12 Ground Beef Dishes Ranked Worst To Best

Are you wondering what to cook with all that ground beef? There are plenty of meal ideas to suit everyone's tastes. When it comes to cooked beef, not only do you get that savory umami flavor, but you also can't ignore the tempting nature of the Maillard reaction. If you're unfamiliar with the term, it's basically what happens when you brown foods. The alluring smell and satisfying taste whet your appetite and keep you coming back for more. Imagine seared steak, toasted bread, or even the crispy outside of a freshly-baked cookie. Humans are naturally drawn to these hot, cooked foods, which makes sense. According to Smithsonian Magazine, browned food is tasty because "it signals two things that make human mouths water: the food is likely harmless (because it's been cooked) and nutritious (because it contains proteins and sugars that we need)."

And although not all ground beef is cooked to crispy browned perfection, it still has that satisfying taste we love. With such a rich flavor and versatile texture, it can be used in many ways, from stews and stir fry recipes to salads and sandwiches. So if you're craving this meat but not sure what to cook, here are 12 popular ground beef dishes ranked from worst to best.

12. Sloppy joes

If you've spent time in a school cafeteria, you're probably familiar with sloppy joes. Aptly named, this dish is a messy combo of ground beef and tomato sauce between two hamburger buns. But if you're feeling extra fancy, you can add onions, brown sugar, or Worcestershire sauce. And if you're short on time, mix your meat with a ready-made sloppy joe sauce or try a Manwich Sloppy Joe, a pre-cooked meat and sauce combo that simply requires reheating.

While this cafeteria staple was sweet and comforting as a kid, most people seem to outgrow it by adulthood. Perhaps it's a little too reminiscent of our awkward youth, or maybe we can't be bothered with all the post-meal cleanup. Kids might not mind stained clothes or food on their faces, but grown-ups have higher expectations. After all, sloppy joes wouldn't exactly impress a dinner date.

But if you remember sloppy joes, they didn't actually taste all that bad. In fact, this nostalgic food was delightfully meaty with a touch of sweetness. It's comfort food to the max. However, despite its positive attributes, it's still hard to overcome the cafeteria connotation and the...well...sloppiness of it all.

11. Ground beef pie

First off, savory pies are delicious. However, if you're choosing meat for your pie, we wouldn't recommend ground beef. It's hard to get the consistency just right, and these pies often end up either too dry or watered-down and lacking in flavor. 

Still, this ground beef dish is filling and flavorful when prepared well. Your best bet is to precook all the ingredients until just enough water evaporates, and then add some stock and thickeners. Remember that the best pot pies have a gravy-like consistency, but you shouldn't rely too much on the oven. If your pie is soupy going in, it'll probably be soupy coming out.

Other than meat, the most common fillings in a pie are carrots, peas, and potatoes. Unfortunately, you can combine all these delicious ingredients and still create something less than amazing. In this case, ground beef pies just don't live up to our expectations. Leave the ground beef for another dish, and opt for steak or chicken in your pie instead.

10. Meatball sub

What would you call a long bread roll cut in half and filled with goodies? As it turns out, the way people refer to this sandwich can tell you where they come from. Most Americans would say it's a sub. But if you're from Philadelphia, you might call it a hoagie, while those in New York call it a hero. And although some New Englanders might use the term grinder, if they're from Boston, they're more likely to say "spuckie."

Whatever name you use, one thing is for sure, meatball subs are meaty, saucy, and cheesy — three things people love. But despite this tempting description, not everyone loves meatball subs. There is some debate on whether meatballs belong in sandwiches at all. One sandwich fan on Reddit commented, "Stuffing big round balls of saucy meat between two slabs of bread just seems like a self-defeating invention. As soon as you take a bite, the sauce just gets everywhere, the balls slip out and land on the ground. Every physical aspect of the sandwich is at odds with one another."

We'd agree that meatball subs can get a bit messy. Although the flavors taste great together, the overall construction can be more catastrophic than convenient. Ultimately, it comes down to the quality of the ingredients you use. Cheap, soft bread can get soggy and break apart quickly, but a solid, crunchy Italian roll can handle even the messiest of meatballs.

9. Swedish meatballs

No trip to IKEA is ever complete without grabbing some Swedish meatballs. Of course, it's not the only place you can find this Swedish staple, but the store is known for the savory treat. It's funny that a furniture company makes a large chunk of its revenue from food. But according to the Wall Street Journal, IKEA's food division brought in nearly $2 billion in 2013 alone — and a large chunk of that was likely its meatballs. They were so popular that the company started making chicken and vegan versions (via Fast Company). However, the fan favorite is still its ground beef.

