Why You Should Break Out The Potato Masher The Next Time You're Cooking Ground Meat

Let's say you're in the mood for tacos. You've got some ground beef in your fridge that you want to use up and some tacos would really hit the spot right now. You toss the slab of pink beef into the frying pan, but instead of breaking up as you cook, it seems to stick together (per Wholefully). No matter how many times your spoon or spatula tries to chop up the meat, the square of ground beef doesn't seem to lose its shape. Instead of falling into crispy brown bits that will fill your taco shell, you're stuck with chunks of undercooked and overcooked beef. What went wrong?

If you have ground beef that won't break apart, it may be due to a variety of reasons. One reason may be that you're not using the right tools for the job, such as using spoons and spatulas when you should be using a meat masher. A meat masher, according to Taste of Home's definition, is a "handheld tool with pinwheel-shaped nylon blades that easily chop meat into tiny equal size pieces." But what happens if you don't have a meat masher? What can you use that will efficiently chop your ground meat into perfect crumbles without feeling like you're chiseling through your beef?

The answer lies within an unexpected tool: the potato masher.

How can a potato masher break up your meat?

According to Wirecutter, a potato masher is simply "a grid plate or bent wire connected to a handle," and stresses that "a good masher ... should be able to quickly pulverize potatoes and similar foods with little force." Unlike meat mashers or choppers, potato mashers lack the nylon or rubber blades used for cutting through meat, instead having a flat metal or wire head dotted with holes. But does this actually contribute to helping to break apart ground beef?

According to the subreddit r/foodhacks, a potato masher can be used for ground beef, as the unique perforated design allows one to press, squash, and break up thawed or fresh ground beef without much trouble. While some commenters liked the idea, others believed that a potato masher had some drawbacks of its own. Many noted that, if you're browning your meat in an enamel pan or pot, it's best to avoid using a metal potato masher to prevent the metal from damaging the enamel. Second, while ground beef can be chopped up with the potato masher, enormous portions of ground meat would be too much for the masher to handle, potentially leading to more work than it would normally take with a wooden spoon.

In short, while a potato masher wouldn't be good for breaking up huge amounts of ground beef, it's still useful for efficiently chopping up minor portions of beef as a quick and easy shortcut.

Tricks for using a potato masher to chop up ground meat

If you want to try out a potato masher for chopping up your ground meat, even if it's just to see if such a trick actually works, how exactly do you go about doing it? Do you just plunge the masher into the square of ground beef and mash it like you would with a pot full of potato chunks?

According to a video on YouTube from Emily Knight, you should first use the edge of the potato masher to break up the meat into small chunks, allowing the perforated or wire head of the masher to slice through the chunks of fatty beef or turkey. A wooden spoon or spatula, Knight explains, doesn't so much as "break" the meat as it does push it all over the pan, leading to those large clumps of meat. A potato masher, on the other hand, does exactly what it is designed to do — mashing the meat until it's crumbled and spread evenly across the pan. Knight claims that perfectly crumbled meat means that not only would seasonings be more evenly dispersed through the meat, but it's useful in rolling up tacos or filling casserole pans evenly. 

If you follow Pantry and Larder's advice of boiling your ground beef first and then mashing it, you could easily break up even the toughest slabs of beef without much effort.