Have you ever been ready to make supper and then realized you forgot to set the ground beef out? Or is your life busy and you want to get ahead? Want to do freezer meals? Then check out this make-ahead slow cooker ground beef recipe. We think you'll love it!
Why in the world would I even care? Why would you? Cause time matters. There are times just having 20 or 30 extra minutes will make your life so much easier. Less rushing, more mental health. Or heck even the time to sit and veg and do nothing. Those times seem to get more and rarer. Unless you force them to happen.
So cooking ground beef in the crockpot isn't huge or phenomenal. But it's super handy. Here are a couple reasons why:
- You can buy in bulk
- Meal prep partially preps itself
- It can be cooked overnight
- You can freeze it ahead for "emergency meals"
- It works for portion control
- You're a step ahead for freezer meals
- It's very versatile
Those are all the reasons I can think of at the moment. There might be more.
And btw...the legal stuff. Let's get this out of the way before I forget... This post may contain affiliate links. That means, if you decide to purchase an item by clicking on one of the recommendations I write about, SlowCookerKitchen will make a small commission. That does NOT mean you will pay a higher price. We try to look for the cheapest deals out there without lying about quality. We'll only recommend products we've tried, have reviewed in depth or are on our wish/lust list. Because we want you to be happy with it too.
There done, legal stuff complete. And now on to talking about food again...
Save Some Money
I purchase most of my meat through a great local meat processing/butcher. And I try to purchase either a 1/4 or 1/2 a beef when it's possible. You can save tons of money and get a better quality of meat by purchasing this way. So I try.
Even though I generally purchase all beef (including ground beef) this way, there are sales. There are also times I'm off to see my kiddos and grandbabies. And I don't generally take a cooler of meat with me. There are also times I'm traveling, and though I love it, space is limited. I still love a good sale though.
So this recipe was created while I was traveling. I did take a cooler with me this round, but only packed 3 pounds of ground beef. And we'd already eaten 1. And I promised a couple of ladies I'd make
crock pot hamburger soup and slow cooker cheeseburgers. Plus hubs still had a request or two. So it was off to the local Kroger I went...
AND it was on sale. But only for bulk quantities. So...I figured "let's do a ground beef theme for a bit". And here we go...
Slow Cooker Ground Beef Recipe Creation
I've read other folks that have made slow cooker ground beef in the past. And I've tried it. Many, many moons ago. Like when my kids weren't much older than my grandbabies.
Unfortunately, it was nasty. Like super nasty and not really salvageable. I was bummed. I mean I'm still frugal with money and we've got a little more now but back then, that was a blow. To toss out 5 pounds of meat... I swore never to try it again. Alas, "never say never" eh?
So I started thinking about it. Trying to figure out what I'd done differently years back. I came up with two things. And after testing the recipe a couple times, I figured out I was right.
- Quality of ingredients matters and it will completely change the taste, texture and cooking times of almost every meal.
- Cooking the slow cooker ground beef in a bit of broth and spices helps a LOT.
Here's where I hope you learn from my mistakes...
- Purchase the best quality meat you can. The less fat, the less shrinkage. And the less waste. I bought 90/10 ground chuck and it still cooked out a LOT of fat.
- Adding some beef broth and lots of garlic and onions improve the taste a bunch. So it's not really much different than making up your own hamburgers. If you don't add any spices, it's usually pretty bland.
Testing the Recipe
I tested this recipe with ground beef from two locations and in two different slow cookers. The results were almost the same in both tests. The taste was close on both and so was the amount of grease-broth to dispose of.
The only major difference was cook time. The crockpot with the ceramic insert took longer to cook than the slow cooker with the metal insert. You're going to get a variable cook time with any slow cooker. It's just the way it is. I don't know why.
Several years ago I was cooking soup for a wedding. Lots of soup. At the time this website didn't exist and I only owned one slow cooker. So I borrowed. Several. Well, we must have all shopped at the same store that last year or everyone got a crockpot for Christmas. I dunno. I had three identical slow cookers on my countertop.
Guess what? All three cooked the same soup different. Same ingredients. Same "goes in the pot time". Different cook times. If I remember correctly (and it's been about 15 years) there was a variance of about 20 minutes between the first two and the third came in about an hour later.
So for the folks that wonder about cook times of "low for 6 to 8 hours"...that's part of the reason. That and crockpots cook slow enough they are one of the most forgiving appliances you'll ever use.
Which Slow Cookers Where Used:
So again, for comparison sake, I used two different slow cookers. Both times the meat was cooked for 6 hours, both times on low and with 4 pounds of meat.
