• Tuesday, July 1, 2014

    Ten things you didn’t know about ground beef

    Ground beef is one of our favorite cuts of meat in the US, but I’ll bet that you have lots of questions about it. The USDA dictates what can and cannot be labeled as ground beef and that information is published in the Code of Federal Regulations. They call those rules ‘standards of identity’ and they apply to labels of ‘chopped beef’ and ‘hamburger’ as well as ground beef.

    Here are a few things that you may not have known about ground beef:

    1.       Ground beef must be from cattle. Any other animal would be considered misbranded and would be illegal.

    2.       Ground beef is made from only muscle. It must be skeletal muscle. No eyes, skin, guts or anything but muscle. (As of 2017, heart is allowed in ground beef, but its really just another muscle.)

    3.       Ground beef must be at least 70% lean. No more than 30% fat. It is usually leaner than that, though.

    4.       Ground beef is not made from ‘leftovers’ or ‘scraps off the floor’. The fact is, not every cut of beef is equal. Some make great steaks on the grill. Others make great roasts in the oven. Some pieces of the beef carcass are either the wrong size or too tough to be tasty as whole muscle cuts. So, to get maximum use out of the entire animal, butchers collect those pieces in clean containers called lugs and grind them up into ground beef.

    5.       Ground beef is the most popular cut of beef. In the US, we enjoy lots of ground beef. In fact, we like it so much that butchers are now grinding up cuts that used to be sold as steaks and roasts. In a large processing plant, the decisions on what to grind up and what to leave whole are made based on price and demand.

    6.       Ground beef may not contain any added water. Beef itself contains water, but processors are not permitted to add water to the ground beef.

    7.       Ground beef may not contain any phosphates, binders or extenders. Some processed meat products use non-meat fillers such as texturized vegetable protein to stretch the protein portion of a processed meat. If these ingredients are added, it cannot be labeled ground beef.


    8.       Ground beef is not all the same. Some dishes work best with really lean ground beef, whereas other are tastier with fattier ground beef. Generally, the more lean the ground beef, the more costly it is. Just like people, not all animals are the same in fatness, and just like people, different parts of the animal have different amounts of fat. Think about how your thigh compares to your abdomen. (mine are different, if yours are not, congratulations) When formulating ground beef, the processors mix some of the leaner cuts (like leg muscles) in with some of the fattier cuts (like abdominal cuts) to get their target fat content.

    9.       Ground sirloin, ground round, ground chuck are also ground beef, with more requirements. Those labels not only let the customer know from where on the carcass their ground meat comes, they also give the consumer the percent fat. Ground sirloin and ground round are usually labeled as 15% fat and ground chuck is usually 20% fat. You can look for the fat percentage on the label.   Special ground meats like these must be at least 50% from the source specified. (For example, ground sirloin must be made from at least 50% sirloin cuts.)

    10.   Ground beef should always be cooked to 160°F. Because ground beef is ground and mixed, bacteria may be found anywhere within the patty (not just on the surface like in a steak or roast). To make sure all those bacteria are killed, you need to cook your burger to 160°F and check the temperature with a meat thermometer! Checking the temperature will also keep you from over-cooking your burgers so they will be juicy and flavorful!

    I hope you have learned something about ground beef and that you enjoy your burger this summer.


    1. Thanks for sharing, Janeal! This is a great 4th of July/grill season post and I'm linking to this over at my Friday Favored this week. Thank you muchly!

    2. Replies
      1. Well, I didn't put it in this post, but I have a different post about Lean Finely Textured Beef (aka pink slime) if you are interested.


    3. I never knew they HAD to be 30% fat or less. The Ancel Keys thing or whatever his name is has failed. People have been consuming less fat than 50 years ago, but obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc are worse than ever.