Why Do You Add Baking Soda To Ground Beef

The secret to cooking better ground beef is baking soda

This is not a “new” hack or recent discovery, so I’m not sure how I missed it all these years, but I’m glad it’s finally made its way into my brain. I happened across it on the America’s Test Kitchen Instagram account (which features a graphic taken from a five-year-old chili recipe).

I finally gave it a try last night with a little over a pound of ground meat I had to use up. I covered the meat with about a third of a teaspoon of baking soda, tossed it, and let it sit for fifteen minutes before cooking it in a pan over medium-high heat.

Ground beef doesn’t usually floor me, but that’s exactly what happened. The usual pool of liquid was reduced to a mere puddle, and the beef bits acquired a deep, brown crust even after some overindulgent adjusting and stirring. It was also much more tender. There were gorgeously browned chunks of flavorful beef instead of rubbery bounce or disagreeable chew.

Why does adding baking soda to ground meat make it cook faster?

Why does this work? The baking soda (which is very basic) raises the pH of the meat, preventing the proteins from bonding excessively (and thus squeezing water out); this keeps everything nice and tender, and prevents that pool of liquid from forming. The drier your pan, the faster your food will brown but, according to ATK, alkaline environments are also far more favorable for the Maillard reaction—the “chemical between amino acids and reducing sugars” that gives browned food its look and flavor.

Additionally, baking soda can be added to meat cuts. According to ATK, a quarter of a teaspoon should be added for every twelve ounces of ground meat and a full teaspoon for every twelve ounces of sliced meat. When working with sliced materials, it can be helpful to mix the baking soda with a tablespoon or two of water to help distribute it more evenly. However, I found that the “sprinkle and go” method worked really well for ground materials. Add the bicarb to the raw meat (I just broke it up with a wooden spoon and pushed it around), cook it according to your usual method, and wait 15 minutes (any longer time won’t intensify the effects of the baking soda).

2. Beef and Veggie Toss

Why Do You Add Baking Soda To Ground Beef

This sauté has a tangy kick from the goat cheese, but you can use your favorite shredded cheese instead.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 cups green beans
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 cup sliced red onion
  • 2 cups cooked baby potatoes, halved
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • ⅓ cup steak sauce
  • ½ cup crumbled goat cheese (2 oz.)

Directions:

  • Active: 40 mins
  • Total time: 40 mins
  • Yield: 4 servings
  • Coat nonstick skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 to 8 minutes, or until no longer pink. Drain; reserve.
  • Cut pepper into strips; cut green beans into thirds. In skillet, heat oil over medium- high heat. Add pepper and onion; cook 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, beans, and tomatoes and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, or until tender. Over medium-low, stir in beef, sauce, ⅛ tsp. salt and ¼ cup water; add cheese. Cover; let cheese melt, 5 minutes.