ONE Big Mess (Instead of 8!)

How to Pre-Cook and Freeze Ground Beef to Speed Up Meal Prep -


I’m messy. Clutter is a constant struggle. The monotonous task of keeping my kitchen sparkling after three meals a day is not on the top of my priority list. I wish it was, and so we have this blog. I love it when I come up with something that helps me minimize how messy my kitchen gets.
About six years ago, I went to a moms-group meeting with a speaker who had written a cookbook on Freezer Cooking. I think she cooked about every three months. It was very inspiring, but also overwhelming. The thought of not being spontaneous (one of my most lovable traits) for three whole months was too much for me. Not to mention the two days of shopping and the day of kicking kids and hubby out of the house so I could cook. But I did take a few key things from her. First of all, many people (including me before hearing her), assume that freezer meals are casseroles. I’m not a big fan of casseroles. But she showed us how to make tons of different types of things that were mostly done on the big cooking day and then could be thrown together in a matter of minutes for a “fresh” meal.
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After hearing her talk, I started thinking differently. I began to double certain time-consuming recipes such as spaghetti sauce, and freezing the extra. It doesn’t take any extra time to make twice the recipe, but then I have the sauce ready for a 5 minute meal on a busy night. The biggest way I changed how I operate in the kitchen was when I started bulk-cooking meat. If you think about it, cooking your meat is the most time consuming part of meal prep. Especially if your meat is frozen. You have to thaw (which requires this thing called “planning ahead”), season, and then cook. Plus whatever else you’re doing for the meal.
I’ve always bought meat (never more than 2.00/lb) in big packages and divided it up to freeze. A few years ago, I started cooking MOST of my meat as soon as I brought it home, rather than freezing small portions of raw meat. With chicken, I do always freeze some uncooked, since I can do more things with it this way, like Crockpot BBQ Chicken. But with ground beef, I generally cook it all on the day I buy it.

This week I found it on sale for 1.69/lb, so I bought about 10 lbs. I cooked it in three different ways, all at the same time. I made porcupines, which are meatballs with rice in them that pokes out and looks like porcupines. I also cooked up about three and a half lbs of hamburger patties, and then browned the rest of the meat to use in things like tacos, spaghetti, soups, casseroles, or sprinkle on pizza.

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I love to do this with beef, because beef is usually so messy with the fat draining thing. Ugh. It’s rare that I find 93% lean beef at a price I can justify paying, so I generally get 80-85 % lean. It splatters, and then the draining of the fat is a pain, so I prefer doing it all in one night so I don’t have to do it again for a long time. I believe in the importance of eating at home, both for our budget and for our physical and family well-being, so I try to do all I can to keep myself from dreading cooking. With three kids I don’t typically have time to spend two hours a night in the kitchen being creative with new recipes. Having the frozen, already-cooked beef means I can have dinner on the table in the time it takes to cook the spaghetti or crisp up the taco shells. I made tacos last night in about 10 minutes. Way quicker than driving out to get fast food!
Here’s how I did it this time:
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Ten lbs Ground Beef – 80% lean
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The meatballs get cooked and then drained, and then I add a can of cream of mushroom soup and a can of water and it makes an awesome gravy. Serve it over mashed potatoes, rice, noodles, whatever.

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I like to make something like this on the first day because then at least one meal gets the benefit of using the juices in the gravy. If I’m going to cook up LOTS of meatballs, I usually cook them in the oven.

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While the meatballs are going, I make up the hamburger patties, season them with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt and start them on the George Foreman grill.

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The rest of the meat goes in my big soup pot and gets stirred every once in a while. I also season this with garlic and onion.

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Once the beef is browned, I use a metal pasta server or metal slotted spoon to transfer it to my colander which is on top of paper towels on a plate.
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Let it drain and cool while you have dinner, and then transfer it to a big freezer bag. Don’t put it in the freezer bag before it’s cool, as it may cause the bag to break. When you need some for later meals, just take it out of the freezer and bang it on the counter to break off how much you need. I usually thaw it in the microwave for a minute at a time on 20% power.

One Big Mess (Instead of 8) Freezing Pre-Cooked Ground Beef at



  1. 1
    Going Cerebral says:

    I cook mine in a 6qt pot, seasoning it with chopped onion, minced garlic (i cheat and get the large jar of minced onion from wally), oregano and black pepper. When finished cooking, i prop the pot and squish all the meat to the high side to drain the grease. i use a baster to suck it out and put it in a metal bowl. when it's drained sufficiently (and cooled mostly) I measure at one-cup increments into snack-sized ziploc bags…i really need to work on acquiring reusable containers for this. i put them in the fridge to get completely cold, then collect all the snack baggies in a gallon sized baggie for a little extra protection against freezer-burn. i use the gallon bag over and over and over.

    when i need meat for spaghetti, stroganoff, sloppy joes, etc i take out one or two packages, peel them out into a microwave safe bowl and nuke for 1min. drain off any excess grease and dump into the meal as required. when i'm cooking pasta i dump the nuked beef into the pasta water and treat the snippet of leftover grease as replacement for the snippet of oil i would add to prevent sticking noodles.

