My meal time madness solution!
Too often that crazy dinner hours rolls around and the “What are we eating? cry echoes through the house.
Well, one of the ways I’ve tackled and conquered that dilemma is to have some of my proteins cooked in advance. Yes, one of the keys to quick and easy meal preparation is to plan just a bit ahead. I’m a Type Z personality (vs. all you organized Type A’s), so you know it will be easy.
I have shared numerous times, I am so much more efficient when I spend a little time in the kitchen power cooking, grilling in bulk,and then bagging my poultry and meat, so that I have those key items ready for a “Ten Minute Dinner.”
Last week, I shared one of my favorite ways to deal with the mess of cooking ground beef was by browning the beef as you normally would in a skillet and then draining the ground beef. Yes, simply by putting a colander on top of a plastic bag and draining the ground beef through the colander, it allows the grease to drain without any mess. (Read the post for a more detailed explanation.)
While I like the taste of texture the best of ground beef browned on a skillet, the reality is that on some days, I don’t have the time to monitor cooking mass quantities over the stove, and that is where this gem of a kitchen tip comes into play. (For more time savers, Check out my Best Kitchen Tips category.)
Cooking ground beef in bulk, in my crock pot, has helped revolutionize my “Power Cooking Hour.”
My goal, on any given day, is to have five Ziplock freezer bags (or freezer containers) filled with seasoned ground beef so that I always have a quick and easy meal option.
For my family, I need a minimum of two pounds in each serving since I am feeding a family of seven. When I use ground beef for quick meals, I typically am adding other things to make it stretch, like rice, beans, potatoes etc.
Tuesdays are my crazy, busy days.
I am gone all day, and unless I have a plan for dinner, it’s drive through time. As I was running out the door, I decided to throw my six pounds of ground beef (thawed) in the crock pot. I knew that I wouldn’t be home until 8 pm, and that was not the time to think about starting meal prep. This decision took me all of two minutes – literally.
When I want grease free meat, I put one cup of water in the crock pot with a metal steamer in the bottom, and then I put the ground beef on top (broken up since it will cook exactly how you place it in the crock pot). I season it liberally with my favorite seasonings (basic ones like garlic and onion powder, as well as salt and pepper), then close the lid and then let cook. Voila! It does the work for you. This is what you see picture above.
The steamer is not necessary, but if you are watching extra fat content (and just buy what is on sale, which normally has more fat), this allows for all of your grease to drain to the bottom, leaving drier, but completely grease free meat. I make it both ways.
If I don’t use the steamer, I put the ground beef in with 1/4 cup of water, break it up into smaller size pieces, and let it cook. Then, I drain it using my previously stated method.
If you are leaving for the day, be prepared that when you come home your meat will look exactly like you left it (see picture above. I chuckled because it literally is identical, except that it’s cooked). Ideally, I stir it a few times throughout the cooking process, but that isn’t an option if you are gone all day.
If you can’t stir the meat until it’s done, then just wait for it to cool and break it down into your desired consistency. It will be a bit like “Taco Bell” meat (see picture below.) Cooking time will completely depend on how much ground beef you are cooking. Yesterday, I accidentally left it on high for eight hours and it was too well done for my taste, but it still worked fine. Typically, cooking is done within 2 – 2 1/2 hours on high, and reduce to low to keep it warm.
There’s rarely a time now when I don’t have some protein ready for a quick Mexican themed meal. I love it!
I’ve also started making up my own homemade seasonings. We use so much taco seasoning that I make it up in bulk. It’s inexpensive and healthy.
Remember, I encourage you to cook your ground beef in bulk because there is no difference in the time that it takes to cook one pound versus five pounds, yet the sanity saving factor of having quick meals to grab helps us conquer meal time mountain, and saves us money at the same time.
For those that don’t have a crock pot or aren’t ready to try this yet, another option is to use your double boiler to eliminate fat.
Brown your ground beef a couple pounds at a time in a double boiler. You need to stir the meat. It browns in about the same time as in a skillet, but the grease all drips down into the water and it’s actually steam that cooks the meat. It works well and if you have a large pan, you are able to cook more meat than with just a skillet. Same concept as above – sanity and savings saver.
What do I do with my ground beef after I am done cooking? That’s another post, but to give you a few ideas, I season the various bags with Mexican spices, Italian, Garlic, and some plain.
Last night at 10 pm, my hard working husband came home and had not eaten yet. Had I not had ground beef on hand, my first reaction would have been to insist that the kitchen closed hours ago, but instead, I was able to get something hot to him in less than five minutes. I took the Biscuits and Gravy concept, and served it over bread. I had gravy left over from the night before, so I used the meat that I had just cooked and seasoned, and made a comfort food sandwich. Melted cheese, in conjunction with this, would have been yummy too, but alas, I didn’t think of it till later. 🙂
So enjoy this tip. Hopefully, it will help ease meal time madness in your home.
DO you want more Quick Kitchen Tips like Shredding Chicken in Seconds? Check out my Jen’s Best Kitchen Tips category.
