Ground beef can become mushy at 5 points in its short life.
- At the point of purchase (if you buy the wrong kind of beef for your purposes, it will turn out mushy)
- During storage
- During the grinding process (if you’re grinding it yourself)
- While you’re preparing the dish
- When it’s being cooked
Not sure where you went wrong?
You are watching: How To Fix Mushy Ground Beef
I’m here to tell you exactly why your ground beef keeps turning out mushy and how to fix it.
Ground beef turns mushy when you use low-quality beef that’s been handled too much and/or kept at room temperature. This smears the fat. During cooking, the smeared fat turns to liquid and steams the meat rather than frying it leaving it mushy.
That’s the short answer.
For more details, keep reading. I go through seven different potential causes for your mushy ground beef covering all of the five life stages I listed above.
Use the right type of ground beef
The first thing to check is what type of ground beef you’re using.
Cheaper meat is often injected with water or brine to fill it out, which does nothing for the texture. All the water will come out as you cook the meat turning it into a soggy mess.
Cheaper meat also tends to have more fat. High fat levels (above 20%) gives the beef a softer texture that some find too mushy.
Lastly, different cuts of meat offer different textures.
Anything labeled ‘ground beef’ that doesn’t specify a cut can be made using any cut. The cheaper the product, the more likely it is to use lower quality cuts that are spongey.
Chuck or sirloin are the best cuts to use for good quality ground beef that holds its own in the pan.
What’s the best ground beef to use for different dishes?
- For burgers, the ideal fat to meat ratio is 80/20. Look for a product labeled ‘ground chuck’. You want a good amount of fat in the meat to help keep it nice and juicy. No one likes a dry hamburger.
- For meatloaf, you want an even fattier ratio. Kitchn recommends 70/30. Meatloaf has to cook for a long time and you don’t want it to dry out. If you’ve already got a lean beef, consider adding some ground pork to even up the fat levels.
- For dishes in a sauce, lean ground beef is best because you can’t drain off excess fat. The meat gets its moisture from the sauce so it shouldn’t be dry. 90/10 sirloin is good (and healthy).
Be careful with freezing the beef
Freezing beef isn’t always an issue but if you freeze it in the wrong way or for too long it can alter the texture of the meat.
There are two ways your meat can turn to mush in the freezer.
The first is freezer burn.
Eating freezer-burnt ground beef will transport you to your school canteen. You’ll be back to eating the ‘chili’ that tastes and looks nothing like chili. Avoid freezer burn at all costs.
Air is the enemy that causes freezer burn. The key to protecting your ground beef is to minimize air contact.
Keep it in a Ziploc bag with all the air sucked out of it (top tip: use a straw) and wrap the bag with aluminum foil for an extra layer of protection.
The second way is with ice crystals.
As you freeze meat, the moisture inside it turns into sharp, pesky ice crystals. The sharp edges puncture the meat and weaken its structural integrity. The loss of structure within the meat can leave it with a lackluster, mushy texture.
The longer it takes your meat to freeze, the more chance there is for ice crystals to form and ruin your meat. The key to avoiding this is to freeze your meat as quickly as possible.
Follow my guide:
- Use a rolling pin to gently flatten the meat and eliminate any air pockets where moisture could be hiding. The flatter the meat, the quicker it’ll freeze. Alternatively, you can portion the mince out into smaller chunks and freeze those.
- Chill the meat in the fridge with some ice to get it as cold as possible before putting it in the freezer.
- Freeze the meat bare for a few hours before covering. Your protective covering will slow down the initial freezing process. Don’t forget to take the meat out after a few hours and cover it. If you forget you risk freezer burn.
Thawing is also important. Completely defrost the ground beef before you start cooking it, or the excess water will turn your meat soft and soggy.
Keep the meat cold while you work with it
Ground beef is like ice-cream.
It melts. (Well, kind of.)
As the meat gets warmer, the fat becomes softer and is susceptible to smearing. You need to keep the temperature of the meat below 40°F to stop it from smearing. Always cook your ground beef from cold.
