Learn how to cook beef liver with these expert tips and tricks. You'll also find an easy and flavorful recipe for beef liver and onions, plus additional serving suggestions.
Beef liver is a fast, easy and protein-rich dinner. If you've never cooked liver before, there's no reason to be intimidated.
Maybe your grew up eating liver as a kid and don't have the fondest memories...don't worry! When beef liver is cooked correctly, it can be a delicious meal for meat lovers.
This recipe for beef liver and onions is affordable but also flavorful, with savory caramelized onions, simple seasonings and a hint of lemon and fresh herbs.
This recipe will show you exactly how to cook fork-tender beef liver, and the best way to serve it. The most traditional combination is beef liver and caramelized onions. It's a perfect pairing!
You can also serve beef liver with mashed potatoes, cauliflower rice or roasted mushrooms.
Adding bacon is never a mistake! You can even cook the bacon first, then use the flavorful bacon fat to fry the liver and onions.
Looking for another easy, high protein dinner idea? Try this recipe: How to cook kielbasa.
Beef liver: Liver is sometimes sold whole and sometimes sold in sliced pieces. If you can, buy sliced liver or ask a butcher to slice it for you. Sliced liver is easier to cook. I prefer slices that are no thicker than ½-inch thick. Slightly thicker is okay, but the liver will take longer to cook.
Onion: Two white or yellow onions, thinly sliced will caramelize nicely and pair perfectly with liver.
Butter and oil: Butter gives liver and onions richer, more delicious flavor. Bacon fat is an even more flavorful option for frying liver and onions. This recipe uses a combination of butter and oil, because the oil keeps the butter from burning or browning too much (but you can use only butter if you want.)
Lemon: A squeeze of fresh lemon deglazes the pan so you can scrape up all of the flavorful, crispy bits of cooked liver. Lemons also brightens up the flavor of the dish, making it taste a little bit lighter and fresher. For color, sprinkle fresh herbs over the cooked liver.
The Best Way to Cook Liver
Pan fry: The fastest, easiest way to cook liver is in a frying pan. For the best results, cut a pound of liver into smaller "steaks" that are no more than 1-inch thick. Ideally, the slices should be ¼-1/2-inch thick. Pan-fried liver cooks very quickly and only needs a few minutes on each side.
Grill: Liver can also be grilled, but you have to be careful not to overcook it or the texture will be very dry instead of moist. Cut a whole liver into slices or "steaks" and grill for 3 to 5 minutes a side. Or, try Moroccan gilled liver kebabs from Tasteofmaroc.com.
How to Cook Beef Liver Step-by-Step Instructions
Step 1: Pat the liver dry with paper towels. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
Step 2: Cook the onions in butter and a little bit of oil (the oil keeps the butter from burning). Cook the onions slowly, for at least 10 minutes, so they are soft and caramelized.
Step 3: Add liver to the hot skillet. Depending on the thickness, it will only need 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Step 4: Set the liver on a plate to rest. Squeeze fresh lemon juice into the skillet and scrape up all of the crispy bits of cooked meat.
Step 5: Combine the liver and onions on a serving platter. You can serve the liver whole or sliced. Top with fresh herbs to make it pretty!
(for detailed instructions and ingredient measurements, see the recipe card below)
FAQ About How to Cook Liver
Soaking liver in milk or buttermilk is optional. It's not necessary if the liver is fresh and of high quality. Soaking is done to make the flavor less "gamey" and to tenderize the meat. The lactic acid in buttermilk (and milk) tenderizes protein. To soak liver, put it in a dish and cover it completely with milk or buttermilk.
The ideal amount of time to soak liver in milk is 30 to 60 minutes. Don't soak it longer than 2 hours or the texture might start getting unappetizingly soft.
Breading liver by giving it a light coating of flour is optional. It's done to help the outside of the liver brown quickly. The starch in flour caramelizes quickly, giving liver a brown crust. You can also add salt and spices to the flour for more flavor.
The middle of the liver can be light pink inside, which indicates it's not overcooked and dry. When you slice into cooked liver, however, it shouldn't be dark red, raw or bloody.
According to the USDA, "organ meats should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 as measured with a food thermometer."
If the slices of liver are about 1-inch thick, liver will cook over medium-high heat in about 3 to 5 minutes per side. If the slices are thinner (¼ to ½-inch thick) it should cook in just 2 minutes per side. Once the meat is done cooking, let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.
Liver should have a fresh, slightly meaty aroma. It should not smell sour or pungent. Fresh liver will have a reddish-purple color, not dull brown or gray, and should look moist and fresh but not slimy.
A cast iron skillet is great for high heat cooking and keeps the temperature steady. However, you don't want the liver to stick to the pan so make sure your cast iron skillet is seasoned well. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, a non-stick pan can be used.
