How to what you're getting when buying ground beef

Good, Safe, High Quality Hamburger For Us All

by John Smith

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I haven't worked in a slaughter house for a couple of decades or more now, but still the only thing that surprises me about reports of abuse and questionable practices is that it has taken this long before anyone has taken notice.

Whenever a cow that is used for breeding or for milk production has outlived her usefulness or becomes ill to the point of being a financial burden, she is shipped off to the auctions. There she is purchased with other cows of similar qualities by a meat processing company. Then she is turned into hamburger for the supermarkets or boneless beef for prepared foods of some kind. As long as I've been around, the meat from these slaughterhouses has never posed a problem. I have never heard of any of the meat hurting anyone with the exception of an occasional e-coli contamination. Just the same, I have been preaching for many years now that if you want good quality hamburger from nice young healthy animals, you should never purchase the ground beef in the counter of your local supermarket unless you know that they are using the trim from their daily production exclusively.

Back in my early days of retail meat cutting, I worked in a couple of different stores that used boneless bull meat from Australia. We would take these huge frozen bricks and cut them on the saw and then save all of our fat from the days cutting and grind it all together to make hamburger. It actually made pretty good hamburger. But then we got word that it had been discovered that one of the processing plants in Australia had been mixing kangaroo meat in with the bull meat.

Also, as a young butcher, I remember getting fresh boneless cow and bull meat to make hamburger patties for the local restaurants. We would pull out the tenderloin and make steaks for ourselves. The steaks would be tender, but the flavor was lousy. The hamburger turned out okay after we added a bunch of boneless plates to fatten it up some. Boneless plates are the fat side meat that comes off the ribs of the young animals. It adds the necessary fat and has great flavor, which makes the old cow meat tolerable.

These days I work in a large supermarket that is part of a huge chain of stores. We use the very best meat available. Our roasts and steaks are on par or better than anyone's in the nation. But if you want the best hamburger made from healthy young animals, the smartest thing to do even in the best of stores is purchase a roast or two and have the butcher grind it up for you. Then and only then will you know just what you are getting.

The best tasting hamburger you can make is from the boneless chuck. Boneless chucks are on sale all the time. Next time you see an ad for boneless chuck roast ask the butcher to grind up a bunch of them for you and fill your freezer. Also boneless rumps are often quite cheap and make very lean hamburger. Just keep your eyes open and you'll usually see something in the meat case that is priced right to make great hamburger with.

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If you are feeling a little creative, wait for some type of lean round meat like rumps or London broils to go on sale and grab about twenty pounds of them. Then select a whole fresh brisket, about ten pounds' worth, from the case and ask the butcher to grind them all together. The brisket has a lot of fat and great flavor and should be fairly inexpensive. Now you've got some nice hamburger.

After all of my preaching and making suggestions for the best and healthiest hamburger, the truth is that I eat whatever is the cheapest, which is quite often the processed stuff in the counter. But we don't have to.

Reviewed April 2017

John Smith has been a butcher/meat cutter for 30+ years. He's written the book Confessions of a Butcher: Eat Steak on a Hamburger Budget and Save $$$. You can check out his book and some of his archived articles at John, his wife Vickie and their 8 kids live in eastern Idaho in the shadow of the Tetons.

Take the Next Step:

  • Next time you see an ad for boneless chuck roast or boneless rumps, ask the butcher to grind up a bunch of them for you and fill your freezer.
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  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.
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