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Types of Ground Beef: The Complete Guide

There are many types of ground beef, and it can be confusing to know which one to choose. They’re not all created equal. Here’s everything you need to know about the different types of ground beef, and which one to choose for your next recipe.

Before we dive into the different types of ground beef, I wanted to share some interesting facts about ground beef that I found while researching this article.

While not specific to the different types of ground beef, they are interesting nonetheless, and may make you ponder or consider the meat you consume and where it comes from.

As a country, we’ve gotten so far removed from where our food and out meat come from, facts like these can be refreshing (enlightening?) to read.

Ground beef facts

The top countries for beef production are the United States and Brazil.

Despite the rapid loss of farms and farmlands in the U.S., America remains one of the top two countries in the world for beef production.

According to the USDA, there are approximately 94.4 million cattle in the United States, at least 31.7 of which are beef cattle.

If you think nearly 100 million cattle is a lot, consider this: Brazil is home to approximately 209 million cattle (but only 208 million people!) Yes. They have more cows than people.

raw ground beef on butcher paper

The typical meat-eating American consumes 61 pounds of beef annually.

On average, a person living in the United States eats 61 pounds of beef each year, the majority of which is in the form of ground beef. To put that in perspective, that’s like eating 5% of a steer’s total weight.

Argentinians eat more beef than anyone else.

Though they are not one of the biggest beef-producing countries, Argentina residents each eat about 140 pounds of beef per year — more beef than anyone else in the world and more than twice the amount eaten by individual Americans.

About 450 pounds of edible beef is yielded from a processed beef animal.

That’s a little less than half of the weight of a live steer, and about half of the weight of a heifer or bullock.

Want to learn more interesting facts about beef? Click here to read all 50!

Conventional vs. grass fed

Grass-fed is a term that flies around a lot when it comes to beef. By definition, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service program required that:

“ruminant animals be fed only grass and forage, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. Animals certified under this program cannot be fed grain or grain by-products and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.”

That standard has been dropped, and it’s often thought that “grass-fed” is used as a marketing label to attract consumers to pay more for a comparable product.

There’s also no standard across countries for these types of ground beef:

For example, grass-fed beef in Australia may not be directly comparable to US products, and grass-fed beef isn’t necessarily pasture-raised. Not all grass-fed cows can graze outdoors.

So you can see, the term grass-fed isn’t clearly defined.

That said, it’s generally understood that grass-fed cows eat (mostly) grass, while grain-fed cows eat (mostly) an unnatural diet based on corn and soy during the latter part of their lives.

And, you are what you eat – but also what you eat eats. I try to steer clear of corn, soy, and GMOs, and so I try not to eat animals that were fed those things either – both for health reasons, and for humane reasons. 

We all have to make the choices that we feel are best for us and our families when it comes to what we consume.

I simply hope this post provides you with enough information to make the most informed decisions you can when it comes to choosing among the different types of ground beef.

Lean/Fat ratios

When purchasing different types of ground beef, you’ll often see a number or ratio on the package. This identifies the ratio of lean meat to fat.

The part of the cow that the cut of meat came from determines how lean it is, and differentiates the types of ground beef.

It starts with regular ground beef and then gets increasingly leaner from there. Here are the four most common ratios you’ll see:

70/30: Ground beef

types of ground beef: ground beef meatloaf close up
Photo: Paleo Running Momma

Typically made from brisket or shank, this is the fattiest (and most flavorful!) cut of ground meat.

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. As we continue down into the leaner meats, they will also begin to increase slightly in price per pound.

Though some people find this type of ground beef to be too mushy, opinions vary.

It’s popular for things like meatloaf that have to cook much longer due to their density :the higher fat content keeps the meat from drying out.

Try out this meatloaf recipe from Paleo Running Momma.

Best for: meatloaf

80/20: Ground chuck

types of ground beef: ground chuck meatballs on a platter

This is sometimes 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.

So while you’re getting less fat, it still delivers plenty of flavor. Often described as rich and tender, this is a great burger patty meat.

Best for: burgers, meatballs

85/15: Ground round

Continuing down the lean scale, ground round is considered extra lean, typically about 12 percent fat (sometimes as low as 10 or as high as 14 percent).

Ground round comes from the back of the cow, near the tail, upper leg, and rump.

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 round is best used for recipes where it will be mixed with other ingredients, as it doesn’t have a strong flavor on it’s own. Think sauces, with veggies, or in tacos.

Best for: sauces, mixing with other ingredients

90/10: Ground sirloin

types of ground beef: ground sirloin in a white bowl of chili

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 healthiest option of all the types of ground beef.

It’s not ideal for burgers, as there’s not enough fat content to hold it together, but it works well in sauces, soups, and stews, and is a favorite for chili.

Best for: chili, pasta sauce

Ground beef alternatives

There are a few other meats that come in a “ground” format, that can be used as substitutes for the different types of ground beef if you don’t care for red meat or just want to change things up.

Bison/buffalo 

Bison meat is generally a little darker red and leaner than beef. It’s similar in overall appearance to beef except it’s a dark red in color.

Bison is leaner than beef and may be a healthier choice if you’re looking to reduce your calorie or fat intake.

It has nearly 25% fewer calories than beef and is lower in total and saturated fat.

Additionally, due to its lower fat content, bison has finer fat marbling, which provides a softer and more tender meat.

Lean meats (turkey, chicken) 

Suprisingly, ground turkey and ground beef are actually pretty darn comparable. Ounce for ounce, ground turkey has slightly more calories, fat, cholesterol, and sodium compared to ground beef.

However, ground beef has more protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins.

Saturated fat is where they differ (though not by a ton), and that’s usually why turkey generally gets more “healthy” points than beef.

Ground chicken can be lower in calories but still holds about the same fat content. It’s lower in saturated fat, so it tends to cook up “drier” than a traditional ground beef.

Pork

With a milder flavor than ground beef, ground pork has a bit more versatility when it comes to recipes.

Ground pork comes from the shoulder of the pig, and is still classified as a red meat.

A bit higher in calories and fat, ground pork is great for making crumbled sausage for things like Sausage and Egg Breakfast Casserole.

High quality ground beef sourcing

If you’re looking for a high quality ground beef, there are a few specialty stores that hold standards for all the meat they sell. My three favorites are:

ButcherBox: High quality, sustainably sourced meats, delivered right to your door. Free shipping, and they’re always running some type of special/freebie in every box when you sign up. It’s ground beef at the time of this writing, but may be something else when you take a look!

US Wellness Meats: Grass-fed, pasture raised, responsibly sourced, farm to table meats.

Thrive Market: Shop sustainable seafood, 100% grass fed beef, & more through the Thrive Market Meat & Seafood program! Choose a FREE gift, up to $24 value, when you purchase a Thrive Market membership! (1 year and 1 month memberships available)

Note: the above are affiliate links, which earn this blog a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase them. This helps keep my costs down to keep producing free content for you. Win-win!

Ground beef recipes

There’s no limit to the ways you can find to use all the types of ground beef – it’s definitely one of the most versatile meats out there.

Below are just a few of my favorite recipes and ways we use ground beef in our house!

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