The only difference was the type of onions used. I don't think there is any chemical reason an onion would change the cook time for the meats. So I am fairly confident in the results and the why's I am telling you guys about...
Crock Pot 7-Quart Manual Slow Cooker
The one used in the picture immediately above was 7-quart Crock Pot brand. Just the standard kind you see on sale at all the big box stores several times per year. This one has no extra bells and whistles, no timer, nothing. And it cooked the meat just fine, but I it took longer. About 3 hours longer and the meat had to be stirred about half way through as the meat in the middle was still pink.
And although the manual crock pot took longer and needed a bit of babysitting, it is more economical.
Depending on the size you need, as they are available in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors...you can get one of these for $23 to $40 bucks. Not a bad deal. I've had one of these guys last me for 6 years in the past. And that's with the amount of slow cooker cooking I do. So the last! The only downside, you might have to do a little more babysitting with some dishes.
Cuisinart 3-in-1 Multi-Cooker
The second slow cooker that was used was the Cuisinart Multi-Cooker. This one has a lot more bells and whistles. It offers much more functionality and can steam and brown/saute as well. I did NOT use the brown/saute setting for this experiment. That wouldn't have been fair. I've had this slow cooker for a bit over a year. So far, it's held up very well and still looks and works like its brand new.
The only real downside you've got on this one is the price. It's more of an investment. It ranges from $98 to $187. Is it worth it? That depends on your situation. If you need the convenience of a steamer, browner/saute (aka: you have a small kitchen) then heck yeah. If you don't want to babysit part of the time, yes again. And if you want an automatic timer, again yes.
This one has a lot more features. And I didn't want to clutter up too much more of this post in the babbles about it. So if you'd like to read up on all the details...the review for the
Cuisinart 3-in-1 Multi-Cooker is right here.
Once you've cooked your make-ahead ground beef, you have to do something with it. You can, of course, go ahead and cook whatever meal you want with it. I generally toss a couple serving sizes aside for immediate meal prep. But the rest needs frozen most likely.
But you can't measure by poundage anymore. The meat has cooked down and you've added onions and such. So when a recipe calls for "1 pound of ground beef" you no longer need exactly one pound. So what do you do?
You've got options. You can weight it or you can measure it out. If you cooked 4 pounds of ground beef and intend to freeze it by the pound, you'll just need to separate it into 4 equal parts. I opted to weigh it.
4 pounds of ground beef, 4 medium sized onions, and the garlic...Once drained now weighs just a bit over 2 pounds. That's going to vary almost every time. It's going to depend on your meats fat content, the amount of broth you drained out, and even the size of the onions used.
But the basics are very easy. If you cooked 4 pounds of meat, it gets separated into 4 1-pound cooking portions. Then you'll just need to label and freeze it.
Squeezing out as much air as possible will keep the meat fresher longer. And you'll be able to stack it in the freezer very easily as well. It only takes about 20 minutes to defrost too! Or if you're in a super big hurry and going to make a crock pot or skillet meal, you can toss it in frozen.
Slow Cooker Recipes with Ground Beef
So now you've got it, what do you DO with it? Here's a list of yummy options...
Crockpot Cheeseburgers Slow Cooker Hamburger Soup
- Crockpot Cheeseburger Macaroni Casserole
- Crockpot Lasagna Soup
- Crockpot Chili (and a Homemade Chili Seasoning too)
- Bacon Ranch Cheeseburger Tater Tot Casserole
- Crockpot Tortellini Casserole
- Crockpot Cheeseburger Soup
- Crock Pot Hamburger Potato Casserole
- Crock Pot Tater Tot Casserole
Crockpot Freezer Meal Prep Sessions:
Other Crockpot Recipes with Ground Beef:
Printable & Pinnables for Make-Ahead Slow Cooker Ground Beef
Make-Ahead Slow Cooker Ground Beef
- 4 to 5 pounds ground beef the leaner the better
- 2 to 4 onions minced (whatever type you prefer)
- 4 to 20 garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 cup beef broth
- Lightly butter or oil the crock pot insert
- Sprinkle in the minced onions and garlic
- Separate or "crumble" the raw meat as you put it in the crockpot (if you don't separate it, it will cook in a huge block and be a pain to deal with)
- Pour the beef broth over the top
- Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours (or overnight if you'd like to save some time and/or are prepping for freezer meals and meal planning)
- When done cooking allow the meat to cool and pour off the grease/broth mixture.
- Transfer 4 or 5 equal portions (you'll use the same number of freezer bags as you cooked of pounds of meat) to freezer safe canisters or bags, label, and freeze. Date with date cooked and/or a "use by" date. This make-ahead ground beef is freezer safe for 6 to 8 weeks.