So what's so special about these meatballs? To start, Swedish meatballs use unique spices like nutmeg and allspice that create a fragrant flavor. They're served with a creamy roux-based gravy, giving the dish an overall hearty appeal. These meatballs are smaller than other varieties, which makes them easy to serve as toothpick appetizers or atop mashed potatoes as a main course.

However, despite positive opinions of Swedish meatballs, you rarely hear about them compared to other types. Whether you prefer them or their more common Italian counterparts is a matter of personal preference. And although Swedish meatballs have their strengths, they have yet to win over our hearts — or tastebuds — like the Italian ones have.

8. Taco salad

When taco salads are made right, they're absolutely delicious. The crunchy taco bowl is perfect for filling with crisp lettuce, corn, beans, meat, and cheese. But we wouldn't stop there. Why not add sour cream, avocado, and freshly-chopped green onions as well? In theory, this dish sounds spectacular. However, it takes work to get everything right, particularly the beef. When chilled, ground beef can taste a bit dry and less flavorful, but if you put warm beef on a salad, the juices make the rest of the ingredients warm and soggy.

Plus, this dish is deceivingly unhealthy for a salad. According to WebMD, the corn-based bowl can have up to 400 calories, and when you add all the goodies, this meal can add up to a whopping 800 calories. Even though the fillings are nutrient-dense foods, the outside isn't the healthiest. The crispy tostada shell is usually deep-fried in sunflower or vegetable oil. According to a 2015 study published in Nutrients, consumption of deep-fried foods was linked to a host of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and hypertension, as well as obesity and heart failure.

While the occasional well-made taco salad won't hurt anyone, we wouldn't make it a regular event. And if you do want to eat it frequently, consider forgoing the shell once in a while.

7. American goulash

Goulash is the national dish of Hungary and dates back to the 9th century (via Britannica). Its name comes from the Hungarian word for "herdsman," and as travelers, this group needed something easy to make with the ingredients on hand. As such, they cooked and dried meats and vegetables to take on the road, later adding water and seasonings. The result was a rich meat stew with a sweet paprika flavor. 

American goulash, also called American chop suey or beef casserole, was an offshoot of this recipe. It was also designed to be super convenient, and almost all the ingredients for this stew might already be in your kitchen. The bare basics are ground beef, macaroni noodles, and tomato sauce. You can simply brown the noodles, add the tomato sauce, and bring it to a simmer. Then, stir in the noodles and let them cook fully. While less is sometimes more when it comes to American goulash, chopped onions, paprika, and melted cheese make excellent additions.

This quick dish is delicious yet simple. However, we can't help but think it's a downgraded version of the Hungarian staple. It still has all the comfort food elements of its predecessor but can resemble more of a soupy Hamburger Helper.

6. Meatloaf

Meatloaf is quite a divisive dish. Some people hate it, while others adore it. In the 1983 movie, "A Christmas Story," 7-year-old Randy grumbled, "Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double-beatloaf. I hate meatloaf." It's not shocking some people detest the stuff. It's an economical but unsophisticated dish and attracts some not-so-talented cooks to the kitchen. If your parent's meatloaf was spongy or rock hard, it's no wonder you can't stand it.

However, don't let a bad experience or nay-sayers talk you out of giving it another chance. As one Reddit user puts it, "I feel like the overwhelming majority of people who claim to not like meatloaf just haven't had good meatloaf. It's delicious when done even slightly well, but it also happens to be a huge go-to for parents that aren't good at cooking, and that makes people prejudiced."

There's a reason others love meatloaf. It's an underrated dish that combines meat, spices, binders, and breadcrumbs into a savory loaf. The loaf is then drizzled with a sweet-salty sauce like barbecue or sweetened tomato and oven-baked. To enhance the flavor, some people add mustard or Worcestershire sauce to the mix. But remember, it's not just about ingredients. Consistency is key with meatloaf, and a good one is juicy yet firm, so perfecting it is worth the effort. Because when you follow a good meatloaf recipe, it might change those haters' minds.

5. Italian meatballs

Italian meatballs are crowd-pleasers, especially when they sit atop spaghetti marinara. This dish always feels appropriate, whether at a family dinner or on a romantic date. Plus, it's super easy to prepare and is a comfort food classic. 

However, serving Italian meatballs with spaghetti isn't an Italian tradition. According to DeLallo Authentic Italian Foods, Italian meatballs are usually served on their own as an appetizer or a side dish. These meaty snacks don't need a fancy sauce because their flavor alone can carry them.

