By Mike Thayer
What you're making with that pound or two of ground beef, matters.
If you're making burgers, use an 80/20 (80% lean meat, 20% fat). Fat means better flavor and a juicier meat patty whether it's grilled or fried. Nobody wants to bite into a dry burger, but that's what using a leaner ground beef usually results in. A 90/10 or higher ground beef grind doesn't have enough fat content to give you that juicy bite in a traditional burger. And if you're worried about a diet and/or fat content, you still want to use the 80/20, because most of the fat stays with the grill or the frying pan. What remains is juicy flavor, flavor that doesn't kill your diet.
Use 90/10 for soups, stews and casseroles. Even if you're not worrying about a diet or fat content, these grinds of ground beef are perfect for chili, soups, lasagna, spaghetti w/meat sauce, tater tot casserole, ground beef w/mushroom gravy over mashed potatoes and that kind of thing. The use of an 80/20 in these types of dishes is actually kind of a waste, because you have all those other flavors going on. The variety of ingredients in a dish featuring a sauce or gravy, in combination with the 90/10 grind is what provides the flavor.
What about something like a meatloaf you ask? A general rule of thumb is that if the recipe features the meat, go with 80/20. If the recipe features a number of ingredients combined to make the dish, go with 90/10. When you're planning for or starting to prepare your meal, just ask yourself, "Is the dish about the ground beef, or a bunch of ingredients?" Like a burger, a meatloaf features the meat, so I like to use an 80/20 grind. I actually use three kinds of meat when making a meatloaf. Ground beef, pork sausage (usually an 75/25 meat to fat ratio) and ground turkey. The ground turkey is lean and actually balances out the higher fat content of the pork sausage. Baking meatloaf in all those juices from the beef and pork sausage means flavor. Think of it as a meat concert with the turkey as the conductor. The key to not having excess fat in your dinner is taking the meatloaf out of the pan you baked it in and letting it rest on a cooling rack for 10 minutes before serving. Let the excess fat drain off into a cookie tray or the like.
And don't waste your time with any grind less than 80/20. Even if you're on a budget, you've wasted your money buying a 70/30 grind because the fat content is just too much - going way beyond the 'adding to the flavor profile' thing. A ground beef patty made with a 70/30 shrinks too much and causes way to many high flames on the grill, often resulting in too much char on the outside, raw on the inside burgers. And instead of making four perfect bun-sized burgers from that one pound tube of ground beef you bought, you're only able to make three with the 70/30. And when it comes to casseroles and the like, recipes calling for a pound of ground beef, well you'll end up with a lot less than a pound of meat after draining off all that excess fat.
Make your meals even tastier with the right grind of ground beef!