Types of Ground Beef

A whopping 45 to 50% of all beef consumed in the US is in the form of ground products, mainly burgers.  Before the advent of fast burgers just about everyone had a hand-crank meat grinder stowed somewhere in their kitchen.  America’s first fast-food hamburger chain constructed its restaurants entirely out of concrete, and later out of stainless steel and white enameled panels to help convince a then skeptical public that excellent sanitation and high product quality were their primary goal.  People liked the price convenience and product quality and fast burgers were here to stay.

Most of the lean component in US fresh ground beef originates from North American culled dairy cows, beef brood cows and perhaps old breeding bulls from both bovine types.  However, a few small retail establishments might use 60 pound imported, frozen, boneless beef blocks to grind as the lean component in their fresh ground beef (the frozen blocks can be cut into grindable strips on a meat band saw).  And, I have heard that since 2011 (when the U.S. beef shortage hit in earnest) that frozen imported blocks of boneless beef are also being blended with fat trimmings to make coarse ground chubs that are  ground again, through a finer plate, at retail stores to sell as fresh ground beef.  Fat trimmings from North American market cattle (fattened steers and heifers) are blended with lean to impart the desirable palatability characteristics of flavor and juiciness.  Tenderness issues are taken care of by grinding twice.  Bone-chip collection is done at the grinder’s plate.  If you purchase retail ground chuck, round or sirloin 50% of it is supposed to be from the named carcass region, and it will nearly always from cull-cow carcasses; beef cut names denote a target lean percentage.  This post titled 10 Things You Didn’t Know about Ground Beef, from another meat blog fails to mention the roll of cull-cow meat in ground beef production; potentially leading people to believe that their ground beef originates entirely from market steers and heifers.  An exception is lean, little to no marbling, beef brands that harvest light weight young cattle with larger than normal loin-eyes and everything except the “middle meats” is ground.  If you buy high Quality grade branded ground beef it will be from young market animals, but will likely not be the ground thick muscle cuts.  Rather, such grind will be from shanks and trimmings that were generated during thick muscle cut fabrication.  Thin muscle cuts have more surface area per unit of mass so are more likely to inoculate surface bacteria throughout a batch of grind.  The interior of thick wholesale cuts normally remain relatively sterile during distribution.  Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) containing C0 (not C02) will keep meat looking red after it would have otherwise darkened.

Pre-cooked ground beef patties of domestic origin are used extensively in fast-food restaurants, but at least one chain cooks frozen fresh patties just prior to serving.

Pre-cooked institutional, retail and vending machine frozen ground beef patties are a different “game.”  For this type of ground beef products 60 pound frozen blocks of grass-finished boneless beef from high marginal land countries such as Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Uruguay and Nicaragua are imported into the US on cargo ships.  North American cow meat and market cattle fat trimmings are also used.  Fat trimmings can be generated at portion control steak fabricating plants and at further processed roast plants (roast beef, corned beef etc.).  Fat trimmings generated from such plants will many times have been in 3 different facilities before incorporated into finished ground items: the harvest plant, possibly a freezer storage facility for seasonal roast production such as corned beef, a roast processing plant and the pre-cooked ground product plant.  Antimicrobials may be applied at both the harvest establishment and at fabrication plants.  Hydrated soy addition is common place in pre-cooked ground beef products.  Soy grits will soak up about 3 times their weight of water.  Some beef taco fillings are formulated at just 28% starting raw ground beef.  A good bit of caramel coloring is needed to make hydrated soy grits look like cooked meat.  Most pre-cooked items pass through either a metal detector or a x-ray FOD (Foreign Object Detection) unit prior to packaging.

Advanced Meat Recovery Lean is accomplished by machinery that separates leftover lean from bones by scraping, shaving or pressing meat off cut pieces of bone, without breaking or grinding them.  Low Temperature Rendering of fat beef trimmings is sometimes performed to reduce the fat content of “FTLB” during the production of beef tallow for export.  Both of these materials can be added to either raw or pre-cooked products that are labeled as being totally of domestic origin.

“No one takes care of your business like you can.”  Our ancestors might have uttered such a phrase while turning the crank on their kitchen size meat grinder.  Buy a case of chuck rolls from a wholesale club store.  Fabricate or further process different items out of the 3 pieces in the case.  Grind the leaned- up remainder once through a 3/16 inch hole size plate to make Choice ground chuck.  Contrary to what the TV chefs say, you don’t have to be afraid of slapping this raw ground beef too hard when forming patties. The Choice starting chuck is tender enough to grind just once; the coarse texture will prevent patties from becoming too compressed.