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Is baking soda the secret to cooking better ground beef?

Is baking soda the secret to cooking better ground beef?
Posted at 6:30 AM, Sep 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-27 17:16:00-04

It’s recently come to my attention that I’ve been cooking ground beef all wrong.

Frankly, I haven’t had a problem with the deliciousness of the ground beef I cook on my stovetop. But if there’s a way to make it taste even better, well, I’m listening.

Here’s the tip, according to Lifehacker: Add 1/3 teaspoon baking soda to a pound of raw ground beef, mix a bit and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then fry it up in a pan.

Now, I’m a big fan of baking soda for cleaning. I’m forever dousing my carpets in it (prior to vacuuming, of course!). I’ve poured boxes and boxes of the stuff down the kitchen sink drain over the years, chasing it with distilled white vinegar to eradicate smells. I use Arm & Hammer laundry detergent. Why not try adding baking soda to ground beef?

So, last night I made chili for dinner and put this method to the test. I divided 1 pound of ground beef (I used HeartBrand) into two bowls. I sprinkled 1/6 teaspoon baking soda in the first bowl and waited 15 minutes. Then I salted both bowls of beef.

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Raw ground beef in two bowls, one with baking soda
Simplemost/Jennifer Kizer

I cooked the ground beef in stainless steel pans next to one another, both over medium-high heat. And … here’s what happened.

If these two pans of ground beef were in a race to brown most quickly, the one with the baking soda won. Handily. Within a few minutes, it was a deep, dark brown. It also absorbed the liquid and began to stick to the bottom of the pan. Here’s what it looked like:

Ground beef browned in pan with baking soda
Simplemost/Jennifer Kizer

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There’s a scientific reason for this. Baking soda boosts the browning process of beef because baking soda is a base. Adding a base to beef changes its pH ratio, making it more alkaline and less acidic.

Beef normally expels so much moisture you just don’t get enough browning in your pan. The new pH ratio from baking soda prevents proteins from the type of bonding that forces moisture out of the beef.

The more alkaline environment also helps stimulate the Maillard reaction; this is when heat transforms sugars and proteins to create new flavors and aromas, according to America’s Test Kitchen.

The non-baking soda beef simmered in liquid for about five minutes before absorbing it. When it did brown, it wasn’t in a crispy, crunchy way. It just … turned brown from red. Here’s what the beef without baking soda looked like:

Ground beef browning in pan (without baking soda)
Simplemost/Jennifer Kizer

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When it was time to taste the cooked beef, I enlisted my 17-year-old daughter and her friend. They nibbled a forkful of the non-baking soda version first and said it “tasted good.” Then they tried the baking soda version and exclaimed, “Wow! It is more flavorful!”

I pulled out a fork and tried both myself.

Honestly? I preferred the non-baking soda version. I found the baking soda beef to be a bit rubbery and chewy, while the non-baking soda version tasted just right. So I tossed the non-baking soda version into my chili.

And I discarded the Arm & Hammer-enhanced version.

But here’s the twist: I don’t think it was the baking soda’s fault.

Adobe

The fact is that when I added baking soda to the beef, it cooked faster than I was expecting it to. While I was busy tending to the other pan of beef, I slightly over-cooked the baking soda version. I wasn’t ready for baking soda’s super speed! And that’s probably why it came out slightly rubbery.

I will definitely try this hack again. Next time, I’ll keep in mind that I need to take the pan off the heat after just a few minutes.

The final verdict is: Yes, adding baking soda enhances the browning process of ground beef. Baking soda really is amazing!

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