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How do you drain liquid from ground beef?

Draining excess liquid from ground beef is an important step when cooking dishes like burgers, meatloaf, or tacos. Removing the liquid helps the ground beef hold its shape better and prevents a watery or greasy final product. There are a few simple methods you can use to get the moisture out of ground beef both before and after cooking it.

Why Drain Ground Beef?

When meat is ground up, juices and fat are released from within the meat. This creates a very moist mixture. If the ground beef is cooked as-is, the high moisture content will cause the meat to boil and sputter excessively in the pan. It can also lead to a mushy or greasy cooked texture.

Draining the ground beef beforehand allows you to pour off most of the liquid fat and juices, leaving you with a drier meat mixture. This helps the ground beef hold its shape better when cooked. Burgers that are made with pre-drained meat will be less likely to fall apart on the grill or pan.

The liquid released from ground beef is also very fatty. Letting it cook off into your dish adds a lot of extra grease and calories. Draining it first removes most of that excess fat, creating a healthier final meal.

How to Drain Ground Beef Before Cooking

There are a couple easy ways to drain ground beef before you cook it:

Use a Fine Mesh Strainer

A simple fine mesh metal strainer is an easy tool for draining ground beef. Place the strainer over a bowl and add the ground beef. Let it sit for 1-2 minutes so the liquid collects in the bottom. Occasionally break up the meat with a spoon or spatula to allow more liquid to release.

After a couple minutes, lift the strainer and press out any remaining liquid using a spatula or the back of a spoon. Discard the drained liquid or save for another use. Transfer the drier crumbled beef to a skillet or dish to cook.

Drain in a Colander

A colander can work just as well as a fine mesh strainer. Add the ground beef to the colander and let it sit over a bowl briefly to drain. Stir it occasionally to help the liquid seperate. Press and crush the meat afterwards to remove any remaining juices.

How to Drain Fat from Ground Beef After Cooking

Even after draining it beforehand, ground beef will still release more fat and juices as it cooks. To get rid of all the excess grease, you’ll need to drain it again after browning or cooking it.

Use a Spoon or Ladle

Once ground beef is cooked, you can simply use a spoon to scoop out any accumulated fat or liquid that has risen to the top.

For example, after browning ground beef for tacos, tilt the pan and use a spoon to remove the layer of grease from the top of the meat. Discard the liquid fat and continue cooking the ground beef as needed.

Drain in a Colander

For a more thorough draining, pour the cooked ground beef into a colander placed over a bowl or pot. Let it sit for a minute to allow the fat and juices to collect in the bottom. You can then discard the liquid or save for another use.

This method is especially helpful after cooking large batches of ground beef. Draining it in a colander separates all the extra grease from the meat.

Use Paper Towels

Paper towels are another handy way to soak up extra grease from cooked ground beef. Place a few paper towels on a plate and spread the cooked ground beef on top in an even layer. Let it sit for a minute so the paper towels can absorb some of the fat.

You can then discard the used paper towels and transfer the meat to your dish or skillet to finish cooking. This helps remove even more liquid fat that may have collected at the bottom of the pan.

Tips for Draining Ground Beef

Here are some useful tips when draining fat from ground beef:

  • Drain ground beef both before and after cooking for the best results.
  • Use an slotted spoon or spatula to occasionally break up the meat and help release more liquid when draining.
  • Don’t discard all the fat – Leave just a bit when cooking dishes like meatloaf or burgers to keep the meat moist and flavorful.
  • Chill the meat for 10-15 minutes in the fridge before draining to help solidify the fat and make it easier to remove.
  • Place drained ground beef on a plate lined with paper towels or a wire rack to remove even more excess grease.
  • Letting the meat sit for a few minutes after cooking gives the fat time to separate and makes it easier to drain off.

Should You Rinse Ground Beef After Draining?

You don’t need to rinse ground beef after draining off the fat. Washing ground beef under water can actually cause more issues:

  • It can spread bacteria from the raw meat around your sink and countertops.
  • Rinsing will remove more flavor and juices rather than just the fat.
  • It makes the meat soggy and less able to brown well during cooking.

As long as you drain the excess fat properly, rinsing is unnecessary. The safest bet is to just drain the meat thoroughly before cooking.

Why Does Ground Beef Release So Much Liquid?

There are a couple reasons why ground beef contains so much internal liquid that needs to be drained off:

Moisture in Meat Fibers

Raw meat naturally contains a high percentage of water within the muscle fibers and tissues. When the meat is ground up, these moisture-rich fibers are cut open and rupture, releasing the watery liquid held inside. This accounts for a lot of the juices that pool at the bottom of the bowl when draining.

Melted Fat

Meat also contains veins of fat marbled throughout that provide flavor and moisture. When the meat is ground, these fat deposits get smeared throughout the meat. The heat and physical pressure causes the solid fat to melt into liquid, adding to the volume of liquid released.

No Protein Binding

In whole cuts of meat, proteins act like a sponge to hold in moisture. The intact muscle structure keeps water locked in place. In ground meat, these proteins are broken up and no longer able to retain as much liquid. This allows more moisture to be released rather than being trapped within the meat.

Can You Skip Draining Ground Beef?

You don’t absolutely have to drain ground beef before cooking it. However, it is highly recommended for most recipes.

Skipping the draining step will likely lead to excessive greasiness, a soft texture, and reduced browning when you cook the ground beef. The high moisture content makes it difficult for the meat to get nicely browned and crispy.

The only exception would be a recipe where you do want more moisture retained, such as meatloaf or meatballs. Even then, you’ll still want to drain off some of the fat after browning it.

In general, taking those couple extra minutes to drain will give you much better results for sauteed ground beef dishes.

Ways to Use Drained Ground Beef Fat

Don’t waste all that fat you drained off! The beef fat can be saved and used to add flavor to other dishes:

  • Use it to saute vegetables
  • Add some to rice or pasta water for extra richness
  • Spread it on potatoes before baking them
  • Mix a spoonful into lean ground turkey or chicken for moisture
  • Saute onions or garlic in it for extra flavor

Store the drained fat in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 months or in the freezer for up to a year. Be sure to skim off any meat bits before saving it.

Ground Beef Draining Methods Comparison

To summarize the different techniques, here is an overview of the main methods for draining ground beef along with the pros and cons of each:

Draining Method Pros Cons
Fine Mesh Strainer Lets liquid drain through while catching meat
Easy to press out moisture
Need separate bowl to collect liquid
Colander Same benefits as strainer
Some colanders have bowls attached
Drainage holes may be larger than strainer
Paper Towels Absorbs grease and moisture well
Can soak up some flavorful juices too
Spoon Easy to scoop just the top layer of fat Doesn’t remove all the accumulated liquid


Taking a few extra minutes to drain excess liquid and fat from ground beef makes a big difference in the taste, texture, and appearance of finished dishes. While it’s not absolutely required, it is highly recommended for most recipes to avoid a greasy, watery mess.

Simply letting the meat rest in a strainer or colander for a couple minutes both before and after cooking is enough to remove most of the extra moisture. Employing additional methods like paper towels or a spoon helps extract even more fat and results in nicely browned, flavorful ground beef.

Draining properly allows the meat to cook up crispy and shaped better while reducing the greasiness. Your tacos, burgers, meatloaf, and other ground beef dishes will benefit from this simple step.