What's Your Beef?
Cheap and Delicious Hamburger
Using Cheap Cuts of Meat
I like to use ground beef in casserole recipes. I know you can save money by using less in recipes. Is it a better bargain to buy the cheaper, less lean ground beef and drain the fat after cooking or to buy a better quality of meat that costs more and doesn't have to be drained? Once meat is drained well is it close to the same quality of meat?
Kathy G. in California
In Quebec, the rules for the different types of ground beef are as follows:
Up to 30% of fat -----> regular
Up to 23% of fat ------> semi-lean
Up to 17 % of fat ------> lean
There must be similar regulations in other countries. You'd just have to inform yourself about this.
To check what's the best deal, you just have to make this calculation:
Price per pound * 100
Divide this by the lean percent for your type of meat and here you have the price for the "lean" part of the beef.
That way, you can tell exactly how much you're paying for what you are eating. Because sometimes, fatter ground beef can seem to be cheaper, but once it is drained you get less for your money...
I use ground beef often and do not like compromise on taste or fat content when I buy it. However, these are the two factors which determine the price. So i learned to shop smarter. I buy sirloin steaks (boneless) or london broil when they go on sale and then I grind it myself. Most food processors or heavy duty mixers have an attachment to do this, and while it does cost a little more to buy the attachment, it is well worth the investment. Another option, if you don't want to grind it yourself, is to ask the butcher in the meat department to grind it up for you. I don't do this because I do not want my ground beef mixed with "other meats" that might be left in the grinder (even though they are supposed to disinfect it after use).
Andreana D. of Staten Island, NY
There are times when being frugal can come back to haunt you. Inexpensive, fatty ground beef may seem like a better deal financially at first glance, but think again. Not only are you pouring out about 30% of what you paid for, but think about your health. Years ago, when we were young and struggling to make ends meet, I thought that was the most economical way to go. Now, I know better. Watch your cholesterol levels -- that's far more important than the few cents you'll save with cheap hamburger meat. My husband now takes medication to keep his cholesterol down -- it's way more expensive than lean meat, believe me. Today I buy the leanest ground beef available, when I buy beef at all -- we eat lots of turkey and chicken. Our grocery store offers ground beef with only 7% fat -- very, very little needs to be drained off -- and I know I'm not sabotaging the work that his medication is trying to do. Sometimes you have to weigh more than actual cost when making choices.
Buy the cheaper ground beef. You'll lose very little to shrinkage with the cheaper (higher fat) ground beef --- barely enough to make a difference in the recipe (unless you're making plain old hamburgers...). The selling point for the higher priced ground beef is of course that it is lower in fat. Most companies think that lower fat should automatically equal a higher price tag. I make my cheap ground beef lower in fat anyway. Here's how: After frying and crumbling the needed amount I empty it into a colander and rinse with very warm water for a few minutes. This rinses away quite a bit of fat and I've saved up to 50 cents or more per pound with no taste difference!
For several years we've used frozen ground turkey in many recipes calling for ground beef - either as a complete replacement or as a "stretcher" in place of a portion of the ground beef. After thawing, the turkey browns just like ground beef and, depending on the brand, usually produces only a tablespoon or so of fat!! Compare THAT to even the BEST ground beef!!
Importantly, my family either loves the taste or hasn't made a comment about "different". I regularly buy this frozen ground turkey in the plastic sausage-like tubes.
BTW, trying to make patties out of this product has been less than successful. But in any "mix" like a casserole, noodle dishes, tacos, enchiladas, etc. this product has been GREAT!
Scott in Chicago
When I was in college I majored in Hotel and Restaurant Management. For a paper I decided to write on the pros and cons of using Lean Ground Beef vs. regular ground beef. I took equal amounts and cooked the them in frypans at the same temprature. Once I drained the grease I weighed the meats. I do not recall the exact amounts of each, but I do know that when I calculated weight vs. cost, regular ground beef was the better buy. If you have dietary restrictions Lean Ground is your best bet - otherwise regular is the best buy.
I have found that I can buy the better quality ground beef and only use half as much in recipes. I substitute some form of cooked (dry)beans for the other amount of ground beef that I did not include.Several times I have even omitted ground beef altogether when I had none at home and didn't have time to run to the store. My family has never complained,in fact they have commented that the change is a nice suprise.
I believe that the cheapest way to buy hamburger is to buy it on a good sale and stock up the freezer. As a meatcutter for 6 years, I can also state that all sales are not the same. At the store I work, we usually have two really "hot" burger ads per year. These really good sales are usually around the holidays in the summer = grilling season.
When buying hamburger it best to pay more attention to how it looks that to what % of fat it has on the label. Those percentages are usually approximations.
Many meat departments will also grind special orders. It is best to wait until chuck roast or round steak come on ad (Again not all sales are the same)and ask the meatcutter what he will charge to grind it. At the store I work, we will do it for free although many stores charge extra.
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