Why is water coming out of my meat? How can I brown wet meat?

IMG_0199-2Have you ever tried to brown patties, stew meat or a roast in a pan, only to find that it releases so much water that it ends up being braised or boiled instead? This happened to me recently after trying to brown some stew cuts, as you can see in the photo. I’ll explain why this happens and how to overcome it.

Why water is in meat?

Muscle tissue in raw meats is made up of ~65-75% water.  The water percentage is higher in leaner grass-fed and pasture-raised animals compared to corn-fattened factory farm animals.

You may find a lot of water in your meat package if you freeze and then thaw it. This informative page explains that, “When meat and poultry are frozen, the water that is a natural component of all meats turns to solid ice crystals. The water expands when it freezes. The sharp-edged crystals push into the surrounding tissue, rupturing the cells. The water that is outside the cell wall freezes first. As it does, it leeches water from inside the cell walls. When it thaws, the original balance does not return to normal. The thawed product will have lost some of its natural springiness. The water released during freezing seeps out of the thawing meats into the package…The faster meat freezes the smaller the ice crystals will be. Smaller ice crystals will do less damage. Products that are flash-frozen by the manufacturer will have superior quality to fresh products frozen by the consumer.

How to brown wet meat

  • Use meat that is fresh or flash-frozen.
  • Be sure that the meat is completely thawed before cooking it.
  • If using ground meat, choose one with a higher fat content. Don’t worry, the fat will eventually melt and then you can either pour out the excess fat or enough of it might just evaporate through cooking (meaning the water/steam that escapes carries with it little particulates of fat).
  • As you’re cooking, pour any accumulated juices out of your pan. Alternatively, if you’re trying to brown a cut that you intend to braise, then just give it more time and it will eventually evaporate. This is what I did with my stew meat. Add additional fat back to the pan if necessary.
  • Use as wide a pot/pan as practical or else cook your meat in smaller batches. What you’re going for is more pan surface area per volume of meat in order to speed evaporation.
  • Consider brining the meat, which helps prevent moisture loss. This is often used for pork and poultry.
  • Use the right kind of pan! This post explains my choice in pans.

In my case, I just ignored where my recipe told me to “brown the meat for 5-10 minutes” and let it go for 30 minutes. The end result was perfect!