Baking Soda Is The Ultimate Way To Caramelize Ground Beef

For a fully-favored ragu sauce, tasty taco filling, or aromatic chili, the first step is browning your ground beef to perfection. Caramelizing your beef sounds like an easy ask, but this can quickly turn into a juicy mess. As you sear ground beef, some of the beef's moisture is released. If you're working with a large portion of ground beef or too small of a pan, this moisture will overwhelm the meat, leading to boiled rather than browned beef. One solution is to cook your meat in incremental, small batches — but not every cook has the time (or dishes) to pull this off. The faster, easier way to properly brown your beef? Add a bit of baking soda

Yes, this baking staple can do more than help your buttermilk biscuits rise. For browned beef, baking soda (a base) helps combat the excess moisture by changing the pH of the beef. This scientific tampering keeps the beef proteins from bonding too strongly, which helps prevent moisture from being expelled during the browning process. The result: foolproof caramelized ground beef. 

The power of baking soda

To bring this hack to your home kitchen, start with this basic ratio: use a quarter to a half teaspoon of baking soda with a tablespoon of water for every pound of ground beef. Try to sprinkle this as evenly as you can over the beef so that it doesn't accumulate in one area.  Next, let the beef mixture sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. You need this time to let the baking soda work its chemical magic, raising the pH of the beef. Don't worry if you go past the 15 minutes, as the reaction works quickly but doesn't go rampant once it does kick in. As an added bonus, room-temperature ground beef browns better than cold browned beef, as the hot pan doesn't lose momentum from introducing a cold substance. One safety note, don't leave your meat out past 2 hours, as you're likely to spoil your beef at that point. 

From there, it's business as usual with browning ground beef. Still, even with this baking soda safety net, try not to tempt fate. Continue to follow other good beef browning techniques, like using a large, heat-retaining pan and being careful not to overcrowd it. The baking soda has done most of the hard work, you just need to nail that caramelized and crispy dismount.