Types of Ground Beef

Did you know there are various types of ground beef including ground chuck and ground sirloin?

several meatballs on an aluminum foil-lined sheet tray

Ground beef is at the heart of many staple American dishes. After all, what would #TacoTuesday be without it? Not to mention all the burgers served at Labor Day barbecues. It can feed a lot of people on a small budget, and it can be seasoned with a variety of spices to add new flavor rotation into your weekly meals.

But after arriving at the store with the simple task of picking up some ground beef, you may have found yourself stumped in the meat section.

What are all these different options for ground beef and should I be purchasing one over the other?

Here’s the short answer: The ratio of fat to meat as well as where the meat came from on the cow is what differentiates the varieties of ground beef. It starts with regular ground beef and then gets increasingly leaner from there. Here are a few details that might help you decide which to use for various recipes.

Ground beef (70% lean / 30% fat)

ground beef

Similar to ground hamburger, it’s usually made from brisket or shank. Because it has the highest fat content of all the types of ground beef, it also has the most flavor. However, that also means it will cook down the most. It can be anywhere from 25 to 30 percent fat, around 70 percent lean. Another pro? It’s the most affordable. Though some people find it to be too mushy, opinions vary.

Ground chuck (80% lean / 20% fat)

ground chuck

This is what’s commonly referred to as lean ground beef since it’s a little less fatty than regular ground beef. It falls somewhere in the range of 80 percent lean and 20 percent fat, and it comes from the shoulder of the cow. While you’re getting less fat, it still delivers plenty of flavor. Words like rich and tender are still used to describe this ground beef, which makes it a great burger patty meat.

Ground round (85% lean / 15% fat)

ground round

With only about 12 percent fat (sometimes as low as 10 or as high as 14 percent), it’s considered extra lean ground beef. It comes from the back half of the cow, often from around the tail. Unlike ground sirloin, which also has low fat, you won’t find as much of a beefy flavor (ground sirloin retains its rich and meaty flavor better).

Ground sirloin (90% lean / 10% fat)

ground sirloin

Also in the extra lean category, ground sirloin comes from the middle of the cow. You might find that it’s drier than regular ground beef or ground chuck after cooking, and that’s because the fat content is lower (about 10 percent, give or take). But that’s also what makes it the healthier option. It’s not ideal for burgers but works well in sauces.

What’s the healthiest ground beef?

Ground round and ground sirloin have the lowest fat content and therefore are the two lightest, healthiest options. But they are also more expensive.

USDA quality grades for meat

Another factor to consider when choosing ground beef is the USDA quality grade it’s been assigned. It can fall into three categories: prime grade, choice grade, and select grade.

  • Prime grade – indicates it comes from well-fed, young cows. It’s the highest grade and likely had lots of marbling.
  • Choice grade – is below that but still high quality, juicy, and flavorful.
  • Select grade – will be leaner and less juicy. Anything below select grade is considered ungraded, and these are often generic store-brand meats.

Recipes to try with ground beef

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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