Italian meatballs use ground meat as a base and can be mixed with onion, parmesan, oregano, bread crumbs, and milk or eggs. These added ingredients give the meatballs a fluffy yet hearty texture. They're savory and salty with a hint of cheesiness. While they taste fantastic on their own, spaghetti with meatballs is an American favorite for good reason. If you haven't tried this dish yet, you absolutely must.

4. Lasagna

Another Italian dish that never goes out of style is lasagna. And as Garfield proclaims in "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (2006)," "It's not a dish. It's the stuff of dreams. It's the food of the gods." This indulgent cat knows what's up. Garfield's unwavering love for lasagna is one of his defining traits and makes the cartoon cat even more relatable. After all, people love lasagna. It's satisfying yet easy to make and impresses most guests.

In a Fox News survey, three-quarters of millennials claimed Italian food was their favorite cuisine, and lasagna was their second favorite Italian dish (after pizza). The majority loved the flavor and thought it seemed "luxurious without having to spend much money." 

This generation might be onto something. The ingredients in lasagna won't break the bank since a basic recipe solely requires pasta sheets, meat ragù, and cheese. Together, these ingredients are surprisingly filling and can cost as low as $1 per serving. So if you're looking to feed a family, lasagna is a good way to go.

3. Cottage pie

What's the difference between shepherd's pie and cottage pie? We're happy you asked. Although most people tend to call both shepherd's pie, there's a clear distinction between the two. Shepherd's pie is made with lamb, while cottage pie uses ground beef. To make this British dish, fry the meat until browned, add veggies, gravy, or thickeners, and cover it with a hearty layer of mashed potatoes. Then, baked the pie until the top is golden brown. 

It sounds like the perfect dish for a cozy evening curled up in a cottage. The combination of ingredients and textures pair perfectly, giving you that warm feeling of a home-cooked meal. 

However, the British aren't the only ones to love this comforting creation. Different variations exist around the world. The French Hachis Parmentier uses leftover beef stew and adds Emmental cheese (a welcomed addition). Moussaka is a similar dish that's popular in Greece, the Balkans, and the Middle East. It uses lots of chopped eggplant or potatoes in the meaty mixture. Lastly, Chilean potato cake has a mix of meat, hard-boiled eggs, and olives inside. Ultimately, you can't go wrong with any of these variations. However you slice it, this dish is rich, hearty, and hits the spot.

2. Hamburger

We couldn't make a list of ground beef dishes without honoring this international favorite. While it's consumed around the world, the burger is considered an American classic. Its history may be disputed, but one well-known story is that the hamburger originated in Hamburg, Germany. According to the White Castle burger chain, the hamburger was invented in 1891 by Otto Kuase and brought to America by German sailors (via Burger Web). 

History aside, the sandwich took on a life of its own once it reached American shores and has only become more popular with time. According to the National Purchase Diary Panel, over 13% of restaurant orders include burgers, sales of raw beef patties continue to increase, and grass-fed beef is quickly gaining in popularity. So despite the common trend of moving away from red meat, hamburgers are proving resilient.

Unsurprisingly, this food spans cultures, age groups, and even health circles. Burgers are simple yet adaptable and can be jazzed up to suit anyone's taste. You can keep your barbecued burger simple with lettuce and tomato or go wild with condiments. You can also add fixings like cheese, grilled onions, and bacon or create a themed burger. Mexican-style burgers often come with cheese, guacamole, and jalapenos, while the Elvis burger comes with crispy bacon and peanut butter. The latter might sound funky, but don't knock it until you try it.

1. Chili

Chili tops the list as the best ground beef dish. It's versatile and packed with flavor even when it's made with just the basics: chili peppers, meat, beans, and tomatoes. And if you plan to experiment in the kitchen, rest assured knowing that chili is also forgiving. It can taste good no matter how you make it or what you put in it. Some favorite additions include garlic, onion, carrots, cumin, or ground cinnamon. But don't stop there — top it off with freshly shredded cheese, sour cream, and cilantro.

Depending on the spices you use, it can be spicy, sweet, smokey...the options are limitless. There are so many ways to make this dish that chili cookoffs have become a popular way to compare and perfect different recipes. The International Chili Society has been supporting chili competitions since 1967, with nationwide cookoffs every year. Categories include traditional red, homestyle, chili verde, and salsa.

While different chili recipes include a variety of meats, 80% lean ground beef is a great choice. Ground meat is easy to use and absorbs loads of flavor without drying out. Not only does the 20% fat add a rich taste, but it makes the meat soft enough that you won't have to worry about tenderizing it. So whether you're new to cooking or a seasoned chef, chili is the best way to use that ground beef.