  2. 3
    TN Lizzie says:

    Did you know that you can BOIL ground beef in water? After you have drained it, it is almost completely fat free, and there is NO greasy stove top to deal with! Woo Hoo!

    After I separate the meat and water, I often refrigerate the pot of water. The fat congeals on the top and is easy to remove. Add veggies and some boullion cubes (beef and/or chicken) to the water and you've got a great soup!

    Your "25-step list of each job that goes into cleaning a bathroom" was linked on an e-mail from The Clean Team Catalog: Summer Cleaning School. I'm loving your blog! Thank you!!!

  3. 4
    Nony (A Slob Comes Clean) says:

    Cerebral, I actually tried that last week after you suggested it.

    TN Lizzie, I tried boiling it once, and didn't know what to do with the water. I love the idea of putting it in the fridge and letting the fat harden. And soup? Great idea!

    • 5

      My mom used to make hamburger gravy. So delish! She boiled ground beef added onion, spices, flour, boullion etc and served over potatoes Mmmm-mmmm

  4. 6

    I had never heard of boiling ground beef! That is a GREAT idea!!!!! I hate having the mess on the stove and then not cleaning it up until a week later when my husband finally asks, "When are you going to clean that up???" Not a good feeling.

  5. 7

    I just found your blog after frantic searching for something that actually made sense to my slobbish ways. I love your blog by the way. It's like you are in my head. All the other blogs that I found in my search gave tips, etc. But the majority of the problem with me lies in not having the motivation.

    I just wanted to add that I was reading a cooking light magazine that said that if you use a higher percentage of fat ground beef that by draining it and rinsing it with hot water it can be the equivalent of 95% lean beef.

  6. 10

    What kind of sauce do you use with your porcupines? I have a recipe from my mom that uses enchilada sauce. But I’m always looking for new recipes.

    And if you put the hamburger on a cookie sheet to freeze and then move it to a bag it makes it easier to get the amount you want later, not as much banging 🙂

    • 11

      I actually use cream of mushroom soup with a can of water or milk. Maybe not the most healthy option, but soooo yummy!

      • 12

        I make my cream of mushroom soup. I haven’t had a can of it in years. I think it tastes better to. It is simple. Just add 2 TBS of butter melt it in a sauce pan then add 3 TBS of flour cook till bubbly take off heat and add 1/2 cup veg. broth and 1/2 cup milk cook med and either chopped fresh mushrooms abt 2 TBS or freeze dried same quantity heat until thick about another 5 min. This is equivilant to 1 can of soup you can double or triple. Prepare as you would your canned soup.

    • 14

      I use an 8 oz. can of tomato sauce, rinse can out with 8 oz. water, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, couple dashes of Tabasco, browning sauce to taste. These amounts for 1# of hamburger.

  7. 15
    Debbie Fites says:

    I have cooked meat like this before but maybe only 5 lbs. I am very encouraged to do this again with more meat. I just found your blog today and i’m reading it backwards!!

    Also, I always, for 24 years, have drained and rinsed my meat in a colander after cooking. Thanks again for your encouragement and I am like you in a lot of ways. I was reading earlier about being overwhelmed and that is so me! I watched a couple of your videos today and then I went and decluttered!! Today was my day off work (kids at school) – I felt like I got a lot accomplished even though the house is not perfect and there is more to do. Thanks. I have to work tomorrow and then I’m off on Friday and I will be visiting your site again that morning to get some encouragement!!

  8. 16

    I’ve thought about doing this with ground beef, but always worry about the flavor of using pre-cooked meat. I know sometimes just leftovers the next day have a funky taste (the closest comparison I can come up with is like wet dog hair smells). When done this way, does it taste like you just cooked it when you do use it?

    • 17

      I use this in recipes, so it works great. My main advice is to be sure you don’t re-cook the meat. Thaw it for as short a time as possible on as low power as possible.

  9. 18

    For the hamburger patties – how do you store them? Do they taste just as good after warming them up? I know around here it’s hard to get anyone to eat the leftover hamburger patties. I like these ideas but I’m not so sure about the pre-cooked hamburgers.