Yes, this is a previously posted idea that still helps me years later. 🙂
Where can you get a steamer?
You can buy one at any store – Walmart, Target, or probably grocery stores. They are inexpensive. You don’t need one though. I like the taste of the meat better without it on top of the steamer. I just started doing this since I was trying to go lower fat.
What an awesome idea. I buy ground beef and chicken in 5lb bulk bags and have always divided it up ready to cook and stored in the freezer, but pre-cooking would save so much more time. Have you found that the cooked/reheated meat does or doesn’t absorb your spices as well? That would be my only concern, although I think you could avoid the bland meat scenario by putting some garlic, salt, pepper and some other “general” seasonings (parsley, minced onion) in there when you cook in the crock pot. I would think these are common enough to most things you do with the finished meat that you wouldn’t endanger the final dinner product.
I can’t wait to see your 10 minute dinners!
@Lois H., I always cook my ground beef with salt, pepper, onion, and garlic. No matter what I’m making, if I’m using ground beef, those four spices always find their way into the pot sooner or later. I do find that it tastes much better if I season before cooking. I usually add some before cooking, and then more later if needed.
Yes, I second what Rachel said. I add basic seasonings, but then I always add the variety afterwards. This same concept can be applied to your chicken as well. I did a video about that. I will add things right to my raw chicken, such as a can of tomatoes, southwest seasoning and a dash of Wor. sauce for a Southwest Chicken in the crock pot. It’s helpful on days when my brain power dwindles. 🙂
@Jen, I have a “house seasoning” blend I use on everything (garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper & dash of paprika) – I think that I’d probably start there and add others as needed. I keep my “house seasoning” in an old (large) garlic powder bottle and sprinkle liberally on most all my cooking. Food just isn’t good without it! 🙂
@Lois H., I usually add my stand by seasoning during cooking. Garlic, onion, adobo…then When I separate and make taco meat or any other, I bag it after cooling and refrigerate overnight. (I always think my tacos and fajitas taste better the next day after the favors have had time to really absorb) and THEN freeze it!
What a great tip! I’m going to try it. I’ve always wanted to brown 5lbs at a time, but that would mean a minimum of 2 large pans on the stove…thanks!
I love this idea! We are trying to reduce our grocery spending and less eating out at the same time and I feel like all I do is cook! I will be here reading all of your bulk cooking posts…
Thank you. I appreciate you sharing this today, as I was intrigued when I saw your FB update about it last night. This is awesome for me, because when I plan a bulk cooking afternoon (or sometimes just an hour or two), I could put this in the crockpot and let it go so it doesn’t take up stove space and pans. Also, we buy a half of a steer from a local farmer once a year. Our beef just came in, and my freezer is FULL! I like to cook up several pounds of ground beef at a time to use for tacos, chili, quesadillas, nachos, etc. In fact, I’m thinking I could even make taco meat with the right seasonings in the crockpot. Have a wonderful day!
Carrie – yes, it’s such a complete “brain save” for me. I literally do nothing.The texture ends up being a tad different, but not enough that my family has ever noticed. 🙂 The kids love having it cooked in baggies too because I will keep some in the fridge and it makes them much more apt to cook up something on their own. 🙂
Love your post! Do you ever start w/ frozen g. beef? If so, how much time do you add to the cooking? I have a whole freezer full of g. beef.
If you’re really interesting in lowering the fat content, you might try what I’ve been doing for years now — cooking the hamburger in water. Sounds and looks gross, but so much of the fat is just dissolved into the water. My kids got to the point where they thought fried ground beef was too greasy and nasty. I just break up the ground beef into a large stockpot of water, then simmer until it’s cooked. I drain the water off using a sieve, let it cool slightly and then pack it in one-pound freezer portions. If I need more than one pound of meat for a dish, I just use two, but I find that one pound is plenty for most of our meals.
Tammy, I’ve been doing this for years too! Only I started because we raise our own beef and so I have a freezer full of frozen hamburger. Because I always forget to take it out in time to thaw, and I hate microwaving hamburger, I started cooking it in water (my sister’s recommendation). Now it’s the ONLY way I make it since it also takes away the grease. I just boil it until it’s mostly done, drain the water, and finish browning it in the pot. I add the seasonings during the last step. Works perfectly!
I’ve been doing this for years and it works great. I buy the “rolls” of hamburger meat, unwrap them and place them in my 5 quart slow cooker in their rolled form. When they are cooked, I place each roll in a freezer bag, squish it until it is crumbled, write the date on the bag and throw it in the freezer. You’re right about the texture being different, but it’s so nice to have the meat cooked and ready to be seasoned and used for tacos, sloppy joes, spaghetti, soup, casseroles or any other recipe. I’ve done it with rolls of sausage too!
You freeze it right in the roll without doing anything to it? That is so interesting. I may have to try that the next time it’s on sale. 🙂 Thanks.
