Is there a trick to making ground beef like what I had today?

I was at a mexican restaurant today which served a dish which included ground beef. The ground beef was different than any I’ve had before, in a very enjoyable way. It was somehow ground into extremely small pieces, I’d say averaging a millimeter or two in diameter or so (rather than the more almost-pea-size chunks I’m used to seeing), and these beef “crumbs” so to speak were almost crunchy in texture, just really, really, really browned until almost burnt, but not burnt, just really flavorful.

How can I do this at home? What’s the trick?

Start cooking as you normally would and when you think it is done just leave it in the pan sizzling away. Come back 3 or 4 minutes later (have the pan on medium to medium high heat) and give it a stir. It should crumble up a bit more. Walk away for another 3 minutes or so and then come back and give another stir. Keep doing this until the beef has crumbled into the size you want and has a nice deep crusty brown going.

Invest in a meat grinder and grind your own. You’ll never buy store ground again.

Yip, basically you cook 'em longer. You just have to be careful to stir. Though I will add that it sometimes helps to (at least partially) drain the meat before cooking longer–though it also means your stirring has to be a lot more diligent.

I used to do this all the time by accident. I liked it, my family didn’t.

Is the OP sure that was “ground beef”?

Draining the pan can be a good idea. Personally I just let the liquid evaporate while the ground beef is cooking. It is important not to stir too much as the beef just sitting there is what allows the Maillard reaction time to occur and turn that beef into the succulent, crumbly, golden brown delight that you are looking for.

i’ve noticed that the cheaper (fattier) grades of beef seem more likely to cook up this way. Maybe it’s ground finer to mix in the fat, or maybe it deep-fries itself. Or both.

I use lean ground beef which, in Canada, means no more than 17% fat. I’m not sure what grades of beef you have in the States.

I have gotten the results with medium (10% fat) and extra lean (10%). The key is time. Let the ground beef heat up enough to trigger the Maillard reaction. Don’t continually stir it. Let is sit for a few minutes, stir, then let it sit again. Your patience will be rewarded.

It varies widely. I’ve seen anywhere from 27% fat to 4% fat.

Thanks for this information. This is going to change everything.

(Does it work with ground turkey? We usually do that instead of beef…)

I’ve also found using a sturdy wooden spoon and a non-non-stick pan helps it break up more.

It’s like caramelizing onions. Allow way more time than you think, be super patient, and it will take longer than you want it to! If you’re cooking a family meal and usually use a certain amount of time to make it, seriously add 30 minutes for this style of ground meat cooking. It should work for turkey, though I wouldn’t be surprised if you needed to add some oil.

You’re not going to get any Maillard reaction products until all the water’s mostly cooked off, at least at the layer where the meat meets the pan.

Another part of the trick: you may have better luck cooking the meat without seasonings other than salt, at least until it reaches the texture you like. Many people do their taco meat with wet ingredients like tomato paste, garlic, chiles and onions. Not only does that water change the rate of crisping and browning, they’re also high in sugars that tend to burn before the meat reaches the texture you want. Even some dry ingredients like chile powder, cumin and oregano may burn before the meat has cooked to the point you want it. If you do like those additives, get the meat where you want it first, then add the extras afterward.

Fatty meat does help. Essentially, you’re cooking the meat until the water is driven out and the fat soaks back in.