    • 19

      I put them in a ziploc bag after they’re completely cooled. For us, the key is to defrost them instead of re-cook them. Put it in for 30 seconds at 20% power and then add another 15 seconds at a time til it’s warmed through. They’re not as good as fresh though, but my husband is fine with it.

      • 20

        I realize this comment is a bit late, but one way to reheat frozen meat is in a skillet or pan with lid and a bit of water. It also helps to add seasoning/spices upon reheating so as to have a fresher taste. Just toss the ground beef (or patties or chicken) into the preheated pan or skillet, then add a small amount of water and cover–the meat will soften and warm, and will warm much more quickly with a lid acting as a steamer. This even works cooking on a flat grill if you have a rounded lid high enough to cover the food adequately. Usually it is reheated enough if it is soft when you use the utensil to press into it, and it gives as you would normally feel it.

    • 22

      I like to form raw patties, freeze on a cookie sheet with wax paper between layers, then store in a 2 gallon ziplock bag in freezer.

  10. 23

    I’ve been batch cooking my ground beef for a couple years, and it is truly a time saver! A full-time working Mama with my third daughter due in 3 short months, so I need all the help I can get- just like every other Mama!

    I loved your meatball recipe! I’m going to have to try that. I always have cream of mushroom on hand, so that will be an easy treat! Thanks for the tips!!

  11. 24

    I put frozen hamburger (frozen) in the crockpot with a little water and let it cook. It really doesn’t take long. Maybe a couple of hours? The only thing I have yo do occasionally is break the hamburger up. It is SO easy!!!

  12. 26

    * I meant (or raw)

  13. 27

    When freezing the meat you can portion meat into smaller non-freezer bags and then sealing a larger expensive freezer bag. Keeps the bag clean and good for those of us that do not want to whack the meat block (have a baby). Have been doing this with frozen baby food cubes in snack sized bags – prevents them from sticking together.

  14. 28

    I wonder how well this works with ground turkey??

    • 29

      I haven’t tried it, but I think it would work!

    • 30

      ground turkey is already at a taste disadvantage for me…i’d really really season the dickens out of it….won’t have much fat to drain so add plenty of the onion garlic staple stuff…

      • 31

        Try mixing equal parts ground pork with your ground turkey. It has a lighter cleaner flavor and is often cheaper. I have also just mixed ground turkey with ground beef.

      • 32

        If you cook the ground turkey with the ground beef it seems to absorb the beef juices and I can’t tell it from the ground beef. I also use 2 or 3 parts beef to 1 part turkey. It freezes up right along with the beef.

  15. 33

    I FINALLY did this! I bought 30lbs of ground beef (we are a family of 10), came home and spent 7 hours pre-cooking 4 nights of taco meat, a gallon bag each (with enough leftover from each night for some much loved nachos the next night), 2 nights of homemade chili, again, the gallon bags, 4 gallon bags of spaghetti sauce (one being Gluten free for my daughter) and froze it all! I also pre-mixed our meatloaf and froze it! I cooked the meat, sautee’d the veggies, made the meals, and froze it all! It has served us well so far. I made our menu for the month and I make other meals in between so we don’t get burnt out on ground beef. Next I plan to pre-make some of our routine chicken meals! I have also been doing some freezer cooking for breakfast items so the kids are not eating the dreadful sugar filled, terrible for you cereal and the crappy school breakfasts. I have only made sausage, egg, and cheese burritos and breakfast pockets. The breakfast pockets didn’t make it more than 2 days though, and that was a lot of work! I love your blog 😀

    • 34

      What kind of breakfast items are suitable for freezer cooking? I love this idea! I too would like to get them away from eating sugar filled breakfast cereal. My husband would eat the sausage/egg/cheese burritos, but I don’t think my kids would yet (10&7). What are breakfast pockets?

      Thanks a bunch!
      –Donna L.

  16. 35

    Slightly off-topic… Because I’m a single slob, cooking is tricky in general. But I discovered that bacon freezes really well and stands up to the microwaving process without losing its crispness. So I make ONE splattery mess and cook the whole pound in one go. Then I pull out two pieces at a time when I want some for breakfast. : )

    • 36

      I’ve always wanted to pre-cook bacon, but somehow it disappears before I can get it to the freezer!!!

    • 37
      Rosa Johnson says:

      Cook it in the oven. I have an 11’x13″ cake pan that I put a cooling rack in. Spread the bacon out evenly on the cooling rack. Bake in oven until almost done. Sort into serving sizes when cool. Put in freezer. A minute or two in the microwave crisps it right up. I cook a couple of packages at a time and it serves me for a good while.

