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How do you get the fine cooked ground beef texture?

I tried making a hotdog chili this weekend, but this always baffles me when I'm cooking ground beef. When you need a really fine ground texture, how do you cook it? Usually I dump the meat in a hot pan and break it up, but as it's browning it's cooked into bigger clumps. I've seen my friend just break it up with chopsticks in a cold pan before turning on the heat. How do you get that super fine texture when you cook ground beef?

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  1. Cook it slowly. Cook it, don't brown it.
    I use a potato masher to get the breakdown going. Then, I switch to a wooden spatula or two and mince away.
    It also helps to let the meat get the chill of on the counter for 30 min. or so prior to cooking.

    1. Hi,

      First off,keep the temp low when browning.The higher the temp the faster it will clump.Your main goal is no clumping at all.

      Add the meat to a pan and cook over low heat.Use a potatoe masher to mash the meat as it is cooking.After you have the desired consistancy drain and return to the pan.Use the potatoe masher again to add your dog sauce recipe.

      PS. I prefer a round masher with holes.To each their own.


      1 Reply
      1. re: Robinez

        What kind of ground beef is best for this type of thing???, I too tried to make my own chili for hotdogs and it came out clumpy, but I will take your advice here to cook it slow!

      2. After you brown it, spoon it into a food processor and pulse it a few times, then put it back into the skillet and proceed with your recipe.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Cherylptw

          I am too lazy to clean another appliance :-)

        2. I "think" simmering it in a little water will aid in this as well. Back in the day when I would buy those seasoning packets for tacos, they always had you add water, maybe 1/2 cup, when you add the seasoning. The water cooks off, of course.

          4 Replies
          1. re: MrsJonesey

            Oh wow, didn't see your post! My experience as well!

              1. re: MrsJonesey

                I actually add a bit of beef stock for the same effect.

              2. You simmer it in water! Not kidding. That is how the texture gets so fine. You need to add lots of spice to it (but that is normal for chili). It turns more into a "hot dog sauce" when you do it this way. Here is an example of creating a Cincinnati chili using this technique:


                10 Replies
                1. re: sedimental

                  +1. When I initially saw this technique on TV (probably Triple D) I thought, "yick!", but it really works great and saves you the energy of chopping up the meat like a fiend as it's cooking.
                  Also works great for frying up chopped bacon.

                  1. re: monavano

                    Yes! Funny thing- I did this the other day for "old school" hard tacos. Remember those? The ones in the little corn shells with fine ground taco meat, then layer cheddar cheese, iceberg lettuce and tomato??? I haven't had them in years and when I was following the directions on the package for the taco seasoning....you add water to the meat in the pan. Voila! Fine ground taco meat that won't break the fragile shells.

                    BTW, they were delish!

                    1. re: sedimental

                      I love those taco kits for Taco Night. The only problem is that I can't stop making and eating them.

                      1. re: monavano

                        Those taco kits are a guilty pleasure of ours.....

                    2. re: monavano

                      Works with chopped bacon as well? Cool! All those little pieces like to stick together which causes uneven cooking. Now, if I can only remember to do it.....

                      1. re: MrsJonesey

                        I saw Alex Guarnischelli (sp?) do this. You cut the bacon and add to a hot pan and pour water in right after. It renders the fat, separates the pieces and cooks the bacon. By the time the water is evaporated, the bacon starts browning and you have perfectly crisp pieces every time.

                        1. re: MrsJonesey

                          I usually just bake up a pound or so of good bacon, then have it in a bag in the fridge to chop up when needed. I also keep the resultant bacon grease, so can add a spoon of that, as well.

                      2. re: sedimental

                        This. When I make kheema for samosas, I always not only chop the ground beef while cooking, but also start it in a goodly amount (maybe a cup for a lb of beef) in water.

                        1. re: sedimental

                          Exactly. That is what the "pros" do when making chili dogs (thinking A&W type coney dog), they boil the hamburger.

                        2. I know it's been a long time since the original post, but I thought I'd add my own, and I think easier, way to get fine ground beef.

                          First, ditch the non-stick skillet. Opt for a medium stainless saucepan (I use a 2-qt Tri-ply) with a heavy bottom.
                          The steeper sides of the saucepan enable the meat to steam and not fry.

                          Make sure the beef is not cold. Cold equals clumpy. I bring it to room temp (a warm bath can speed this up). Set the heat to medium or medium-low (5 on my GE electric). Add the beef (90% lean or better) right away and stir with a wooden spoon. That's right, stir. Don't just turn it, move it, or otherwise push it around. Stir it a bit.

                          Stir frequently (every minute or so) and in about 7 minutes you've got fine crumbly beef. When I add taco seasoning, there's no need to add water. There will be enough water with a little bit of fat left in the pot to easily incorporate the seasoning mix. The beef will be ready at the same time as the rest of the ingredients, if you're not frying up too many shells. Simple!

                          1. Use a deep skillet and a stick blender.

                            1. Has anyone else noticed a huge difference in the clumpiness factor since the "pink slime" issue? Our local supermarket declared it would no longer sell ground beef with pink slime in it, and I immediately noticed I got much finer crumbles than I have in years, with no change in cooking technique.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: barefootgirl

                                I was under the (perhaps mistaken) impression that pink slime led to finer crumbles.

