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 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.
I sprinkled the meat generously with my homemade Montreal steak seasoning (recipe to follow).
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.
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.
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.
I squeezed out as much air as possible,
then flattened the packages and stacked them in the freezer. They thaw very quickly this way.
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!