The Big Error Everyone Makes When Cooking With Ground Beef

Here's the thing about ground beef. It's not all the same. Ground beef is sold in different varieties indicated by two numbers on its packaging. For example, a common number you'll see on ground beef is 80/20. These numbers are a ratio, indicating that the package of ground beef is 80% lean beef and 20% fat (via Epicurious). Other common ratios include 90/10 and 70/30, with 30% fat being the highest percentage of fat that is legally permissible to be sold. Because of this, consumers are always guaranteed at least 70% lean beef in their purchase. This creates consistency for the consumer, and it ensures the consumer is getting the right amount of meat for their money.

What some people may not understand is why this number is so important. What's the big difference between 90/10 and 80/20? It's only a 10% difference in fat, after all. This is precisely why it's so important.

Here's which fat percentages you should use for which meals

Every bit of fat in a food product makes a difference. With meat, fat contributes to moisture and keeps it from drying out. A 90/10 package of ground beef is going to dry out sooner than a 80/20 package of ground beef (via Epicurious). However, you don't always want to jump for the 80/20 beef. Each beef dish that you cook could be made better by using a certain variety of beef.

According to Kitchn, the beef you choose can make or break a dish. They recommend using 80/20 beef for burgers because this fat percentage is perfect for maintaining the moisture in the burgers while they cook. However, they advocate for 70/30 beef for dishes like meatloaf that have a considerably longer cook time. Longer cook times means more time to dry out, so the higher fat percentage will keep your meatloaf nice and juicy. Meatballs are an interesting case because they recommend 90/10 beef or 100% lean beef without any fat at all. This is because they combine beef with pork for their meatballs, and pork carries all the fat they need.

If you're a beef pro and like to order certain cuts, you should still know how much fat is in each cut. Ground chuck ranges from 80/20 to 85/15, ground round ranges from 85/15 to 90/10, and ground sirloin ranges from 90/10 to 92/8 (via The Spruce Eats).

Whatever you do, go with your gut, and make something incredible. Happy cooking!