How to Cook Ground Beef in a Slow Cooker

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At our house, the main protein sources are chicken, turkey, salmon, and beef. In particular, we eat a lot of ground beef because it’s versatile, economical, and tasty. However, I have a minor problem with ground beef; I don’t especially like cooking it. I know…first world problems and all that.

It’s not like it’s a big deal, but here’s what typically happens: I take a package of ground beef out of the freezer in the morning, and put it in the fridge to thaw. When dinner time rolls around, it’s still not completely thawed, so I either have to defrost it in the microwave, where the edges inevitably get dry and brown and the middle stays partially frozen, OR I must heat the frozen lump in a skillet and stand there, scraping away the browned bits and breaking up the meat until it finally cooks all the way through. Of course, the fat must also be drained, and I always make a mess when doing this because you know…I am me.

My Mom used to put ground beef on the counter to thaw all day, but food safety experts advise against this. I don’t buy into their concerns because I’m always careful to insure that meat is brought up to the appropriate temperature to kill harmful bacteria, and I check it with an instant read thermometer before serving it. I have a different reason for not thawing meat on the counter – the enormous ball of overly-cocky ginger fluff known as Pumpkin. He’s too lazy to chase a piece of string, but he can and does manage to haul all 16 pounds of his fat self up onto the counter any old time he wants, and I don’t really care to eat meat that a cat has been licking. But that’s just me.

I’ve written before about how I like to cook several pounds of chicken breasts at a time, and freeze leftovers in meal-sized portions. I also do this with leftover cooked turkey breast, and leftover pot roast. It’s very efficient, and I love the convenience of having pre-cooked proteins in my freezer because it means that dinner can be thrown together really quickly.

About a month ago, I was tiredly scraping at a lump of frozen meat, and I started thinking, why couldn’t ground beef be cooked in large quantities in the slow cooker? I decided it couldn’t hurt to try, so the next morning I put four pounds of frozen ground beef in the slow cooker after breakfast.

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I sprinkled the meat generously with my homemade Montreal steak seasoning (recipe to follow).

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I poured in one cup of hot water, mixed with a teaspoon of beef broth powder for extra flavor (you can substitute a teaspoon of beef bouillon, or a cup of beef stock). I put the lid on the slow cooker, set it for 8 hours on low, and walked away. A couple hours later, as I was walking through the kitchen, I stopped and broke up the now-thawed beef with a spatula. I did this a couple more times throughout the day, as the beef simmered away.

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After 8 hours, the beef was very finely minced, and so savory, tender, and delicious you would not believe it! It was easily the best ground beef I’d ever eaten.

I put a strainer over my largest measuring cup, and working in batches, I managed to neatly drain off all the fat and remaining liquid.

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I used some of the ground beef crumbles to make our favorite cheeseburger pizzas for supper, and I divided the rest into 2-cup portions in quart-size freezer bags.

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I squeezed out as much air as possible,

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then flattened the packages and stacked them in the freezer. They thaw very quickly this way.

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The next week, I cooked 4 more pounds of ground beef, and repeated this process. I absolutely LOVE the convenience of having this tender, pre-cooked, seasoned beef available for tacos, casseroles, and chili. If you would like to try this, here are some tips:

1. Do this on a day when you will be home, because you’ll need to break up the beef 2-3 times (or more, depending on the texture you want) throughout the day so that it will cook evenly. If you don’t do this, it will cook in lumps with overdone edges, molded to the shape of your slow cooker.
2. Always add at least one cup of water or broth to the slow cooker. You need moisture to make the beef really tender, even if it’s frozen.
3. If you’re using fresh beef instead of frozen, the cooking time will obviously be much shorter. About 4 hours on low will likely be sufficient.
3. Season the beef as you prefer, of course, but Montreal steak seasoning is a great all-purpose spice blend for beef. This is the recipe for my homemade version (NOTE: I save small jars and spice shakers when empty, for making my own seasoning blends. I soak them to remove labels and adhesive residue, run them through the dishwasher, and print simple labels using Microsoft Word and standard Avery label sheets):

Homemade Montreal Steak Seasoning
3 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
1/2 tablespoon dried, minced garlic (sub garlic powder for a stronger flavor)
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary
1/2 tablespoon dried, ground coriander

4. Before serving, make sure to test the cooked beef with an instant read meat thermometer to insure that it has reached a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, to kill e. coli and other harmful bacteria. Cool and freeze the surplus promptly. It is perfectly safe to cook frozen meat in the slow cooker as long as you adhere to these guidelines.

This process will work for any ground meat. Enjoy!