  17. 38

    I love freezer cooking! I started putting veges in my ground beef recently. Adds extra to our diet plus adds healthy bulk to our beef. I used zucchini, carrots, and broccoli this last round and also added rice. The beef was the best I’ve ever made. Just put the veges in the food processor!

    • 39

      Great idea! I have done this in recipes, but never thought to do it when I am freezer cooking! I love hiding veggies from my kids. 😉 Also, pureed veggies can help thicken up a soup or casserole and you can add beans, too.

      • 40

        i put baby spinach in a food processor or blender and add it to spaghetti sauce when the kids were small to boast their iron (daughter was anemic) they couldn’t tell it was there at all.. both like fresh spinach now .

  18. 41

    Just a thought if the high fat content of cheaper ground beef is an issue for anyone; don’t rule out ground turkey as an alternative. It’s almost always less expensive, has far less fat, is generally better for you, and the taste difference is usually negligible.

    Also, if you really want to do ground beef right, a meat grinder (KitchenAid attachment or hand crank) and some round steak (also usually super cheap) is the way to go. It’s not as time consuming as one might think and makes a much better ground beef than those pre-ground rolls of beef.

  19. 42

    Do you have the recipe or a link to the porcupine meatballs? I made that years ago when first married and have not been able to find the recipe again. Fond memories.

  20. 44

    I just got done browning and draining 4 lbs of ground beef using your fantastic idea to cook the meat before freezing it. Since I have a food scale, I used it to portion my cooked meat into 1/2 lb packs. And guess what?? 4 lbs of 80% lean ground beef, once drained of fat, only gives you 3 lbs of cooked meat. I can’t believe 25% of the raw weight was fat that will be thrown in the garbage. I will definitely think twice about not wanting to pay a bit more for leaner meat next time! At Sams club yesterday it was $3.28/lb for 80% lean and I believe the 93% lean was around 40 cents more a pound.

  21. 46

    I LOVE all these ideas! I often skip ground beef recipes because I forget to thaw, and don’t love browning it. This is brilliant! Also, I don’t precook burgers, but I do premake them. Make your patties, and stack them with wax paper between, and freeze them in an airtight container or bag, or use the Tupperware stacker made for this purpose for extra freezer protection. No need to thaw, just pop them out and cook as desired. Thanks for all the other terrific ideas!!

  22. 48

    We live near several farms that have markets. You can get things like green peppers and banana peppers in a large bag but I worry I will let them sit in fridge too long and waste them. Last summer was determined an cleaned all the green peppers by cutting them directly in half through the stem, top to bottom. Cleaned out the seeds, etc. Rinsed them off and blanched them in the microwave, threw in the freezer. Used the halved peppers for stuffed peppers (my family aren’t all super crazy about actually consuming the pepper parts but like the flavor so each one goes double far). If I wanted smaller pc’s I just cut the halves down as they started to thaw fast. I actually did the same thing with the banana peppers. Either stuff them with italian sausage or cut down appropriately for things like spicy chili.

  23. 49

    You cook like me as well as clean like me!! Argh! Sister from another Mother!
    I am on a Slow Cooker page but it’s not really be. I’m more of a pressure cooker/last/minute/ out of the hat kind of cook. And I love using my microwave to cook veges. I do some of the mince ( Australian for ground beef) I freeze with diced onion as most of my meals start that way. I love any way of cutting down on what cleaning up I have to do. If I don’t make it, I don’t have to clean it up.

  24. 50

    I know this is an old post, but I was looking it up to try doing this and thought of something that might help cut costs and fat. Ages ago (in the 90’s I think – ack!) I read a tip about mixing ground beef 50/50 with ground turkey to make it healthier and cheaper. I still do that to this day and most of my ground meat dishes come out more tender and tasting better for it, too! The blend lends itself well to this pre-cooking because the easiest way to mix the ground meats is with a stand mixer or hand mixer, then prepare as burgers, meatballs, browned crumbles, etc. If you do a bunch of meals at once, you only have to clean the icky beaters and bowl once! 🙂

  25. 51

    I have a ton of hamburger frozen divided into 1lb portions could I defrost them then cook up like this then freeze it again?

    • 52

      Hi Illia,
      This is Linda, Dana’s assistant answering your question while she is away from her computer.
      I am not an expert on kitchen/food safety but I did a quick internet search and found this information:

      The U. S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) advises:
      Once food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking, although there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through thawing.

      I personally have thawed ground beef in the refrigerator (not at room temperature) and re-frozen it with good success. I recommend you research a bit until you can make a decision you are comfortable with yourself. Even so, 1 pound portions are easy to manage, so you might just keep this tip in mind for the next time you buy in bulk!

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