Aesthetically speaking, ground meat is not the nicest animal protein. When raw, it’s all spongy and spotty, and more often than not, cooking it just turns the pink and soft stuff into gray and nubby stuff.
This can be mitigated by leave him alone and let the meat develop a nice sear before breaking it into small pieces, but even that doesn’t help reduce the moisture loss that is usually seen when cooking ground beef. (If you’ve ever cooked a mass of meat for a sauce or chili, you know the pool of liquid I’m talking about.)
Fortunately, there is a handy little chemical that solves both of these problems. It’s called “sodium bicarbonate,” but most people call it “baking soda,” and adding it to your ground beef helps keep it tender. while also speed up the burnishing process.
This isn’t a “new” hack or a recent discovery, so I don’t know how I missed it all these years, but I’m glad it finally entered my brain. I came across it on America’s Test Kitchen Instagram account (which features a graphic from a five year old chili recipe).
Last night I finally tried it with a little over a pound of minced meat that I needed to use. I sprinkled about a third of a teaspoon of baking soda on the meat, mixed it up, left it alone for 15 minutes, and then cooked it in a pan over medium-high heat.
I’m not used to being floored by ground beef, but I was just that … Even after playing and stirring a little excessively, the pieces of beef developed a deep brown crust, and the mare usual liquid has been reduced to a simple puddle of water. It was also much more tender. There was no rubbery bounce, no nasty chewing, just beautifully browned beef-tasting pieces of meat.
Why does adding baking soda to ground meat make it cook faster?
Why does it work? Baking soda (which is very basic) increases the pH of meat, preventing proteins from binding excessively (and therefore expelling water); it keeps everything nice and tender, and prevents that puddle of liquid from forming. The drier your pan, the faster your food will brown, but according to ATK, alkaline media are also much more favorable to Maillard reaction—The “chemical between amino acids and reducing sugars” that gives golden foods their appearance and flavor.
You can also add baking soda to cuts of meat. In terms of ratio, ATK recommends 1/4 teaspoon for 12 ounces of ground meat and a whole teaspoon for 12 ounces of sliced meat. Mixing the baking soda with a tablespoon or two of water can help distribute it evenly (especially if you’re dealing with sliced stuff), but I’ve found the ‘sprinkle and go’ method to be quite effective with it. the ground stuff. Mix the raw meat with the baking soda (I just smashed it with a wooden spoon and pushed it out), wait 15 minutes (more time will not amplify the effects of the baking soda), then cook using your usual method. .
Updated at 4:15 PM EST January 23, 2021 to clarify how to “mix” baking soda with ground meat. Updated again on June 21, 2021 to align content with evolving Lifehacker style guidelines.