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Heather is a minimalist in love with a recovering packrat. 7 years ago, she and her husband sold pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down in order to pay off their mortgage, and they've been living happily debt-free ever since. They have 3 hilarious little kids who were conceived with the help of in vitro fertilization, and they haven't had a good night's sleep in the last decade. Heather is an anglophile who loves all things British, and spends her free time looking at real estate listings in Cornwall. Every day, she and her family work toward a simpler, more meaningful life. Some days are awesome, some are disastrous, and you can read about all of them here.

Have a question? Need a listening ear? Contact Heather, or visit Want What You Have on Facebook.

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19 comments… add one

  1. Suzanne March 18, 2014, 4:53 pm

    This is a great post and answers some questions I had. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Lacie March 18, 2014, 5:34 pm

    SUPER helpful, Heather! I can’t wait to try this. Is your recipe for the Cheeseburger Pizza here somewhere??

    Reply
    1. Heather March 18, 2014, 5:37 pm

      It’s not, Lacie, but it’s very easy. It’s just pizza crust with your favorite sauce, topped with both mozzarella and American cheese, seasoned ground beef, chopped onion, and dill pickle slices. It sounds weird, but it’s delicious.

      Reply
      1. Jennie Lynn March 18, 2014, 6:11 pm

        When we do it, we also top it with a sauce of 2 parts ketchup and 1 part mustard. Yummy!

        Reply
  3. Jennie Lynn March 18, 2014, 6:08 pm

    WOW! This is brilliant. I never thought about cooking ground beef in the slow cooker. This would definitely speed up meal time and save me a dirty pan. I’m going to try this with a crockpot liner. Wish me luck!

    Reply
  4. mdoe37 March 18, 2014, 8:14 pm

    Well have you been peeking in my window….I was just, oh I don’t know, scraping on a lump of frozen meat. (although my microwave does a decent job)

    Yes yes!! Isn’t cooking frozen hamburg like re-inventing the wheel every..single…time!! I like your method better. When I had SS home and I was working, I fried up fresh burger with celery and onions (sometimes green peppers) and froze it up in packages. But frying up large quantities of burger is second only to frying up frozen burger in the pain factor!

    I should really try this now…I have ground venison of all things. No fat at all as I didn’t have it mixed when it was processed. I’ll definitely try this later in the week.

    Reply
  5. ross March 18, 2014, 10:31 pm

    To thaw frozen ground beef quickly, put it in a plastic baggie in hot water in the sink or a large pan…will usually thaw completely in about an hour.

    Reply
    1. Heather March 19, 2014, 1:58 am

      Oooh, great tip!

      Reply
  6. Anika March 19, 2014, 12:31 am

    Hi Heather, do you think you could post one or two cassarole recipes that you could use this frozen beef for?

    Reply
  7. Mileigh March 19, 2014, 2:30 am

    Why didn’t I think of that?! Great tip! Love your blog by the way.

    Reply
  8. Karen March 19, 2014, 2:09 pm

    I, too, have a cat that hates people food except meat. When I need to defrost hamburger or any other meat, I thaw all day in the microwave. I can shut the door and set it in there on a plate. The cat can’t get it and I have nicely defrosted meat.

    Reply
  9. Tiffany March 19, 2014, 4:52 pm

    I second the request for more of your oft-used recipes for your browned beef! :) :) *So HaPPy to see your new posts!!~

    Reply
  10. HeatherC March 19, 2014, 7:38 pm

    Have you ever tried to do this with ground turkey?

    Reply
    1. Heather March 19, 2014, 9:28 pm

      I haven’t, Heather, but I think it would work just as well for ground turkey, especially since it has a lower fat content and would benefit from the added moisture of slow cooking. If you try it, let me know how it works out!

      Reply
  11. Janel March 22, 2014, 1:37 pm

    This is great Heather! I admire you that you use your slow cooker for so many things! Thank you for sharing this with us! Hope all is well with you and your family! Janel :)

    Reply
  12. memeslittletreasures March 25, 2014, 7:37 pm

    i was trying to email u but for some reason it wasnt working. i wanted to say thank you to you. i was 21 when i had my first child and became a stay at home mom. i was used to working full time plus and wasnt quite sure what to do with my time as a stay at home mom. so i got a laptop as and easter gift from my daughters father. one night i was feeling really frustrated. so i google stay at home mom and that is when i stubbled across your blog. you have taught me so much that i was not taught as a child and u truly helped me become a better mother and wife. thank you again

    Reply
    1. Heather March 25, 2014, 7:44 pm

      You are so welcome!

      Reply
    2. Heather March 26, 2014, 2:22 am

      Also, you can email me at wantwhatyouhaveblog at gmail dot com.

      Reply
  13. Renee March 26, 2014, 12:18 pm

    Love, love, LOVE this idea!!! Firing up the old slow cooker now! Thanks for the great tips – always!

    Reply

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