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Saying there is “ground beef in the freezer” is like saying “there are tools in the toolbox” and sure, a utility knife can be used to “cut” a board in half…eventually….but most would probably agree that using the wrong tool for the job is typically ends up in unnecessary waste – both time and material – and a lackluster experience overall. Let’s take a little closer look at the differences in ground beef to shed a little light on the nuance and help make sure screws are getting put in with screwdrivers.

Lean/Fat Ratio – Most people perceive “leaner is better” but this is simply not true. If you want the best burger, one of the secrets of great burger restaurants is using a 70/30 blend. If you want to make THE BEST meatballs, meatloaf, sloppy Joe’s or beef stroganoff; 90/10 or 93/7 is the ideal choice as the higher lean ratio will bind better and having less fat keeps noodles and buns from getting greasy.

Grind Size – There are many different options for grinding beef. The size of the grind is dictated by a plate on the grinder head and they commonly range from 3/4” to 1/8”. In larger facilities, it is not uncommon to have a two stage grinder to help process beef as rapidly as possible.

Coarse ground is typically better for burgers, sausages like bratwurst and polish sausage. The coarse grind adds structure and helps to keep the burger or sausage tender and juicy, as the larger pieces of ground beef are not as susceptible to myosin protein extraction and binding as they are formed into burgers or stuffed into sausage links.

grinding beef

Fine ground is best for items like meatloaf, meatballs and ground and formed beef jerky or beef snack sticks. Fine ground beef is more responsive to myosin extraction and binding. This is exactly what is needed for formed products like meatloaf, meatballs, or extruded jerky. Conversely, fine ground beef will make burgers that are tough and chewy compared to a burger made of coarse ground beef.

cut burger

Muscle Group – Ground Chuck, Ground Round, Ground Brisket, Ground Trim, Ground Sirloin, etc, etc. The muscle group that is ground will have varying amounts of fat and collagen, which will greatly affect the way the product “eats”. Ground Brisket, for example, is fairly high in fat and collagen. Collagen is the fiber between the muscle strands that makes many cuts like brisket and chuck (neck) roast tougher than steaks by quite a margin. Collagen develops in muscles that are used regularly and become strong. Muscle groups that are used less are generally much more tender, that’s why round roast is very tender, even when cooked medium rare. All this translates to ground beef. Brisket burgers are popular as they have roughly a 70/30 lean fat ratio, but the meat is rich in collagen and provides a nice, toothsome bite and unique brisket flavor.

The mysterious “pink slime” aka: lean-finely textured beef aka LFTB. We don’t utilize this product in our ground beef, but, if you’re buying the inexpensive ground beef at the store it is almost assuredly contains LFTB. Is LFTB bad? The USDA says “no” that it is just as much “beef” as the rest of the beef. As beef production has become industrialized, things like LFTB are how large packers ensure they are as efficient as technologically possible.

What does all this mean to the consumer??

Ground beef IS NOT all the same. Depending on the desired result of the dish, it is important to pick the best ground beef for the job, and if it’s really important, it may be worth getting a grinder, picking the precise cut of beef you want to capture in your ground beef dish and grinding it yourself!!