it brown!
Browning is a fundamental technique that every hunter should learn, especially those who put half their deer through the grinder.
Properly browned grind should have a dark, crispy exterior, much like the searing on a steak. Often I find that browning has less to do with eliminating harmful bacteria and more to do with building flavor and depth in the dish. Oh, and don’t forget that crispy brown meat looks much more appetizing in a taco than soggy, gray meat.
Mastering this essential step can make a significant impact on your meal. To achieve perfectly ground meat, follow these guidelines.
Quality Ground Meat
First and foremost, make sure you’re using good ground meat. The texture makes a big difference, which is why I prefer to half-defrost frozen chunks of meat, then grind and cook them immediately. The strings of meat that extrude from the grinder retain their shape, turning into little “cracklings” when browned.
However, I realize that grinding right before dinnertime isn’t convenient or especially practical on a busy weeknight. You can try grinding a big batch on your day off and eat throughout the week, or do it all at once and then freeze in portions.
Sometimes I find a pool of juice inside my bag of ground meat after defrosting. If this is the case for you, empty the bag of meat into a colander. Set the colander inside a large bowl to capture the juices. Let this sit in the fridge for several hours or overnight to drain. The goal is to remove moisture.
Before cooking, pull the meat out of the fridge and spread it across a plate or sheet tray. Use paper towels to dry up any excess moisture, and allow the meat to come to room temperature. This step is important because the temperature change from cold to very hot will cause the meat to steam instead of sear.
I like to work with a pan that conducts heat evenly and gets very hot. My preference is stainless steel, but cast iron comes in a close second. Turn your burner to medium-high and give the pan time to heat up. Once the pan is hot, add a small splash of oil or animal fat with a high smoke point.
Oils with high smoke points include vegetable, canola, grapeseed, avocado, and ghee. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan lightly. If you have very lean or 100% ground venison, I’d suggest adding up to two tablespoons. You’ll need some fat to develop a crust and color.
Leave it Alone
Spread the meat across the pan in an even layer. Be careful to not over-crowd the pan; work in batches if needed. I like to leave a little bit of room in between clusters to allow moisture to evaporate. Once the meat is down, leave it down and don’t touch it.
After a few minutes, or when the bottom side begins to caramelize and brown, flip the meat. Leave it undisturbed again until the rest is brown. Use a spatula to stir and break up the meat into small bits. Continue cooking until it is browned to your liking. I love having a mix of both small “cracklings” and big clusters of browned meat.
Now’s the time to season. I don’t add any salt before or during browning as it can draw moisture out from the meat, creating steam in the pan. You can season after it’s already crispy with a couple of pinches of salt and pepper or follow a specific recipe’s instructions.
Ground burger is one of the most abundant and versatile proteins in most hunters’ freezers, but not everyone treats it that way. If you’re worn out from the regular rotation of spaghetti and hamburgers, give one of these recipes a try:
Thai Venison Lettuce Cups
Wild Chorizo Shakshuka
Venison Sausage Breakfast Muffins
Wild Game Stir Fry
Armed with these techniques you will be able to make more consistently stunning ground meat recipes, whether that’s simple meat sauces or Asian-fusion dishes. The ability to properly brown meat is a mandatory skill for any serious chef.