Thanks for these pointers – I’m making chili tomorrow and instead of dealing with all the ingredients tomorrow, I thought I’d see about doing the meat in the crockpot – just got it started And I had a great idea for breaking up the meat – something I always hate and end up some big clumps and other more crumbled pieces. Anyway, I used my potato masher and I’m happy to say it did a great job, and much more quickly than I’d been used to. I’m using a combo of mainly ground beef, a smaller amount of ground pork (a new ingredient for .me) and then a lesser amount of sweet Italian sausage. Should make for a good taste! I added chili pepper, black pepper, garlic powder and onion salt to the meat. The recipe is rounded off by the requisite kidney beans (light and dark red, and black), chopped onions, a little bit of chopped garlic, tomato sauce (don’t use the chunkier kinds) and peppers: a lare orange pepper for sweetness and for the first time, a few small jalapenos for HEAT! These latter ingredients will go in tomorrow and it will simmer for the day – of course it will be dinner tomorrow night but IMO, it will taste even better after sitting and letting the flavors blend together.
Again, thanks for the info on using the crockpot to brown the meat…looking forward to tasty chili!
Yum – you now have me in the mood for chili (and I just ate. ;)) That sounds delicious!! I put up a post about doing taco meat in the crock pot as well. I am sold on that as I actually like this consistency for tacos better.
This is probably a silly question, but I’m still FAR from being a cooking expert, so I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. I have tried browning ground beef just in a frying pan (no seasonings) and then putting it in the fridge or freezer for meals later in the week. Every time I have done this, I have noticed a weird taste to the meals I try to prepare ahead. Almost a greasier taste…I’m not sure if I’m explaining this correctly. But, it does taste different if I try to prepare it ahead of time. Is it because I’m not seasoning any when I cook it initially? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!
Hmm – ok, I can not speak to a greasy taste since that hasn’t happened to me before, but I assume you are draining all grease off before you package it up for the freezer? So that’s there not a lot of residual grease?
If you are, then I would definitely think you should season it before you freeze it to give it extra flavor. Wish I could be more of a help, but I haven’t had this happen. I never freeze it and then eat it plain, I always mix it in with things so you coudl try that too.
I always not only drain my meat, but rinse it with hot water. This will get all of the grease off. Then I leave it sitting in the collander over couple of paper towels for a few minutes to get as much water off as it can. Then I will bag or freeze it.
And we always do salt, pepper, and garlic in all of our ground beef recipes.
@Lauren, Thank you so much for this tip! I always just drain the grease. I’ve never tried rinsing it! I will try that!
Yes, I have done this on numerous occasions too, and it’s great. Just be careful where you are rinsing the grease because I wasn’t thinking the very first time and had issues in my drain. I assumed I had gotten enough grease off in the draining process to not matter. Oops. 😉
Thanks for the tip on draining ground beef. That’s the part I hate about cooking bulk amounts of ground beef and I never thought of lining a bowl to catch the grease
You, ma’am, are a genius. Thank you for sharing a method for cooking the ONE thing I don’t cook in the crockpot. I am trying this soon.
This is how I cook up ground venison which we use in place of ground beef for everything. The venison comes frozen in 1 or 1.5 lb. packages. I place the frozen burger in the crock pot, sprinkle liberally with seasoned salt, and add about half crock of water. I “stew” these “loaves” in my crockpot all day, allow them to cool a bit, then put each loaf in 1 quart Ziplock Freezer bag. Before zipping the bag I knead the meat until it is crumbled and looks like ground burger – ready for spaghetti, chili, taco meat, etc. Anything you would use ground burger for. Cooking several at a time is a great time saver!
Thanks so much for sharing that tip. With deer season starting, that is wonderful to know.
looking forward to trying this but how long should the meat (gr.beef,chicken,pork etc..) cool or stand before freezing and when you take it out of the freezer for meals is it best to just thaw it in the fridge or????
I tend to let it cool so that it’s not really steamy when I put it in the bag. When you take it out of the freezer, if you can remember, it’s best to take it out the day before to thaw in the fridge, but often I forget until I need it. Then I just take it out of the bag. Rinse it with water to get any ice off and then thaw it in the microwave.
Read this post via 3/28/14. Why is water needed when using the steamer basket? (I know water is needed for steaming, but it’s not really be steamed, is it?) Ok, think I just figured it out: Is it for the heat, cause the meat would not be touching the hot crockpot? I assume you know that every time you lift the lid on the crockpot while cooking, that heat is lost. But I understand wanting to crumble up the beef!
Yes, on the water. You may not need a little water at the bottom, but I never wanted to take the chance. It may be an extra step that I don’t even need. 🙂 I try to only take the lid of 1-2 to just crumble it up, so yes, it does add to the cookng time but it’s usually on a day when the little bit of extra time doesn’t matter.
This is a great idea! I am disabled and am not able to stand at the stove for more than a few minutes so I end up buying and eating processed junk which makes things worse. I wish I could find more quick and easy meals like those. I’m so glad to have found your site!
Amazing thanks for saving me time! Btw a potato masher works great to break up the meat!