Ground beef may be browned ahead of time and frozen for quick and convenient use in spaghetti sauce, chili, sloppy joes, etc. Follow these tips for best flavor and quality.
- When making beef crumbles for later use, if possible, avoid using iron or aluminum cooking utensils as these speed flavor changes.
- Brown crumbles with onions or unroasted bell peppers which have antioxidant properties and slow flavor changes. OR, brown the meat, seasoned lightly, with one or more of these herbs and spices that have antioxidant properties: rosemary, sage, marjoram, thyme, mace, allspice and cloves.
- Use the seasoning and amount that will be most suitable for the recipes you make. Add more seasoning when you prepare the food, if needed, as freezing may affect the intensity of the flavor of spices and herbs.
- Do not use salt; add salt later when the meat is used in your recipe. Salt may hasten undesirable flavor changes in beef crumbles.
- Freezing the crumbles as part of a sauce, such as spaghetti sauce, also helps preserve flavor. Make sure the sauce covers the entire meat surface.
- Cool and refrigerate beef crumbles promptly in shallow containers. Containers may be placed in the refrigerator before beef has cooled entirely. Loosely cover refrigerated container until beef has cooled.
- Promptly transfer the cooled beef crumbles to plastic "freezer,"
NOT "storage" bags. Eliminate air pockets. Freezer bags are thicker than storage bags and will keep the food fresh longer. Label and date packages; include amount of beef or number of servings.
- Speed freezing and hasten thawing by freezing crumbles in a thinner, flattened shape in freezer bags. Do not stack packages -- the quality will be better if the beef freezes faster. A rounded shape takes longer to thaw through to the middle. Flattened packages also will stack better in your freezer. Place on a flat surface, such as a metal pan or cookie sheet until frozen. Then, remove and stack.
- Use frozen beef crumbles within 2 to 3 months for best flavor and quality. Freeze at 0 degrees F or lower.
IMPORTANT: Unless you plan to use beef crumbles within a day or two, freeze crumbles promptly after cooling for best quality and safety. If stored in the refrigerator for a day or two, transfer to a tightly covered container after they have cooled.
Use 90% lean and higher ground beef for these directions; 16 ounces raw ground beef yields equally to 12 ounces fully cooked ground beef crumbles.
- In general, brown no more than 1 pound of ground beef at a time.
As ground beef browns, some meat juices are released. If you overload the skillet, moisture is trapped and meat is steamed rather than browned.
- Brown lean ground beef in large nonstick skillet over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes or until beef is not pink, breaking beef up into 3/4-inch crumbles. Remove beef with slotted spoon.
- Add one or more of the antioxidant foods and spices listed in number 2 under "Tips for Success" above to the beef as it is browning to aid in flavor retention during freezing. Alice's Note: I find it most versatile and time-saving to add one chopped medium onion to the beef as it is browning. So many recipes call for both beef and onions; I've made my life twice as simple by combining them.
Information on making frozen beef crumbles provided in part by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association on behalf of The Beef Checkoff. and by Kaiti Roeder, RD, Nebraska Beef.