Smearing your ground beef is the equivalent of crashing your car and writing it off. The car and the meat are completely ruined.
Smeared fat will render as it cooks rather than crisp up. For those of you wondering what render means – it means the fat will melt and become a liquid, which will mean soggy mince.
Why don’t you have to chill other types of beef like steak?
Good question, I thought the same. Turns out the answer is pretty simple.
Ground beef contains a lot more air than steak and this means it warms up a lot faster. Steak can be left on the side for longer before the fat starts to melt.
If you’re grinding the beef yourself there are a few things you can do to make sure it doesn’t get too warm:
- Freeze your equipment so it doesn’t warm up the meat
- Cut the meat into small chunks and then freeze them for 15 minutes before grinding. You want the chunks to be cold but not frozen. The smaller chunks will be quicker to work.
Any reputable butcher will know to keep everything cold for grinding. If you have pre-ground meat there shouldn’t be a problem with smeared fat.
Once you’ve got the meat home, try and have it out of the fridge for as little time as possible. If you notice it starting to get warm while you’re preparing your dish, put it back in the fridge or freezer and cool it down.
Use sharp knives for grinding
Another thing that can lead to smearing is using a dull blade. A dull blade won’t be able to make a clean cut and will smear the meat instead.
I’ll keep this one short and sweet.
Make sure the blades in your grinder are sharp before you start grinding.
Don’t overwork the beef or grind it too much
Overworking ground beef will be the death of it. Having a perfectly shaped patty won’t be of any benefit if the meat has gone sloppy.
Think of it in terms of dough.
You’re always warned not to overwork the dough because once you’ve gone too far, there’s no going back. Overworked dough results in a rock-hard loaf of bread.
It’s the same with ground beef. But instead of becoming too hard, the meat becomes too soft. Constantly poke and prod the ground beef and you’ll turn it to mush.
STOP TOUCHING IT!
Grinding the meat too many times is another form of overworking it. You’ll eventually pulverize it into a big mushball.
Whether you’re grinding the meat yourself or buying it already ground, aim for something with quite a coarse grind. And never grind it more than twice. Once is even better if you can get away with it.
Cook the ground beef properly
You’ve got as far as cooking – well done! Well done for sticking with me this long too, I know it’s not easy.
How you cook your mince is the final hurdle, but it differs depending on what dish you’re cooking. Below I’ve given you some titbits on how to prevent mushy burgers, casseroles, and meatloaf.
How to cook burgers so they aren’t mushy
When you’re cooking a burger you need to make sure you get a good crust on it quickly. Here are some tips:
- Preheat whatever you’re cooking the burger on to a high heat and cook the burger straight from the fridge.
- Rarer burgers tend to have more of a mushy texture, so cook the burger to at least a medium.
- Resist putting any extra wet ingredients in your burger, extra moisture won’t help the texture. Keep it plain and simple (like it’s supposed to be)!
How to cook ground beef in sauce so it isn’t mushy
The sauce here can be anything from chili to spaghetti sauce.
Always start by browning the meat in a pre-heated pan that isn’t overcrowded.
An overcrowded pan won’t give all the meat a chance to brown properly, so some will end up being cooked by the steam that’s given off instead. Steamed mince will be mushy.
Can I add vegetables in while browning the meat?
Extras like veggies should be left out until the meat has finished browning. They’ll give off a lot of liquid and will turn your pan into a water bath, boiling the mince rather than frying it.
Never put a lid on the pan while you’re browning the mince. That will lead to steaming.
Once your beef is browned, you can drain off the excess liquid and prepare the rest of your dish as normal. The beef should stay nice and firm.
How to cook meatloaf so it isn’t mushy
The main concern with meatloaf is the ratio of meat to fillers. If you’ve got a mushy mixture you’ve probably added too much excess liquid in the form of milk or other wet ingredients.
Add some more oatmeal or breadcrumbs to soak up the moisture.
Another tip is to use the free-form cooking method, this means bye-bye loaf tin. Tins without drainage holes mean the liquid has nowhere to escape and ends up boiling the bottom of your meatloaf.