                              2. You need water. If you don't cook the ground beef in water (with constant stirring), you'll never get the super fine texture you see in chili sauce and the like.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: MonMauler

                                  +1 you need water. My fave chili mix calls for cooking the ground beef in water and it does the trick.
                                  A masher will get the meat broken down, but liquid is needed for that really fine, Taco Bell texture.

                                  1. re: monavano

                                    I use this technique when making a fine drier spiced ground meat for filling kibbe and a ground meat and hummus dish

                                2. The pampered chef has an amazing tool which is for this purpose. It is one of my better purchases. As well I use the same tool to crush my tomatoes it is certainly a money saver.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Ruthie789

                                    Hi. Wonder if you could name this tool - I've been looking everywhere & have scoured the pampered chef catalogue but to be honest I simply cant find this "must have". Thanks W.

                                    1. re: wafkent

                                      Yes see link below, it also helps to crush canned tomatoes etc. I love it. Called chop and mix

                                  2. I was given a tool that's a plastic "X" at the end of a rod that was specifically designed for that. I thought it was silly at first, but I have to admit that it really does the job. A pastry cutter might do it too.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: JonParker

                                      That is basically the same tool as the pampered chef, it works like a charm.

                                    2. If you have a pressure cooker, it will break the ground beef down a lot, especially if you over cook it.

                                      Otherwise, I would make it a point to use fresh ground beef instead of frozen, and gently break it up out of the pack - perhaps with a fork, into the pan. Then cook it slow without stirring too much at first. Once it's all browned, it should start breaking up more easily.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Atomic76

                                        I've always found frozen ground beef to be less clumpy than fresh

                                      2. I use a potato masher to mash the meat while it's cooking. I start it cooking, and start mashing after a couple minutes.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: boogiebaby

                                          I'll second that. I've used a masher before, when I forgot to stir until it had already begun browning, and they DO work. :)

                                        2. To get that hot dog chili texture, you have to cook it in water. Sorry, don't have a recipe handy.

                                          1. All very excellent suggestions.. I didn't read the whole thread, so pardon me if I repeat someone else's suggestion. What I have seen is that the meat is already twice-ground. If you have a butcher, you can ask him to re-grind a package of ground meat, or do it yourself, but don't use a food processor for this; it must be a grinder. Okay, so the twice-ground meat should be browned slowly at low heat, breaking it up as you go. Don't smash it; break it up. A large fork is good for this. Okay, when all the meat is JUST browned and crumbled, add a cup of water and cook, continuing to crumble until water is evaporated. This will give it the soft texture you desire, and it doesn't affect the flavor, IMO. If this part concerns you, use beef broth instead, but when I've done that I found it too salty.
                                            Best of Luck!

                                            1. Try using a crock pot. I made some chili the other night. I was in a hurry to leave for work and the ground beef had frozen most of the way in the fridge (accidentally put it right in front of where the cold air comes in). I didn’t have time to fool with it so I dropped it in the crock pot with the rest of the ingredients and set it to cook for 8 hours on low. I was pleasantly suppressed to find that the ground beef had cooked down to a gold star chili consistency.

                                              1. Easy:

                                                - low temp (med); don't brown on high;
                                                - add a bit of oil and water into the beef, mix well before cooking;
                                                - cook in batches if your pan/pot isn't big enough, or if you're cooking a lot of beef;
                                                - while cooking, take a potato masher or some other implement to break up the beef, don't let it cook in lumps

                                                1. Another vote for simmering it in water. DH is from Ohio and loves Skyline Chili on his hot dogs - this is our go-to recipe.
                                                  It makes a lot; I usually cut the recipe in half.

                                                  1. A sure-fire way to get really fine-textured ground beef is to cook it at a very, very low simmer for at least 3 hours. What happens is that the small morsels of meat soften and break into even smaller particles, in exactly the same way that larger chunks of meat do when properly slow-braised in stews and such.

                                                    I do this with my bolognese sauce (and chili when I make it using ground beef, which I generally don't as I prefer to make it with cubed beef) and it works like a charm.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: BobB

                                                      I just pulse it a few times in the food processor after cooking.

                                                      1. re: Scoutmaster

                                                        If I want a fine texture for coney sauce or taco/burrito meat, I too will sometimes run it quickly through the food processor. If I have a big enough kettle of coney sauce sometimes I use a stick blender.

                                                      2. re: BobB

                                                        Is there any tending required? do you first break it up into small pieces?

                                                        1. re: DuffyH

                                                          While I'm first heating it up I mash and break it up while it's browning. Once it's all browned I reduce the heat to the barest simmer (just the occasional bubble). After that all you need to do is give it a stir every half hour or so and squish any large clumps that pop up.

                                                          Though I will say that I never do this with plain ground beef alone, it's always with either some chopped onions and garlic (if I'm doing chili) or red sauce (if it's for a bolognese), both of which add liquid to the meat so it simmers evenly.