Liver is often described as earthy and meaty with a creamy texture. Sometimes organ meat, like liver, can have a slightly metallic flavor. When it's overcooked, the flavor can become gamey and dry.
Liver is high in protein and nutrients. Whether or not you consider it "healthy" depends on your own dietary needs.
Adding sugar to onions is a short-cut trick that helps the onions caramelize faster. Onions have natural sugars that give onions a sweet, mellow flavor if they are cooked long enough. Fully caramelizing onions can take up to 30 minutes over low heat. If you want to speed up the process, you can add a teaspoon of sugar to the onions while they cook.
Bring the meat up to room temp: Take the liver out of the refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes before you cook it. This wil bring the meat up to room temp so it cooks faster and more evenly.
Use a Really Hot Skillet: Get the skillet really hot before adding the liver. In a hot skillet, the outside will brown quickly. You want the exterior to brown quickly because the interior of liver cooks in minutes.
Don't Overcook: Overcooked liver is tough and grainy. For the creamiest texture, take liver out of the pan when the center is still light pink.
Use butter instead of oil: The rich, slightly sweet flavor of butter complements liver really well. Pan frying the liver in butter will add better flavor than oil. This recipe also adds 1 tablespoon of oil while cooking the onions to prevent the butter from burning in the skillet.
Add flavor: Serve liver with complementary flavors, like onions, bacon, spices and fresh herbs. Some people like a light squeeze of lemon over cooked liver.
Beef Liver Serving Suggestions
Bacon: Salty, meaty bacon makes a plate of liver more appetizing. Serve bacon on the side or crumble it over the top of the serving plate. You can use saved bacon grease to cook liver and onions.
Roasted cauliflower or cauliflower rice: For a low-carb meal, serve roasted cauliflower or cauliflower rice on the side.
Mashed potatoes: For some people, mashed potatoes and gravy with liver and onions is nostalgic comfort food. It's a delicious combination! Beef liver is also good with French fries, tater tots or roasted potatoes.
Mushrooms: Saute mushrooms in a separate skillet to serve with the meal. You can saute common button mushrooms or serve roasted oyster mushrooms with garlic and thyme.
Storage and Reheating
Uncooked liver should be kept in the refrigerator and cooked within a day or two of purchasing.
Cooked liver tastes best when eaten right after cooking. However, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Suggested Side Dishes
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Beef Liver and Onions Recipe
Learn how to cook perfectly tender, flavorul beef liver with these expert tips and tricks. Liver is surprisingly easy to cook and can be a fast and easy family dinner. It's especially good served with onions.
- Prep Time: 15
- Cook Time: 16 minutes
- Total Time: 31 minutes
- Yield: 2 servings 1x
- Category: beef and pork
- Method: Pan-frying
- Cuisine: Any
- 1 pound beef liver, cut into "steaks" that are ¼ to ½-inch thick and about 2 to 4-inches wide
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Fresh parsley or thyme for garnish
- Pat the liver dry with paper towels.
- Season both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
- Heat the oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat.
- Add the onion.
- Cook the onion until it is soft and nicely browned, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes. You might need to turn the heat down slightly while it cooks to prevent the onion from burning.
- Push the onion to the sides of the pan.
- Turn heat up to medium-high. When the skillet is hot, add the liver.
- Cook 2 minutes, until nicely seared. As it cooks, the sides of the liver will turn from red to brown.
- Flip the slices of liver and cook 2 minutes more. If the slices are thicker (closer to 1-inch thick) you might need an extra minute or two on each side. You can slice a piece with a knife to check the middle, which can be left light pink but shouldn’t look raw or bloody.
- Remove the liver from the pan. Let it rest on a plate.
- Squeeze the lemon juice into the pan to deglaze the pan. Use a spatula to scrap up the crispy bits of liver stuck to the bottom of the skillet.
- Stir the onions back into to the middle of the pan, moving them around to pick up flavor.
- Arrange the onions around the liver on a plate. Garnish with fresh parsley or thyme if you want the dish to look prettier!
Soaking Liver in Milk
Soaking liver in milk before cooking it is optional. Soaking is done to make the flavor less "gamey" and to tenderize the meat. The lactic acid in buttermilk (and milk) tenderizes protein. To soak liver, put it in a dish and cover it completely with milk or buttermilk. Let it soak in the milk for 30 to 60 minutes, then pat it dry and proceed with the recipe.
Breading the Liver in Flour
Breading liver in a light coating of flour is optional. It's done to help the outside of the liver brown quickly. The starch in flour caramelizes quickly, giving liver a brown crust.
Cooking Temperature: According to the USDA, "organ meats should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 as measured with a food thermometer."
Storage: Cooked liver tastes best when eaten right after cooking. However, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Keywords: how to cook beef liver, beef liver, liver and onions recipe