Why does my ground beef get so watery?

Usually when I brown a pound of ground beef, I don’t get much sizzle, but instead get a pan full of watery brown gunk, resulting more in boiled beef than fried. Sure, it gets brown, but doesn’t have that yummy sear. What’s going on?

Some clues:

I usually use bison, not beef.

I usually include a medium chopped onion.

Due to the pan, I keep the heat at medium low.

I do an entire pound at once.


Are you using especially fatty bison? Try a leaner cut.

No matter how lean the cut you use, you’re going to get some fat bubbling out when you do a whole pound. Try draining it with a screen mesh colander halfway through if you get too much.

Higher heat to evaporate all the excess liquid. It’s not going to brown until that’s all gone.

I just keep cooking it until all of that moisture is gone.

Onions produce a lot of liquid. Chop & sautee the onion first, then remove it & drain the pan & add the beef, or vice versa. And medium low is probably too low for searing.

I don’t think the bison meat itself is the source of your problem.

Try sauteeing the onion separately - either doing it first with a bit of oil, or doing it last in the grease from the meat.

Also, turn the heat up if you want to sear the meat as opposed to just browning it.

Are you doing a lot of stirring? If so, try leaving it alone a bit longer. If you keep it moving, it’s less likely to sear.

More heat, smaller batches.

+1. When I cook onions for something, the volume is halved: half of it is water evaporating off. Given your approach, you’re effectively boiling the meat in onion juice. If you cooked long enough to drive off that moisture, your meat would probably be very overdone and still not seared.

Heat is too low. Meat cells brown at around 310 degrees. Water turns to steam at 212 degrees, so if the pan isn’t hot enough to disappear any moisture even wetness on steak, it will steam and can turn gray and cook before it can brown. Just tip it out during browning if need be, it’s of no use.

Maybe they slipped you some water buffalo instead of bison.

…And, I get the one joke response from Chefguy. :wink:

I suspect all of the answers have some truth to them. The bison is definitely not too fatty, very little fat comes out of it.

The pan is definitely overcrowed, so working in batches would probably help. In the particular recipe where this happened last, I had another pan going with olive oil and galic anyway, so I could have done the onions in that – and had more control over how they cooked.

I usually start with a cold pan. Should I preheat it before I put the meat in? One fear I have is ruining the pan. It’s a pretty expensive All Clad, and while I can’t find the instructions, I sort of remember them saying not to get the heat too high. But I’ve made pancakes in it, so it can at least handle that kind of heat.

Should water skittle cross the surface before I add the meat?

Yes, you should preheat the pan – putting ground meat into it will make the temperature drop as the cold meat absorbs heat, and if you don’t have it hot to begin with the meat won’t brown properly. I’ll also add my vote to the people who are saying to cook the onions separately and not to overload the pan.

And don’t worry about using high heat. The only way you can hurt the pan is if you leave it EMPTY over high heat for too long, then cool it down too fast (by putting it still sizzling hot into a sink full of water, for instance). That can warp a pan.

A hot pan is necessary, and for something like bison (which we had last night), I like to add just a bit of oil to the pan.

Ug, this happens all the time when my wife cooks my meat. She’s banned from boiling any more of my steaks.

Simple solution: cooking oil, high heat, don’t add sauces until the meat has been cooked.

High heat + cooking oil will force water to evaporate.

Adding sauce adds water, so don’t add it until you’ve cooked the meat the way you want it. The same principle here for browning beef before adding it to stew.

Usually, I like to sear one side, turn the meat, turn down the heat, then cook it. I always use a minimum of 60-75% of my range’s capacity at all times. I only go to 40-50% to make it well-done. At 60-75%, the meat must be turned often to avoid burning.

From the All-Clad site:

They don’t say that high heat will damage the pans; they say that you will need to use less heat because it they hold and conduct heat so well. IIRC, pancakes should be cooked at 400ºF. As they say, the food should sizzle when you put it in.

I have Calphalon cookware, which is pretty much the same as All-Clad. It’s designed for high heat. Watching some other people cook, I think they tend to use too much heat. In your case, it sounds like you’re going too far the other way. I think the deal is that you need to use less energy with the good cookware to get the same heat as you would with lesser cookware, not that you should cook at a lower temperature to protect the pans. I’d be more concerned using high heat with Teflon pans than with stainless steel.

Seriously, the reason you buy nice cookware is that it’s good to cook in. If you’re afraid to cook, as in apply heat, in a pan, then either your pan sucks or you need to grow a pair and cook in the thing. Everything I have is All-Clad except my nonstick skillet, my dutch oven, and my frying pan, and I use all sorts of different heats on it. Is the pan nonstick?

T’aint no such thing. Bison is lean to the point of being tasteless. Much of the flavor is in the fat. I’d suggest using not-particularly lean cow.

And yet, when you look in even the best restaurant kitchen, all the pans are crappy aluminum. :smiley:

ETA the obvious moral: It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools.

That’s at least partly because one of the benefits of good clad cookware is that it’s more forgiving for the home cook, who can count on the phone ringing.

Okay, I haven’t cooked with anything else for decades, but his burger is watery? Maybe buying it elsewhere will help. Someplace that does not water the beef.