The best ground beef for every type of recipe

Burgers, tacos, and casseroles, here’s the meat that’s best for each.

<p>Caitlin Bensel;  Styling of food;  Tori Cox</p>
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Caitlin Bensel; Styling of food; Tori Cox

Ground beef is a great way to use up bits and pieces of beef or cuts that the butchers may have left over. It also tenderizes tougher cuts of beef and enhances flavor by adding extra fat.

It is a staple in meatloaf, tacos, spaghetti sauce and other recipes. Since we use it so much in everyday cooking, buying ground beef should be easy, right?

Well, the different labels and terminology can confuse a lot of people. Let’s peek behind the curtain and break down some ground beef.*

What types of ground beef are best for recipes?

Any ground beef you buy from the store is legally required to contain only beef – no fillers, binders or added water. Different ground beef will differ in the cut of beef used and the fat content, which is indicated on the package as a ratio (lean meat to fat).

Beef is a great source of protein, minerals and vitamins. But it’s also one of the biggest sources of fat in our diet. Ground beef comes in a variety of lean-to-fat ratios. You can choose from high to low fat, depending on the grind.

Most ground beef is now clearly labeled with the fat and lean percentages on the package. If for some reason it isn’t or you can’t find it, you can make a rough guess by color. The brighter the red color, the more tender the beef will be.

What is the best ground beef for burgers?

Ground beef or ground hamburger – these have a higher fat ratio that provides the most moisture and flavor, but will hold up well while cooking.

What is the best ground beef for tacos?
Ground round or ground sirloin—these are leaner versions of ground beef, so they don’t have as much flavor on their own. This makes them perfect for cooking with lots of herbs and spices, like you do when making a taco filling.

What is the best ground beef for meatballs?

Ground beef or ground meat – higher fat percentage may take longer to cook.

What is the best ground beef for soups?

Ground round – has less fat, which means less moisture and flavor. It does well in things where it is cooked together with other aromatic components, such as soups, stews and casseroles.

70/30: ground beef and ground hamburger

These grinds are usually made with tougher or less popular cuts (like brisket and shank), trimmings from nicer cuts (like sirloin or filet mignon), or a combination.

While ground beef may not have added fat, ground hamburger may have added fat mixed into the grind. Both cannot contain more than 30 percent fat by weight. It has the highest ratio of fat in the grind, which means it’s also the most moist and flavorful. Since it can be made from any cut of cow, it is also the cheapest.

Ground beef is great for dishes that take a while to cook, like meatballs or meatballs smothered in sauce, because it won’t lose moisture. Ground hamburger is best for – you guessed it! – hamburgers. Note that as it loses fat during cooking, this is the cut that will also shrink the most.

Some ground beef is made with just one cut of beef and is labeled as such. Because they are not a mix of different cuts, specialty ground beef is more expensive than regular ground beef.

80/20: Ground chuck

Ground chuck is 80 to 85 percent lean (15 to 20 percent fat). It has the highest lean-to-fat ratio in specialty grinds and is usually quite tender and juicy.

Ground chuck is from the shoulder of the cow. It is rich and tender with lots of flavor. Often referred to as “lean ground beef,” it’s perfect for hamburgers and meatballs. It keeps the burger juicy, but a lot of the fat melts when grilling. The burgers will hold together well while cooking, but won’t dry out.

85/15: Ground floor

Ground round is 85 to 90 percent lean (10 to 15 percent fat). Medium ground, ground can easily dry out with its lower fat content. Like ground sirloin (see below), it is considered an “extra lean” grind. It is cut from the back of the cow and is not as flavorful as ground chuck.

Because it lacks flavor and moisture, it’s best in recipes that mix it with other ingredients. Avoid it for burgers, but it’s great for soups, stews, sauces, and tacos.

90/10 Ground fillet

Ground sirloin is 90 to 92 percent lean (8 to 10 percent fat). This is the leanest type of ground beef, often referred to as “extra lean,” and a great option if you’re looking for a healthier choice. It is cut from the middle of the cow. Because it’s so lean, it’s not a good choice for hamburgers, but it’s great for casseroles, sauces, chili, and stuffed peppers.

*Note that these are standards in the United States. Other countries may vary.

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