How to Create macOS Big Sur Beta Bootable USB Install Drive

Aug 14, 2020 - 5 Comments

How to make a macOS Big Sur beta boot installer drive

Advanced Mac users often want to make a boot disk installer for macOS Big Sur beta, allowing for something like a USB flash drive to be used to boot and install macOS Big Sur onto any compatible Mac.

Bootable MacOS installer USB drives provide for the ability to clean install macOS Big Sur, update to macOS Big Sur, install macOS Big Sur beta onto multiple Macs without redownloading the installer, as well as the ability to use Disk Utility to partition and erase a machine, perform Time Machine restorations, and more.

If you’re interested in creating a macOS Big Sur bootable USB install drive, this tutorial will walk through that process.

Requirements for making a boot macOS Big Sur USB Install Drive

To make a bootable macOS Big Sur beta installer drive, you will need the following:

If you haven’t already downloaded the macOS Big Sur beta installer application, you will need to do that before beginning the process, meaning you will also need an internet connection.

The rest of the process of creating a macOS Big Sur (macOS 11 aka macOS 10.16) USB installer drive involves the terminal. This means that this process is most appropriate for advanced users with understanding of the command line. Improper usage of the command line in this process may result in permanent data loss by erasing the wrong disk. If you’re not thoroughly certain of your capabilities, backup your Mac before beginning.

How to Make a Bootable macOS Big Sur Beta USB Installer Drive

Be sure to use precise syntax at the command line, failure to do so may result in permanent data loss. Proceed at your own risk.

  1. Connect the USB flash drive to the Mac that you wish to turn into the bootable macOS Big Sur installer, naming the drive “UNTITLED” *
  2. Open the “Terminal” application via Spotlight by hitting Command + Spacebar and typing Terminal and hitting the return key, through Launchpad, or via the Utilities folder in the Finder
  3. Enter the command at the Terminal command line corresponding to the version of macOS Big Sur you have (versions have different application installer names), assuming “UNTITLED” is the name of the USB flash drive to convert into a bootable macOS Big Sur install drive:
  4. MacOS Big Sur final
    sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Big\ --volume /Volumes/UNTITLED --nointeraction

    MacOS Big Sur public beta
    sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Big\ Sur\ --volume /Volumes/UNTITLED --nointeraction

    MacOS Big Sur Beta 2 and later
    sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ 11\ --volume /Volumes/UNTITLED --nointeraction

    MacOS Big Sur Developer Beta 1
    sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ --volume /Volumes/UNTITLED

  5. Double-check that the syntax is correct and the volume is specified properly, then hit the return / enter key and enter the admin password to start the boot installer creation process **

Let the process complete, it can take a while depending on the speed of the Mac, the speed of the USB flash drive being used, and other variables. When completed, the terminal will report a “Done” message.

Once the macOS Big Sur 11.0 USB bootable installer drive has been created successfully, it will be mounted automatically on the Mac and ready to use.

At this point you can use the macOS Big Sur beta bootable install drive just like any other boot disk or installation drive on any other macOS Big Sur compatible Mac.

* You can name the USB flash drive something else, but the syntax as written is intended or a drive named UNTITLED (which is the default for a recently formatted drive through Disk Utility).

** If a “command not found” error message appears at the command line, it’s likely due to a syntax error, or because the “Install macOS” is not found in the Applications folder as expected. Double-check the syntax for typos and make sure the macOS Big Sur beta installer is found in the /Applications directory.

How to Boot a Mac with the macOS Big Sur USB Install Drive

Booting a Mac with a boot disk is pretty straight forward in most cases ***:

  1. Connect the macOS Big Sur beta install drive to the Mac
  2. Restart the Mac if it’s already started up, otherwise boot it up as usual
  3. Immediately hold down the OPTION key upon Mac boot, continuing to hold OPTION / ALT until you see the Mac boot menu
  4. Select the macOS Big Sur installer volume to start the Mac from

What if the Mac won’t boot from the macOS Big Sur USB bootable install drive?

*** Note that on some newer Macs with the security chip you may need to manually enable the ability to start the Mac from an external boot disk. Do this by:

  1. Reboot the Mac holding down Command + R to go into Recovery Mode
  2. Select “Startup Security Utility” from the Utilities menu and authenticate with admin
  3. Choose to “Allow booting from external media”

This will allow the Mac to boot from the Big Sur boot install disk as usual with the directions above.

Regardless, once the Mac is booted from the macOS Big Sur beta installer drive, you can format the Mac, partition it, modify and create APFS volumes, restore from Time Machine, clean install, upgrade Macs to MacOS Big Sur, and much more.

Did you make a macOS Big Sur beta bootable installer drive successfully with the command line approach detailed here? Did you use another method to create a Big Sur boot disk? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Larry Nolan says:

    I used the Terminal steps modified for the 11. full installer to put the installer onto a USB thumb drive and was able to successfully install 11.1 over my 10.15.7 iMac.

    How ever when I booted from the USB drive the controlling Recovery App did not recognize my Apple bluetooth touch pad and there is no alternative to connecting a USB mouse (which I had to go out and buy). Recovery did work with my Apple Magic bluetooth keyboard however.

    N.B. that the USB thumb drive cannot be APFS formatted. HFS+ only required.

  2. Jeffrey Lewis says:

    Thanks for the tutorial, however I have tried a number of times and continually get a message that Apfs discs cannot be used, I have formatted as Mac Extended Journaled.
    What am I doing wrong?


  3. Paul B says:

    Have made the bootable disc and gone through the process you mentioned. When I try to install to Macintosh HD it is telling me the process could not be completed. Permission Denied….
    Can you suggest how to deal with this?

  4. Robert Tucker says:

    I want to install Big Sur on an external SSD to have a bootable external drive.

    Please help.


  5. Thanks for this very comprehensive tutorial! I was a bit stumped because I couldn’t find the “Install macOS Big” or download it from anywhere (it’s not always obvious how to get it). Your instructions certainly helped me to figure out a way, and now — finally! — I’ve got an alternate boot drive in case anything goes seriously wrong…

    Not that I’m expecting it, of course — I’ve been using the Beta since last summer, with rather good results!

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